Sunday, February 2, 2020
Easter and the Awakening to Cosmic Thought
Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, April 12, 1907:
Goethe often described, in many different ways, a feeling of which he was persistently aware. He said, in effect: When I see the irrelevance manifesting in the passions, emotions, and actions of men, I feel the strong urge to turn to all-powerful Nature and be comforted by her majesty and consistency. In such utterances Goethe was referring to what since time immemorial humanity had brought to expression in the Festivals. The Festivals are reminders of the striving to turn away from the chaotic life of men's passions, urges, and activities to the consistent, harmonious processes and events in Nature. The great Festivals are connected with definite and distinctive phenomena in the Heavens and with ever-recurring happenings in Nature. Easter is one such Festival. For Christians today, Easter is the Festival of the Resurrection of their Redeemer; it was celebrated not only as a symbol of Nature's awakening but also of Man's awakening. Man was urged to awaken to the reality underlying certain inner experiences.
In ancient Egypt we find a festival connected with Osiris. In Greece a Spring festival was celebrated in honor of Dionysos. There were similar institutions in Asia Minor, where the resurrection or return of a God was associated with the re-awakening of Nature. In India, too, there are festivals dedicated to the God Vishnu. Brahmanism speaks of three aspects of the Deity, namely, Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. The supreme God, Brahma, is referred to as the Great Architect of the World, who brings about order and harmony: Vishnu is described as a kind of redeemer, liberator, an awakener of slumbering life. And Shiva, originally, is the being who blesses the slumbering life that has been awakened by Vishnu and raises it to whatever heights can be reached. A particular festival was therefore dedicated to Vishnu. It was said that he goes to sleep at the time of the year when we celebrate Christmas and wakes at the time of our Easter Festival. Those who adhere to this Eastern teaching celebrate the days of their Festival in a characteristic way. For the whole of this period they abstain from certain foods and drinks, for example, all nod-producing plants, all kinds of oils, all salt, all intoxicating beverages, and all meat. This is the way in which people prepare themselves to understand what was actually celebrated in the Vishnu Festival, namely, the resurrection of the God and the awakening of all Nature.
The Christmas Festival too, the old festival of the Winter solstice, is connected with particular happenings in Nature. The days leading up to this point of time become progressively shorter and the Sun's power steadily weakens. But from Christmas onwards greater and greater warmth again streams from the Sun. Christmas is the Festival of the reborn Sun.
It was the wish of Christianity to establish a link with these ancient Festivals. The date of the birth of Jesus can be taken to be the day when the Sun's power again begins to increase in the heavens. In the Easter Festival the spiritual significance of the World's Savior was thus connected with the physical Sun and with the awakening and returning life in Spring.
As in the case of all ancient festivals, the fixing of the date of the Easter Festival was also determined by a certain constellation in the heavens. In the first century
A.D. the symbol of Christianity was the Cross, with a lamb at its foot. Lamb and Ram are synonymous. During the epoch when preparation was being made for Christianity, the Sun was rising in the constellation of the Ram or Lamb. As we all know, the Sun moves through all the zodiacal constellations, every year progressing a little farther forward. Approximately seven hundred years before the coming of Christ, the Sun began to rise in the constellation of the Ram (Aries). Before then it rose in the constellation of the Bull (Taurus). In those times the people expressed what seemed to them important in connection with the evolution of humanity, in the symbol of the Bull, because the Sun then rose in that constellation. When the rising Sun moved forward into the constellation of the Ram or Lamb, the Ram became a figure of significance in the sagas and myths of the people. Jason brings the golden fleece from Colchis. Christ Jesus Himself is called the Lamb of God and in the earliest period of Christianity He is portrayed as the Lamb at the foot of the Cross. Thus the Easter Festival is obviously connected with the Constellation of the Ram or Lamb. The Festival of the Resurrection of the Redeemer is celebrated at the time when, in Nature, everything awakens to new life after having lain as if dead during the Winter months.
Between the Christmas and the Easter Festivals there is certainly a correspondence, but in their relation to the happenings in Nature there is a great difference. In its deepest significance, Easter is always felt to be the festival of the greatest mystery connected with Man. It is not merely a festival celebrating the re-awakening of Nature but is essentially more than that. It is an expression of the significance in Christianity of the Resurrection after death. Vishnu's sleep sets in at the time when, in Winter, the Sun again begins to ascend. It is precisely at this time that we celebrate our Christmas Festival. When the Easter Festival is celebrated the Sun is continuing its ascent which had been in process since the Christmas Festival.
We must penetrate very deeply into the mysteries of man's nature if we are to understand the feelings of initiates when they wished to give expression to the true facts underlying the Easter Festival. Man is a twofold being — on the one side he is a being of soul-and-spirit, and on the other side a physical being. The physical being is an actual confluence of all the phenomena of Nature in man's environment. Paracelsus speaks of man as the quintessence of all that is outspread in external Nature. Nature contains the letters, as it were, and Man forms the word that is composed of these letters.
