Wonders of the World, Ordeals of the Soul, Revelations of the Spirit. Lecture 10 of 10.
Rudolf Steiner, Munich, August 27, 1911:
Wonders of the World, Ordeals of the Soul, Revelations of the Spirit. Lecture 10 of 10.
In the course of these lectures we have been able to show how in the most widely different epochs men have formed conceptions of what really lies behind the world and its happenings. By forming stable ideas, stable concepts, by acquiring definite sentiments and feelings about what happens in the world, and about its Beings, man attains a certain satisfaction, arrives at something of which he can say that it relates him fitly to things, either because it throws light for him upon the mysteries of the world, or because it satisfies him in some other way. Through this activity man demonstrates that he is not content to adopt a passive attitude towards the world, but that he has an impulse to struggle for a knowledge beyond what is evident to his senses, or even to his clairvoyant knowledge; he aims at a knowledge which goes further, a knowledge which is, to begin with, hidden from him, so that he may achieve true harmony with the world. In this way he shows that he is seeking for an explanation of the world, that the world presents itself to him as a riddle, and that his ultimate relationship to it is not limited to the one he started from.
In ancient times this was expressed by dwelling upon the feeling which men have in face of the most arresting Beings and facts of the world-process. It was said that the human being starts out from a feeling of wonder about things and Beings and that from this feeling of wonder all philosophy, all men's efforts to reach enlightenment about the world spring. However it is now a matter of common experience that the soul works its way out of this feeling of wonder to something which reduces it. The soul cannot remain at the stage of mere wonder, for in that way the whole world would consist of nothing else. The soul cannot continue to stand in amazement before the wonders of the world, it has to subdue its astonishment, it has so to say to get rid of what seems a marvel by finding, through its own activity, a kind of explanation, an answer to the enigma, an answer to what is marvellous in the phenomena and Beings of the world.
We have seen for instance how the ancient Greeks got rid of this wonder in quite a different way, by gazing with penetration upon what was current among them as the ancient clairvoyant consciousness and expressing what they saw in the figures of their gods. As soon as the Greek became aware that in one or another fact, one or another thing in the world, spirit-forms were at work which were represented by the figures and Beings of Greek mythology, his feeling of wonder transformed itself into a kind of harmony between his own soul and these ‘world-wonders’. Today, in a world which is materialistic compared with that of the Greeks, we think in a very different fashion. Today when we deem it necessary to reduce the feeling of wonder, we are not at all inclined to find the answer to the riddle of the world in pictorial images. In our time this would be regarded as ridiculous. Our age seeks an answer to the world-enigma which appeals to the understanding, one which we can call scientific. But as a result of the varied sentiments which have perhaps been evoked in these and other lectures you may well understand that the modern way, this dry, prosaic appeal to reason, is only a phase, an epoch, in the struggle to assuage our wonder at the marvels of the world. For when the man of today looks back from the method which he calls scientific to the Greek way of explaining the world and calls it childish, regarding it as derived purely from fantasy and as having nothing to do with reality — when the man of today believes that he has found what will continue to be regarded as scientific for all time, then we must tell him that he is very short-sighted. For just as the progress of humanity has advanced beyond the form of Greek enlightenment to a stage suited to the prosaic intellectual demands of our time, so it will reach beyond this intellectual, materialistic phase. And unless meanwhile man has become much more sensible, he will in future think much the same of what today counts as true science as we today do of Greek mythology. The laws of Kepler, our biological laws, will inevitably appear to our descendants to be as much a mythology as that of the Greeks, unless these descendants of ours are enabled through a wider outlook on the world to perceive that each kind of explanation is justified in its turn. The great arrogance of our age which maintains that mythology is fantasy and our own science a definitive explanation of the universe, will be overthrown, and it will be seen that our own time, just like earlier ones, only represents a phase which in its turn has to be superseded. But when we consider our own intellectual explanation of the world, an explanation which is generally called science, one has to say that it is just this explanation of the world, intellectual in form and idea, which is least able to enter into the realities. We must seriously try to discover why this is so.
