Wednesday, September 22, 2021
The Book of Revelation and the Work of the Priest. Lecture 4 of 18
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, September 8, 1924
We placed the image or Imagination of the author of the Apocalypse before our souls yesterday, and I pointed out that it is a vision of Christ which was given by God. Then I pointed out that the letter which was sent to John must be looked upon as an explanation of the Imagination or as something which will help us to understand it.
The way in which the writer of the Apocalypse is then also looked upon as the writer of the letter is in line with the nature of the Mystery and with the way one speaks and thinks out of the Mystery. For it was in keeping with the nature of the Mystery that the writer of such a document did not consider himself to be the author in the way that we look upon the author of a work today, but he felt that he was the instrument of the spiritual writer. He felt that the act of writing the content down was no longer of much importance. This is why John treats the matter as if he were writing down the message of a god by order of the latter. This proceeds from everything that follows in a way that is really oriented in accordance with the Mystery.
One can say that our contemporary world needs an understanding of transitions like the one from the first vision in the Apocalypse to the following seven letters to the individual churches again. For present-day people have completely forgotten how to understand the things which everyone knew about in the mysteries and during the early years of Christianity.
This is another thing which you priests should really develop further. Just consider that what is written down in an inspired way in the Apocalypse is directed to the angel of the church in Ephesus, the church in Thyatira, the church in Sardis, etc. These letters were to be sent to angels. This is something over which modern intellects must stumble right away. But the important thing here is to consider the following.
A man once came to me near the end of his life who was trying very hard to really understand the Anthroposophical or spiritual view of things. You should really know about such things in your priestly work, for they are typical phenomena today. The important thing becomes evident in a striking way in this particular case, but it is something that you will often encounter on your priestly paths. And after all, it's the work on your priest's path which is the important thing. He said to me, “It looks as if Anthroposophists are trying to take the Bible literally.” I said, yes. Then he gave me all kinds of examples to show why he didn't think that the Bible should be taken literally. I said to him, “It's true that there are a great many so-called mystics, Theosophists, etc., who see all kinds of symbols and the like in the Bible and who break it up into a lot of symbols. Anthroposophy doesn't do this. It only tries to understand what the original text is really saying, and it can sometimes do this by proceeding from the symbolic language. And here,” I said “I have never found that one couldn't take the original text of the Bible literally, even though one often runs into misunderstandings which have arisen in the course of time.in later translations.”
A literal reading of the Bible is a goal which can be attained. One can really say that anyone who cannot take a particular passage in the Bible literally yet, hasn't understood it yet, either. Of course this is also true of a lot of other things today.
We have come to such a passage here. We're touching upon something here which is' probably a little bit more esoteric than what we've encountered so far; but at some point it should really pass before your meditative eye's. Sometimes things in this or that confession which have remained behind from the old mysteries shoot and spray like volcanic fires from below, I can't say like lightning flashes, because they come from above.
I have often mentioned the pastoral letter of an archbishop which said no less than the following. The question was raised: who is greater, man or God? And although the language which was used was indirect, it nevertheless stated quite bluntly that priests are greater and more powerful than God, because when a priest — this doesn't apply to other people — stands at the altar he can force God to assume an earthly form, in the bread and wine. When a priest consecrates them and carries out a transubstantiation, the god must be present at the altar.
This is an explanation which goes far back to the ancient mystery culture, but it is also an explanation which is still common in esoteric Brahmanism in the orient today, to the extent that this is based on mystery knowledge. The idea that man is a being who includes the godhead is frequently used there, and this agrees with all mystery wisdom. Actually the idea is that man is higher than God. The Brahmanic priests from those times knew that they were the super-personal bearers of the Godhead, as it were, when their soul was in this mood.
This idea which shines in from the ancient mystery culture is a weighty one. But it is one of the things which every priest should meditate on at some point. However, it contradicts everything which has gradually arisen in the consciousness of Protestants. Protestants would say that this pastoral message is foolishness. We will come back to this letter in the course of our explanations of the Apocalypse. The idea here is just an exaggerated version of the idea which we encounter in the Apocalypse at the place I'm referring to.
John writes to the angels of the seven churches on orders from the gods or with divine inspiration. He is in such a state when he writes that he feels that he is the one who should give advice, warnings, a mission, etc. to the angels of the seven churches. What is the concrete idea here? To whom does one have to point when the angel of the Christian community in Ephesus or Sardis or Philadelphia is mentioned? Although people can't really understand this today, there were certain individuals at that time, whom we would call educated Christians, who understood what it means when one says that when a prophetic person like John was writing to the angels of the churches while he was in a particular soul mood, he was higher than an angel.
