|"Mary said: My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour." — Luke 1:46-47
Thursday, April 19, 2018
Anthroposophy: The Elixir of Life
Youth and the Archangel Michael. Lecture 1
Rudolf Steiner, Stuttgart, October 3, 1922:
First of all I want to say a few words of greeting to express the feelings which your gathering have aroused in me. Your speaker described in a pleasing way the impulses that have brought you together here. Much of what I shall have to say in the coming days will inevitably be a kind of interpretation of what is present within you, more or less strongly, as inner experiences which you wish to be brought to clarity of soul. I say clarity of soul rather than merely of an intellectual nature.
You have been brought together by that which lives in the depths of your souls. These depths are taken hold of by forces which, in the specific way in which they are working at the present time, are of recent date. These forces — in the way they are working in you — are scarcely older than this century. They are forces which even today reveal themselves very clearly to him who can see them, but in the near future they will become ever more apparent. In the next few days we shall describe these forces in their most intimate nature, as well as the opposite tendencies which preceded and had become “out of date” by the last third of the nineteenth century. But today, I shall speak about these forces in their more external aspect.
I think, my dear friends, that you feel you can no longer find yourselves in accord with what an older generation has to say to the world today. You see, as early as the seventies, eighties, and nineties of the last century, people were stressing, both in art and in philosophy, the deep gulf between the older and younger generations. But all that was said then by poets and others about this gulf, this abyss, is pale in comparison with what has to be considered today. Today the younger and the older generation speak entirely different languages of the soul. This is so to a far greater extent than is realized. It attaches no blame to an older generation as regards the younger. To speak of blame would be to use a form of thought belonging to the older generation — one of their philistine forms of thought. We shall not speak of blame, neither shall we accuse. But we shall consider how fundamentally souls belonging to evolution in the West have changed since the last two to three decades. In our present time, many things clash.
A little while ago I gave a series of lectures in England, at Oxford. As a university town, Oxford occupies a unique position in the cultural life of the West. One feels that in Oxford — a town very closely connected with spiritual evolution in the West — a relic of the Middle Ages is surviving on into the present time. It is by no means an unpleasing relic, quite the contrary, and in many respects worthy of admiration. We were taken 'round by a friend who is a graduate of Oxford University, and it is the custom there, when in their capacity as graduates, always to wear cap and gown. After we had gone 'round with him, I met him again in the street. The next morning I could not help describing to the English audience the impression I had when this friend appeared in cap and gown. It seemed to me thoroughly symptomatic. This, together with other experiences, induced me to form a picture and to say why a new social structure, reaching to the depths of modern spiritual life, is necessary. When this friend met me in the street, I said to myself that if I had to write a letter now, under the immediate impression of this meeting, I should not know what date to put on the letter. I should have been tempted to date it about the twelfth or thirteenth century, in order to adhere to the style where such a thing was possible.
Something that is not of the present has been preserved there. We find nothing like it in Middle Europe. But what we find in Middle Europe, in influential centers of culture, is nevertheless an evolutionary product of what I have just described.
Here, in Middle Europe, the gown has practically been discarded, except on festive occasions, when Directors and other officials are expected to wear it, often to their great annoyance.
Our friend, who was also a barrister, said to me: “If I were taking you 'round the Law Courts in London, I should, as a barrister, have to put on a wig, not a cap.” There you see a survival of something that has become out of date, and yet was still alive in the last century. So there we have the Middle Ages in the present. In Middle Europe people have, after all, outgrown a custom which belonged to the former generation and had become old. First they discarded the costume; then, with a sudden jump, they adopted a kind of thinking, rather different in character, which headed straight into materialism. These contrasts between Western and Middle Europe are extraordinarily great. And now there is a very symptomatic phenomenon which I prefer to describe through facts rather than by abstract words.
In Middle Europe we have forgotten Goethe and accepted Darwin, although Goethe grasped at its roots the knowledge which Darwin only indicates superficially. Many similar things might be quoted. Perhaps you will say that Goethe has not been forgotten, for there exists a Goethe Society, for example. I don't believe you will say it, so I will not pursue it further. Goethe himself and what he brought to light — the Middle European spiritual impulse — were, in fact, forgotten in the second half of the nineteenth century. But these things are mere symptoms. The point is that along the path taken by Middle Europe and its cultural life, the leading centers of culture emancipated themselves in the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries from the spirit which still remained in the West. Since that time, Middle Europe lost the spiritual, lost the element that storms and pulsates through the soul, from consciousness. That is why it was possible, too, for Goethe to be forgotten.