If you take into account the whole spirit of this course of lectures, as well as of many others which have been addressed to you from time to time, you must see that the manner in which the human being looks at the world has undergone many changes. Man has become very different. Far stronger, more powerful forces, forces emanating from the entire human being, came into play in the old clairvoyant days. To achieve the purely materialistic interpretation, the soul through the instrument of the brain detaches from itself highly attenuated shadow-like images as intellectual ideas wherewith to explain the world. The old interpretations in times which were more or less clairvoyant were filled with far more life, far more reality. We saw yesterday that our brain is a kind of apparatus which impedes our astral body, brings it to a standstill, and lets the images of this astral body, because they are not allowed to pass through our brain, come to consciousness as our thoughts about the world. But in ancient clairvoyant times it was not only the images of the astral body that were held back, but also those of the etheric body. The result was that the human being let flow far more of his own self, far more of the stuff of his own soul, into the images of his knowledge.
Expressed diagrammatically it is like this. The old clairvoyance, even the ancient Greek outlook (more disposed as it was to fantasy) was such that when a thought of Zeus or of Dionysos came before the soul, this thought was full of the living sap of reality. Admittedly this really came in the first place from the stuff of the human soul; but because this stuff itself derived from the depths of the cosmos, ancient Greek thoughts about their gods contained far more reality than the thought-forms of modern times. If I represent the thoughts of the ancient Greeks as a circle, [ 1 ] I have to show the thoughts of the man of today as far more thinly filled with soul-stuff, soul-substance. In forming the ideas of today the human soul draws forth far less from itself, what it produces is much thinner. Thus in the picture of the world which the soul can acquire with present-day consciousness there is far less of world-reality than was to be found in the earlier images. So that what the arrogance of modern academic learning for the most part supposes, namely that the Greeks formed pictures of their gods out of fantasy, pictures in which there was no reality, and that the only reality lies in the abstract ‘laws of nature’ of today, is the very opposite of the truth. This modern view is not true. The creations of Greek knowledge were far more densely packed with true reality, and compared with it the knowledge which we acquire today through the laws of nature is like a squeezed-out lemon! This is something which the soul can feel if it is not preocccupied with the pride of present-day science, but thirsts to fill its consciousness with reality. Such a thirst will reveal that it is just what is lauded as strictly scientific that is above all entangled in illusion, in maya. There has never been in the world such entanglement in maya as in the thought-forms of present-day philosophy and science.
Why has that come about? It is because man in the course of his Earth evolution has had to develop his present ego-consciousness. He has had to become independent, to stand entirely alone with his own ego. He has had to be weaned from his union with the world outside him. The very strong substantial content which made it possible for him to instil much of the stuff of his soul into the figures he fashioned, as happened in the case of the Greek gods, this very thing would have made it impossible for him — just because he would have been too much poured out into the world — to attain to consciousness of his ego. To enable man to become strong as regards his ego-consciousness he had to be torn away from the world-realities, cut off from them; for objective knowledge of the world our souls had to become weak, utterly weak. Our soul, the knowing soul, the soul which perceives through understanding, the soul which is ego-conscious, is at its very weakest as regards cosmic consciousness, as regards conditions which it once passed through. This weakness, which we had to develop, has rendered inevitable the emergence in modern consciousness of our tenuous ideas, devoid of reality, and our abstract laws of nature.