However, the people who understood this would not have been referring to something supersensible when they said “angel.” They knew that Christian communities had been founded and continued to exist. The writer of the Apocalypse directed his letters to future times, when what he has to say about each community will come to pass. He is definitely not speaking about present conditions. He is speaking about future conditions. But those who were conversant with traditional views from the ancient mysteries would have had to point to the leading bishops in the communities who were the recipients of the letters.
On the one hand they were quite aware that the real leader of the community is the supersensible angel. On the other hand, they would have pointed to the bishop or the canonical administrator of the community. For they had the idea that the ranking administrator of a church in Sardis or Ephesus or Philadelphia was the earthly vehicle of a supersensible, angelic being. So that as John writes he actually feels that he is taken hold of by a being who is higher than an angel. He writes to the bishops of the seven churches as people who are permeated by the leading angel of a community, and not just by their own guardian angel — for everyone has one of the latter.
Then he mentions what he wants to tell these churches. And he's definitely pointing to the future. We have to ask: Why were seven letters directed to seven communities? Of course, these seven communities represent the various nuances of heathenism and Judaism from which Christ proceeded. One had a much greater understanding for concrete things in those times than one did later. For instance, there was the church in Ephesus, which had once given birth to the great Ephesian mysteries, and people knew quite well that the latter pointed to the future appearance of Christ in a way that was customary and necessary. The cultic rituals in Ephesus were supposed to mediate between the sacrificing priest, his congregation and divine, spiritual powers, including the coming Christ. The heathen community and cult in Ephesus foretold the coming of Christianity and therefore they stood quite close to it.
This is why the letter to the angel of the Ephesian church refers to the seven candlesticks. The candlesticks are the churches. This is explicitly, stated in the Apocalypse. Precisely the community in Ephesus is and must be taken the way it stands there, for this is its true form. The indication is that the church in Ephesus was more actively involved with Christianity than the other churches, and that this was its first love. For we're told that it left its first love. The Apocalypticer wants to speak about this coming time in his letter. We can see from this warning letter to the church in Ephesus that the Apocalypticer thinks that he should describe the development of the various churches in connection with what the communities experienced in ancient times.
In fact, the individual churches under discussion here represent various nuances of heathen or Jewish peoples, and they had various cults, whereby they approached the divine worlds in different ways. The way each letter begins shows one that the Christianity in each of the communities developed out of heathen rites in a special way.
One should realize that the attitude of soul which people had in the early days of Christianity was quite different from that of present-day Europeans, although this doesn't apply to the Orient as much. However, our view of religious things in a conceptual context or content which one can describe in a logical way was still very foreign to the ancient mystery type of thinking in the first Christian centuries, very foreign indeed. They told themselves: the Christ is one of the manifestations of the mighty sun being. However, the church in Ephesus, the church in Sardis, in Thyatira, etc., must each strive towards him from its cult in its own special way; each one can approach this being in a way which has a particular nuance. And one can find indications everywhere that they acknowledged this. Just consider the following.
Take a church like the one in Ephesus, which had to replace the ancient and profound Ephesian mysteries; it must be different than, say, the church in Sardis. The church in Ephesus had a cult which was completely permeated by the presence of divine, spiritual substances in earthly life. A priest who walked around in Ephesus could have called himself a god just as well as he could call himself a human being. He knew that he was a bearer of a god. The entire religious consciousness in Ephesus was really anchored in theophany or in the visible manifestation of a god in a human being. Each priest in Ephesus represented a particular god. And it was even one of their special tasks to really bring this theophanic element or this physical presence of a god into people's souls.
Let's suppose that the living, human elaboration of Artemis or Diana the moon goddess walked around among the Ephesian priestesses as they celebrated their cultic rites. The priests expected their followers to see the goddess in the earthly, human manifestation, so that they made no distinction between the earthly phenomena and the goddess. The people in public processions and in other ancient events in the mysteries represented gods. Just as one must learn to have adequate concepts about things today, so one had to acquire mental images and feelings in one's soul in order to see the god in the male or female priests.
Hence it is not surprising that after the Apocalypticer took it into his head to speak in the language of the mysteries — as I mentioned before — he turned to the community in Ephesus, where this particular way of thinking, feeling and sensing things was developed most strongly. It was only natural for the community in Ephesus to look upon the seven candlesticks as the most important symbol of its cult. They represented the light which lives upon earth, which however is divine light.