In the West this element has been preserved in traditions and in external life. In Middle Europe, especially in the German-speaking regions, it has been pushed down, as it were, into the depths of the life of soul, and consciousness has not been filled with it. This was particularly marked in the last third of the nineteenth century.
Close historical study will reveal something strange in the last third of the nineteenth century. If we study the literature and the writings which were read by those who played a part in shaping the cultural life, we find during the last third of the nineteenth century, up to the middle of the eighties and nineties, in German-speaking districts, quite a different style in the journals and even in the newspapers from the style that is current today. Thoughts were finely chiseled and elaborated; importance was attached to sequence in the thoughts, and to beauty as well. In comparison with the style current in the last third of the nineteenth century, our modern style is raw and crude. We need only pick up writings — no matter what they may be — of men in the sixties and seventies, not deeply learned or scholarly but possessing an average degree of culture, and we shall find this great difference. The forms of the thoughts have changed. But what is raw and crude today has proceeded from what, even in scholarly literature during the last third of the nineteenth century, was finely chiseled and full of spirituality. But those who lived through it, who, without necessarily growing old, have reached more advanced years in the present-day world of thought — we notice what has insinuated itself in a dreadful way into every domain of thought and spiritual life: symbolically, I will call it the “empty phrase,” the “cliché.”
With the vogue of the “cliché” there began to develop lack of thought, lack of sound sentiments, lack of will, which are now on the upgrade. These characteristics were the immediate outcome of the “empty phrase,” the “cliché.” The outstanding development of the “empty phrase” took place in the last third of the nineteenth century. You can follow this externally, my dear friends. Things that crop up in a certain epoch need not necessarily appeal to you. And although in one form or another they may definitely not appeal, you can still study them from the point of view of their significance for the whole of mankind.
Think of the rich tones of inner beauty which are to be found in the German romantic poets in the first third of the nineteenth century. Think of the words of a man like Jacob Grimm when he touches on things spiritual, how these words seem to be full of the fresh, health-giving air of the woods, and you will say: “In those days the ‘cliché’ did not yet dominate Middle Europe.” It did not make its way into Middle Europe until the last third of the nineteenth century. Those who are sensitive to such matters are aware of the gradual entrance of what inevitably accompanies the “empty phrase.” When the empty phrase begins to dominate, truth, as experienced inwardly by the soul, dies away. And something else goes hand in hand with the empty phrase: in social life man cannot really find his fellow-men any longer.
My dear friends, when words sound forth without soul from the mouth — as they do in the empty phrase, the cliché — then we pass by other human beings and cannot understand them. This too reached its culmination in the last third of the nineteenth century, not in the soul's depths but in the field of consciousness. Men became more and more alienated from one another. The louder the call for social reforms, the more is it a symptom of the fact that men have become unsocial. Because they no longer have any feeling for what is truly social, they cry out for social reform. A hungry animal does not howl for food because it has food in its stomach, but because it has none. Similarly, the soul that cries out for social life cries not because it is permeated with social feeling, but because this feeling is lacking. And so man was gradually turned into a being whose nature is not understood today, and yet it is clear enough that everywhere in the relations between man and man no need is felt to grow near, in soul, to other human beings. Everyone passes the other by. The individual's greatest interest is only in himself.
What then has come into the twentieth century from the last third of the nineteenth as the customary social feeling between man and man? Nowadays you continually hear: “That is my standpoint.” This is how people talk: “That is my standpoint.” Everyone has a standpoint. — as if the standpoint matters! The standpoint in spiritual life is just as fleeting as it is in the physical. Yesterday I stood in Dornach, today I am standing here. These are two different standpoints in physical life. What matters is that a man should have a sound will and a sound heart so that he can look at the world from every standpoint. But people today do not want what they can glean from different standpoints; the egoistic assertion of their own particular standpoint is more important to them. But thus a man shuts himself off in the most rigorous way from his fellow-men. If somebody says something, the other person does not really enter into it, for he has his own standpoint. But people do not get any nearer to each other by such means. We can only come nearer to each other when we know how to place our different standpoints in a world that is common to us all. But this world is simply not there today. Only in the spirit is there a world that is common to all — and the spirit is lacking. That is the second point.