Anyone who by academic learning or by some form of belief in authority has been trained to a natural science which is only at home in pure abstractions will not succeed in feeling this great impoverishment as regards true reality. But anyone who feels within him a thirst to grow into world-reality knows that at a certain point in his life there comes over him the feeling: ‘How hopelessly cut off from true reality one feels by all the ideas of today, and what phantom and shadowy forms they are!’ That sentiment could even be formulated in the terms of ordinary science and you will find it so formulated in my little book Wahrheit und Wissenschaft, on Goethe's theory of knowledge, which appeared many years ago. There I showed that in the attainment of the customary intellectual knowledge the human being acquires only a part of knowledge, a part of truth, and that he is pressing forward to another aspect of the world than the one offered by the intellect. This is to take a scientific path which is quite practicable, even though to modern philosophy it may sound incomprehensible; whereas the feeling I have described gives rise to an attempt to penetrate along the esoteric path into a much more vital reality than the purely abstract laws of reason can provide. If the soul feels that with the normal consciousness of today it can only produce ideas which are maya in face of the living reality, and if it is not like a squeezed lemon, acknowledging only the science of today, then it feels itself empty in face of the real world. It certainly feels able to reach with its ideas the furthest limits of the world, but it fails to take into account the warning in my second Mystery Play The Soul's Probation — (Scene 1) — ‘End not at last in cosmic distances’. To do that must involve a feeling of being spread out, with a set of weak ideas, through an endless expanse of space. The further we expand thence into space the thinner our ideas become, and we find ourselves at last before an empty and bottomless abyss. That is an ordeal which the soul has to face. The man thirsting for reality who seeks to solve the riddles of the world, the ‘wonders of the world’, along the lines of abstract science, finds himself at last standing before the cosmic void with his ideas entirely dissipated into spiritual vapour. Then his soul has to experience an infinity of terror in the presence of this void. The man who is unable to experience this fear in the presence of the void is simply not sufficiently advanced to feel the truth about present-day consciousness.
Thus, when we try to expand our present-day consciousness into the far spaces of the world, we have to face this terrifying spectre, this fear of the cosmic void; nobody who takes seriously what normal modern consciousness is can be spared this experience. The soul has to undergo this ordeal if it wants to experience the meaning and the spirit of our time. It has at some time to face the abyss which opens out on all sides when we try to penetrate the widths of space with our ideas; it has to experience the unending fear of the void, the fear of losing oneself in cosmic distances.
If we are familiar with the Goethean phrase, ‘to become one with the whole world, to enlarge oneself to become a world’, then we must say: ‘If a healthy soul with the means available to modern knowledge has reached out into the far spaces of the world, and tries to comprehend the world with the philosophic principles of today — which are bound to be abstract, because they are derived from present-day consciousness — then that soul is bound to experience the ordeal of standing before the void, before the abyss on every hand; every healthy soul has to undergo the fear of being swallowed up with the best part of his being, with what constitutes his consciousness, in infinite nothingness.’ This is the universal experience and any other feeling is but a variation of this horror vacui. Closely confined as the life of the soul is, there would be something amiss with it if, as soon as it tries to expand to the limits of the universe, it were not to feel its present-day consciousness pulverised, shattered, in face of the infinite universe. That is the fate of the soul when with its present-day consciousness it tries to penetrate into cosmic distances, into the widths of space.
There is another path open to the soul. It can descend into its own depths in such a way that it experiences what its own organisation is. Under modern conditions of consciousness the soul really only experiences what has been added to its organisation on the Earth. What it received on the Old Moon as astral body remains subconscious; it lights up in the etheric body, but in normal consciousness is not experienced. Still less does man experience what he acquired during the Sun evolution as etheric body, or what through Saturn, Sun and Moon evolutions he has received in his physical body. These are closed regions to him. But upon these closed regions countless generations of gods, of spiritual hierarchies, have laboured. Indeed when through clairvoyant knowledge, through esoteric training, we descend into these regions and penetrate behind our ego-consciousness into our own being, when we encounter what is in us as astral, etheric and physical bodies, then we do not come to a vacuum, we come rather to a condensed world-substance. We meet there everything which has been worked into us men throughout millions and millions of years by innumerable spiritual hierarchies. But when through the serious cultivation of self-knowledge such as is given by esoteric training a man tries to enter, learns how to plunge into the work of countless generations through millions of years, he does not encounter in a pure form what the gods have created. For man has stamped into it all that through the generations he himself has experienced as impulses, desires, passions, emotions and instincts. In the course of his terrestrial incarnations what he has developed in this way has united with what is there below in his astral, etheric and physical natures. Together they form a dense mass; and it is into this dense mass that he first enters. What we ourselves have done to this divine nature of ours veils it from us.
