Lecture 2 of 3
Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, October 17, 1904:
Today we will continue our study of the Apocalypse. Anyone who desires to understand the whole meaning and spirit of a work like the Apocalypse must, above all, have a clear idea of how the religions work, and of how Christianity too worked at the beginning, that is to say, what forces made it possible for Christianity, like the other religious systems, to pour the life of the Spirit in might and glory over mankind.
The belief is all too widespread today that plain, simple words, comprehensible to everybody, must contain the truth, and there is a certain disinclination to raise the spirit to the heights of thought, to the heights of supersensible vision. People are averse to this. We often hear it said, even by theologians, that whatever cannot be clothed in the simplest words, which everyone can understand, can be of little service to truth. Anyone who holds this view will be incapable of understanding the meaning and spirit of a work like the Apocalypse or the mystical Gospel of St. John. There is nothing to be said against the justness of the saying that truth must be made known in simple words, for one who would proclaim truth must find ways to speak to the simplest hearts; they must find words in which to speak to those who stand at the heights of science, culture, and education, as well as to those who go by the name of the “simple” folk. But the power, the inner force, cannot find expression in homely, simple words. This power issues from the supreme heights of spiritual life.
Christianity, too, in the early centuries, had Mystery Centers, places of initiation, where not only simple words, universally comprehensible teachings were given, but the revelations of spiritual vision at its highest level were made known. In the Gospel of St. John this spiritual vision extends to the realms where space and time no longer mean anything. Those who did not participate in the Mysteries were not all of them capable of speaking of these revelations of the highest realms of the spiritual world. Therefore the Church Father or Teacher of the first Christian centuries found popular, simple words through which to find access to the hearts of the unlearned folk. He himself had within him the power, the force, belonging to the proclamation from the heights of spiritual life. There is some indication of this in the Apocalypse itself. You only need to read with understanding the most significant passages in the Apocalypse and you will find that what is drawn down from the heights of spirit has been gathered into a great, all-embracing picture of the world. Quotation from Rev. 1:9: “I John, who also am your brother and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. I was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day ...” He says that he was on the island of Patmos, meaning a place of initiation, and received this revelation. And he had received it “in the spirit.” In other places he speaks a little differently. At the beginning of the fourth chapter he says, “After this I looked, and behold a door was opened in heaven, and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me, which said, “Come up hither and I will show thee things which must be hereafter ...”
The first three chapters contain the gist of what I tried to convey briefly in the last lecture. But then comes a description of the destiny of the Root Race which will follow our own. That is why the Apocalypse makes a clear distinction between the two kinds of vision, Inspiration and Intuition. A lower form of Intuition suffices when it is a matter of making known the destiny of a former Root Race, but a higher form of Intuition is necessary in order to see what will come to pass after our own Root Race, for example, during the sixth and seventh Root Races. This lies beyond the range of the vision upon which the first three chapters are based and can only be revealed to the seer when he ascends to Devachan. The destiny of a Root Race never unrolls before us in the region of astral vision, however highly developed. Therefore the Apocalyptist says that he heard the voice “in the spirit.” Up to the end of the third chapter of the Apocalypse we have to do with higher astral vision; from the fourth chapter onwards, with Devachanic vision.
The Initiates of all epochs speak as St. John, the writer of the Apocalypse, speaks. But the Apocalypse of St. John differs in one respect from other profound writings of Initiates. The standpoint is different. The theologian, John, speaks in the Apocalypse as a Christian, from the Christian standpoint. Therefore anyone who desires to read the Apocalypse with true insight, with right feeling, must steep himself not merely in the theological but in the human attitude and feeling of a deeply initiated Christian who has himself experienced the full power of the Christian revelation.
A significant saying is to be found in the first Epistle of St. John. Quotation from I John 5:7,8: “For there are three that bear record in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost ... And there are three that bear witness in Earth: the spirit, the water, and the blood ...”
The three principles that “bear record in heaven” are known to the theosophist as Atman, Buddhi, and Manas. The Christian calls the three principles which underlie the world: Father, Word, and Holy Spirit.
A Christian of the first centuries would have refrained from speaking of the Father. “No one cometh to the Father save through Me.” These words were uttered by the great Christian Master Himself, by Him through Whom Christianity itself came into the world. I am now speaking entirely in the sense in which an initiated Christian of the first period of Christianity would have spoken. He believed in the Father and he believed that he could come to know the Father only through the Word.
