Saturday, March 28, 2020
On Apocalyptic Writings. Lecture 3 of 3
Lecture 3 of 3
Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, October 24, 1904:
Before I go further in the explanation of apocalyptic writings, I must again repeat that this explanation can be of real value only to those who have been in the Theosophical Movement for a considerable time and who approach the theosophical view of the world with a certain sympathetic understanding. A great deal will have to be said here that may well cause opponents to attribute all kinds of fantastic things to Theosophy, and which, to begin with, will be regarded by rationalistic thinkers as so much brain-spinning. Familiarity with the nature of theosophical thought and feeling is essential if what is said in connection with the Apocalypse is not to be misunderstood.
What I have said about the relation of Christianity to Jesus Christ and about the relation of the writer of the Apocalypse to Jesus must be kept firmly in mind if we are to understand what follows.
The keystone for a true understanding of the place of Christianity in the world lies in the saying: Blessed are those who believe even though they do not see.
As I have already said, the significance of this utterance lies in the fact that what formerly took place in the deep secrecy of the Mystery temples was carried through Christianity on to the great arena of the world. This does not gainsay in the very slightest the historic actuality of the happenings in Palestine between the years 1 and 33 A.D. The standpoint of those who see to the root of these things will far rather be that the familiar Christian tradition is historic truth. In this respect, therefore, Theosophy is in agreement at every point with what Christians believe. But the historic fact at the beginning of our time-reckoning is something else as well, and we understand it rightly when we think of it as a mystical fact, when we realize that the way of the Passion, the Death, the Resurrection, the Ascension are historic happenings which were formerly enacted in the Mysteries.
There is a word in the Bible which indicates how the ancient Mystery is related to its own fulfillment, to Christianity. In Christianity, everything that pointed to Christ before His actual appearance is called: the Promise. Those who understand these things know that “Promise” means nothing else than that what took place in Palestine had been “promised” in the secrecy of the Mysteries. We can understand it from the very words of ancient scripts. Think only of the Mysteries of Greece. What was enacted in those Mysteries, in deep secrecy, and experienced only by the Initiates, was the Passion, Dying, and Resurrection of the “Son of God.” They experienced it through the preparation they had undergone, through their training on higher planes. Thus in the Mysteries the Initiate beheld the Passion, the Dying, and the Resurrection of the Son of God. This was portrayed before their eyes of spirit. That is the Promise. And then this Promise was fulfilled — in Palestine. This is the explanation of the utterance: blessed not only are those who were seers in the Mysteries, but also those who are able to believe not merely in the Word revealed to the Mystics, but in the Word made Flesh. That is the meaning of this utterance. It is from this point of view that we must understand the relation in which John the Apocalyptist stands to the Mysteries of antiquity and to the Christian Mystery. Light will then be thrown on many a passage.
It is said in the Apocalypse that seven seals are opened. What does the opening of seals mean, in the language in which the Apocalypse is written?
Since time immemorial, the secret of the Sons of God becoming man was announced prophetically to the mystics. And in the language of the Apocalypse, the presentation of this secret on the physical plane is called the opening of a seal. In the language of occultism, the opening of a seal means nothing else than the proclamation of something that was formerly made known only to the Initiates and presented only within the Mysteries. The picture given is correct in its very details. What is later revealed was in earlier times beheld within the Mysteries. During the time of the Mysteries there was no book which recorded what happened in the Mysteries. This came only later. Such a book is the Gospel. The Gospel contains what was formerly presented in the Mysteries, and what is written there is “unsealed” for those who are ready for it.
And who will be ready? Here is something that you must grasp in its whole setting in the Apocalypse. Something is proclaimed to seven Communities. You have heard that these seven Communities are representatives of the seven sub-races of the Fifth Root Race. Who, then, are the Proclaimers? And who are those to whom the proclamation is made? Here we must think from the esoteric point of view of the appearance of Christ as compared with other appearances. (If you have read the last number of the magazine “Lucifer” you will there find something that I will now briefly repeat.)
The evolution of mankind stands under the direction of mighty Leaders who guide its onward progress. In the language of esotericism these Leaders are called Manus. A Manu, therefore, is the Being who at the beginning of a race gives the great impulse, the direction in which the race is to evolve. We are living now in the Fifth Root Race. When, after the destruction of the Fourth Root Race (the Atlantean) this Fifth Root Race began its development, the great impulse was given by the Manu of the Fifth Root Race. The Manu is not in the same sense a man among men as other outstanding human individualities. Even before mankind on the Earth was filled with spirit, the Manu had already reached a lofty stage of development. It was in the Third Root Race, when in the middle of the Lemurian epoch the human spirit flashed up for the first time in the human body, that such leaders came to the human race. When men were young, when they were still children, they could not lead themselves. But their leaders were not of the same nature as themselves. These beings who had already reached a higher stage of development in an evolution that is not that of man, were so advanced that they could be leaders of the human race before the spirit had incarnated in the bodies of men.