Thus when we plunge into ourselves we find the opposite of what we find when we expand into cosmic space. If we expand into the widths of space there is the danger of finally encountering the void; if we descend into ourselves there is the danger of coming into denser and denser regions, which we ourselves have condensed through our impulses, desires and passions. Just as we feel the matter of our consciousness scatter and disintegrate if we go out into cosmic distances, so when we plunge into our own soul-depths we feel ourselves to an ever greater extent repulsed; we feel like a rubber ball resuming its shape after it has been squeezed. Again and again we are repelled, when we try to penetrate into our own inner being. We can be very clearly aware of this. It is not only that our impulses, desires and passions, which are what we first meet when we enter into ourselves, seem horrifying to us when we meet them face to face, but — added horror — they seem at every moment to be trying to capture us. They wax strong and powerful, their will-nature comes to the fore. Whereas in ordinary consciousness we do not obey this or the other impulse, this or the other instinct, as soon as we descend a little way into ourselves, these instincts develop their full strength, and we cannot but give way to them. Again and again we become gripped by a will of a lower nature in ourselves, and are thrown back upon ourselves worse than before. That is the other danger — that when we plunge into ourselves we are confronted as it were by the density of our impulses and instincts.
Thus we have to face formidable dangers. If we expand into universal space we are in danger of dissolving with our consciousness into nothingness; if we plunge into ourselves, we are in danger of surrendering our consciousness to the impulses and instincts which are within us and of falling a prey to the worst possible egotism. Those are the two poles between which lie all vicissitudes of soul — fear of the void and the collapse into egotism. All other ordeals are variations directed against what we may call dissolution into nothing, or against surrender to egotism. Even higher knowledge is dangerous in this connection. For through it we learn that countless spiritual hierarchies have been at work upon us, we learn how our physical, etheric and astral bodies in all their parts have been assembled by the hierarchies, we learn how cosmic Spirits have been at work in order that at last man should come into existence. So when in the esoteric life a man delves into his own inner being, he is overcome by the thought: ‘You are actually the aim and goal of the gods. It is to create you that the gods have laboured.’ Here he confronts the great danger of falling into immeasurable arrogance.
When Capesius learns from the mouth of Felix Balde [ 2 ] how the spiritual hierarchies have laboured, and how man is the goal of all their efforts, he is afraid of this pride. That is the significance of the uneasiness he expresses. It is part of his soul's ordeal that he should feel this. That is why it is so necessary that man should humbly draw near to this knowledge that he is the goal of the gods, and in lowliness assimilate it, otherwise it will lead to overweening presumption. For when we recognise that man is the goal of the gods, we in this world have every occasion for pride, for presumption. When we see the gods in the macrocosm exerting themselves all the time to develop what is human being, we have every occasion for pride.
It will be good for us to make our ideas as to how the gods have laboured at the formation and perfecting of man a little more concrete. Throughout the Saturn evolution the Thrones co-operated with the Spirits of Personality, during the Sun evolution the Cherubim worked with the Spirits of Wisdom and the Archangels, during the Moon evolution the Seraphim worked together with the Spirits of Movement and the Angels.
Can we point to something upon the Earth now of this work from without upon the human form? Here we encounter once more a characteristic phenomenon of the life of the mind in modern times, a phenomenon to which we have already often had to refer in these lectures. In point of fact nothing is so well able to furnish proof for all that is proclaimed in Spiritual Science as the facts of modern science. The development of this science during the last decades provides, in general, proof of all that is here said. It is only that the facts are often least understood by those who discover them. The interpretation put upon the facts by modern philosophy and modern science does constitute a great stumbling-block to an understanding of Spiritual Science. The facts themselves invariably support what we say here, but the current explanation of the facts always constitutes a stumbling-block. It is really phenomenal. I have drawn attention to specific instances of it in a number of places. You will have gathered from my lectures that the brain was the last human organ to be developed; the rest of the human organisation was worked into man earlier by the Spirits of the various hierarchies. But even today the half unconscious part of us continues to work on the organisation of the brain; that is something capable of observation, only the marvellous and beautiful phenomena furnished by modern science are not interpreted in the right way. Let me give you an example.