The situation was quite different in a community like the one in Sardis. This church was the Christian continuation, of an ancient, astrological star worship, where one really knew how the movements of the stars and planets are connected with earthly affairs. Where everything which greater or lesser leaders commanded or which happened on earth was read from the stars. The church in Sardis had developed from a mystery culture which really considered the investigation of life secrets and life impulses in the starry skies at night to be important. Before one could speak of the community in Sardis as a Christian one, one had to speak of it as the one which clung to an ancient, dreamy state of clairvoyance the most, for the secrets of the nocturnal macrocosm were disclosed to this clairvoyance; The people, who preserved and made a tradition out of this dreamy clairvoyance didn't think that what the day gives is very important.
The differences between the solar services and teachings in Ephesus and Sardis are really quite interesting to the extent that one can really speak of ancient wisdom in connection with these two places. The sciences were not separated from the mysteries at that time, and what was taught at these centers went out to laymen. The solar teachings in Ephesus separated the five planets Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus and Mercury from the sun. and the moon. One set the sun — which we call a fixed star — apart in Ephesus: and one revered it from the time it rose to the time it set because one looked upon the sun as a principle which gives life.
This was not the case in Sardis. There one received its daily radiations rather indifferently, and one was mainly interested in what people in the ancient mysteries called the midnight sun. The nightly sun and the moon were considered to have the same value as the rest of the planets. The sun was really looked upon as a planet which was on an equal footing with the others. In Sardis one enumerated Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Mercury, sun moon. But in Ephesus they had Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus and Mercury on the one side, and the gods of the day and the night, sun and moon, which are closely connected with life on earth, on the other. That is the big difference. And all the cultic rites in Sardis were based on this.
Thus in these first Christian times an old heathen cult which was only oriented towards Christian principles lived on in the church in Ephesus, whereas an old heathen cult which was oriented towards the kind of astrology which I just mentioned lived on in Sardis. Therefore, it is only natural that the Apocalypticer writes of the one who speaks to the community in Sardis, that he has seven spirits and seven stars; now the featured thing is not the candle sticks which stand on the altar and the light which is connected with the earth, but what stands up there in the macrocosm.
You can see how deeply the writer of the Apocalypse is still involved with the ancient mystery culture if you answer the question: What does the writer of the Apocalypse reproach the community in Sardis with, or what does he tell them to watch out for? He mainly tells them that they should be watchful, and that they should make the transition to the diurnal sun from which Christ came.
One has to take what stands there in a literal sense and to really press forward to the original meaning. The writer of the Apocalypse was just about the last one to speak about and deal with religious life like this on a large scale. Before that Alexander the Great dealt with it in this way when he spread religious life in a model way, and so did all the other people who spread religions in ancient times. No one used dogmas to talk people into things. They let people keep their cults and convictions and they only added as much to them as could be assimilated.
For instance, Buddha's messengers went over to Babylonia and Egypt. After they had done their work there one could hardly distinguish the later time from the earlier one as far as the external cultic rites and the use of words went. But there was certainly a tremendous difference inwardly after they had poured in what the existing cults, sacrificial services and convictions could hold. Something similar occurred in European regions in ancient times. Spreaders of religions connected them with the existing ancient mystery culture, and they didn't try to overpower people with a lot of dogmas.
These are the kind of building blocks one needs in order to be able to read something like the Apocalypse correctly, and to avoid the absurd ideas which people have often come up with in connection with it. For instance, this tolerant addition to existing things led the writer of the Apocalypse to refer several times to “them which say they are Jews, and are not,” which is something that the members of these two communities were thinking in their hearts. This kind of thing has led some people to think that the Apocalypse is a Jewish document and not a Christian one. However, one has to understand how these things proceeded from the way people used to think in ancient times. We will have to go into some of these details more exactly later.
However, we will have to touch upon one of these ideas now. I'm referring to the following. The one who was inspired to write at that time knew that any given reality is only connected with a certain number of typical phenomena or types. Now just look at the wonderfully individual way in which the seven churches were described in the Apocalypse. It's really wonderful; they're all described in such a way that they're clearly distinguished from each other and they each have a special quality. But the writer of the Apocalypse knew that if one had described an eighth community, he would have been describing things which were similar to those which were connected with one of the others: and the same would apply to a ninth one. All of the possible things were already described in these seven nuances. This is something he was well aware of.
This is another wonderful idea which surfaces from the far distant past. I ran into it again recently in a very graphic way when we had our summer course in Torquay, England, and we drove out to where the castle of King Arthur and his twelve brothers once stood. One can still see how important this place was from the vital life that exists there. If one looks at these promontories which still have a few ruins from the old Arthurian castles on them, one sees a large hill in the middle with the ocean on either side. One sees that the ocean ensouls the region in a very peculiar way, for the view is continuously changing.
