The Gospel of John. Lecture 9 of 12.
Rudolf Steiner, Hamburg, May 29, 1908:
During the whole course of our lectures you have seen what our position is in relation to the document called the Gospel of St. John, standing as we do upon the foundation of spiritual science. You have seen that it is not a question of gaining out of this document some particular truths about the spiritual world, but of showing that, independent of all human and other documents, it is possible to penetrate into that world, just as anyone wishing to learn mathematics at present does so independent of every original document by means of which, in the course of human evolution, different branches of mathematics have first been communicated. What, for example, do those students know who begin to study elementary geometry, acquiring it by means of their own faculties from geometry itself, what do they know of the geometry of Euclid, of the original document in which this elementary geometry was presented to the world for the first time? If the student has first learned geometry by means of his own faculties, he can judge and appreciate better the nature and meaning of the original documents. This should show us more and more that those truths which deal with this spiritual life can be gained out of the life of the spirit itself. If a person has found these truths for himself and then is directed to the historical documents, he finds in them again what he already knows. In this way he acquires a right and true human valuation of them. We have seen in the course of these lectures that the Gospel of St. John really loses nothing in value by this method; we have seen that the respect for and appreciation of documents do not become less for anyone standing upon the foundation of spiritual science than for those who have stood entirely upon the foundation of such documents. Indeed, we have seen that we find again in the Gospel of St. John the most profound teaching concerning Christianity, a teaching which we can also call the teaching of Universal Wisdom. We have also seen that only when we have grasped this profound meaning of the Christian teaching, can we understand why the Christ had to enter into human evolution just at a definite time at the beginning of our era.
We have seen how humanity developed in the post-Atlantean age. It has been pointed out that the original Indian civilization was the first great post-Atlantean cultural epoch after the Atlantean Flood; that the characteristic of this original Indian civilization was that the souls of men were filled with longing and memory. We have characterized memory and longing by saying that they consisted in the preservation of living traditions from an epoch of human evolution ante-dating the Atlantean Flood. At that time, quite in conformity with their nature and inner being, men existed in a kind of nebulous, clairvoyant state in which they could gaze into the spiritual world, thus becoming acquainted with it through personal experience and knowledge, just as men of the present time are acquainted with the four kingdoms of nature, the mineral, plant, animal, and human kingdoms. We have seen that prior to the Atlantean Flood there existed as yet no such sharp distinction as we have today between the states of consciousness during the day and the night. At that time, when the human being sank into sleep at night, his inner experiences were not so unconscious and dark as they are now, for when the images of day life submerged, those of the spiritual life emerged, and he was then in the midst of the things of the spirit world. In the morning, when he again dipped down into his physical body, the experiences and realities of the divine-spiritual world sank into darkness, and around him arose the images of present reality, images of the present mineral, plant, and animal kingdoms. The sharp distinction between the unconsciousness of the night and day waking-consciousness appeared only after the Atlantean Flood, that is to say, in our post-Atlantean age. Then, in a certain sense, as far as direct perception is concerned, men were cut off from spiritual reality and were more and more placed outside in purely physical reality. All that remained was the memory of the existence of another kingdom, a kingdom of spiritual beings, and united with this memory was the soul's longing to rise again by means of some exceptional condition into the regions out of which it had descended. Those exceptional conditions were only granted to a few chosen people — the initiates — whose inner faculties had been awakened in the Mystery Places, enabling them to gaze into the spiritual world; to those others who were not able to do this, these initiates were able to give information about that world and testify to its reality. In the original Indian cultural period, yoga was the process by which men were able to revert to the ancient nebulous, clairvoyant state of consciousness. When certain exceptional natures were initiated, they became, as a result, the leaders of mankind, witnesses of the spiritual world.