In April of this year there could have been celebrated the half-centenary of an extremely important discovery of modern science, a discovery which, rightly understood, fully confirms the spiritual-scientific doctrine of evolution. Of course spiritual-scientific discoveries can only be made through clairvoyance, but they can be confirmed by the facts which ordinary science brings to light. The fiftieth anniversary of that important dissertation on the speech-centre which the great doctor and philosopher Broca delivered before the Paris Anthropological Society in April 1861 might well have been celebrated this year; for the work of Broca is a complete proof that the predisposition to that configuration, that formation of a specific part of the brain which brings about both the aesthetic consciousness of speech and the understanding of its sounds does not lie in the inner laws of the physical brain. When in April 1861 Broca found that the organ of speech lies in the third convolution of the brain, and that this organ must be in order if a man is to understand the sounds of speech, and that another part must be in order for him to speak, the discovery constituted an important advance which can be turned to good account by Spiritual Science and is a verification of the facts known to it. Why is this? Because the way this speech centre is developed shows that a man's outer movements, the movements of his hands (i.e. what he does half unconsciously) plays a part in the configuration of this speech centre. Why is this speech-centre especially developed on the left side? It is because under the cultural conditions which have prevailed hitherto, men have made particular use of the right hand. Thus it is the etheric and astral bodies which, out of the unconscious, bring about the movements of the hands which work into the brain and mould it. Today anthropology makes it plain that the brain is formed from without by macrocosmic forces. When this part of the brain is injured, there is no capacity for speech. If we take into consideration that the side of the brain which through our right-handedness has been strongly developed can be relieved from without by the use of the left hand — a thing which is still possible in childhood though no longer so in later life — then it is seen that, by means of systematic activity from without, the brain can be so moulded that a speech-centre develops in the corresponding third convolution of the brain on the right side. Are we not driven to say that it is the greatest possible error to think that the faculty of speech is formed through the predisposition of the brain? It is not the natural tendency of the brain which brings into existence the faculty of speech but the activity which the man himself develops. The faculty of speech is developed in the brain from out of the macrocosm. The organ of speech comes from speaking, not speaking from the speech-organ. That is what has been established through the important physiological facts discovered by Broca. It is because the gods, or the Spirits of the hierarchies, have helped men to carry out such activities as create his speech-centre, that this speech-centre has been fashioned from without. The speech-centre arises from speech, not vice versa.
When rightly understood all such modern discoveries provide confirmation for Spiritual Science, and it is a pity that I am never able to do more than make a brief reference to such things. Were I able to speak at greater length about characteristic examples of this kind you would see how shortsighted are the people who say that Spiritual Science contradicts modern science. On the contrary it is only at variance with the interpretation placed on the facts by modern scholarship, not at all at variance with the actual facts themselves.
Thus it is the activity of the hierarchies, who have worked into us from without, which has made of our macrocosmic formation what we are during Earth existence. We are indeed a product of the macrocosm. Today we are a product of the movements of our limbs, of our gestures, which carry on a silent speech; these movements imprint themselves on the brain, which had no prior disposition to speech. The archetypal man had of himself no predisposition to anything, but everything has been formed and developed and bestowed upon him by the macrocosmic activity of the spiritual hierarchies.
From this you will see that in our present consciousness we are in fact but feeble. If we try to go out into the cosmos we find ourselves before the void; if we try to sink into ourselves we find ourselves ensnared in our own will-nature. This is what brings about the severe ordeals which are inevitable when a man, starting from his present-day consciousness, would seek to probe in either direction the mysteries of the world, about which he begins by marvelling because they confront him as world-wonders.
Why is this so? It is because when we press out into cosmic space we come into a region which we have closely described in the last two lectures as the region of the upper gods or spirits, spirits who are only the ideas or representations of the real gods; thus we come into a world which has no independence. It is no wonder that what we can gain from this world leads us in the end to the void. However hard a man is struggling to acquire knowledge, when he reaches the utmost limits to which his ideas can attain, he himself can only come to ideas of the gods, he cannot attain to true reality. But if a man plunges into himself, into what has been built up during millions and millions of years, then he comes to the deeds, to the achievements, of the other divine-spiritual Beings, whom in the course of recent lectures we have called the sub-earthly, the true gods. But in order to reach these we have first to penetrate through our own impulses, desires, passions, through all that imprisons us, seizes hold of us and changes us so that we are obliged to follow it. This leads us into egotism and cuts us off from those lower gods. This constitutes the other pole of the soul's ordeals. If we try to reach the upper gods we come to the void, to the world of mere idea; if we try to reach the lower gods, all thought abandons us because we are seized by the blindly raging impulses of our own inner beings and burn ourselves up in them. That is why the ordeals are so arduous. But there is one thing which offers a ray of hope, to begin with purely theoretical. We have to say to ourselves: ‘However tenuous the ideas are, or however slight is what our egotism enables us to receive, it comes nevertheless from the entire cosmos.’ And if we can only find ourselves within this consciousness of ours in the right way, so that we can look, upon it in its independence, observe it as it is in itself, and if this consciousness becomes stronger and stronger, then we can perhaps make progress along one or the other path in such a way that we can withstand the ordeals. This is only meant to give a slight indication of how it is possible to make progress in another way than with the ordinary consciousness.