When we observe a human being closely, we recognize the wisdom that is displayed in his constitution and structure. Not without reason has the body been called the temple of the soul. All the laws that can be observed in the dead stone, in the living plant — all have assembled in Man into a unity. When we study the marvellous structure of the human brain with its countless cells cooperating among themselves in a way that enables all the thoughts and sentient experiences filling the soul of man to come to expression, we realize with what supreme wisdom the human body has been constructed. But in the surrounding world too we behold an array of crystallized wisdom. When we look out into the world, applying what knowledge we possess to the laws in operation there, and then turn to observe the human being, we see all Nature concentrated in him. That is why sages have spoken of Man as the Microcosm, while in Nature they beheld the Macrocosm.
In this sense Schiller wrote to Goethe in a letter of 23rd August 1794: “You take the whole of Nature into your purview in order to shed light upon a single sentence; in the totality of her (Nature's) manifold external manifestations you seek the explanation for the individual. From the simple organization you proceed, step by step, to the more complex, in order finally to build up genetically from the materials of Nature's whole edifice the most complex organization of all: Man.” The wonderful organization of the body enables the human soul to have sight of the surrounding world. Through the senses the soul beholds the world and endeavors to fathom the wisdom by which that world has been constructed.
With this in mind let us now think of an undeveloped human being. The wisdom made manifest in his bodily structure is the greatest that can possibly be imagined. The sum-total of divine wisdom is concentrated in a single human body. Yet in this body there dwells a childlike soul hardly capable of producing the most elementary thoughts that would enable it to understand the mysterious forces operating in its own heart, brain, and blood. The soul develops slowly to a higher stage where it can understand the powers that have been at work with the object of producing the human body. This body itself bears the hallmark of an infinitely long past. Physical man is the crown of the rest of creation. What was it that had necessarily to precede the building of the human body, what had to come to pass before the cosmic wisdom was concentrated in this human being? The cosmic wisdom is concentrated in the body of a human being standing before us. Yet it is in the soul of an undeveloped human being that this wisdom first begins to manifest. The soul hardly so much as dreams of the great cosmic thoughts according to which the human being has evolved. Nevertheless, we can glimpse a future when people will be conscious of the reality of soul and spirit still lying in man as though asleep. Cosmic thought has been active through ages without number, has been active in Nature, always with the purpose of finally producing the crown of all its creative work: the human body.
Cosmic wisdom is now slumbering in the human body, in order subsequently to acquire self-knowledge in man's soul, in order to build an eye in man's being through which to be recognized. Cosmic wisdom without, cosmic wisdom within, creative in the present as it was in the past and will be in future time. Gazing upwards we glimpse the ultimate goal, surmizing the existence of a great soul by which the cosmic wisdom that existed from the very beginning has been understood and absolved. Our deepest feelings rise up within us full of expectation when we contemplate the past and the future in this way.
When the soul begins to recognize the wonders accomplished by the cosmic wisdom and when clarity and illumination have been achieved, the Sun may well be accepted as the worthiest symbol of this inner awakening. Through the gate of the senses the soul is able to gaze into the external world because the Sun illumines the contents of that world. Fundamentally speaking, what man perceives in the external world is the result of the Sun's reflected light. It is the Sun that wakens in the soul the power to behold the external world. An awakening soul, one that is beginning to recognize the seasons as expressions of cosmic thought — such a soul sees the rising Sun as its liberation.
When the Sun again begins its ascent, when the days lengthen, the soul turns to the Sun, declaring: To you I owe the possibility of discerning, outspread around me, the cosmic thought that sleeps within me and within all other human beings.
Such an individual is now able to survey his earlier existence — one which preceded his present understanding of the activities of cosmic thought. Man himself is more ancient than his senses. Through spiritual investigation we are able eventually to reach the point in the far past when man's senses were in process of coming into existence, when only their very earliest beginnings were present. At that stage the senses were not yet doors enabling the soul to become aware of the environment.
Schopenhauer realized this and was referring to the turning-point when man acquired the faculty of sensory perception, when he stated: This visible world first came into existence when an eye was there to behold it.
The Sun formed the eye for itself and for the light. In still earlier times, when as yet man had no outer vision, he had inner vision. In the primeval ages of evolution, outer objects did not give rise to ideas or mental conceptions in man, but these rose up in him from within. Vision in those ancient times was vision in the astral light. Men were then endowed with a faculty of dim, shadowy clairvoyance. It was still with a faculty of dim, hazy vision that they beheld the world of the Germanic Gods and formed their conceptions of the Gods accordingly. This dim clairvoyance faded into darkness and gradually passed away altogether. It was extinguished by the strong light of the physical Sun whereby the physical world was made visible to the senses. Astral vision then died away altogether.