And what was the Word? It is only possible to convey to the non-initiate a feeble idea of what an initiated Christian of the first centuries called the “Word” — and even then, it can be done only by means of a comparison. The highest to which man can raise himself is the Thought. Man raises himself through Thoughts to life in Devachan. He lives in Devachan. Only, he is not conscious of it. The characteristic of earthly man is that he lives simultaneously in three worlds: the physical world, the astral world, and the Devachanic world. But he is conscious of himself only in the physical world. The highest manifestation which can exist in the world was for all religions, and also for Christianity in its earliest form, the world-creative Will. And when the Christian says anything at all about the Father, it is always in the sense that the Father is the world-creative, universal Will. When man desires to bring the highest that is in him, the Devachanic, the Thought, to expression through the Will, that is, through the world-creative principle, then this is done, in the first place, through Speech. The Word is, in man, the announcer of the Spirit through the Will. And so the early Christian said: everything that constitutes our world is apprehended in the highest sense through the Word, through the Word that has come into being through the Highest, world-creative Will, just as man brings the highest that is in him to expression in the words, through the power of will. And so the Christian said, “The Father brought His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, to expression through the power of the WORD.” Hence it is written in the Gospel, “All things were made by the Word, and without the Word was not anything made that was made.”
The Third Person is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the same for the Cosmic All as the spirit of the individual man is for man. The Spirit descends in the Cosmic Word. If the Christian wanted to picture this to himself, he said, “Just as when a man speaks his words sound forth into the air, setting the air into wave-movement, and his thought lives further in the waves of the air, just as the word is the embodiment of the human spirit, so is the world the embodiment of the Divine Word.” Everything was made through the Word and without the Word nothing was made that was made. Therewith it is affirmed that the essential, basic principle is the highest that man can see embodied in the world. This is the Word, and this Word is designated as the Second Divine Person, or as the Son of God, as the Highest Being, not as an abstract image of the World-soul conceived in a pantheistic sense, but as a Being far more personal and individual than the human personality, the human individuality. It must be firmly held in mind that “the Word” is an expression for the Highest Being, through Whom the entire universe works, just as man can see with eyes, hear with ears, apprehend with the intellect. That Being, for the early Christians, became Man, in Him Whom they recognized as the Proclaimer of the Gospel.
Thus for the early Christians the Event in Palestine was of cosmic significance. He Who walked in Palestine was, for the first Christians, not a man as other men. For them He was the Word made Flesh, the One Who in the great Universe can be seen with eyes, heard with ears, grasped with the understanding, and this infinite Being had come in the form of a man. Whoever does not apprehend this, whoever tries to twist the meaning of the God made Flesh, this Word which is the God become Flesh, whoever does not hold the view that here was the Incarnation of God in Jesus, cannot really understand the mind and thought of the first Christians. He was in very truth a unique Personality. The Gospel expresses this, too, in a glorious, most powerful way. For those who can read aright, the Gospel clearly indicates the fact that the Christian Initiate ascended to Devachanic vision. In order fully to understand Christianity, however, I beg you to consider the following.
In the narrative of the life of Jesus and of the life of Buddha there is great similarity. This similarity in the Annunciation, in the years of teaching, and so forth, has often been stressed. The mystic understands the reason for this similarity because he knows that such a life repeats itself in certain epochs of human evolution. But in the Christ life there is something else, something essentially different from the Buddha-life, and the first Christian Initiates understood this. If you follow the life of Jesus, you come to the event described as the Transfiguration. Jesus went with His disciples Peter, John, and James to the mountain and was transfigured; He was illumined from within, and Moses and Elias appeared on either side of Him. The disciples then received significant revelations. This is an indication of a moment of supreme importance. Moses and Elias appear on either side of Christ Jesus. Time is transcended, the Past has become Present. So it is in Devachan. In the physical world we have space and time. In the astral world we have only time. In the Devachanic world, however, there is no time, no space. Moses and Elias, long since passed away, are immediately present. This means, therefore, that at the Transfiguration the three disciples, Peter, James, and John, were transported into the state of Devachanic vision. Following the Transfiguration we first come to what is significant. It is the actual sacrificial death, the suffering, the dying, which do not occur in the life of Buddha. Buddha went out with his disciple Ananda and became Illumined. When the scene is described in the life of Buddha it is given a different form, adapted to the understanding of the people. The Transfiguration, however, comes at the end of Buddha's