Let us suppose that we permeate ourselves with what we have already in a variety of contexts named the Christ Impulse. We then learn to understand in its deepest significance the saying of St. Paul, Not I but Christ in me.’ We stand there to begin with in our normal consciousness and say to ourselves: ‘We do not wish this normal consciousness of ours to work alone, we do not wish to remain alone in this personality of ours; we wish to be permeated by the Substantiality which since the Mystery of Golgotha is contained in the atmosphere of the Earth, we wish to be permeated by the Christ-substance.’ When we permeate ourselves with this Substance we do not take out with us into the cosmos merely our own tenuous ideas, but however far we soar into the widths of space, we carry with us the Substantiality of the Christ, and thereby something most remarkable comes about, which I should like to make clear to you in terms of modern scientific development.
Modern science took its start from the phenomena of external nature, and traced these phenomena back to all manner of forces. Then it went on to trace what goes on in the outer world in light and sound and so on, to vibrations, to particles of ether in motion, even to ponderable fragments of matter in motion, and considered it a triumph to be able to reduce the whole world to a world of moving, whirling atoms of ether and so on. This method has now for the most part been abandoned, since people have seen that it leads nowhere, but the consciousness of the general public in this respect still lags behind, it always does remain several paces behind scientific advance. There is still a widespread desire to explain the whole world through the abstraction of whirling atoms, as if space were made up of pure vibrations, pure oscillations. Of course, when we with our ideas and with the empirical experience which one can have of realities, meet such conclusions, the moment we approach what is called the atomic universe, we at once feel the void; for those thought-out atoms have no existence. Atoms there can be within the limits of empirical reality, within the range of microscopic investigation, wherever there is matter endowed with light and warmth, but it is not legitimate to attempt to explain light and warmth themselves by means of atoms or atomic vibrations; for then one is thinking-out a theory of the universe, and a thought-out cosmology leads to something which no longer has any real content. There this old atomic theory has no longer any validity whatsoever. We think it out — and yet feel it has nothing to do with reality.
But it is quite different when we permeate our ideas, our abstract laws, with what in truth is the Christ Impulse; and when I speak of the Christ Impulse you all know that I do do not mean anything that the orthodox creeds look to; I am referring to the great macrocosmic Christ Impulse. We must permeate ourselves with this in the Pauline sense. It is not our abstract ideas and concepts which we bear out into the cosmos, but what they become as our modern form of consciousness permeated by the Christ Impulse. And here we experience something very strange. Just as when we press outwards with a consciousness devoid of the Christ we become emptier and emptier and more impoverished, and our consciousness becomes finally completely dissipated, dispersed into the cosmic void ... so, as soon as we have received the Christ Impulse our consciousness becomes richer, fuller, the further we come into the cosmic distances, into the widths of space. And when we have reached the stage of clairvoyance, then is the Christ-filled soul abundantly filled with soul-substance, so that the true grounds of reality stand at last before us in all their might and grandeur as super-sensible realities. Whereas without Christ our consciousness brings us to the void, the Christ-filled consciousness brings us to the true causes of world-phenomena and ‘world-wonders’. Foolish as this may sound today, I ventured to say in the book The Spiritual Guidance of Man and of Mankind that in the future there will be a chemistry and a physics, a physiology and a biology permeated by the Christ Impulse, and that true science, to an extent not today dreamt of, will become permeated by the Christ Impulse. Anyone who does not believe this has only to turn the pages of history to discover how the rational opinion of the future is often the foolishness of earlier times. If anyone pities us for supposing that what is regarded as foolishness in our day will be the reasonableness of the future, let him remember this. Foolish as it may seem to the humanity of the present day to think of a Christian chemistry it will in the future appear quite reasonable. When we carry the Christ with us into our outlook upon the world, He will give us plenitude in place of emptiness.
