Rudolf Steiner, Oxford, England, August 27, 1922:
Human beings must return to the point where they can understand the mystery of Golgotha with all the forces that live in the human soul. We must understand it not only from the limited standpoint of present-day civilization but in a way that allows all the forces of our human being to be united with the mystery of Golgotha. But this will only become humanly possible if we are prepared to approach the mystery of Golgotha once more from the point of view of spiritual science. There is no intellectual knowledge in a position to do justice to Christianity and the impulse it carries for the world; for every form of intellectual knowledge reaches only as far as our thinking life. And if we have a science that speaks only to our thinking, then we must seek the sources of our will impulses (and these are the most important for a true Christianity) within our instincts; we cannot sense them within the world where they are really present, within the spiritual world. In our present time it is essential to turn our attention to the great question for humanity: How and in what sense is the mystery of Golgotha the meaning of the entire development of the earth?
What I am here speaking of I would like to express in a picture that appears somewhat paradoxical. If a being were to descend to the earth from another planet, this being — because it could not be a human being in the earthly sense — would probably find everything on the earth unintelligible. But it is my deepest conviction, arrived at from the knowledge of earth evolution, that such a being, even if it came from Mars or Jupiter, would be deeply moved by Leonardo da Vinci's painting of the Last Supper. Such a being would find in this painting something that says to him that a deeper meaning is associated with the earth and its development. And beginning with this meaning, which encompasses the mystery of Golgotha, a being from an entirely different world would be able to understand the earth and everything appearing on it.
We who live in the present age have no idea how far we have gone into intellectual abstraction. For this reason we can no longer feel our way into the souls of people who lived a short while before the mystery of Golgotha. Those human souls were entirely different from the souls of human beings today. We imagine human history as being more similar to the events and processes that happen today than it really was. But the souls of human beings have undergone a very significant development.
In the times before the mystery of Golgotha human souls were such that all human beings, even those with only a primitive education, could see within themselves a being of soul. This soul being could be called a memory of the time the human being lived through before descending into an earthly body. Just as we today in ordinary life can remember what we have experienced since our third, fourth, or fifth year of life, in the same way the human soul in ancient times had a memory of its life before birth in the world of soul and spirit. In terms of their souls, human beings were, in a certain sense, transparent to themselves. They knew: I am a soul and I was a soul before I came down to earth. And they also knew certain details of their life of soul and spirit before the descent to the earth! They experienced themselves in cosmic pictures. They looked up and saw the stars not merely as abstract configurations as we see them today; they saw them in dreamlike Imaginations. They saw the whole world filled with dreamlike Imaginations. They could say: That is the last glimmer of the spiritual world from which I have come. When I descended as a soul from this spiritual world I entered a human body. Human beings of ancient times never united so intensively with the human body that they lost the ability to experience real soul life.
What did these human beings in ancient times experience? They experienced something that enabled them to say: Before I had descended to the earth I was in a world in which the sun is not merely a heavenly body radiating light. I was in a world in which the sun was a gathering place for higher spiritual hierarchies. I lived not in a physical space but in a spiritual space, a world in which the sun sends out not merely light but radiant wisdom. I lived in a world in which stars are essences of beings whose wills are manifest. And for these ancient people two distinct experiences were united with this feeling: the experience of nature and the experience of sin.
Modern humanity no longer has this natural experience of sin. For us sin lives only in a world of abstract existence; for us, sin is merely something projected upon nature from the world of moral abstractions. We cannot bring sin together with the necessity found in nature. For people in ancient times these two separate streams of existence, this duality, natural necessity on the one hand and moral necessity on the other, did not exist apart. All moral necessity was a necessity of nature; all necessity in nature was also a moral necessity.
So a person in ancient times could say: I had to descend from the divine spiritual world. But in entering into a human body I have actually become sick when compared with the world from which I have descended. The concepts of sickness and sin were interwoven for the ancients. Here on the earth man felt that he had to find within himself the power to overcome sickness. Therefore, these ancient souls increasingly came to the consciousness: We need an education that is, at the same time, a healing. Education is medicine, education is therapy. And so, shortly before the mystery of Golgotha, we see the appearance of such figures as the Therapeutae, the healers. In Greece, too, the spiritual life was thought of as connected with the healing of humanity. The Greeks felt that the human being had been healthier at the beginning of earth's development and had evolved gradually in such a way as to distance himself from divine-spiritual beings. That this was the concept of “sickness” has been forgotten. But this concept was widespread throughout the world in which the mystery of Golgotha was placed in history.