life, whereas the really significant epoch in the life of Jesus begins with this event. Therewith is indicated Christ's teaching concerning all the old religious systems of the previous sub-races of the Fifth Root Race. Christ wished to say “We understand the prophecies, the previous proclamations in the old religious systems of what the Gospel now proclaims; we recognize that in the ancient Mysteries the word of truth was taught and revealed.” But one thing has become reality through Christianity. And that is expressed by the words: Blessed are they who do not see and yet believe. This epitomizes the great, world-historic significance of Christianity in its Gospel. What was formerly attained through Initiation by a few chosen ones in the seclusion of the Mystery temples, attained through vision of the great cosmic truths within the hidden crypts of the Mystery centers, could now be attained by those who had not actual vision but who were able to believe with inner freedom of soul. Therefore what formerly took place in concealment, in the seclusion of the Mysteries, the supreme Mystery wherein man himself goes through the gate of death in order to rise again in a higher life, this deepest of all Mystery-secrets, which a non-initiate cannot understand in its true significance, this was enacted on the great stage of outer world-existence. What came to pass in Palestine came to pass as actual, historic fact, following in every detail the sacred acts which had formerly taken place in Mystery-rites. The rites of sacrifice and the sacrificial death were constantly repeated, in the Mysteries. But the old Mystery-teachings had to be presented to the world, in a more popular form. Therewith a further step was achieved through Christianity, a step forward, in the understanding of an early Christian Initiate, a step which leads man beyond the stage to which the old religions could have led him.
Who were the old religious teachers? They were teachers of mankind. What they taught: that was the important thing. It was the actual teachings of Buddha, Zoroaster, Confucius, Hermes, Pythagoras, Lao-tze, it was the words themselves that were all-important. These teachers stood as it were on a high mountain and from there proclaimed the Most Holy Word. But something else was possible. The WORD Itself descended and took on human form. Henceforward it was not a question of what was proclaimed, but what was lived, lived in the very deepest sense. The goal was fulfilled. In ancient times the path for our Fifth Root Race was outlined. The teachings and commandments, the truths, given by the old founders of religions, Lao-tze, Confucius, Moses, Buddha, were given for this purpose. But the WORD Itself came down in fleshly form and lived among us. The Threefold utterance became reality: I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The Christian Initiate indicated what I have said in words of great profundity. All the founders of ancient religions were regarded as embodied Angels, messengers of the Godhead. “Angel” means the Messenger of the Godhead. But now there came One before Whom the Angels veiled their countenances in veneration and laid themselves at the feet of the Mystical Lamb, at the feet of the God made Flesh. The Mystery is that the Lamb Who became flesh denoted a deeper descent into humanity, a life among men. The earlier teachers had proclaimed the Word from the mountaintop. But Christ came down into the valley, lived as Man among men. He did not command what is to be done; He did not merely proclaim truths; but in his very life He made manifest the Word. For the Christians, this was what distinguished his religion from the other religions. This was what brought him to the core and center of what the Christian Initiate proclaims as the Apocalypse, or the secret revelation. We will speak next time of why the Word made Flesh was also called the Lamb.
It will have become clear to us that the Lamb must be regarded as the central figure in the Apocalypse, and that only through the Lamb can the future of humanity be made known. In the 4th chapter of the Apocalypse, where the man is led out, where the heaven opens, the truths of the higher world are announced to him. It is the Mystical Lamb Who opens the Seals of the World. Here is encountered the now transfigured Flesh. Hence the question: What is revealed to a man who has passed beyond the heights of Christian astral vision? The Mystical Lamb is revealed to him. The Devachanic world lies open before him and then he is able to unveil the innermost secret which must be revealed when the time is fulfilled, i. e., when the 7th sub-race of our Fifth Root Race is completed and a new race of mankind, together with a new stage of evolution, is at hand.
Thus we have in the Apocalypse a description of the Destiny of the 5th sub-race and of the beginnings of a new configuration of the world, characterized by the words: Pneumatology, Communal life based on love, Morality.
This world is announced in the secret that is revealed through the opening of the seven seals, revealed through Him Who made the fulfillment of this secret possible, in that He came among men. And He will fulfill it when the time is ripe, when our Root Race has become ready to pass over into that world and to attain the stage of evolution designated by these three words: Pneumatology, Communal life based on love, Morality.
Such are the depths from which the content of the Apocalypse must be drawn. This does not imply that true Christianity can be drawn only from these depths. But true Christianity must be permeated by fire, and man can only kindle this fire in himself when he draws its force from higher vision. In Christianity, the fruit of this higher vision is the Apocalypse.
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