If we take the second road, if in the spirit of what has been said so far we fill our souls in the Pauline sense with the Christ Impulse, and then plunge into ourselves, what then happens? The Christ Impulse has the quality of working as a solvent, as a destructive influence upon our egotism. We notice that the deeper we descend with the Christ Impulse into ourselves, the less is egotism able to get a hold upon us. We then press further and further into ourselves and by penetrating with the Christ Impulse through our egotistic impulses and passions, we learn to recognise the being of man, learn to know all the secrets of the ‘world-wonder’ which is man. Indeed the Christ Impulse enables us to go much further. Whereas without it we bounce back like an india-rubber ball, and do not succeed in entering into ourselves, into the sphere of our own organisation, with the Christ we penetrate deeper and deeper into ourselves, and at last come out of ourselves, so to say, on the other side. So that whether we go out into the cosmos and find the Christ-principle in the widths of space, or whether we penetrate below into the sphere of the sub-earthly gods, in either case we find it all impersonal and freed from ourselves. In either direction we find something which transcends ourselves. In cosmic space we are not dissipated, atomised, we find the world of the upper gods; below we penetrate into the world of the true gods.
We could represent the two paths — the one which leads into ourselves, and the other which takes us into the widths of space — by a circle, and show how at last we meet ourselves outside ourselves. Both what is of the nature of will, into which we should otherwise plunge as if into a region of burning fire, and what constitutes the widths of space, wherein we should otherwise vanish into nothing — these two realms meet. Our thoughts about the world unite with the will which comes out of the world to meet us when we descend. Will-filled thoughts, willing thoughts! Thereby we are no longer in the presence of abstract thoughts, but of cosmic thoughts, thoughts which are themselves creative, thoughts which can will. Willing thoughts — but that means divine Beings, spiritual Beings, for thoughts filled with will are spiritual Beings. Thus the circle is completed. Thus do we come safely through the trials which have beset our soul, whereas otherwise we should vanish into nothingness on account of the weakness of our own souls. Thus when we descend into ourselves we come through our colossal egotism, that is to say, through the soul strong in its egohood and its egotism; in either direction we come to what of itself can certainly lead us into tribulation, but can never tell us anything about the world.
We have to travel both these paths, we have to experience both obstacles, the fear before the void, as well as the resistance of our own egotism. And as we thus pierce through ourselves to the other side of the will-nature, and draw near to the cosmos, as soon as we thus emerge from ourselves, we are seized by an infinite compassion, an endless sympathy with all beings. It is this sympathy, this compassion, which, when the circle has been completed, unites with the cosmic thoughts which would otherwise evaporate and which now receive substantial content. Little by little the Christ Impulse leads us to complete the circle, leads us to recognise what lives and subsists in the widths of space as thoughts filled with will, which means real thoughts, thoughts filled with being. But if in this way our ordeals have led us on, our souls then become purified, thoroughly penetrated by the cleansing process we have had to undergo. Because in the downward direction we have to fight our way through what is shown to us by the Guardian of the Threshold as the prompting to egotism, we are also proof against all that might cause us to vanish away in the widths of space, we are proof against the fear of the void.
Such was the wisdom which prevailed in the Greek Mysteries, a wisdom which leads us to the deepest secret behind the soul's ordeals. Therefore the Greek neophytes, the pupils of these Mysteries, were led on the one side to fear of the infinite abyss, and to knowledge; on the other side they were led, through the temptation to egotism and its overcoming, to infinite compassion and sympathy with all beings. In the marriage, the union, of compassion with thought they experienced purification from all the soul's trials. A faint reflection of this is shown in early Greek tragedy, Greek drama. The first dramas of Aeschylus, and in a lesser degree also those of Sophocles enable us to recognise what their purpose was. The way in which the action takes place on the stage is intended to arouse both fear and pity, and through them to lead to catharsis, to purification. Aristotle, who held the tradition that Greek drama portrayed in miniature those tremendous sensations of fear and egotism, of the overcoming of fear through fearlessness, and of egotism in sympathy, in boundless sympathy — Aristotle, who knew that drama was a way of teaching in miniature, defined tragedy as a representation of connected events calculated to arouse fear and pity in the human soul and through those qualities to purify it.
