Wednesday, September 22, 2021
The Book of Revelation and the Work of the Priest. Lecture 5 of 18
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, September 9, 1924
The most important thing we must do here is to read the Apocalypse in the way it should be read today. Already for the reason that we must become fully conscious of what is guiding spiritual life today, since spiritual development is now taking place under the sign of the consciousness soul. Hence it will be a matter of orienting ourselves to what the Apocalypticer tells us and of absorbing it in a fully conscious way.
The communications of the Apocalypticer have meant nothing to ordinary priests so far, and at most they meant something to the highest initiates, although there have been ever fewer of them in recent times. Priests must now become aware of the real contents of the Apocalypse.
We pointed to the seven churches from a particular point of view, for the world is very complex and one can look at things from many different viewpoints; so that we can describe the community in Ephesus in the way that we did yesterday. We then find that the Christianity there developed out of certain heathen conditions.
However, we can also point out that much of the basic structure of the first post Atlantean epoch was contained in these impulses — in fact, to an even greater extent than it was contained in the later phases of Indian civilization. So that in a way one can look upon the Christianity which developed in Ephesus as a Christian continuation of the first world view and view of life after the Atlantean epoch, whereas the original Persian culture lived more in the second community — Smyrna — and passed over into Christianity.
Then again, Pergamos is described as a community which cultivated the third post Atlantean culture. If we let the message to Pergamos work upon us, we find a more or less clear reference to the words of Hermes, which lived in this cultural milieu.
Then in Thyatira we are referred to the fourth post Atlantean culture, in which the Mystery of Golgotha took place. If we let this important message work upon us, we are constantly reminded of the direct way in which the message of the Mystery of Golgotha worked.
And then comes the church in Sardis, which we discussed yesterday. I showed you that this church in Sardis was somewhat astrologically oriented, and that it was oriented towards astronomical work. Therewith this community bears a lot of the past in it — which of course every community does from a historical viewpoint. But precisely this community in Sardis also bears a lot of the future in it.
And now take what we're trying to bring into our spiritual view of the present. We are living in the fifth post-Atlantean epoch. If one looks at Sardis' past one sees that there was still something germinal there which hadn't been taken to completion at the time when John wrote the Apocalypse. The whole tone of this fifth epistle is different. It points to the future. The future to which he pointed at that time, which is as it were germinally contained in Sardis is our future; it is the time in which we're living.
So the development of the successive post Atlantean periods is hidden in the developing Christian churches, and the same thing is indicated from another side in the seven seals.
We have another indication, as it were, of what the secret of the seven churches is in the seven seals. We will describe the other meaning of the seven seals later, but when the fourth seal is opened, it corresponds to a secret of the fourth post Atlantean epoch, for a pale horse appears, and there is talk about the death which has come into the world. This touches upon one of the most important secrets of the Apocalypse — at least, it is very important for our time. In a way, death really entered into humanity during the fourth Post Atlantean epoch. You should make this clear to yourselves. One finds out what human nature is if one contemplates something like this; one can really get to know it quite well.
If we go back to the first, second and third post Atlantean epochs we find that the way man felt about himself, and his whole frame of mind was different in these early times than it became later. Man had a distinct inner feeling that he was growing into his earthly abode. Even though this consciousness had dimmed considerably by the time of the Mystery of Golgotha, men had a distinct memory in their ordinary consciousness that they had lived up in the spiritual world before their life on earth. In the first, second and third post Atlantean epochs, everyone knew that they had been a spiritual being before they had become a child. One doesn't find this, in external documents very much, but the fact is that people, took the continuation of their stay upon earth backwards into the spiritual world for granted. Human beings only began to feel that their life on earth was closed off by the two portals of conception or birth and death in the fourth post Atlantean epoch, which coincided with the Mystery of Golgotha.
This consciousness or attitude of soul first arose in the fourth post Atlantean epoch, so that this consciousness of being strictly enclosed by the boundaries of earthly life developed from about the eighth century before Christ up to the 15th century after the Mystery of Golgotha. A new consciousness is being prepared in the present epoch, but we're only at the beginning of it. Only about five centuries have elapsed since then, and this corresponds to about the third pre-Christian century with respect to the preparation of the fourth post Atlantean consciousness. The consciousness which they had then was quite different from the one they had when the fourth post Atlantean consciousness was fully developed. Likewise, most men today are not wearing the clothes of the new consciousness yet, but they are still wearing the consciousness of the fourth post Atlantean epoch. Our whole civilization tends to create this situation.