In ancient times the human being felt the reality of all spiritual things by looking into the past. He said to himself: I must look back to the time before my birth if I want to seek the spirit, back into the past. That is where the spirit is. I was born out of this spirit; I must find it again. But I have distanced myself from it.
In the past the human being felt the spirit, from whom he had separated himself, as the spirit of the Father. In the mystery religions the highest initiate was an individual who had developed himself within, within his heart, within his soul forces; through this development as a human being he could represent the Father in the external world of earth. When the students of the mystery religions entered through the gates of the mystery centers, when they entered those sacred places that were institutions of art, science, and religious consecration, when they stood before the highest initiate, they saw this highest initiate as the representative of the Father God. The “Fathers” were higher initiates than the “Sun Heroes.” The Father principle ruled before the mystery of Golgotha.
Humanity felt how it had distanced itself more and more from the Father, the one to whom we can say: Ex deo nascimur. Humanity needed healing, and those who knew were expecting the healer of humanity, the healing savior, to come. Christ is no longer alive for us as the healing savior; only when we once again experience him as the world physician, as the great healer, only then will we be able to understand his true place in the world.
That was the underlying feeling that lived in human souls before the mystery of Golgotha, a feeling for the connection with the super-sensible world of the Father. In Greece it was said: “Better to be a beggar upon earth than a king in the realm of shadows.” This saying expresses what was felt at that time; it bears witness to how deeply humanity had learned to feel the distance it had placed between its own being and the being of super-sensible worlds. At the same time a deep longing for the super-sensible lived in the souls of human beings.
But if humanity had gone on evolving with a consciousness only of the Father God it could never have come to full consciousness of self, of the I, it could never have come to inner freedom. In order to come to inner freedom something that could only be seen as a sickness had to make a place for itself in the human being. It was a sickness compared to humanity's former, pristine condition. In a sense, all humanity was suffering from the Lazarus sickness. The sickness was not unto death but rather for liberation and for a new knowledge of the eternal in the human being. We can say that human beings had increasingly forgotten their past life of soul and spirit. Their attention was directed more and more to the physical world around them. When souls in ancient times looked out through the body into the physical world surrounding them, they saw, in the stars, pictures of spiritual beings they had left behind when they descended to this life through birth. They saw in sunlight the radiant wisdom that had been like an atmosphere for them in the spiritual world, an atmosphere in which they had lived and breathed. They saw in the sun itself choirs of the higher hierarchies from which they had been sent down to earth. But humanity came to forget all that.
And that is what people were experiencing as the mystery of Golgotha approached in the eighth and the seventh and the following centuries before Christ's appearance on earth. If external history says nothing of this, that is simply a failing of external history. One who can follow history with spiritual insight can see that a mighty consciousness of the Father God was present at the outset of the evolution of humanity, that this consciousness was gradually paralyzed, and that, with time, humanity was gradually supposed to see around it only nature without spirit.
Much of this process remained unspoken at the time, much was in the unconscious depths of the human soul. However, what was most of all at work in unconscious realms of the human soul was a question that was not so much expressed in words as felt in the heart: Around us is the world of nature but where is the spirit whose children we are? Where can we see the spirit whose children we are? This question lived in the best souls of the fourth, third, second, and first centuries before Christ without being consciously formulated.
It was a time of questioning, a time in which humanity felt distanced from the Father God. In the depths of their souls people felt: It must be true: Ex deo nascimur! But do we still know it? Can we still know it?
If we look even deeper into the souls of those people living at the time when the mystery of Golgotha was approaching we see the following. There were the simpler, more primitive souls who were able only to feel deep within their unconscious life how they were now separated from the Father God. They were the descendants of primeval humanity, which was in no way as animal-like as natural science today imagines. These primitive human beings carried within their animal-like form a soul that enabled them, in an ancient dreamlike clairvoyance, to know this: We have descended from a divine-spiritual world and have taken on a human body. The Father God has led us into the world of earth. We are born out of him.
But the oldest souls of humanity knew they had left something behind in the spiritual worlds from which they had just descended. What they left behind was afterward called, and we now call: the
Christ. For this reason the earliest Christian writers maintained that the most ancient souls had been Christian; they also had known how to worship Christ. In the spiritual worlds in which they had lived before descending to the earth Christ was the center of their attention. He was the central being, toward which they directed the vision of their souls. The people on earth remembered being together with Christ in their pre-earthly existence.