These were superhuman beings. These superhuman beings are of two kinds. The one kind, who were already leaders at the time when, in respect of the Spiritual, men were still children, these beings had already advanced so far that they had reached a stage which will be reached by humanity only in the far-distant future. These highly developed individualities, the Manus, are called in the language of esotericism “the Holy Spirits.”
The second category of beings were already nearer to man's level, but still superhuman. They are called “Sons of God.” And the next group of individualities were those who were already men among men.
If we go back to the middle of the Lemurian epoch and survey man's whole evolution, we find three grades of individualities who have something to do with humanity. There is a group of very lofty individualities who long, long ago, in the far past, had already passed through the stages of evolution which man will attain only in the distant future. They are the “Holy Spirits.” A second group are the “Sons of God.” They stand nearer to man but are nevertheless far more exalted than he. And the third group are those who, as human beings, were still children, but were nevertheless the most advanced among those early men. They are the “Fathers” or “Pitris.”
We have therefore three grades of beings, and these three grades of beings are the guides and leaders of mankind.
If we now go back once again to the beginning of the Fifth Root Race, we find the superhuman Manu, by whom the great impulse was given. But in the course of the Fifth Root Race something very significant comes to pass, namely that in the course of the Fifth Root Race men themselves progress so far that a few of them will be able to take into their hands the spiritual guidance of the human race. Those whom we call “Fathers” or “Elders” will then be able to guide and lead men, as formerly they were led by the superhuman beings. Thus the guidance and leadership of mankind passes over from the Manus to those who are “Human Brothers,” “Brothers of Men.”
The Holy Spirits, the Sons of God, the Fathers, become the leaders of the human race in the successive epochs of time. The “Fathers” are also called “Elders.”
When the Word took on human form, so says the writer of the Apocalypse, this Word, the Logos, took on human form as the “Son,” just as formerly the Word took on human form as a Spirit, or since Christian esotericism calls the Spirit “Angel,” before the Word became Flesh, the Word was an “Angel.” This is Christian esotericism. First, the Word or the Logos is an Angel, then the Word became Flesh as Son, and then the Word will become “Elder” or “Father.” These are the successive stages. The Christian Initiates have always understood this. But their words must be rightly understood.
Paul, one of the greatest Christian Initiates, could only hint at these profound secrets. But he gave an indication of what I have just been saying. When the Word was still an Angel, the Word was still on the supersensible plane. The Word is spoken from out of the clouds, from the supersensible, when Commandments are proclaimed. The age of the “Law” is the age of the “Promise.” The time of the Law was when the Word was an Angel. Then the Word became Flesh, and later on the Word will become “Elder” or “Father.” Paul was an Initiate, and proclaimed this in the Epistle to the Galatians in the following words:
“The law is not of faith, but the man that doeth them shall live in them. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us; for it is written, cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree; that the blessing of Abraham might come on the gentiles, through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; though it be but man's covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man annulleth, or addeth thereto. Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, and to seeds as of many; but as of one and to thy seed, which is Christ. And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law which was four hundred and thirty years after cannot annul, that it should make the promise of none effect. For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise. Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator is not a mediator of one; but God is one. Is the law then against the promise of God? God forbid; for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.”
Other passages, too, indicate that the Word was an Angel, but subsequently became Flesh. What happened through the Word becoming Flesh? It was proclaimed to the sub-races of the Fifth Root Race how they should develop on into the future. In the Letters to the seven Communities, the author of the Apocalypse indicates how evolution proceeds. Not all human beings reach the goal, not all those who have entered into this evolutionary process reach the goal in the due time. Something very significant comes to pass. In order to understand it aright, let us ask: How does the writer of the Apocalypse help us to understand the Fathers, the Elders? Do we find the Elders themselves in the Gospel? Yes, they are there at the time when the Angel has become the Son. At that time the Fathers are not yet ready to receive the Word into themselves. They must wait for a future time. In the age of the Promise, the Fathers have not progressed sufficiently. They will understand the Word only at the end of the Fifth Root Race, when within themselves, as Fathers, they will understand what remained hidden from them at the time when Christ, their Master, was on Earth. The twelve Disciples are Elders. They are destined again to come into the presence of Christ. Then, at the end of the Fifth Root Race, the Book that was given to them sealed will be unsealed.
Again something of particular significance comes to pass in evolution. We are told what conditions will be when the Fifth Root Race has progressed to the point where it must be decided whether the time has come for the transition into the Sixth Root Race. I shall merely indicate things upon which I will speak more fully in later lectures.
The coming of the Sixth Root Race is announced by the sounding of trumpets. Quote from Rev. IV;12: “And the fourth Angel sounded, and the third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars; so as the third part of them was darkened, and the day shone not for a third part of it, and the night likewise.”
This refers to the third part that has remained behind, which however, need not have happened. The Letters to the Communities contain not only warnings and admonitions but also sharp reproof. Not all reach the goal. A third part (of humanity) falls away completely from evolution. We have therefore one third which will attain the goal, one third which lags behind, and one third which does not reach the goal and falls completely away. One third attains its goal, a second third will only later attain its goal, making together two thirds; and at the end of the Fifth Root Race, only one third of those who began evolution will have reached the necessary stage of development.
