A lecture given by Rudolf Steiner in Breslau, June 15, 1909
Picture to yourselves a person living in the 13th or 14th century. Such a person lived at a time when the art of printing had not yet been invented — an art by means of which such a powerful influence has been exercised upon the human soul in modern times. Picture to yourselves a person living at that time and ask yourselves what took place within his soul when for instance he looked up at the sky. This person whose way of viewing the world was not yet influenced by accumulated knowledge and materialistic learning as is the case with those living today, saw space resplendent with the brilliant light of the Sun in the daytime, and at night agleam with shimmering stars, and at such a time his soul felt cosmic space to be pervaded by spiritual forces and spiritual beings. He felt them. Through the culture of those times, images of divine-spiritual facts arose within him, and he felt them directly. And so it was also in the springtime when he saw the plants springing up out of the earth; his soul felt Nature to be illumined and imbued by the forces of divine, spiritual beings.
Such a feeling, such direct experience of the living spiritual forces, diminishes the more we approach our present time. This statement is not meant as an adverse criticism of our time, for the diminishing of this feeling has been accompanied by the rise of another way of approaching Nature, by a more intellectual, external way of regarding the world; and it is only right that hereby mankind has gradually gained control over the forces of Nature, has learned to investigate the world in detail with the aid of the microscope and to follow the stars in their courses through space with the telescope. It is right that in a certain sense men are proud that they are able to increase their mastery of the forces of Nature more and more — but at the same time we must make clear to ourselves that hereby all human impulses have become different.
When a human being looked up to the stars in former times, he said to himself, “I feel something divine and spiritual in the stars”. Today, however, he only sees them as physical objects, and it is difficult for anyone living in our day to picture to himself the divine and the spiritual. Humanity has really lost its understanding of this divine-spiritual vision. In spite of this fact it is true that even today there are many souls which are wonderfully stirred by their understanding of that which is divine and spiritual. Oh, the soul thirsts to imagine how space is filled with divine spiritual beings, filled with a spiritual power, and it feels the need of learning to know this power. Now, the materialistic development here described has come to such a pass that just the most earnest and most ardent seekers after truth have gradually begun to think of late that it can be only a childish point of view to feel something divine in the world, and that mankind has now matured far enough to do away with such antiquated ideas. Even our schoolchildren have to experience a discord, which leads to the profoundest consequences in life. On the one hand the child is given lessons in natural science in a purely materialistic way; on the other, lessons in religion. Between them there is no bridge, no connecting link. What is the result in later life? We can say that the whole of humanity is divided into two camps, according to the consequences arising from this discord. On one hand there are those who have become indifferent and no longer care about anything, and on the other hand those who take things tragically, who brood, but still do not gain clear insight, and at last despair of solving the riddles of life. Thinking humanity is really divided into these two camps. Perhaps it is, in the end, only the simple souls who have kept a certain feeling for the spiritual. He who does not regard everything from the outside only, knows that just in the middle of the 19th century the danger that humanity would sink completely into materialistic life was at its greatest. The whole disposition and frame of mind of man tended toward materialistic feeling and experience. Therein lay a dreadful danger for humanity. Do you know what would have happened if spiritual science had not intervened? Man's manner of thinking would have become submerged ever deeper in the materialistic element; the forms of thought would have become gradually harder and more rigid; their outlines would have become ever sharper and more unalterable, instead of adapting themselves in constant active flow. No one would have been able to feel for anyone else, or sympathize with anyone else; but everyone would have felt that he alone was in the right and would have despised and hated all those who thought or felt differently. Quite rigid in form, devoid of all love, our thinking would have become; and the spirit would finally have been pushed back so far into the background that all contact with it would have been made forever impossible, and the way into the spiritual world have been lost. The Earth would have become a moon. For this reason, those who have insight into the higher spiritual worlds have brought spiritual science to mankind.
But from what sources does the science flow which is destined to save humanity from this great danger?
Precisely on a day like this, when a newly founded Group is to be dedicated, it is indeed appropriate to speak about these things.
