The Gospel of John. Lecture 8 of 12.
Rudolf Steiner, Hamburg, May 27, 1908:
We have seen that we come closer to the profound meaning of the Gospel of St. John when we seek to approach it from various sides, and yesterday we were able from a certain point of view to indicate one of the most significant mysteries of this Gospel. In order that we may gradually reach a complete understanding of the mystery presented yesterday, it will now be necessary to consider the advent of Christ Jesus in our post-Atlantean period. We have gathered together the most varied material in order that we might trace the evolution of the human being and within it the Christ Principle. Today we shall try to understand why, just at this point of time in our evolution, the Christ appeared as a human being walking upon the Earth, and we shall in this way form a connection with what we have already heard in part in the last lectures. Now we shall have to consider especially the evolution of our humanity in the post-Atlantean period.
We have repeatedly stated that at a time very far in the past our forefathers dwelt out there in the west in a region now occupied by the Atlantic Ocean. Our forebears dwelt upon old Atlantis. In the lecture of the day before yesterday we were able to call attention especially to the external bodily appearance of these our Atlantean forefathers. We have seen that the physical body, visible now to the external human sense organs, only slowly and gradually reached the present density of flesh which it now possesses. We said that not until the last part of the Atlantean period did men bear some resemblance to their present form. Even toward the last third of the Atlantean period they were still essentially very different creatures from the men of today, although to the external senses they appeared much the same. We can best make clear what progress the human being has made if we compare him in his present state with any of the existing higher animals. However highly developed the animal may be, it must now be clear for various reasons how the human being differs essentially from the animal. We find that upon the physical plane or in the physical world, every animal consists of physical body, ether or life body, and astral body; that these three parts compose its animal being in the physical world.
You must not imagine that only what is physical exists in the physical world. It would be a great mistake if you were to seek all that is etheric or in fact all that is astral only in the supersensible world. It is true you can see only what is physical with the physical senses in the physical world, but that is not because only what is physical exists here. No, the ether and astral bodies of the animals are present in the physical world, and the clairvoyantly endowed person can see them. It is only when he wishes to reach the real ego of the animal that he can no longer remain in the physical world; he must then mount into the astral regions. There the group-soul or group-ego of the animals is to be found, and the difference between the human being and the animal consists in the ego of the former also being present here below in the physical world. This means that here in the physical world, the human creature consists of a physical, ether, and astral body and an ego, although the three higher members, from the ether body upwards, are only perceptible to clairvoyant consciousness. This difference between the human being and the animal is expressed clairvoyantly in a certain way. Let us suppose that a person endowed with clairvoyance is observing a horse and a man. Extending beyond the horse's head, which is lengthened out to a muzzle, he finds an etheric appendage. This etheric head protrudes beyond the physical head of the horse and is magnificently organized; these two do not coincide in the horse. But he finds that in the human being of the present, the etheric head corresponds almost exactly in form and size to the physical. Clairvoyantly observed, the elephant makes an extremely grotesque appearance with its extraordinarily huge etheric head; it is, indeed, etherically a very grotesque animal. In the human beings of the present, the physical and etheric heads coincide and in form and size they are very nearly alike. This, however, has not always been the case. We find it so only in the last third of the Atlantean period. The ancient Atlantean's etheric head protruded far beyond his physical head; then by degrees these two grew together, and it was in the last third of the Atlantean period that the physical and the etheric heads exactly coincided. In the brain, near the eyes, there is a point which coincides with a very definite point in the etheric head. These points were apart in ancient times; the etheric point was outside of the brain. These two important points have drawn together and only when this occurred did the human being learn to say “I” to himself. Then appeared what we yesterday called the “Consciousness Soul.” Through the coincidence of the etheric and physical heads, the appearance of the human head changed very greatly, for the head of the ancient Atlantean was still very different in appearance from the head of present human beings. If we wish to understand how the present evolution became possible, we must consider a little the physical conditions in ancient Atlantis.