And the third is this. In the course of the nineteenth century the humanity of Middle Europe has really become very weak-willed — weak-willed in the sense that thought no longer unfolds the power to steel the will in such a way as to make man, who is a thought-being, capable of shaping the world out of his thoughts.
And now, my dear friends, when it is said that thoughts have become “pale” this must not be twisted into the assertion that no thoughts are needed in order to live as men. Thoughts, however, must not be so feeble that they stick up there in the head. They must be so strong that they stream down through the heart and through the whole being of man, right down to the feet. For really it is better if, besides red and white blood corpuscles, thoughts, too, pulse through our blood. It is a good thing, certainly, when a man has a heart too, and not merely thoughts. Best of all is for thoughts to have a heart. And that has been lost altogether. We cannot cast off the thoughts that have followed in the wake of the last four or five centuries. But these thoughts must get a heart as well!
And now I will tell you, from an external point of view, what is living in your souls. You have grown up and have come to know the older generation. This older generation expressed itself in words; you could only hear clichés. An unsocial element presented itself to you in this older generation. Men passed each other by. And in this older generation there also presented itself the impotence of thought to pulse through the will and the heart.
You see, people could live with the “cliché,” with antisocial conventionality, with mere routine instead of warm community of life, so long as the heritage from earlier generations was still there. But this heritage was exhausted by the close of the nineteenth century. And so what presented itself could not speak to your own souls. And now, precisely in Middle Europe, you felt that in the depths below there is something that stands in the direst need of rediscovering what once lived beyond the empty phrase, beyond convention, beyond routine. You wanted again to have a living experience of truth, a living experience of human community, of stout-heartedness in cultural life. Where is it then? — so asks a voice within you.
And often, at the dawn of the twentieth century — even if not clearly expressed, it could be seen — on the one side there were the young, and on the other, the old. The old man said: “That is my standpoint.” Ah! as the nineteenth century drew to its close, everyone began to have his own particular standpoint. One was a materialist, the second an idealist, the third a realist, the fourth a sensualist, and so on. They all had their standpoints. But gradually under the domination of empty phrase, convention, and routine, the standpoint had become a crust of ice. The spiritual Ice Age had dawned. The ice-crust was thin, but as men's “standpoints” had lost the sense of their own weight, they did not break through it. Besides, being cold in heart, they did not thaw the ice. The younger people stood side by side with the old, the young with their warm hearts not articulate yet, but warm. This warmth broke through the ice-crust. The younger man did not feel: “That is my standpoint,” but he felt: “I am losing the ground from under my feet. The warmth of my heart is breaking this ice that has congealed out of empty phrase, convention, and routine.” Although not clearly expressed — for today nothing is clearly expressed — this state of things had existed for a long time and still exists at the present day.
It is hardest of all for those who with a scholarly education try to fit in with the times. They are confronted by thoughts that are void of heart-quality and are quite consciously striven for just because of this. Now, in speaking out of the spirit it is often necessary to shape words differently from what is customary when telling people something highly logical, philosophical, or scientific. This approach is quite out of place in face of the spiritual, and altogether out of place in face of the spiritual is the following, which we will take as an example.
People say today: He is not a true scientist who does not interpret observation and experiment quite logically; who does not pass from thought to thought in strict conformity with the correct methods that have been evolved. If he does not do this he is no genuine thinker. But, my dear friends, what if reality happens to be an artist and scorns our elaborate dialectical and experimental methods? What if Nature herself works according to artistic impulses? If it were so, human science, according to Nature, would have to become an artist, for otherwise there would be no possibility of understanding Nature. That, however, is certainly not the standpoint of the modern scientist. His standpoint is: Nature may be an artist or a dreamer; it makes no difference to us, for we decree how we propose to cultivate science. What does it matter to us if Nature is an artist? It matters not at all, for that is not our standpoint.