These sources are still concealed to most people, but gradually they will be revealed more and more. And from out these sources spiritual science was created. Now, what does spiritual science say? It speaks of many things which the ordinary human being, with his ordinary senses, does not perceive. It says, for instance, that man does not only consist of the externally visible body, but that he has a fourfold nature. Besides the visible body he has also a life body, or etheric body, not visible for ordinary man; a sentient or astral body; and, as a fourth member, he possesses the ego, which passes from incarnation to incarnation, in order, throughout a long period of time, to complete its course of evolution. And spiritual science tells us still more. It tells us, for example, that the Earth itself also goes through an evolution from one incarnation to the other, an evolution of a cosmic nature. It shows us further how the Sun and the planets play the most important parts in this process of evolution, and how the existence and development of all these celestial bodies are connected with the existence of spiritual beings.
But what then is all this? Where are the sources of these truths? They come from the initiates. And who are the initiates? They are those whose spiritual eyes have been opened, and who can therefore speak of the spiritual world because they know this world. They are like those who can see among the blind. Fichte has already alluded to this relationship, and in truth for him “who can see”, spiritual things are just as real as the physical ones — yes, even more real, for the latter are for him only an outward expression of the former.
It is true that when the seer speaks of the etheric body, the sentient body, etc., and of other revelations of a spiritual nature, many people will say that he is a dreamer and a fantasist and takes theories and mere hypotheses for realities. The seer understands perfectly that those who do not see should raise such objections. Among a group of physically blind people we may speak as much and as exactly as we please about colors and light, yet for the blind this remains mere theory; and one who can see physically will be unable to disclose the concept — the actual, reality-laden concept — of color and light to one who is physically blind. For to grasp this concept, the blind would have to be able to see for themselves; and only when a blind person has undergone a successful operation can the world of light dawn upon him.
Let us try to picture this relationship in still another way. Let us imagine that we had a large receptacle full of water before us, and let us suppose that there were a person who could neither see nor feel water with his senses, nor perceive it in any way. For this person the receptacle would be empty. Now let us suppose further that, in some way, cold currents could be made to pass through the water, causing it to freeze. At first ice crystals, like needles, would form here and there, and as they continued to form they would accumulate into large clumps. But as ice is a solid substance, this person, who is unable to perceive water, would nevertheless be able to perceive the particles of ice as they formed. And what is it that he now perceives? He perceives that ice is forming. But out of what does it seem to him to be forming? Out of nothing!
This is the situation in which the initiate finds himself in his relation to other men. Where they see nothing, he sees. But now people say, “How can I believe that which I cannot verify for myself? And inasmuch as I cannot do so, what object is there in occupying myself with such things or in entering into them at all?” In this respect it is especially the dogmatists of monistic philosophy who make the following demands: firstly, that everything be admitted which they themselves assert, and secondly, that no one may know more than they know themselves. They set themselves up as infallible and as able to determine the limits of knowledge.
The true initiate will never deny the facts found by scientific investigation, but will whole-heartedly acknowledge the truths and merits of science. He must refuse, however, to admit that the scientific dogmatist is capable of determining the limits of knowledge. The scientist is proud of understanding, in contrast to believing. But if it is here a question of believing and not believing, and the scientist is of the opinion that belief plays no part in the results of his researches, he is mistaken. It is simply impossible to investigate or to teach anything without believing. Consider, for example, the cellular theory. In books we have very fine representations of cells, the division of the cells, the life of the cells, and so forth, clear and exact in every detail. But who among us has ever really seen this for himself with such distinctness? We all simply believe that it is so. Even the university professors, who teach these things, have in the rarest cases seen all this with their own eyes, and yet they lecture on it. They have not been able to see it for themselves, because things of this kind are both so difficult and so rarely possible to observe that only a few single individuals have succeeded in seeing them, and also because in reality they are by no means so clear and distinct as they appear in the pictures. Let us also consider embryology, for instance. Scientists believe that they know exactly how the embryo looks at every moment throughout pregnancy. But how extremely seldom is a scientist in the position, perhaps through a sudden case of death occurring at a particular moment of pregnancy, to have insight into these things! How many of these scientists have never seen the things which they teach! But until he is able to see for himself, the scientist is obliged to believe, and the others with him. Yet he demands of spiritual science that no one shall believe, and that no one shall know more than himself.
The essential character of the initiate lies in the fact that he is able to see into the spiritual world. For him the sources are spiritual scientific knowledge.
Yes, but of what use is this to those who do not possess this knowledge? A comparison will show us this.