During the relatively short time we were there, sunshine and rain alternated rapidly with each other. Of course this was also the case in past times, and as a matter of fact, things have quieted down somewhat today in this respect, for the climate there has changed. Now one looks at this wonderful interplay of elemental light spirits, which relate to the water spirits that stream up from below. Other quite special spiritual phenomena exist there when the ocean surges onto the land and then wrests itself loose and is thrown back again, and when the ocean curls up. This is actually the only place on earth where one finds this peculiar living and weaving of elemental, world beings.
What I had the privilege of seeing there was the vehicle for the inspiration of the participants in Arthur's work. They received the impulses for what they did from what was said to them with the help of these ocean beings and air beings. Here again, one could only have twelve people. This struck me there at the time, because one can still perceive what this establishment of the number twelve is based on. When one has to do with world percepts which have been created by elemental beings in this way, one finds that there are twelve nuances or kinds of perception. However, if any one person wants to grasp all 12, they all become blurred. The knights at Arthur's round table arranged things in such a way that each of them grasped one of these 12 nuances. But they were convinced that this gave each of them a sharply differentiated feeling for the universe and for the tasks that it presented them. But there couldn't have been a thirteenth, for this would have had to be similar to one of the 12.
The idea which obviously underlies this is that if people want to share their tasks in the world, there must be 12 people. They form a whole and represent 12 nuances. Whereas if people confront each other in communities or communes one gets the number seven. People knew about these things in those days. The Apocalypticer still had this supersensible knowledge of numbers, and he gives us other indications of this in the Apocalypse. Today I only want to speak about the way one reads the Apocalypse. One of the things that he sees is the seat of Christ or the transfigured son of man, surrounded by 24 elders. Here we have a numerical nuancing which is based on 24. What does this quartoduodeca shading mean?
Communities have a nuancing which is based on 7 and incarnated human beings have a shading which is based on 12. However, we arrive at a different number when it's a question of looking upon man as a representative of human evolution in super-terrestrial life. There were leaders of mankind who had to disclose the things which are written into the world ether or Akashic record to men from one epoch to the next, to the extent that they were ready to receive them. If we take the successive, great revealers of evolving humanity, we can find what they had to give inscribed in supersensible regions.
One should really not just look for Moses's individuality, for instance, for the Moses as he was on earth and not even just in biblical documents as they were on earth, since these have already been entered into the Akashic record; one should look for the individuality who is sitting on Christ's seat. The eternal part of Moses's earth existence, his permanent sub specie aeterni is firmly engraved in the world ether and is sitting there. However only 24 such human activities can be chosen for eternity. For a 25th would be a repetition of one of the previous ones. This is something people knew in ancient times.
If people want to work together on earth, there must be 12 of them. If human communities want to work together there has to be 7. An eighth one would be a repetition of one of the others. However, if the essential and eternal natures of those people who have spiritualized themselves in the course of human evolution and who each represent one human stage, work together, there must be 24 of them. These are the 24 elders.
We have these 24 elders around Christ's seat like the synthesis of all human revelations, although some of these revelations have already become manifest and some of them have yet to come. However, we also have man as a whole before Christ's seat in contrast to the individual human stages. One could say that man as such, as one must understand him, is represented among the four beasts.
A grand Imagination stands before us here. The transfigured son of man in the center, the individual stages of humanity throughout the course of time in the 24 directors of the 24 hours of the great world day on the seat, and spread out over all of this, man himself, among the picture of the four beasts, who has to include all the individual stages. Something rather important becomes manifest here.
What happens before the gaze of the Apocalypticer, who gives God's message to the angels of the communities and therewith to all mankind? When the four beasts go into action, that is, as man discovers his relation to the godhead, the 24 directors of the 24 hours of the great world day fall down with their faces to the ground. Here they are worshipping the entire human being or man as something that is higher than the individual stages of humanity which they represent. One really saw this Imagination in very ancient times, and the Apocalypticer placed it before humanity; however, in those ancient times they said that the one who is sitting on the seat will come, whereas the Apocalypticer says: He who sits on the seat has already been here. However, we can only learn to read the Apocalypse correctly and this is what I wanted to speak about today if we can learn to read things by proceeding from the ancient mysteries. We will keep on trying to find our way into the Apocalypse. There are profound secrets in it which you shouldn't just become familiar with, for some of them are secrets which you should carry out, which you should do.