If you had been able to walk through ancient Atlantis, out there in the west, you would not have been able to experience the conditions of rain, fog, air, and sunshine that we have now in our present Earth. At that time mists pervaded especially the northern regions, west of Scandinavia. Those human beings who lived in ancient Atlantis, in the region where Ireland now stands and even further to the west, never saw rain and sunshine as separate phenomena as is now the case. They were always immersed in mist, and only with the Atlantean Flood did the time come when the fog banks separated from the air and were precipitated into the ocean. You might have searched through the whole of Atlantis and you would not have found that spectacle which is now well known to you all as an extraordinary phenomenon of nature: it would have been impossible to discover a rainbow. That is only possible through a separation of rain and sunshine such as can now exist in the atmosphere. On Atlantis before the Flood, you would have found no rainbow. Only gradually, after the Flood, did this phenomenon appear, that is, it became a physical possibility. If after having received these communications of Spiritual Science, you recall that the memory of the Atlantean Flood is preserved in the various sagas and myths of the Deluge and that after the Deluge, Noah came forth and first saw the rainbow, then you will get some idea of how literally and profoundly true the religious documents are. It is a fact that human beings first saw a rainbow after the Atlantean Flood. These are the experiences which can be had by one who acquaints himself with occultism, and then bit by bit learns to understand how literally the religious documents must be taken. Of course one must first learn to understand the alphabet.
Towards the end of the Atlantean period, the external and internal human conditions proved to be most favorable in a certain region of the Earth's surface, which was in the vicinity of present Ireland. This region is now covered with water. At that time the conditions there were especially favorable and in this region the most highly gifted of the Atlantean races developed, a race that was especially endowed with the capacity to rise to an independent human self-consciousness. The leader of this people, which in Spiritual Science literature is usually designated the ancient Semites, was a great initiate who sought the most highly developed individuals of this people and migrated with them to the east through Europe as far as Asia into a region occupied now by the present Tibet. Thither migrated a relatively small but spiritually very highly developed fraction of the Atlantean peoples. Toward the end of the Atlantean period, it so happened that gradually the westerly portions of Atlantis disappeared and became covered by the sea. Europe in its present form gradually arose. In Asia, the great Siberian regions were still covered with extensive bodies of water, but, especially in the south of Asia, there were regions of land which had already appeared, differently formed, however. Some of the less advanced of the great mass of people joined with this germinal group which migrated from west to east. Many went with them a long distance, others not so far. But the peopling of ancient Europe came about for the most part through the migrations of great hordes of people out of Atlantis who settled there. Other great groups of people who had been driven from other parts of Atlantis, even some from ancient Lemuria, had come into Asia at a still earlier period and now encountered each other during this migration. Thus peoples variously endowed and of very different spiritual capacities settled in Europe and Asia. The small number who were led by that great spiritual individuality, Manu, settled there in Asia in order to foster the greatest possible spirituality. From there streams of culture flowed out into the various regions of the Earth and among the various peoples.
The first cultural stream flowed down into India, and through the impulse given by the spiritual mission of that great individuality, Manu, there developed what we may call the ancient Indian civilization. We are not speaking now of that Indian culture of which we have only echoes in those wonderful books of the Vedas, nor are we speaking of what has been handed down to posterity as tradition. Previous to all that can be known of this external culture, there existed a much more glorious and more ancient culture, that of the ancient holy rishis, those great teachers who in the far distant past gave to mankind the first post-Atlantean civilization. Let us transplant ourselves into the souls of the people of this first post-Atlantean cultural stream. This was the first really religious human culture. Those Atlantean cultural periods which preceded this one were not religious cultural epochs in the true sense of the word. Religion is, in fact, a characteristic of the post-Atlantean age. You will ask, why is this the case?