At the outset I can only describe a few impressions to illustrate what was working together in chaotic interplay with the approach of the twentieth century — the century that has placed you before such hard trials of the soul. We have had to face outer events, including the grim and terrible world war; these are only the outward expression of what is reigning in the innermost soul of the modern civilized world. It is simply so, and we must be conscious of it. Primarily we have to seek for something which the deepest soul of Germany is yearning for — as your speaker truly said — but which precisely within Germany was denied by men's consciousness the nearer the modern age approached. We lost not only Goethe but also a great deal of what was there in the Middle Ages and out of which Goethe grew, and we must find it again. And if it is asked today quite from the external aspect: Why have you come here today? — I shall answer: In order to find this. For you are really seeking for something that is there. Goethe answered the question: Which secret is of the highest value? — The revealed secret. (From the Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily.) But it has to be revealed through eyes being opened to perceive it. What concerns you are mainly longings of the inner life — if you understand yourselves aright. Whether one has to become a teacher or adopt some other profession — that is not the point. Everything which those who want again to become whole men are seeking today shall be found out of the common center of true manhood. That is why we find ourselves together here.
After all, it is quite a different matter if in earlier centuries — to take a radical example — people burnt a Giordano Bruno. In those times this was the customary way of refuting truths. But now — to compare this with the following symptom drawn from the realm of science — when the Swabian doctor Julius Robert Maier was making a voyage around the world, the peculiar constitution of the blood in Southern Asia brought him to the conception of what is known as the heat equivalent, the conservation of energy. In 1844 he wrote a treatise on this subject which was rejected as amateurish and unsuitable by the most famous scientific periodical of the time, the Poggendorf Annals. Julius Robert Maier was so enthusiastic about his discovery that whenever anyone met him in the street he began at once to talk about it, until finally contemporary experts decided that as he was always talking about the same thing, he was suffering from fixed ideas. As you know, he was declared insane and put into an asylum. Today you can go to Heilbronn and see the Robert Maier Memorial. It is said that the law of the conservation of energy is the most important law of physics that has been discovered in the modern age. Well, of course, such things happen! Mankind may, naturally, lapse into error, but the point I want to make is that this can be judged out of mere phrases, mere convention, mere routine.
Think of the way such a terrible tragedy, such a terrible mockery, was described in the nineteenth century, and compare it with the account given today of the same case. What has actually happened cannot be undone by abstract writings. Anyone who has a heart within him and reads the descriptions that are given of such a case feels as if robbed of all inner support, and a terrible turmoil is set going in his soul. Human beings must again be capable of feeling, not weakly, but strongly: beautiful — ugly, good — evil, true — false. They must be capable of feeling things not weakly but strongly, so that they live in them with their whole being, that their very heart's blood flows into their words. Then the empty phrase will dissipate and they will feel not only themselves but other men within their own being; convention will dissipate, and the heart's blood will pulse through what they have in their heads; then sheer routine will dissipate and life will become human once again.
Young people in the twentieth century feel these things; they have been seeking, but found only chaos. These things cannot be portrayed by writing up external history. At the end of the nineteenth century there was a crucial point in the inner development of mankind. Souls who were born shortly before or shortly after the turn of the century are of quite a different inner make-up from those who were born even during the last third of the nineteenth century. One can speak about this if, in spite of the years piling up, one has not allowed oneself to get old.
So we shall see tomorrow, my dear friends, how the new generation has not linked up with the old but is divided from it by an abyss. It is not a question of finding fault but only of trying to understand. I am not finding fault when I speak of the tragedy which befell Julius Robert Maier. The same kind of thing happened to many people. It is not a matter of finding fault, but of the need for understanding. For the most important thing is to understand what is experienced deeply and inwardly; an unclear seeking cannot be allowed to continue. A light must come that will flood this unclear seeking without making it dry or cold. We must find this light, while preserving the heart's blood.
I do not wish to impose upon you anything that savors of the mystical, but to point to the truth, the truth in the spirit. You know that among the many clichés which became current in the nineteenth century, it was said that the great pioneer of the nineteenth century closed his life by calling out to posterity: “More light!” As a matter of fact Goethe did not say “More light!” He lay on his couch breathing with difficulty and said: “Open the shutters!” That is the truth. The other is the cliché that has connected itself with it. The words Goethe really spoke are perhaps far more apt than the mere phrase “More light!” The state of things at the end of the nineteenth century does indeed arouse the feeling that our predecessors have closed the shutters. Then came the younger generation; they felt cramped; they felt that the shutters which the older generation had closed so tightly must be opened. Yes, my dear friends, I assure you that although I am old, I shall tell you more of how we can now attempt to open the shutters again.