Then there were other regions (Plato speaks of them in a very special way) where students were initiated in the mystery religions, in which vision of the super-sensible world was awakened, in which forces were released from the being of man that allowed him to see into the spiritual worlds. Nor was it only in dim memory that the students of the initiates learned to know the Christ, the one with whom all human beings lived before their descent to earth. In the mysteries the students learned to know Christ once again in his full stature. But they knew him as a being who had lost his mission, as it were, in the worlds above the earth.
In the mystery religions of the second and third centuries before the mystery of Golgotha initiates looked, in a very special way, to that being in the super-sensible worlds, who was later called the Christ. In looking at him they said: We see this being in the worlds above earth but his activity in those worlds has become less and less. This is the being who had planted into human souls memories of the time before birth, memories which then came alive in earthly existence. In super-sensible worlds this being was the great teacher for what the soul could still remember after having descended to the earth. The being who was later called Christ appeared to the initiates as a being who had lost his mission. This was because human beings gradually could no longer have, could no longer even receive, these memories.
As the initiates lived on, the consciousness arose in them more and more: This being, whom primeval humanity could remember during its life on earth, this being, whom we see having an ever lessening amount of activity in spiritual worlds, will have to seek a new sphere of life. He will descend to the earth in order to awaken super-sensible spirituality in man once again.
And they began to speak of that being later known as Christ as the one who in the future would come down to earth and take on a human body — as he later took on a body in Jesus of Nazareth. Speaking of the Christ as the one who is to come formed the chief content of much of their teaching in the last centuries before the mystery of Golgotha. In the beautiful and powerful picture of the wise men from the Orient, the three kings or magi, we see representatives of the initiates who in their places of initiation had learned: the Christ will come when the time has been fulfilled; signs in the heavens will proclaim his coming. Then we must seek him at his hidden place. A deeper secret, a deeper mystery can be heard sounding through the Gospels. When the evolution of humanity is looked at with spiritual vision this deeper mystery is revealed.
Primitive human beings looked up, as if lost, to the super-sensible. In their unconscious they said to themselves: We have forgotten Christ. They saw the world of nature around them and the question rose in their hearts: How can we again find the super-sensible world? And the initiate in the mysteries knew: This being, who will later be called the Christ, will come and take on human form; what human souls had formerly experienced in their pre- earthly existence they will then experience in looking upon the mystery of Golgotha.
Thus, through the mighty fact of the greatest event ever to take place on earth — not in an abstract intellectual fashion — answer is given to the question: How can we again come to higher worlds that transcend the world of sense? The people of that time who had developed a feeling for what had happened, these people learned from those who knew that a real God dwelt in the human being Jesus. A God who had come down to earth. He was the God whom humanity had forgotten because the forces of the human body were evolving toward freedom. He appeared in a new form so that he could be seen and so that history could now speak of him as of an earthly being. The God who had only been known by human souls in the spiritual world descended and walked in Palestine. He consecrated the earth through the fact that he entered an earthly body. For this reason the great question for those souls educated according to the culture of that age was this: What path had Christ taken in order to come to Jesus?
In the earliest times of Christianity the question concerning Christ was purely spiritual. The earthly biography of Jesus was not an object of research. The object of research was Christ and how he had descended from heaven. They looked up to super-sensible worlds, saw the descent of Christ to the earth, and asked themselves: How has this supra-earthly being become an earthly being? For this reason it was possible for the simple people who surrounded Christ as disciples to speak with him as a spirit also after his death. The most important part of what he could say after his death is preserved in only a few fragments. But spiritual science can find out what Christ said to those who were nearest to him after his death when he appeared to them in his purely spiritual form.
He spoke to them as the great healer, as the Therapeut, the comforter who knew the secret, the secret that human beings had once had a memory of him because they had been together with him in super-sensible worlds in their pre-earthly existence. Now he could say to them on earth: Earlier I gave you the ability to remember your super-sensible, pre-earthly existence. Now, if you take me into your souls, if you take me into your hearts, I give you the power to go through the gate of death with consciousness of immortality. And you will no longer recognize the Father alone — Ex deo nascimur. You will feel the Son as the one with whom you can die and yet remain alive — In Christo morimur.