Let us see how Atlanteans lived. Since the etheric head was still outside of the physical head, the ancient hazy clairvoyance was not yet completely lost. Therefore, at night, when the Atlantean was outside of his physical body, he could look into the furthest reaches of the spiritual world. Although during the day — when he dipped down into his physical body — he saw physical things here in the physical world, at night he still saw, to a certain degree, the regions of the spiritual world. Transfer yourselves now for a moment into the middle or first third of the Atlantean period. What was the condition of the human being then? He awakened in the morning and his astral body was drawn into his physical and ether bodies. At that time the objects of the physical world were not yet so sharply and clearly contoured as they are now. When a city is enveloped in fog, and you observe the lanterns in the evening as though surrounded by an aura of color with undefined edges and streams of color, you have in this a picture of how things appeared at that time on Atlantis. The outlines were not clearly defined, but it was like seeing the lanterns in the mist. Hence, there was likewise no such sharp division between the clear day-consciousness and the unconsciousness of the night as appeared after the Atlantean period. During the night the astral body slipped out of the ether and physical bodies, but since the ether body still remained partly united with the astral body, there were always reflections of the spiritual world; the human being could always have a hazy clairvoyance, could live within the spiritual world and could behold about him spiritual beings and spiritual activities. The scholars who sit in their studies say that the common people have composed, for example, the Germanic myths and sagas out of their folk phantasy. Wotan and Thor and all the other gods were only personifications of nature forces. There are complete mythological theories which deal in this way with the folk creative phantasy. When one hears such a thing it is easy to believe that such a learned individual is like the Homunculus in Goethe's Faust, born out of a retort, who had never seen a real human being. For anyone who has really observed the people, it is not possible to speak in this way of the creative folk imagination. The legends of the gods are nothing less than what remains of actual events which people of earlier ages really beheld clairvoyantly. This Wotan really existed. During the night human beings wandered about among the gods in the spiritual world and knew Wotan and Thor there as well as they knew people of flesh and blood like themselves here upon the Earth. What primitive people of that age beheld, for a long time dimly and clairvoyantly, has now become the content of myth and saga, especially those of the Germans.
People who at that time migrated from west to east into the regions later called Germany were those who had retained, more or less, some degree of clairvoyance and who were still able at a certain time to perceive in the spiritual world. And simultaneously with the migrations of that greatest of initiates and his followers into Tibet, whence he sent forth the first cultural colony into India, initiates who fostered the spiritual life in the Mysteries were left behind everywhere among the people of Europe. Mysteries existed among these people, the Druid Mysteries, for example, but men no longer have any knowledge of them — for what is recounted is merely fantastic rubbish. It is a significant fact that at that time when the higher worlds were mentioned among the Druids or among the peoples of the regions of western Russia and Scandinavia where the Mysteries of the Trotts existed, there was always a large number who knew of these spiritual worlds. When they spoke of Wotan or of the incidents that occurred between Baldur and Hodur, they were not talking of something wholly unknown to them. There were many who had themselves experienced such incidents in special states of consciousness, and those not having the experiences themselves heard it from their neighbor in whom they had confidence. Wherever you might have gone in Europe, you would still have found vivid memories of what existed on Atlantis. What did exist there? Something one might call a natural, living companionship with the beings of the spiritual world, with what is today called Heaven. The human being continually entered into the spiritual world and lived there. In other words he needed no special religion to point out to him the existence of a spiritland. What is the meaning of “religion?” It signifies union, union of the physical world with the spiritual. At that time the human being needed no special means of union with the spiritual world, because for him it was a world of natural experience. Just as there is no need now for anyone to impart to you a belief in the flowers of the field or in the beasts of the forest, because you see them with your own eyes, so similarly the Atlanteans “believed” in the gods and spiritual beings, not through religion, but because they experienced them. As human evolution progressed, mankind acquired a clear day-consciousness. It was in the post-Atlantean age that people acquired this clear waking consciousness and they gained it by renouncing their ancient clairvoyant consciousness. It will be theirs again in the future in addition to the present clear day-consciousness. For our ancestors here in Europe, the sagas and myths often aroused memory-pictures of the distant past. One might ask, what was the nature of these most developed human beings? Strange as it may sound, these highly developed individuals whom the leader guided eastward into Tibet were for the most part advanced because they had lost their ancient, dreamlike consciousness. What does it signify to progress from the fourth over into the fifth root-race? It means becoming day-conscious; it means losing the ancient clairvoyance. The great initiate and guide led away the members of his little group in order that they might not have to live among people who were still at the stage of the ancient Atlanteans. Among the first, only those could be guided into the higher worlds who had been trained artificially, who had gone artificially through an occult training. It may be asked, what did the people of the first post-Atlantean epoch have left of that ancient relationship with the spiritual, divine world? Only the longing for the spirit world, the door to which had been closed. They felt that there had been a time — for they heard it in their sagas — when their forefathers had gazed into the spirit world, had lived there among spirits and gods and had discovered themselves in the midst of deep spiritual realities. “Oh, could we but experience this too!” they said, and out of this longing the ancient Indian way of initiation was created. This method of initiation arose out of the longing for what was past and caused the pupil to lose, for a time, the clear day-consciousness which he had acquired in order that he might force himself back in consciousness to his former state. “Yoga” is the method of the ancient Indian initiation which, through its technique and exercises, restored what had been lost in a quite natural way.