Under the effect of this longing and memory within this original Indian, pre-Vedic civilization, that soul-mood was particularly developed which regarded physical reality as maya or illusion. These primitive Indian people said that actual reality exists alone in the spiritual world, into which we can be reinstated only by means of an exceptional condition, through yoga. This world of spiritual beings and processes is the true one. What is seen with the eyes is unreal, is illusion, maya. That was the first religious fundamental experience of the post-Atlantean age, and yoga was the first form of initiation of this period. In fact there was yet no comprehension of the true mission of the post-Atlantean age. For it was not the mission of humanity to consider the reality which we call physical existence as maya or illusion and then to flee from it and become foreign to it. Post-Atlantean humanity had another mission, that of conquering more and more the physical reality, of becoming master of the world of physical phenomena. But it is also quite comprehensible that men, now for the first time transferred to this physical plane, should in the beginning consider as maya or illusion what previously had hardly emerged within the spiritual reality but what was now all that they were able to perceive. This attitude toward reality could never have continued. This understanding of the physical reality as an illusion could not remain the vital nerve of the post-Atlantean period. And we have seen that post-Atlantean humanity, in the different cultural epochs, conquered bit by bit the connection with the physical reality.
In that period of civilization which we designate the ancient Persian — the periods which history knows as the Persian and Zarathustrian periods are the last echoes of what is meant here — in that second period, we saw mankind taking the first step toward growing out of the ancient Indian principle and conquering physical reality. Still nowhere was there a fondness for sinking into the physical reality; also there existed nowhere anything like a study of the physical world. There was, however, more of this in the Persian period than in the ancient Indian period. We get a reverberation of the mood that looks upon physical reality as illusion in what has survived in later epochs of ancient Indian civilization. Yet our present civilization could never have arisen out of that Indian culture. All the wisdom of that period turned its gaze away from the physical world and directed it upward toward spiritual worlds which existed as a memory. The study of physical reality and its elaboration seemed to them futile; therefore the actual Indian principle could never have brought forth a science serviceable to our earthly world; it could never have produced that mastery of the laws of nature which forms the foundation of our present civilization. This could never have sprung from ancient India, for why should one seek to learn to know the forces of a world resting only upon illusion! If this was changed in the Indian cultural period also, it was not because of something flowing out of itself, but was due to subsequent foreign influences.
For the ancient Persian civilization, the external, physical reality exists as a sphere of activity. It was looked upon as the expression of a hostile Deity, but the hope arose that with the aid of the God of Light this substantial field of reality might be penetrated, that it might be changed into something permeated by spiritual powers and good divinities. Thus the adherents of the Persian civilization already sensed somewhat the reality of the physical world. It is true they still considered it the realm of the God of Darkness, but for all that, they always hoped that they might be able to incorporate within it the forces of the good gods.
Humanity then passed over into that period of civilization which found its historical expression in the Babylonian-Assyrian-Chaldaic-Egyptian culture, and we have seen how it happened that the starry heavens were no longer maya to these people of the third epoch, but something whose written characters could be read. In all that still seemed a maya to the Indians in the course and splendor of the stars, the Persian saw an expression of the resolutions and purposes of divine-spiritual beings. They gradually accustomed themselves to the idea that outer reality is not illusion but a revelation, a manifestation of divine-spiritual beings. Then in the Egyptian civilization men began to apply what they read in the stars to the divisions of the Rarth. Why was it the Egyptians became the masters of geometry? It was because they believed that through thought, which subdivides the Earth, matter can also be controlled, and that matter, which can be grasped by the human spirit, is easily transformed. Thus gradually a later humanity permeated this material world — looked upon at first as only maya — with the spirit, and this spirit also gradually emerged within the inner soul life of the human being.
We have seen, in fact, that only in the later Atlantean age humanity had reached the point where it could experience the ego or the “I AM.” For as long as men beheld spiritual images, they knew that they themselves belonged to the spiritual world, that they were themselves images among other images. Then came a comprehension of the spirit within the depths of the human being. Let us now consider, in connection with what we have partially reviewed today, the evolution of the inner nature of men.
