Rudolf Steiner, The Fifth Gospel, lecture 3 (October 3, 1913):
When I said yesterday that the personalities who we usually call the apostles of Christ Jesus experienced a certain awakening which began at the so-called Pentecost, I didn't mean to claim that it happened in full consciousness. Nevertheless, when clairvoyant consciousness immerses itself in the souls of those apostles, it recognizes the images in those souls. But in the apostles themselves it was less images than – if I may say so – life, as a direct experience, as feeling and force of soul.
And what the apostles were then able to say, by which they even attracted the Greeks of those times, by which they gave the impulse for what we call Christian development, that which they carried within them as power of the soul, of the mind, flowed from what lived in their souls as the living force of the Fifth Gospel. They were able to speak as they spoke, act as they acted, because they bore in their souls the things we are now deciphering as the Fifth Gospel, although they didn't tell these things with the same words which one must use to relate the Fifth Gospel now. For they had received like an awakening the fecundation through all-embracing cosmic love, and under the influence of this fecundation they continued to act. And here we are at the point where we must speak of the earthly life of Christ in the sense of the Fifth Gospel.
It isn't easy to describe all this in words using contemporary concepts. But we can approach that greatest of earthly secrets by using many of the concepts and ideas with which we are already familiar through our spiritual scientific considerations. If we want to understand the Christ-being, we must use the concepts we already have through our spiritual scientific analyses in a somewhat different form.
Let us consider, in order to gain some clarity, what is usually called the baptism by John in the Jordan. It is compared in the Fifth Gospel, in relation to the earthly life of Christ, with the act of conception in a human being. The life of Christ from then until the Mystery of Golgotha is understood when we compare it with the life of an embryo in the mother's body. It is in a sense the embryonic life of the Christ-Being which this being lived through from the baptism in the Jordan till the Mystery of Golgotha.
We must understand the Mystery of Golgotha itself as an earthly birth — that is, the death of Jesus as the earthly birth of Christ. And we must look for his actual earth-life after the Mystery of Golgotha, when Christ was in contact with the apostles, when they were in another state of consciousness, as I indicated yesterday. That is what followed the actual birth of the Christ-being, and what is described as the Ascension and the immediately following outpouring of spirit, which in respect to the Christ-Being we must understand as corresponding to what we are accustomed to see as the entrance into the spiritual world upon human death. And the life of Christ in the earthly sphere since the Ascension, or since Pentecost, we must compare with what the human soul experiences when it is in the so-called Devachan, or Spirit-land.
We also see, my dear friends, that in the Christ-Being we have a being before us about which we must completely change all the concepts we have acquired about the successive stages of human life. The human being goes, after a short interval called purification-time, Kamaloka-time, to the spiritual world in order to prepare for the next life on earth. The human being lives though a spiritual life after death. From Pentecost on, the Christ-being experiences immersion in the earth-sphere — what for the human being is the transition to the Spirit-land. Instead of going to a Davachan, to a spiritual region, as man does after death, the Christ-Being made the sacrifice to seek the earth as his heaven. The human being leaves the earth in order — if we may use a common expression — to change his place of residence to heaven. Christ left heaven in order to change his place of residence to earth.
I beg you to see this in the right light, and to combine it with the feeling about what happened through the Mystery of Golgotha, in which his actual sacrifice consisted: namely in leaving the spiritual spheres in order to live with the earth and the human beings on the earth and to consolidate the impulse he gave for further human evolution on earth. This means that before the baptism in the Jordan this being did not belong to the earthly sphere. He descended from the over-earthly sphere to the earthly sphere. And what was experienced between the baptism by John and Pentecost had to be lived out in order to transform the heavenly being of Christ into the earthly being of Christ.
It is saying infinitely much when this secret is revealed here with the words: Since the Pentecost event the Christ-being is with human souls on the earth; previously he had not been with human souls on the earth. What the Christ-Being underwent between the baptism by John and Pentecost happened in order for the place of residence in the spiritual world could be exchanged for the place of residence in the earthly sphere. That happened so the divine-spiritual Christ-being could take on the necessary form in order to be able to be in community with human souls. Why did the events of Palestine take place? In order for the divine-spiritual being of Christ to be able to take on the form needed to be in community with human souls on the earth.
That this event in Palestine was unique is something which I have previously often indicated: the descent of a higher, unearthly being into the earthly sphere and the remaining of this unearthly being together with the earthly sphere until the earthly sphere undergoes the corresponding transformation. Since that time the Christ-Being is active on the earth.