Imagine, for example, an ancient Atlantean whose ether head protruded far beyond his physical head. When the astral body withdrew, a large part of the ether head was still united with it, therefore what it experienced could be imprinted upon the ether body and thus he became conscious of his experiences. When, in the last part of the Atlantean period, the ether part of the head was drawn wholly into the physical head, the astral body left the ether body entirely each night. Thus in the ancient initiations, the teacher had to try to draw out the ether body of his pupil by artificial means; in other words, the pupil had to be brought into a sort of lethargic condition, into a kind of death-like sleep which lasted about three and a half days. During this time the ether body protruded from the physical body and was loosened from it. What the astral body then experienced was impressed upon the ether body. Then when the ether body was re-drawn into the physical body, the pupil knew what he had experienced in the spiritual world.
That was the ancient method of initiation, the Yoga initiation, by means of which the pupil was lifted out of the world wherein he found himself in order to be transported back again into the spiritual world. And the cultural mood which resulted from this kind of initiation found its echo in the later Indian culture. It was this mood that gave rise to the words: Truth, Reality, Being exist only in the spiritual world, in that world into which a person enters when he lifts himself out of the physical sense-world. Here he is in the midst of the physical world, surrounded by the mineral, plant, and animal kingdoms. But what surrounds him is not reality, it is only an outer semblance; he lost the reality ages ago and now lives in a world of appearance, of illusion, of maya!
The world of the physical, therefore, was the world of maya for the ancient Indian civilization. We must comprehend this not as a dull theory, but in accordance with the cultural mood itself — in accordance with the feelings of the people themselves of that time. When the ancient Indian wished to be especially holy, the world of illusion became worthless to him. This physical world became to him an illusion; the true world existed for him when he withdrew from the physical, when through Yoga he was permitted to live again in the world in which his forefathers still lived during the Atlantean period.
The significance of further evolution consists in the human being of this post-Atlantean period becoming gradually accustomed to value the physical world which is allotted to him, according to its worth and meaning. The second epoch, the next step after the ancient Indian period, is also a pre-historic cultural epoch, which is named after the people who later lived in the region of Persia; we designate it the primitive Persian civilization. However, we have not the later Persian civilization in mind, but a pre-historic culture.
The second period differs very essentially in its mood, in its feeling-content, from the primeval Indian period. It became more and more difficult to loosen the ether body during initiation, but it was still possible, and in a certain way it was always done even up to the time of Christ Jesus. But there was one thing these men of the primitive Persian civilization had attained; they began to appreciate maya or illusion as something of value. The ancient Indian was happy when he could flee from illusion. For the Persian, it became a sphere of activity. It is true, illusion still continued to appear to him as something hostile, something which must be overcome. Later this gave rise to the myth of the battle between Ormuzd and Ahriman, in which the human being allied himself with the good gods against the power of the gods of evil existing in matter. Out of this, the mood of that age was created. The Persian was still not fond of this physical “reality” (maya), but he no longer fled from it like the ancient Indian; he worked upon it and considered it a stage upon which he could be active, a place where there was something that must be overcome. In this second cultural stage, a step in the conquest of the physical world had been made.