As long as the human being of the Atlantean period looked outward with a kind of dream-like, clairvoyant consciousness he did not really give much attention to his own inner nature. The inner world, which is encompassed by the ego or the “I AM,” was not yet delineated in sharp contours. In proportion as the outer spiritual world disappeared, men became conscious of their own inner world of the spirit. In the ancient Indian civilization there still existed in the individual an extraordinary attitude of soul toward his own spiritual life. People said: If we wish to penetrate into the spiritual world, to raise ourselves above illusion, we must lose ourselves in the spiritual world, we must obliterate as much as possible the “I AM” and become absorbed into the All-Spirit, into Brahman. Thus especially in ancient initiation it was a matter of a loss of personality. An impersonal absorption into the spiritual world is what distinguished the most ancient form of initiation. This was no longer so, for example, in the third epoch of civilization, for right up to that time the human self-consciousness had by degrees been developing stronger and stronger. The human being became continually more and more conscious within the inner part of his ego being. By developing a fondness for the physical matter about him, by deepening his knowledge of it by means of the laws which the human spirit had thought out, but which had not been acquired in any sort of shadowy dream-state, he became gradually more aware of his ego, until this consciousness of personality reached a certain high point in the ancient Egyptian civilization. In this awareness of the personality there was present something else that appeared at the same time inferior and as though now bound to the physical world and absorbed into it, something that had no possibility of acquiring a connection with that from which the human being had been born.
If we wish to grasp the whole course of events, we must picture to our souls two fundamental soul-moods in human evolution. We must remember how humanity of the Atlantean and ancient Indian periods longed to strip off personality. The Atlanteans were able to accomplish this, and they took it for granted that they would each night strip off their personality and live in the land of the spirit. The Indians could do this, because their principle of initiation led them, by means of their yoga, into what was impersonal. To repose in the universal divine substance was their desire. In a later branch of the human family, this reposing within the universal was preserved in the consciousness of being united with preceding generations. It remained in the consciousness of the people that they had been born out of a line of ancestry, and an individual human being felt himself united through the blood with generations as far back as his earliest ancestor. This was the mood which grew out of that ancient soul-mood of feeling oneself spiritually sheltered within the divine-spiritual substance. Thus it happened that those human beings who had passed through a normal evolution began in the third cultural epoch to feel themselves as individuals, yet, at the same time, knowing that they were sheltered within the whole, within the divine-spiritual, that they belonged through the blood relationship to the entire line of forefathers, and that God lived for them in the blood flowing down to them through the generations. We have seen how a certain degree of perfection of this mood had been developed within those people who composed the followers of the Old Testament. “I and Father Abraham are one” means that the individual felt himself preserved within the whole line of descent back to Abraham. That was, in general, what constituted the fundamental mood of all normally developed races of the third cultural period. However, only to the followers of the Old Testament was it predicted that there existed something spiritually more profound than the Divine Fatherhood that ran through the blood of successive generations. We have already called attention to that great moment in human evolution when this was prophesied. When Moses heard the voice calling unto him saying: “When thou wouldst proclaim My Name, say that ‘I AM’ hath said it unto thee!”, then here for the first time sounds forth the knowledge and manifestation of the Logos, of the Christ. Here for the first time, for those who could comprehend, was prophetically proclaimed that in God there existed something that not only had to do with the blood relationship, but that in Him there existed something purely spiritual. What ran through the Old Testament was like a prophecy. Who was it, in fact, who at that time in a prophecy revealed His name to Moses? We must now dwell a little on this question. Here again we have a passage which the commentators of the Gospel consider very superficially, not recognizing the fact that one must examine these records as thoroughly as possible.
Who was it who announced His name prophetically, to Whom the name “I AM” must be given? Who was it? We find the answer if with earnestness and dignity we properly grasp a certain passage of the Gospel. It is the passage which we find in the 12th chapter, beginning with the 37th verse. Here Christ Jesus points to the fulfillment of the words of the Prophet Isaiah, to the prophecy with its reference to the fact that the Jews would not believe in Christ Jesus. Jesus Himself refers to Isaiah:
He hath blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, that they should not see with their eyes nor understand with their hearts and be converted and I should heal them.
These things said Isaiah when he saw His glory and spake with Him.