What Christ taught those who were near him after his bodily death was not, of course, expressed in the words I just used, but the meaning was the same. Primeval human beings had not known death, for from the moment they awakened to consciousness, they were aware of the soul that lived within. They knew about what lived in the soul and could not die. They could see people dying around them but this dying was a mere appearance, an illusion, among the facts surrounding them. They did not feel it as death. Only as the mystery of Golgotha approached did human beings begin to feel the fact of dying. By then their soul life had become so much bound up with the life of the body that they could feel doubt concerning how the soul could continue to live when the body decays. In more ancient times no such question could have arisen because human beings knew the soul.
Christ now came as the one who said: I will live with you on the earth so that you can have the power to awaken your soul with a new inner impulse. Your soul will be alive when you carry it through death. This is what Paul did not at first understand. He only understood it when access to super-sensible worlds was opened to him and he received living impressions of Christ Jesus here on the earth. Pauline Christianity is less and less valued today for this reason — that it claims that Christ can be seen as coming from supra-earthly worlds and uniting his supra-earthly power with earthly man.
Thus, in the evolution of humanity, in human consciousness, the “out of God (that is, out of the Father God) we are born” was supplemented by the words of comfort, of life, and of power: “In Christ we die.” That is: We live in him.
We will best be able to place before our souls what humanity has become through the mystery of Golgotha if I now describe, from the point of view of a present day initiate, the evolution of humanity in the present and how we must hope for human beings to evolve in the future. I have already attempted to place before your souls the point of view of the ancient initiates, the point of view of the initiates at the time of the mystery of Golgotha. Now I would like to attempt to describe the point of view of an initiate of the present day, of someone who approaches life with more than a mere knowledge of external nature, of someone in whom deeper powers of knowledge have awakened. These are powers we can awaken in the soul with the means given by spiritual literature.
When a modern initiate acquires the scientific knowledge that is the triumph of our time, the glory in which so many people feel so comfortable (a comfort subtly enjoyed even by a certain higher consciousness) when they acquire it, the initiate feels himself in a tragic situation. When the modern initiate unites his soul with forms of knowledge especially useful and valuable in the world today, he experiences a kind of dying. The more a modern initiate, in whose soul the world of supra-earthly spheres has been resurrected, is permeated with what the modern world calls science, the more he feels his soul dying. For the modern initiate the sciences are the grave of the soul. The soul feels itself living united with death when it acquires knowledge of the world in the fashion of modern science. Sometimes he feels this dying deeply and intensively. He then seeks the reason why he always dies when knowing things in the modern sense, why he experiences something like the odor of a corpse just when he rises to the heights of modern scientific knowledge, the greatness of which he can truly appreciate, even though such knowledge brings him a premonition of death. Then, from his knowledge of the super-sensible world he says something to himself that I would like to express through a picture. We live a life that is soul-spiritual before we come down to the earth. What we experience in its full reality in the spiritual world during our pre-earthly existence we now experience on the earth in our souls as mere ideas, concepts, and mental pictures. These are in our souls. But how do they live in our souls?
Let us look at the human being as he stands in life between birth and death. He is fully alive, filled with living flesh and blood. We say that he is alive. Then he steps across the threshold of death. Of the physical human being only the corpse remains, the corpse which is then given over to the elements of the earth. We look at the physically dead human being. We have the corpse in front of us, the remains of the living, blood permeated human being. The human being is physically dead.
With the vision of initiation we now look back into our own souls. We look at our thoughts in the life between birth and death, at the thoughts arising from modern wisdom and science. And we recognize that just as the corpse of a human being is related to a fully alive human being, so too, our thoughts, the ones we revere as the highest riches knowledge of external nature can bring us, are merely the corpse of what we were before we descended to the earth. That is what the initiate can experience. In his thoughts he does not experience his real life; in his thoughts he experiences the corpse of his soul. That is a fact. That is not spoken out of any sentimentality. It is rather what comes before the soul today with all intensity just when the soul is actively seeking knowledge with energy. This is not something that a sentimental, mystical dreamer would say to himself out of some dark and mystic depths of his own being.