Then came the third cultural stage. We are now approaching closer and closer to historical times. This cultural period is designated in occult science as the Chaldaic – Babylonian – Assyrian – Egyptian civilization. All these civilizations were founded by colonies sent out under the guidance of great leaders. The first colony founded the civilization of the ancient Indians, the second founded what we have just described as the ancient Persian cultural center, and a third cultural stream traveled still further to the west and laid there the foundation of the Babylonian – Chaldaic – Assyrian – Egyptian civilization. Thus an important step was taken in the conquest of the physical world. To the Persian it still seemed like an intractable mass which he had to manipulate if he wished to work in it with those beings whom he considered the good spirits of the true spiritual reality. He had now become more familiar, more intimate, with physical reality. Just consider the ancient Chaldean astronomy. It is one of the most extraordinary and tremendous creations of the human spirit of the post-Atlantean age. There you see how the course of the stars was explored, how the laws of the heavens were examined. The ancient Indian would have looked out at this heaven and said: The course of the stars with its laws is not worth the trouble to investigate! To the people of the third cultural epoch it was even then very important to penetrate into these laws. To those belonging to the Egyptian civilization it was of special importance to examine the earthly relationships and to develop the science of geometry. Maya or illusion was explored and physical science came into being. Men studied the thoughts of the gods and felt that they must make a connection between their own individual activity and what they found inscribed in matter as the script of the gods. If you were to investigate spiritually the earlier conditions of Egyptian political life, you would gain a concept of a political organism very different from any that people of the present day can possibly imagine. The individualities who directed and guided those political states were wise men who knew the laws governing the course of the stars, of the movements of the cosmic bodies, and at the same time they knew that everything in the cosmos must mutually correspond. They had studied the course of the stars and knew that there must be a harmony between what was taking place in the heavens and what was happening upon the Earth. According to the events in the heavens they decreed what, in the course of time, is to occur on Earth. Even in the earliest part of the Roman period (the fourth cultural epoch) there still existed the consciousness that what transpires upon the Earth must correspond to what is happening in the heavens. For long periods in the ancient Mysteries it was known at the beginning of a new epoch what events would transpire in the following period. It was known through the Mystery-wisdom, for example, at the beginning of Roman history that a period would follow in which the most varied historical events would be enacted and that they would take place in the region of Alba Longa. For anyone who can read it, it is clear that a deeply symbolical expression is suggested here and that it was, so to say, priestly wisdom that laid out or planned the civilization of ancient Rome. “Alba Longa” was the long priestly garment. In these ancient regions the future historical events were in this way laid out — if we may be allowed to use a technical expression. They knew that seven epochs must follow one after another in succession. The future was divided according to the number seven and an outline of the future history was foretold. I could easily show you how prophetic historical plans were concealed in the story of the seven kings of Rome which had already been inscribed in the Sibylline Books even as early as the beginning of the Roman epoch. In those days people knew that they had to live through what was written there and on important occasions they consulted the Holy Books. This then accounts for the holy and mysterious character of the Sibylline Books.
Thus humanity of the third cultural epoch worked spirit into matter, permeated the outer world with spirit. There are countless historical evidences of this concealed in the development of the epochs of this third cultural stream — this Assyrian–Babylonian–Chaldean–Egyptian civilization. Our own age can be understood only when we know the important relationships which exist between that age and our own. I should like now to call attention to one of the relationships between these two epochs, in order that you may see how wonderfully things are connected for anyone who can penetrate more deeply into them and who knows that what is called egotism and utilitarianism has now reached its culmination. Never before was a cultural epoch as purely egotistic and unidealistic as our own, and it will become even more so in the near future. For, at the present time, spirit has descended completely into a materialistic civilization. Tremendous spiritual forces have had to be employed by men in the great discoveries and inventions of the new age, that is, of the nineteenth century. Just think, for instance, how much spiritual force exists in the telephone, in the telegraph, in the railroads, etc.! How much spiritual force has been materialized, crystallized, in the commercial relationships of the Earth! How much spiritual energy it requires to cause a sum of money to be paid, let us say in Tokyo, by means of a piece of paper, a check written here in this place! Thus one may ask: Does the use of this spiritual force mean spiritual progress? Whoever faces the fact must acknowledge the following: You build railroads indeed, but they carry, practically, only what you need for your stomachs; and when you yourself travel, you do so only because of something that has to do with your physical needs. Does it make any difference from the standpoint of spiritual science whether we grind our own corn with a few stones or obtain it from a distance by means of the telegraph, ships, etc.? A tremendous spiritual force is employed, but it is used in an entirely personal sense. What then will be the meaning of what men thus negotiate? Apparently not Anthroposophy, in other words, not spiritual realities. When the telegraph and steamships are used, it is in the first place a question of how much cotton will be ordered to be sent from America to Europe, etc.; in other words it is a question of something that has to do with personal needs. Mankind has descended to the profoundest depths of personal necessity, of physical personality. But just such an egotistic, utilitarian principle had to come sometime, because through it the ascending course of all human evolution will be facilitated. What has happened to cause the human being to attach so much importance to his own personality, thus causing him to feel himself so much a separate individual? And, moreover, what was it that prepared him for this strong feeling of self in his life between birth and death?