Isaiah spake with Him! With Whom did Isaiah speak? Reference is made here to the passage in Isaiah 6:1 which reads:
Whom did Isaiah see? This is clearly told here in the Gospel of St. John. He saw the Christ! He was always to be seen in the spirit, and now you will no longer find it incomprehensible when spiritual science points out that He whom Moses saw, who proclaimed the words “I AM” as His name, was the same being who then appeared upon the Earth as the Christ. The actual Spirit of God of antiquity is none other than the Christ. We are now at a point in this religious record which is very difficult to understand, especially for those who do not go at it properly. This passage must be clearly understood, particularly because with the words Father, Son, and Holy Spirit the most extraordinary confusion has arisen. It is a fact that exoterically these words have always been used in the most manifold ways in order that the real esoteric meaning might not be directly evident. When, according to ancient Judaism, the “father” was mentioned, the physical father whose blood flowed down through the generations was meant. When they spoke of Him who revealed Himself spiritually, as Isaiah spoke of the “Lord,” they were referring to the Logos of which the Gospel of St. John speaks. The writer of this Gospel means nothing more nor less than that the One who could always be perceived in the spirit became flesh and dwelt among us!
When it has become clear to us that in a certain sense the Christ was also spoken of in the Old Testament, we shall understand what place the ancient Hebrew peoples have held in our evolution. The ancient Hebrew principle grew out of the Egyptian civilization. It stands out in bold relief against the background of the Egyptian principle.
Thus we see how the normal course of human evolution progressed as it was described yesterday. The first cultural period of the post-Atlantean age is the ancient Indian, the second the ancient Persian, the third the Babylonian-Assyrian-Chaldaic-Egyptian civilization; then follows the fourth, the Greco-Latin, and the fifth, which is our own present cultural epoch. Before the fourth epoch began, that people which with its traditions provided the soil for Christianity emerged out of the third epoch like a mysterious branch. When we summarize all that we have been hearing in these lectures, we shall find it much more comprehensible that the appearance of the Christ had to take place in the fourth era.
We have already emphasized the fact that in the fourth epoch the human being had reached the point where he objectified his own spirituality, his own ego, and had placed it out in the world. We perceive how gradually he permeated matter with his own spirit, with his ego-spirit. We behold the works of the Greek sculptors and dramatists and see how they have presented, embodied before the soul, what they call their own soul qualities. Later, in the Roman period, we see how the human being also becomes conscious of what he is, and we see how he established this in the outer world as “Justice” (Jus), although a distorted Jurisprudence disguised it. For the deeper students of Jurisprudence it is clear that real justice, which considers the human being its subject, first arose in this fourth cultural epoch. At that time the people had become conscious enough of their own personality to feel themselves for the first time as real citizens of the State. Even in the Greek period the individual felt himself as a member of the whole municipal State. This was more important to an Athenian than to be an individual man. But to say “I am a Roman” or “I am an Athenian” meant two very different things. For to say “I am a Roman” meant that, as an individual human being, as a citizen of the State, he had an importance, he had a will. Thus it could also be proven that the origin of the concept of a “testament” first became possible in this epoch, for this is a Roman concept. Only at that time did the human being make his will so personal, so individualized, that he wished to be active in it even beyond death. The things which spiritual science has to say harmonize even in the details with the actual facts.