Look for a moment at this stove. And now imagine that someone were to stand before this stove and say to it: “Thou stove, thou hast been created to spread warmth! Bethink thee of thy mission and warm this room!” Would it do so? Would these words have any effect? No, the stove would not stir. But if instead of speaking, we get wood and coal and light the fire, then it will fulfill its mission.
So it is with the communications of spiritual-scientific truths. They are fuel for the human soul. For thousands of years morality has been preached and people have been told “Be good and love one another”. But do they really then do so? Do not matters look rather sad in spite of all Christian doctrines? In a town in southern Germany a preacher once said to me, “I can make no objection whatever to all that you say of the Gospels, but what is the use of founding little conventicles for spiritual science here and there, when the church carries on practical education on a large scale?” Yes, if this preacher were right, then it would indeed be of no use. But he is not right, for if the church really performed its task in full measure, from whence do so many evil deeds still continually arise? And does everyone really go to church? In truth the church does not teach practical morality, but “stove morality.” In our day there are no longer many people who grow better simply upon urgent request. And indeed it is just the most able and gifted people who have turned away from the church. And were this to go on, the adherents of the church would become scarcer and scarcer, and materialism would become greater and greater, until one day not very much would be left of the church. And this is just the reason why spiritual science has come; it has become necessary, in order to supply the fuel! It is itself fuel in this sense, for the simple communication of truths from out the spiritual world animates and furthers the spiritual development of the individual, helping it forward not only in the sphere of morals but also in spiritual vision.
Even among students of spiritual science there are those who are of the opinion that we need only be good and noble and strive to attain perfection, and then in the end our spiritual eyes will open of their own accord. At the same time they think that the communication of higher truths is of no great significance, and that we should only wait till we can see for ourselves, till the veil is of itself withdrawn from before our eyes. Those who think in this way are mistaken. They fail to recognize the character of these communications which act as fuel. The essential point it to stimulate active inner motion within the soul which would not come about in any other way, nor develop of its own accord.
But what is it that can shine forth within man, that will indeed shine forth within him, if he understands and pursues his development aright, which is the task of spiritual science? To explain this we shall have to go far back in history.
We must go back as far as the ancient Indian culture, which we call the age of the Seven Rishis. These Seven Rishis were the initiates of this age and guided the development of humanity. When, out of their spiritual vision, they bore witness of the highest mysteries, they said, “High above all that exists there is a Cause, a Being, which we call Vishva-Karman. We can neither know nor fathom it, it can only be divined. It lies too distant, as it were, to be known by us. Later on however, long after our time, it will draw nearer to humanity.”
Then in a much later period another initiate spoke about this Being. It was Zarathustra; not the historical Zarathustra, but one who preceded him. When he spoke to the people in his old, holy Persian language, the splendor of which can scarcely be described today, he said, “I see the Highest Being in the Sun, round about the Sun. It is, indeed, in the atmosphere of the Sun.” And that is why he called it Ahura Mazdao — the Great Aura — in contrast to man, the small aura. In the Great Aura he saw an image or a model for the small aura, man. Ahura Mazdao is the same as Ormuzd. And Zarathustra taught that in days to come Ahura Mazdao would manifest himself in man. This was what he foresaw. But he saw also that there are forces in man which hold him back and prevent the manifestation of the Highest Being within him. These forces he called Ahriman — the Evil.
Still later, in another period, we again meet with a great initiate. Knowledge had, we might say, drawn still closer to him. In the case of the Rishis the Highest Being was concealed within universal space, as it were, immensely far away. For Zarathustra it had approached as far as the Sun. But for Moses knowledge was already close enough to be actually grasped. In the burning thorn-bush which spoke to Moses, the Aura had become part of the earthly elements. Moses knew that the Highest Being was present in the Earth. For the initiate, this Being had descended first to the Sun and then to the Earth. Here it now lived within the elements. And when Moses asked this Being what he was to tell the people, the answer was — “I am the I am, Jahve.” With these words it becomes clear that this Being has come in order to unfold its life more and more within the human ego. This was, however, not yet the case at that time. Man had not yet brought to birth a consciousness of the Highest Being within his inmost self. Moses, however, knew that this would come to pass.