Someone who walks through the gates of initiation today discovers these thoughts in his soul, thoughts that, precisely because they are not living, can make living freedom possible. These thoughts, which are the whole basis of human freedom, do not coerce us, precisely because they are dead, because they are not alive. The human being today can become free because he works not with living but with dead thoughts. Dead thoughts can be grasped by us and used for freedom; but they are also experienced as a tragedy, as the corpse of the soul. Before the soul descended into the earthly world, everything that is a corpse today was full of life and movement. The beings of the higher hierarchies standing above us in the spiritual-super-sensible worlds moved between the souls of human beings who had already passed through death and now lived in the spiritual world or had not yet descended to earth. Elemental beings who underlie all nature were also moving within this sphere. There everything in the soul was alive. Here the thoughts in our soul are the heritage from spiritual worlds and these thoughts are dead.
However, if as modern initiates we fill ourselves with Christ, who makes his life manifest in the mystery of Golgotha, if we understand Paul's words, “Not I, but Christ in me,” in their deepest sense, then Christ will also lead us through this death; then we can penetrate nature with our thoughts. Christ walks with us spiritually and he sinks our thoughts into the grave of the earth. In as much as we usually have dead thoughts nature becomes a grave for us. Yet, if, with these dead thoughts, accompanied by Christ in the sense of the words, “Not I, but Christ in me,” we approach the minerals, the animals, the world of stars, clouds, mountains, and streams, then we experience in modern initiation — if for example we immerse ourselves in quartz crystal — that thought arises from nature, from the quartz crystal as a living thought. As from the tomb of the mineral world, thought is raised up again as a living thought. The mineral world allows the spirit to resurrect in us. And just as Christ leads us everywhere through the plant world of nature, here too, where otherwise only dead thoughts would be found, living thoughts arise.
We would feel sick and unhealthy if we were to approach nature, looking up into the world of stars, with only the calculating vision of the astronomers, and if we then allowed these dead thoughts to sink into the world; we would feel sick and the sickness would be unto death. But if we let Christ accompany us, if we carry our dead thoughts in the presence of Christ into the world of stars, into the world of the sun, of the moon, of the clouds, mountains, rivers, minerals, plants, and animals, into the whole physical world of man, then in our vision of nature everything comes alive. As if from a grave, from all beings in nature, the living spirit, the Holy Spirit arises, the one who heals and awakens us from death.
We must regain this in a spiritual knowledge, in a new knowledge of initiation. Then we will understand the mystery of Golgotha as the meaning of the entire earth existence; we will know that we need Christ to lead us to knowledge of nature now when human freedom is being developed through dead thoughts. We will know how Christ joined not only his own destiny to the earth with his death in the mystery of Golgotha, but, furthermore, how he gave to the earth the great freedom of Pentecost when he promised earthly humanity the living spirit — the spirit who, with his help, can arise from everything on the earth. Our knowledge remains dead, remains a sin even, if we have not been awakened by Christ so that from all nature, from all existence in the cosmos, the spirit speaks to us, the living spirit.
The idea of the Trinity of the Father God, of the Son God, and God of the Holy Spirit is not a cleverly thought-out formula. It is something deeply united with the entire evolution of the cosmos. When we bring Christ himself as the Resurrected One to life within us, then our knowledge of the Trinity is not dead but alive, for Christ is the bringer of the Holy Spirit.
We understand it is like a sickness to not be able to see the divine from which we are born. The human being must secretly be sick if he is an atheist. He is only healthy if his physical nature is so constituted that he can say, “From God I am born!” as the summation of how he feels within his own being. It is a blow of destiny if, in his earthly life, a man does not find Christ, the one who can lead him, who can lead him through death at the end of his earth life, can lead him through death to knowledge. If we feel the In Christo morimur, then we also feel what can approach us through the presence of Christ, through the guidance of Christ. We feel how the Spirit resurrects again from all things, resurrects even in this lifetime. We again feel ourselves to be alive in this earthly life. We look through the gate of death, through which Christ leads us; we look at the life that lies on the other side of death and know now why Christ sent the Holy Spirit — because we can unite with this Holy Spirit already here on earth if we let ourselves be led by Christ. Then we can say with certainty that we die in Christ when we walk through the gate of death.
Our experience of nature on earth with our natural scientific knowledge points significantly to the future. What otherwise would be dead science is resurrected through the living Spirit. For this reason, if we have understood the saying “Out of the Father are we born; in Christ we die,” then when the death of knowledge is replaced by the real death that takes away our body, then in looking through the gate of death we can also say: In the Holy Spirit we shall be awakened again. Per spiritum scanctum reviviscimus.
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