The human being gradually reached the point of permeating matter with his spirit, and this increased as time went on. The fourth epoch was that in which he thoroughly incorporated into matter what he comprehended with his spirit. In the Egyptian pyramids you can see how spirit and matter are still wrestling with one another, how what had been grasped by the spirit had not yet fully expressed itself in matter. In the Greek temple is expressed the complete turning point of the post-Atlantean age. For one who understands a little of this, there is no more significant, no more perfect, architecture than the Greek, which is the purest expression of the inner characteristic of space. The pillars are considered wholly as supports, and what rests upon them is felt as something that must be supported, something that presses down. The supreme, emancipated concept of space is here in the Greek temple carried to its ultimate conclusions. Few people have subsequently felt the concept of space in this way, yet there have been those who could have felt it, but they felt it pictorially. Let anyone test the space in the Sistine Chapel. Stand at the rear wall which bears the great picture of the Last Judgment, and look up. You will see that the rear wall rises obliquely upward. It inclines thus because the architect felt the concept of space, but did not think it so abstractly as others. Therefore this wall stands there so marvellously at an angle. This means that he no longer experienced the concept of space as did the Greeks. There is an artistic sense which feels the mysterious measure concealed in space. To sense it architecturally does not mean to sense it by means of the eyes, but by means of something else. People easily believe today that right is the same as left, above the same as below, forward the same as backward. If one would only consider the following: There are pictures in which three, four, or five angels can be seen floating about. They can be painted in such a way that one would be right in thinking that they are in danger of falling at any moment. They can likewise be painted by someone who has developed the right sense for space, in such a manner that there is no possibility of such a thought arising; they could not fall because they mutually support each other. We then have the dynamic relationships in space pictorially represented before us. The Greeks had it architecturally before them. They experienced the horizontal not alone as line but as the force of pressure, and they experienced the pillar not only as a block of something but as supporting power. This feeling-with-the-lines-of-space means “feeling the living Spirit in the act of geometrizing.” That is what Plato meant when he used the tremendous expression “God geometrizes continually.”
These lines really exist in space, and the Greeks built their temples in accordance with them. What was in reality a Greek temple? From necessity it was the dwelling-house of their God. It was something quite different from the church of the present day. The present church is a place for preaching. The God Himself dwelt within the Greek temple. The people were only present incidentally when they wished to be with their God. One who understands the forms of the Greek temple experiences a mysterious connection with the God dwelling within it. There, in the columns, and in what rests upon them, is to be seen not only what the human being has fashioned in imagination, but something that his God would have thus made had He wished to create a dwelling place for Himself. This was the climax of the permeation of matter with spirit.
Let us now compare a Greek temple with a Gothic church. Nothing derogatory of the Gothic is intended, for from another point of view the Gothic church stands upon a still higher level than the Greek temple. In a Gothic church you can see that what is expressed in its form cannot possibly be thought of or felt without the presence of the devotional congregation. In the arched forms of the Gothic there exists something (for one who can experience it) which can only be expressed in the following words: If the devotional congregation were not within, and the hands were not placed together in the form of an arch, the whole would be incomplete. The Gothic church is not only the dwelling-house of God, but it is at the same time the meeting place for people who are praying to God. Thus, in a certain sense, mankind again over-stepped the zenith of its own evolution. We see how all that degenerated which the Greeks felt in line, column, and beam in such a remarkable manner through their sense of space. A column which does not support, but which is there only as a decorative motif, was for the Greek feeling no column at all. Everything in human evolution is in perfect accord. The Greek cultural period was the most beautiful expression of the interpenetration of humanity's consciousness discovered within itself and of what was felt as the Divine in outer space. The human being had wholly coalesced with the physical sense-world in this epoch.
It is nonsense when modern scholars wish to obscure what was felt in earlier ages. From the spiritual-scientific point of view we look upon the fourth epoch of the post-Atlantean age as an epoch in which the human being harmonized perfectly with his environment. That age — in which he seemed to coalesce with the outer reality — was alone qualified to understand that the Divine is able to appear in an individual man. All earlier epochs would have understood almost anything more easily than this. They would have felt that the Divine was much too exalted and sublime to appear in a physical human form. It was just this physical form against which they desired to guard the Divine. Therefore, “Thou shalt make no image” had to be announced to just that people whose mission it was to grasp the idea of God in His spiritual form. Out of concepts such as these, this people evolved, and out of its womb was begotten the idea of the Christ, the idea that spirit was to appear in the flesh. For this mission was the Jewish people chosen, and within it, in the fourth post-Atlantean epoch, the Christ Event had to occur.