If we want to clearly understand the Pentecost event in the sense of the Fifth Gospel, we must use the concepts we have developed in spiritual science. It has been brought to your attention that in ancient times there were Mysteries, initiations, through which the human soul was raised to participation in spiritual life. This pre-Christian initiation process can be seen most clearly when one observes the so-called Persian or Mithras mysteries. There were seven stages of initiation. The person who was to be raised to the higher stages of spiritual experience was led first to what was symbolically called the “Raven” stage; he became an “occulter”, a “hidden one”. In the third degree he became a “Fighter”, in the fourth a “Lion”, in the fifth he took on the name of the people to whom he belonged. In the sixth degree he became a “Sun-Hero”, in the seventh a “Father”. For the first four degrees it is sufficient today to say that he was gradually led deeper and deeper into spiritual experience. In the fifth degree the person reached the capacity for an expanded consciousness, which enabled him to become a spiritual guardian of his people. Therefore he was assigned the name of the corresponding people. When someone at that time was initiated into the fifth degree, he had a certain participation in the spiritual life.
We know from a lecture cycle that I gave here that the nations of the earth are led by what we call in the hierarchies of spiritual beings archangeloi or archangels. The person initiated in the fifth degree participated in the life of the archangels. Initiates in the fifth degree were needed in the cosmos. Therefore an initiation in this fifth degree existed on earth. When such a person was initiated in the mysteries and received the soul-content which corresponded to the fifth degree, the archangel looked at the soul of such a person and read in that soul as we read in a book that informs us of certain things which we must know in order to accomplish something. The archangel read in the person who was initiated in the fifth degree what a nation [an ethnic group] needed. Initiates of the fifth degree must be formed on earth in order for the archangeloi to lead correctly. Those initiates are the intermediaries between the leaders of the ethnic group and the people of the nation. They carry up to the sphere of the archangels what is needed in order for the nations to be correctly led.
How could this fifth degree be attained in pre-Christian times? It could not be attained while the soul remained in the body. The human soul had to be elevated out of the body. The initiation consisted of the soul being elevated out of the body. And while out of the body the soul experienced what gave it the content I have just described. The soul had to abandon the earth and enter the spiritual world in order to attain what it had to attain.
When the sixth degree of the old initiation was reached, the Sun-Hero degree, then in the soul of such a Sun-Hero reigned not only what is necessary to lead a people, but what is higher than that. If, my dear friends, you observe the evolution of humanity on the earth, you will see how nations arise and disappear, how they develop. Nations are born and die as individuals are. What a nation has accomplished for the earth must, however, be retained in the earth's evolution. Not only must a nation be led and guided, but also what that nation [or people] accomplishes on earth must be preserved beyond that nation. In order for this to happen the Sun-Heroes were necessary. In the higher worlds it is possible to read what lives in the soul of a Sun-hero and gain the strength which carries over the achievements of a nation into the work of humanity as a whole. And just as he who was to be initiated in the fifth degree of the ancient mysteries had to leave his body in order to accomplish what was necessary, he who would be a Sun-hero had to leave his body and take as residence in the sun.
These are things which for contemporary consciousness sound almost incredible, perhaps even foolish. But the Pauline words are appropriate — that wisdom, which can be divine, can be thought foolish by men. The Sun-Hero lived together with the whole solar system during the time of his initiation. The sun was his dwelling, as the earth is for the normal man. As mountains and streams surround us, the planets of the solar system surrounded the Sun-Hero during his initiation. The Sun-Hero had to be carried out to the sun during his initiation. That could only be achieved when he was out of the body in the ancient mysteries. And when he returned to his body he remembered what he had experienced and could use it as the ability to further the evolution of humanity, for the benefit of humanity as a whole. The Son-Heroes left their bodies during the initiation and reentered them when they returned and had the strength which could transfer a nation's work to the evolution of humanity as a whole.
And what did those Sun-Heroes experience during the three-and-a-half days of their initiation? What did they experience when they were on the sun? Togetherness with Christ, who was not yet on the earth before the Mystery of Golgotha! All the ancient Sun-Heroes had gone to the higher spiritual spheres. For it was only there that one could experience togetherness with Christ in ancient times. It was from that world, to which the initiates had to ascend, that Christ descended to the earth.
We can therefore say that what was achieved by a few through the initiation procedure in ancient times was achieved as a natural event by Christ's apostles during Pentecost. Whereas previously one had to ascend to Christ, he now descended to the apostles. And the apostles had become in a certain sense men who carried within themselves the same content which the ancient Sun-Heroes had had in their souls. The spiritual power of the sun had streamed into the souls of men and was subsequently active in human evolution. In order for that to happen, the events of Palestine were necessary.
From what source did Christ's sojourn on earth grow? It grew from deepest suffering, from a suffering which exceeds all human understanding of suffering. In order to conceive of all this correctly, it is again necessary to overcome certain obstacles of contemporary consciousness.