And later still another man appears upon whom spiritual vision was bestowed, namely, Paul. He knew that this Highest Being was embodied in Jesus Christ. But he could not believe, could not comprehend, that this Being had to die upon the cross. Then he was initiated. That this was possible was due to the peculiar circumstance that he had been born too early. One who is born prematurely, a child that has not been carried in the womb for nine months, has not descended quite so far into the world of matter. For this reason it will be easier for such a person to attain insight into the spiritual world. And when Paul became clairvoyant, he saw that the Highest Being lived in Christ. Now it had actually come to life in man. Therefore Christ said at the Last Supper: The bread is My body, the wine is My blood. Bread: Earth; wine, or the juice of the plant: Spirit.
I wanted to lead you thus far today so that you might feel what it signifies that such a Being has approached the Earth, has descended into the Earth. And this is what took place at Golgotha.
Did this Being really stream out over the Earth at Golgotha? In order to answer this let us examine and compare a time six hundred years before the birth of Christ, let us say, with a time six hundred years after the birth of Christ. What has happened here — wherein does the difference consist?
Six hundred years before Christ, Buddha lived. He lived in a king's palace. Then he went out into the world and learned to know old age, sickness, poverty, death, and the corpse. He saw that the whole life of man is suffering. Old age is suffering; sickness is suffering; poverty is suffering; birth is suffering; death is suffering; to be parted from those whom we love is suffering; in short, the whole of existence is suffering. So he said to himself, and taught the people, that they must lose, must learn to forget, their craving for existence. Here we have the hopeless renunciation of all creation
But six hundred years later came the Mystery of Golgotha. As a symbol we see a cross erected, and upon the cross a human corpse. And the people look up to the corpse and are filled with a sense that all suffering can be healed. Herein lies a great difference. In death human beings no longer see the token of suffering, but the token of the healing of suffering. They can become victors over all that their life here on Earth brings them. And this means that a fruit will be carried over into the other life.
If man now understands that birth and life are not suffering, but afford the possibility of emerging from it, inasmuch as life gives him the opportunity to develop the spiritual which leads out beyond all suffering — if man understands this, old age is no longer suffering, but a drawing nearer to the fruit of life; death is no longer suffering, but redemption; not to be united with those he loves is no longer suffering, if he has united himself with the Christ-Being, the Being of infinite love, and thus envelops with his love all beings and all worlds.
All this was felt six hundred years after Christ, and since that time it has been possible for man to feel united with the Christ, the Spirit of the Sun, Who is also the Spirit of the Earth — Who, even as He permeates the Earth, permeates also each one of us, and calls forth mildness, warmth, and love within our souls — Who awakens infinite love and transforms the Earth.
Because spiritual science, in communicating spiritual truths, does not teach morals, but gives a basis for practical morality, it will build a bridge leading into the spiritual world for the man of today. It may well be that those who stand at the apex of our present culture, the leading personalities in industry and learning, those who have the greatest influence, will smile at these small conventicles of spiritual science, and also at all that is investigated here. But let them think what they like! At one time there was also a mighty world of Roman culture — that ancient, imperial Rome, the ruins of which we still admire. In the ancient gigantic Coliseum incense was burned to drown the smell of flesh which arose where the Christians had been torn to pieces by wild beasts. That was ancient Rome, above, in the daylight. And below? Let us descend into the catacombs! There we find the first followers of Christianity, of the Mystery of Golgotha, persecuted and despised. There below, hidden away, they worship Christ; there they perform their symbolic rituals. Down there the first Christian communities are founded. Although small in number and despised, they never doubt. Down below, a little flock, despised and outcast; up above, a mighty throng who have great influence. Yet a few centuries later, ancient Rome has disappeared; and those who were there below, in the underworld, have ascended. In the same way spiritual science will ascend in a few centuries, will rise above industry, learning, and the various concerns of humanity today. Yet if, in your little conventicles, you compare yourselves with those of subterranean Rome, do so not with a feeling of pride, but with humility. And if you picture to yourselves how the brilliant science of our present day will melt away before spiritual science, then picture this to yourselves in humility only. If you take this feeling with you and carry it with you from this hour, so that it always remains alive within your souls, you will help to spread universal human love, and you will enter into a new culture.
I call upon all the good spiritual forces that they may watch over this newly founded Group, and may help you to attain your goal and facilitate your work.
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