Thus for the Christian consciousness the whole of human existence falls into a pre-Christian and a post-Christian period. The God-Man could only be comprehended by the human being at a certain time. Thus we see how the Gospel of St. John connects in full consciousness and in its ideas with what was — to use a trivial expression — precisely in conformity with the times, with what had its origin directly in the consciousness of the age. Consequently it happened wholly of itself that the thought imagery through which the writer of the Gospel tried to grasp the greatest event in cosmic history seemed to him best expressed in the forms of Greek thought, as it were, like something inwardly related. And gradually the whole Christian feeling grew into these thought forms. We shall see how something like the Gothic had to appear during the progress of evolution because Christianity was, as it were, called upon to lead evolution again beyond the material. Christianity could arise only at a time when men were not yet so deeply immersed in matter that they were likely to overestimate its worth; when they were not yet plunged so deeply into matter as is the case in our age, but were still able to spiritualize it and to penetrate it.
Thus the birth of Christianity appears as something positively necessary in the whole spiritual course of human events. If we desire to understand what form Christianity should gradually assume, understand what form was prophesied for it by such an individuality as the writer of this Gospel, we must take under consideration, in the next lecture, certain essential and important concepts.
It has been shown that everything must be taken literally, but that first the alphabet must be really understood. It is not without significance that the name of John appears nowhere in the Gospel and that John is always spoken of as the “disciple whom the Lord loved.” We have seen what mystery lies hidden behind this fact, a mystery of profound significance.
Now we shall consider another expression, one that makes it directly possible for us to make a connection with the subsequent evolutionary periods of Christianity. The manner of speaking of the “Mother of Jesus” in the Gospel is usually overlooked. If the ordinary, average Christian were asked: who was the Mother of Jesus? he would reply: “The Mother of Jesus was Mary.” And many indeed will believe that there is something in the Gospel of St. John to the effect that the Mother of Jesus was called Mary. But nowhere in this Gospel is there anything to indicate that the Mother of Jesus was called Mary. Wherever reference is made to her, she is quite intentionally called just the Mother of Jesus. The meaning of this we shall learn later. In the chapter on the marriage in Cana, we read: “and the Mother of Jesus was there;” and further on, it says: “His Mother saith unto the servants.” Nowhere do we find the name “Mary.” And when we meet her again in the Gospel of St. John, when we see the Savior upon the Cross, we read:
It is clearly and definitely stated who stood by the Cross. The Mother was there, then her sister who was the wife of Cleophas and who was called Mary, and Mary Magdalene. Whoever thinks about it at all must say to himself: It is extraordinary that the two sisters are both called Mary! That is not customary in our day. It was also not customary at that time. And since the writer of the Gospel calls the sister, Mary, it is clear that the Mother of Jesus was not called Mary. In the Greek text it says clearly and distinctly: “Below stood the Mother of Jesus, and His Mother's sister Mary who was the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.” For a proper understanding the question arises: “Who was the Mother of Jesus?” Here we touch upon one of the most important questions in the Gospel of St. John: “Who was the real father of Jesus, and who was His mother?”
Who was the father? Can this question be asked at all? Not only can it be asked according to the Gospel of St. John, but also according to St. Luke. For it would show an extraordinary absence of thought not to see that at the Annunciation it was proclaimed:
Even in the Gospel of St. Luke it is pointed out that the father of Jesus is the Holy Spirit. This must be taken literally, and those theologians who do not recognize it cannot really read the Gospel. Thus we must ask the great question: How does all this harmonize with what we have heard in the words “I and the Father are one,” “I and Father Abraham are one,” “Before Abraham was, was the I AM?” How can we bring into harmony with all this the undeniable fact that the Evangelist sees the Father-Principle in the Holy Spirit? And what must we think about the Mother-Principle, according to the Gospel of St. John?
In order that you may come tomorrow properly prepared in spirit to formulate these questions, your attention should also be called to the fact that a sort of series of generations is presented in the Gospel of St. Luke; that we are told that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist; that He began to teach in His thirtieth year and that He was the son of “Mary and Joseph, who was the son of Eli,” etc., and there follows the whole line of generations. If we trace this succession, we see that it goes back to Adam. Then follows something extraordinary; here we find the words: “who was the son of God.” Just as the generations are traced back from son to father in the Gospel of St. Luke, so is the succession traced back from Adam to God. Such a passage must be taken very seriously! Now we have gathered together the questions which should lead us tomorrow directly into the very center of the Gospel of St. John.
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