Recently a book was published which I can enthusiastically recommend, because it was written by a very intelligent man and proves what nonsense even intelligent people can say about spiritual things. I mean Maurice Maeterlinck's Vom Tode (“About Death”). Among many nonsensical things, he affirms that when a person dies he is a spirit, and can no longer suffer because he has no physical body. Maeterlinck, a very intelligent man, suffers under the illusion that only the physical body can suffer and a dead person can therefore not suffer. He doesn't notice the phenomenal, almost incredible nonsense it is to affirm that only the physical body, which consists of physical forces and chemical elements, can suffer. As if a stone could suffer! The physical body cannot suffer; it is the soul that suffers. It has come to the point where people think the opposite of what makes sense about the simplest things. There would be no kamaloca-suffering if the spirit could not suffer. It is just because it has been relieved of the physical that suffering exists in kamaloca. Whoever believes that a spirit cannot suffer cannot have a correct idea of the infinite suffering of Christ during his time in Palestine.
Before I speak of this suffering however, I must bring something else to your attention. We must be aware that with the baptism in the Jordan by John a spirit descended to the earth, lived on the physical plane for three years and experienced death on Golgotha, a spirit who, before the baptism in the Jordan, had lived in circumstances which were completely different from earthly ones. What does that mean? It means, anthroposophically speaking, that that spirit had no earthly karma. I beg you to keep this in mind. A spirit lived for three years in the body of Jesus of Nazareth without having an earthly karma in his soul. Therefore all of Christ's earthly experiences have a completely different meaning than that of a normal human soul. When we suffer, when we have this or that experience, we know that the suffering is founded in karma. That was not the case for the Christ spirit. He had to go through a three-year earthly experience without a karmic burden. What did that mean for Him? Suffering without karmic meaning, truly unearned suffering, innocent suffering! The Fifth Gospel is the anthroposophical Gospel and shows us the only three-year earthly life for which the concept of karma in the human sense is not applicable.
A further consideration of this Gospel teaches us something else about those three years, which we have compared to the life of an embryo, created no karma, was not charged with guilt. A life was lived on the earth that was not conditioned by karma and also created no karma. One must assimilate all these concepts in the profoundest sense in order to correctly understand those extraordinary events of Palestine, which are otherwise inexplicable. For how greatly have they been misunderstood over the ages! And what impulses have they nevertheless given! Their profound meaning is often ignored.
How thoughtless one passes over things which are profoundly meaningful. Perhaps many of you have heard of the book Leben Jesu (“The Life of Jesus”) by Ernest Renan, which was published in 1863. One reads this book without recognizing its significance. Perhaps one day people will wonder at how many people read this book without realizing how peculiar it is. What is peculiar about it is that it is a mixture of a sublime description and cheap novel. Read “The Life of Jesus” with this idea in mind, read what he makes of Christ, who for him is of course mainly Christ Jesus. He makes him out to be a hero who originally had good intentions, who was a great benefactor of humanity, who however was seduced by the mob's enthusiasm and more and more surrendered to it and tells them what they want to hear.
In great style Renan uses for Christ what is often used by lesser talents. It often happens that when people see something spreading, Theosophy for example, they use the following criticism: At the beginning you had good intentions, but then came those evil followers to hear what they wanted to hear and little by little you were seduced. That is how Renan handles Christ Jesus. He doesn't hesitate to describe the resurrection of Lazarus as a kind of fraud which Christ Jesus allowed to happen as a means of impressing the masses. He doesn't hesitate to lead Christ Jesus into a kind of raging fury and finally be seduced by the people's instinctual desires. Thus a cheap novel is mixed with a sublime presentation. What is remarkable is that someone with healthy feelings should be shocked upon hearing of a person who originally had the best intentions but is finally seduced by the mob's instincts and allows all kinds of fraud to be perpetrated. Renan is not shocked however, but has only beautiful words for that person. Curious, isn't it? But is an indication of how attracted people are to Christ even though they don't understand him. It can go so far that such a person makes the life of Christ into a cheap novel and then can't find enough admiring words to draw people's attention to him. It's only possible with a being in whom something entered as entered into the Christ Jesus. Oh, much karma would have been amassed in the three years of Christ's life on earth if his life had been as Renan describes it. In the future, however, it will be recognized that such a description collapses with the knowledge that a life was lived on earth without karma having been created. That is the message of the Fifth Gospel.
The Fifth Gospel tells us that on the occasion of the baptism in the Jordan the words which appear in the Gospel of Luke are an accurate rendition of what a highly developed clairvoyant consciousness would have heard: “This is my beloved son, today I have begotten him.” [Luke, 3, 22] And it is an accurate description of what occurred: the begetting, the conception of Christ on earth.