When man looks into the future, he realizes that his astral vision must return, but at a higher stage. What has now been extinguished for the sake of physical vision will return and combine with physical vision in order to generate clairvoyance — clear seeing in the fullest sense. In the future, a still more lucid consciousness will accompany man's waking vision. To physical vision will be added vision in the astral light, that is to say, perception with organs of soul. Those whom we have called the leaders of men are individuals who through lives of renunciation have developed in themselves the condition which later on is established in all mankind — these leaders of men already possess the faculty of astral vision which makes soul and spirit visible to them.
The Easter Festival is connected spiritually not only with the awakening of the Sun but with the unfolding of the plant world in Spring. Just as the seed-corn is sunk into the soil and slumbers in order eventually to awaken anew, so the astral light in man's constitution was obliged to slumber in order eventually to be reawakened. The symbol of the Easter Festival is the seed-corn which sacrifices itself in order to enable a new plant to come into existence. This is the sacrifice of a phase in the life of Nature in order that a new one may begin. Sacrifice and Becoming are interwoven in the Easter Festival.
Richard Wagner was conscious of the beauty and majesty of this thought. In the year 1857 in the Villa Wesendonck by the Lake of Zurich, while he was looking at the spectacle of awakening Nature, the thought came to him of the Savior who had died and had awakened, the thought of Jesus Christ, also of Parsifal who was seeking for what is most holy in the soul.
All the leaders of humanity who know how the higher life of man wakes out of the lower nature have understood the Easter thought. Dante too, in his Divine Comedy describes his awakening on a Good Friday. This is brought to our attention at the very beginning of the poem. It was in his thirty-sixth year, that is to say, in the middle of his life, that Dante had the great vision he describes. Seventy years being the normal span of human life, thirty-five is the middle of this period. Thirty-five years are reckoned to be the period devoted to the development of physical experience. At the age of thirty-five the human being has reached the degree of maturity when spiritual experience can be added to physical experience. He is ready for perception of the spiritual world.
When all the waking, nascent forces of physical existence are amalgamated, the time begins for the spiritual awakening. Hence Dante connects his vision with the Easter Festival.
Whereas the original increase of the Sun's power is celebrated in the Christmas Festival, the Easter Festival takes place at the middle point of the Sun's increasing power. This was also the point when, in the middle of his life, Dante became aware of the dawn of spiritual life within himself. The Easter Festival is rightly celebrated at the middle point of the Sun's ascent; for this corresponds with the time when, in man, the slumbering astral light is reawakened. The Sun's power wakens the seed-corn that is slumbering in the earth. The seed-corn is an image of what arises in man when what occultists call the astral light is born within him. Therefore, Easter is also the festival of the resurrection that takes place in the inner nature of man.
It has been thought that there is a kind of contradiction between what a Christian sees in the Easter Festival, and the idea of karma. There seems at first to be a contradiction between the idea of karma and redemption by the Son of Man. Those who do not understand very much about the fundamentals of anthroposophical thought may see a contradiction between the redemption wrought by Christ Jesus and the idea of karma. Such people say that the thought of redemption by the God contradicts the fact of self-redemption through karma. But the truth is that they understand neither the Easter thought of redemption nor the thought of the justice of karma. It would certainly not be right if someone seeing another person suffer were to say to him: you yourself were the cause of this suffering — and then were to refuse to help him because karma must take its course. This would be a misunderstanding of karma. What karma says is this: help the one who is suffering, for you are actually there in order to help him. You do not violate karmic necessity by helping your fellow man. On the contrary, you are helping him to bear his karma. You are then yourself a redeemer of suffering.
So too, instead of a single individual, a whole group of people can be helped. By helping them we become part of their karma.
When a being as all-powerful as Christ Jesus comes to the help of the human race, His sacrificial death becomes a factor in the collective karma of mankind. He could bear and help this karma, and we may be sure that the redemption through Him plays an essential role in its fulfillment.
The thought of Resurrection and Redemption can in reality be fully grasped only through a knowledge of Spiritual Science. In the Christianity of the future there will be no contradiction between the idea of Karma and Redemption. Because cause and effect belong together in the spiritual life, this great deed of sacrifice by Christ Jesus must also have its effect in the life of mankind.
Spiritual Science adds depth to the thought underlying the Easter Festival — a thought that is inscribed and can be read in the world of the stars.
In the middle of his span of life the human being is surrounded by inharmonious, bewildering conditions. But he knows too that just as the world came forth from chaos, so will harmony eventually proceed from his still disorderly inner nature. The inner Savior in man, the bringer of unity and harmony to counter all disharmony — this inner Savior will arise, acting with the ordered regularity of the course of the planets around the Sun. Let everyone be reminded by the Easter Festival of the resurrection of the Spirit in the existing nature of man.