Seventy-two Elders were called upon to enter into evolution and to develop to further stages. The admonitions to the Communities which it devolved upon the Elders to lead indicates that only a third reach the goal. If we take a third of 72 Elders, we have 24 Elders who will still be there when the seven seals of the Book are opened. This revelation of God's majesty is something which was proclaimed by the appearance of Christ. Quote from Rev. IV: “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 shew thee things which must be hereafter.” And immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne. And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone, and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald. And round about the throne were four and twenty seats, and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment, and they had on their heads crowns of gold. And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices, and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God. And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal, and in the midst of the throne were four beasts full of eyes before and behind. And the first beast was like a lion and the second beast like a calf and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle. And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within, and they rest not day and night, saying Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty which was and is and is to come. And when those beasts gave glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever, the four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever and cast their crowns before the throne saying, “Thou are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and Power, for thou hast created all things and for thy pleasure they are and were created.”
This is the future stage of evolution when those who have overcome will have become Fathers in the true sense.
I said that what once took place in the deep secrecy of the Mysteries will, in later times, be unsealed. I have told you that Christ's appearance on Earth was presented in the Greek Mysteries. What was then a secret was unveiled through the appearance of Christ. We could have gone into the Greek Mysteries and we should there have beheld the Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension. The seven seals belong to the future. If a mystery is also proclaimed then, it will again be a mystery of which the seal belongs to a still later future.
As far as this is possible, I will tell you of a mystery that has been celebrated ever since the time of the ancient Indian Rishis and is of deepest significance. I will try to render it in the following way, in symbolism. There is a horse, with the front foot raised. Upon this horse sits a divine figure with a bow. The figure gives a sign and the horse tramples a serpent on the head with its foot. This is the horse Kalki. This signifies that everything of a lower nature falls away, that there will come a future when the Son of the Gods, he who sits upon the horse, will come and who, as king adorned with the crown, will bring the revelation of what is hidden in the book with the seven seals. This is a mystery that is everywhere to be found. I have only been able to indicate it in an entirely external way. But today it is still a mystery that can be experienced and beheld only by an Apocalyptist, but in the future times will be unveiled within us, just as John has revealed and written down for us the unsealing of the old world. Then we shall realize that it points to the time when the Elders, the Fathers, receive the revelation of what underlies this mystery and is revealed at its unsealing.
Quote from Rev. VI:1-3: “And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals; and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, come and see. And I saw, and beheld a white horse, and he that sat on him had a bow, and a crown was given unto him, and he went forth conquering, and to conquer. And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, come and see.”
This is repeated four times. The unsealing of the mystery of the Fathers, as it is contained in Christianity, is of all words spoken in the Mysteries, the most significant. Whence comes man? Whither does his development lead? From the Father to the Father. This is revealed through the Mediator: “No one cometh to the Father save through me.”
The whole of world evolution, that of the past and that of the future, actually comes to expression in the Apocalypse. Even these indications are of the most elementary kind. We must first be able to employ the words of the Apocalypse in their true meaning. We shall learn more and more from them.
Today I only wanted to call forth a feeling that by steeping oneself in this work one realizes that its depths are inexhaustible. Of this I can assure you: The Apocalypse is one of those writings in the face of which we learn true humility, true piety, and through which we learn what the Indian esotericist calls Faith (Glauben). There is an experience which imparts this Faith to us in the deepest sense, and it is the following: After we have made efforts to understand such a writing, we believe, to begin with, that we know a little about it. But when we try to go into it still more deeply, as deeply as our powers allow, we find that our earlier interpretation was utterly childish. We realize that only now do we rightly understand what is said. And having done this and after a lapse of time again take up the book, the same experience is repeated. When this has happened several times, Shradda (Faith) comes to us. We steep ourselves again and again in such a writing, finding in it ever greater depths. That is the inexhaustible fount of such writings, which we can read with unshakable confidence but can never come to an end of their meaning. This is at the same time an urge to be humble in our attitude toward such writings, to delve into them more and more deeply. It will be clear to us then that if a really profound explanation seems to have been found, it will become ever more profound in time to come. From this springs the consciousness that the greatest treasures given to man do not stem from human imperfection but from divine perfection, for this is verily divine wisdom, revelation of divine wisdom. Documents of wisdom are given to us in these books. Our understanding of them is still feeble, for these writings come to us not from men, not from below, but from above, through the Gods. We have to develop to their heights. This gives the esotericist a feeling of the truth of words which must become part of his very life, must be his guiding maxim, and which must permeate theosophists ever more deeply. For it is not dogmatic knowledge, not doctrinal knowledge, that makes a man a theosophist, but the fact that he is steeped through and through with the wisdom of this utterance, that his whole attitude of mind and feeling is filled with the wisdom which it contains: The Highest — it is given from the Primal Beginning; The Highest — it will be understood through man at the end of the days.