In the third period of civilization a most important preparation was made for this, in the desire to retain the form of the physical body beyond death in the “mummy,” in the wish to prevent the dissipation of the form of the body by embalming it. Thus, this holding fast to the separate individuality became imprinted upon the soul in such a way that now it appears again in another incarnation as the feeling of personality. That this feeling of personality is so strong today is the result of the embalming of the body in the Egyptian period. So we see that in human evolution everything is correlated. The Egyptians mummified the bodies of the dead in order that people of the fifth epoch might have the greatest possible consciousness of their own personality. Certainly, profound mysteries exist within human evolution.
Thus you see how the human being has gradually descended deeper and deeper into maya and has permeated matter with what he is able to achieve. In the fourth cultural period, the Greco-Latin age, he placed his inner being out in the external world. Thus you see in Greece how he objectified himself in matter and form. He concealed his own form in the figures of the Grecian gods. In Aeschylos there still resounds, in dramatic form, men's desire to convert their own individuality into artistic form. They step out upon the physical plane and create a copy of themselves. In the Roman period men created an image of themselves in the institutions of the State. It is a sign of the greatest dilletantism when one traces what is now called jurisprudence back beyond the Roman period. What existed previously is, in concept, something quite different from Jus or “Justice,” “Right” (Recht), for the concept of the human being as an outer personality, the concept of human rights, did not exist prior to that time. In ancient Greece there was the Polis, the little municipal state, and men felt themselves as members of it. It is difficult for people to enter into the consciousness of the Greek epoch. In the Roman epoch, the path into the physical world had been trod so far that the individual human personality — as a Roman citizen — appears also as possessing rights. Everything progresses by stages and we shall trace in detail how the personality emerges by degrees and how at the same time the physical world is being conquered more and more in the progress of history, and how the human being is plunging deeper and deeper into matter.
Our own epoch is the first after the Greco-Latin; in other words, it is the fifth epoch of the post-Atlantean age. There will follow after it a sixth and a seventh epoch. The fourth, the Greco-Latin, is the middle period, and during this middle period, Christ Jesus came upon the Earth. This event was prepared for within the third post-Atlantean epoch, because everything in the world has to be prepared beforehand. The third epoch made ready for that greatest of all events, which was to be enacted upon the Earth during the fourth post-Atlantean epoch at a time when men had progressed far enough in their feeling of personality to step outside themselves and create their gods in their own image. In the art of the Grecian period, men created a world of gods after their own image. They repeated this in the form of the State. An understanding of physical matter was reached even to the degree of the union of maya (the world of illusion, matter) and spirit. This is the moment when men also attained an understanding of personality. You will comprehend that this was also the time when they were able to understand God as a personal manifestation, the time when the spirit belonging to the Earth also progressed to the point of becoming a personality. Thus we see how in the middle of the post-Atlantean civilization God Himself appeared as a man, as a separate personality. When we see how in Greek art the human being fashioned an image of himself, we may say: What happened in the middle of the post-Atlantean civilization appears to us as an image. When we pass from the Greek to the Roman period and observe the types of human beings of the great Roman Empire, does it not actually seem as though the Greek images of the gods had descended from their pedestals and were walking about in their togas? One can fairly see them!
Thus the human creature had progressed from the time when he felt himself as a member of the Godhead to a feeling of himself as a personality. He could comprehend as a personality even the Godhead Itself, which, embodied in the flesh, had descended and dwelt among men.
It has been our desire here to picture to our souls the reason for the appearance of Christ Jesus just at this period of human evolution. How this mystery developed further, how in the earlier evolutionary periods it shone forth prophetically, and how it works prophetically into the distant future, we shall consider next time.