It the following days we will speak of the Being who descended into the body of Jesus; now we will only emphasize that Jesus of Nazareth had come [to the Jordan], and gave his body to the Christ being. The Fifth Gospel tells us – what we can read with retroactive clairvoyant vision – that at the beginning of Christ's wandering on earth he was not fully incorporated in the body of Jesus, that only a loose connection existed between the Christ being and the body of Jesus of Nazareth. It was not like that of a normal person's connection between soul and body, rather that, when necessary, the Christ-Being could leave Jesus of Nazareth's body. While Jesus of Nazareth's body was as sleeping, the Christ being went wherever it was necessary.
The Fifth Gospel shows us that the body of Jesus of Nazareth was not always present when the Christ being appeared to the apostles, but that Jesus of Nazareth's body stayed somewhere else and the spirit, the Christ-Spirit, appeared to the apostles. But the appearance was such that it could be confused with Jesus of Nazareth's body. They probably noticed a difference, but the difference was too small for them to clearly recognize. The four gospels don't say much about it, but the Fifth Gospel does. The apostles could not always clearly differentiate and say: Now Christ Jesus stands physically before us, or now only the Christ-Spirit. They mostly took the appearance to be the Christ-Spirit (to the extent they recognized him) in the body of Jesus of Nazareth. But during the three years the spirit gradually bound itself ever more closely to the body of Jesus of Nazareth, so that the etheric Christ-Being came to closely resemble the body of Jesus of Nazareth.
Please note how different all this was with respect to a normal human being. The normal person is a microcosm related to the macrocosm, an image of the whole macrocosm. What is expressed in the human physical body can be understood in this way. What the human being on earth becomes is a reflection of the cosmos. The reverse is the case with the Christ-Being. The macrocosmic Sun-Being formed itself according to the image of the human microcosm, contracted and pressed more and more until it resembled the human microcosm. Just the reverse!
At the beginning of the Christ's earthly life, just after the baptism in the Jordan, the connection with the body of Jesus of Nazareth was loosest. The Christ-Being was still almost completely outside the body of Jesus of Nazareth. Therefore what the Christ-Being did as he walked on the earth was completely over-earthly. He healed in a way which no earthly force could heal; he spoke to the people with such intensity that it was a divine intensity. But gradually he became more and more similar to the body of Jesus of Nazareth, contracted, pressed more and more into earthly conditions until the divine power deserted him. The Christ-Being went through this process as he came more and more to resemble the body of Jesus of Nazareth, something which, in a certain sense, can be considered to be a devolving evolution. The Christ-Being had to feel the godly power weakening as he became similar to the body of Jesus of Nazareth. A god gradually became a man.
As someone who sees his body weaken and die under extreme pain, so the Christ-Being saw his divine content disappear in that he became ever more similar, as an etheric being, to the body of Jesus of Nazareth, to the point where he was so similar that he could feel fear like a man. The other Gospels describe this when Christ Jesus goes up to the Mount of Olives with his disciples and the Christ-Being in the body of Jesus of Nazareth has the sweat of fear on his brow. It was the humanizing, the gradual humanizing of Christ and the increasing similarity to the body of Jesus of Nazareth. In the same measure as the etheric Christ-Being approached similarity to the body of Jesus of Nazareth, Christ became man. Divine miraculous power left him. Here we see the Passion from the point when he came to the Jordan, to where the astonished crowds saw what he could do and said: no being on earth has ever done these things. That was when the Christ-Being had little similarity to the body of Jesus of Nazareth. From that moment of amazed bystanders it took the three years to come to the point where the Christ-Being was so similar to the body of Jesus of Nazareth that in that wasted body he could no longer answer Pilate's, Herod's or Caiphas's questions. So identical had he become to the weak, wasting body of Jesus of Nazareth, that he remained silent to the question by the high priest of the Jews: Did you say that you will destroy the temple and in three days rebuild it? The Christ-Being no longer spoke from the decaying body of Jesus of Nazareth and stood dumb before Pilate, who asked: Did you say that you are the king of the Jews? The way of the Passion went from the baptism in the Jordan to powerlessness. And soon the masses, who had previously been amazed at the Christ-Being's over-earthly miraculous power, no longer admired him, but stood in front of the cross mocking the weakness of the god who became man with the words: You helped others, now help yourself! That was the Passion path — endless suffering, to which was added sorrow for humanity at that moment of the mystery of Golgotha.
That pain and suffering, however, gave birth to the spirit which poured out on the apostles at Pentecost. From that pain was born the all-embracing cosmic love which descended with the baptism in the Jordan from the over-earthly, heavenly spheres into the earthly sphere – which became similar to a human body and realized the moment of highest divine powerlessness in order to give birth to the impulse which we know as the Christ-Impulse in the subsequent evolution of humanity.
These are things we must keep in mind if we want to understand the full meaning of the Christ-Impulse, as it will have to be understood in the future in order for humanity to advance in its path of evolution and culture.
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