In course of time these tremendous truths have been lost. When, from the eighteenth century and on into the nineteenth, Aristotle began to be studied again, a whole library was built up to explain what he had actually meant by this. What he really meant will not be grasped until it is understood that drama originated in the ancient Mysteries. Thus scholarship is barely able to touch the fringe of the subject, for despite all the labour expended on the concept of drama, very little enlightenment on the Aristotelian definitions of fear and pity is gained from these libraries. We see, then, that inner ordeals arise inevitably from the development of the world and of humanity. But we also see that these ordeals come because the soul feels impelled to take two paths, one into cosmic distances, the other into the depths of its own being; we see that the soul must undergo these ordeals because in neither direction is the prospect open, but we see that it can hope to complete the circle, to find will from the one side, thought from the other, and thereby to reach the true realities, the revelation of the world as willing-spirit, spiritual will.
We come at last to the point at which the whole world is dissolved into spirit, we see spirit everywhere, and we have to recognise everything material as merely the outer manifestation of spirit, as the phantom, the illusion of spirit. It is because we live in the spirit but do not know ourselves in the spirit that we have to undergo such ordeals. For we do indeed live in the spirit without knowing it. We see spirit in a deceptive form, and we must press on towards the reality out of that deception which we ourselves are, out of the dream as which we dream ourselves; we must strip off all that still reminds us of matter or of the laws of matter. That is a path whose end we can only dimly surmise, but it gives us the strength to say that in the end we shall be able to close the circle and to find in the ‘Revelations of the Spirit’ the solution of the ‘Wonders of the World’, and the compensation for our ‘Ordeals of Soul’.
Thus a real study of Spiritual Science must never discourage us. Even when it has to be pointed out how severe will be our inner ordeals, how they have to be repeated over and over again, we must nevertheless say to ourselves: ‘We must get to know them, we must actually undergo them, for it does not help us to know them in an abstract way.’ But we must also have confidence that we shall advance through these ordeals to the revelations of the spirit. Of course anyone who could set his mind at rest with the thought that the revelations of the spirit are bound to come someday, and that therefore one need not go looking for ordeals, would be the first to run into them. For instance, if anyone were to say, ‘Since you have given us your first Rosicrucian drama, in which we find a development of soul which seems to show that Johannes Thomasius has already reached a certain level, we can rely on this and dispense with the second play The Soul's Probation and can simply hope that the revelation of the spirit will follow someday. What need have we to become involved in inner ordeals?’ Anyone arguing in this way would at once be plunged into the severest of them, for our normal consciousness, our intellectuality makes them inevitable. Hence it is better for us to experience every kind of trial that the soul is capable of experiencing, better for us to get to know without flinching every inner ordeal, so that we should understand that even a man like Johannes Thomasius can fall into error and illusion, and has to make progress by unexpected ways. But we must never lose confidence that the human soul is meant to bear aloft her divine self to the revelations of the spirit. For this is the way of the soul of man! She confronts the world, she sees the world as maya or the great illusion, she feels that within this maya there lie hidden the ‘world-wonders’; wonder comes upon her as her first trial, then the trials become more and more severe, but the soul can keep up her strength until the circle is completed and at last the ‘world-wonders’ find their solution, and the ‘ordeals of the soul’ their purgation in the ‘revelations of the spirit’. This is the way of the soul of man — and yet not hers alone, for within her all the divine hierarchies are labouring and aspiring.
This brings to an end the task we have set ourselves in this year's course of lectures — to evoke an idea of the connection between ‘The Wonders of the World, the Ordeals of the Soul and the Revelations of the Spirit.’
Notes:1. Dr. Steiner drew on the blackboard.
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