Just think of how much has been carried over from the fourth post Atlantean epoch and of how much people are living in the fourth post Atlantean epoch in a matter of fact or coquettish way. The fourth post Atlantean. epoch is still working on in our entire high school education. Scholars who use Latin are still back in the fourth post Atlantean epoch. People in public life still think in the way that they thought in the fourth post Atlantean epoch. We haven't arrived at full humanity with respect to the development of our consciousness soul, as it were, in the fifth post Atlantean epoch. And this is why men of the present still think that their earth life is closed off by the two portals of birth and death.
The consciousness soul is being developed, but this development only becomes evident in people who have a special talent for it. I have met quite a few talented people like this during my lifetime; but one usually doesn't notice them. There is an awareness that a man with this fifth post Atlantean consciousness doesn't completely fit into the period between birth and death, that death plays into earthly life, that one really dies a little bit every day, that we're dying continuously all the time and that death exists. Some people are very much afraid of death, because they feel that it is undermining their ability to be human on earth. On the other hand, I have also known people who loved death because it always accompanied them, and they were really longing for it.
This is something which will arise evermore during the fifth post Atlantean epoch, namely, people will see death walking alongside them. To put it even more concretely: men will perceive an intimate fire process in themselves which is connected with the development of the consciousness soul. They will experience this development of waking consciousness like a kind of fire process which consumes them, especially at the moments when they pass over from sleeping to waking consciousness. The consciousness soul is a very spiritual thing, and spiritual things always consume material ones. The consciousness soul consumes material and etheric things in human beings through a kind of intimate fire process or transformation process.
This is something which men will perceive more and more in the course of this fifth post Atlantean epoch. Except that you shouldn't think that it's like a burning candle flame; one shouldn't think of it in such a physical way. Rather he will incorporate this proximity of death into his moral soul.
The situation with most people today is as follows. If you see how the good resolves and firm intentions which they have disappear in the next moment, hour, day or month, then in accordance with the prevailing, materialistic world view, one considers this to be something which simply occurs. But one will gradually begin to feel differently about this. One will begin to feel that a good intention which one was too weak to carry out weakens one's life and reduces one's moral value, and one will see that one becomes morally lighter and less significant in the universe thereby.
People today generally feel that what is present here is a weakness in their soul, and not something which works on in the universe. But this will change. Likewise, there will be certain intellectual qualities which people will increasingly feel are weakening them, as if a fire in their soul were consuming them. These phenomena are already here, and some of them exist on a large scale. But they are not being felt in an honest way.
There is a way to find one's way into the spiritual world where one goes step by step and where one also takes what is given in How Does One Attain Knowledge of Higher Worlds? and in other books into account; thereby one arrives at a harmony between spirit, soul and body. But through the way in which most people cultivate a spiritual life today without these exercises, namely, through the way in which people in various confessions pursue a religious life, the latter is active in them in such a •manner that it reduces their moral value and makes them lighter.
These are things which people are becoming aware of more and more. People in this fifth post Atlantean epoch are changing a great deal. For it is a significant change if one feels that one's whole manhood is strengthened or weakened by what one is in one's soul. It's quite a change if one feels that destiny is not only a matter of circumstances which work upon one and which are present around one outside, but that it is something which makes one morally lighter or heavier. It's not as if one's physical body were protected against this, for one feels that one becomes lighter or heavier as a whole human being.
You see, this is the consciousness which is being prepared, and one can see externally and empirically that it is being prepared. The time is beginning today when the priesthood will have to think of these things, when the faithful are standing before them. For it's a question of dealing with what is rising in men's consciousness in such a way that a man is comforted and strengthened. These things are not fully conscious yet, and they are coming up together with all kinds of unrest, nervousness and disharmonious emotional contents.
You priests will find that it's becoming increasingly impossible to treat individual people in accordance with the general ideas which you have formed. Don't be offended by this, but in a certain sense clichés have been the decisive thing in the past and in many respects they still are today. If you ask what a priest did with someone who came to him with some kind of delusive ideas, one will hear that he tried to make him feel aware that he was a sinner, and that he did the same with a second case, and so on. Thus everything is pervaded by clichés.
I once went to three burials in one day, and I noticed that the same priest began each burial with the statement, “As high as the heavens are above the earth, so much higher are my thoughts than your thoughts.” Here we have another cliché, which was relatively justified in the fourth post Atlantean epoch. Like the other things that I mentioned, this has reached over into the fifth and it rules our thinking, whereas a finer observation shows that all things must be transformed in our cultural epoch. Priests must begin to be able to look into the hearts of other human beings again.
Very few people can do this today. Human beings know terribly little about other human beings today. For you see, if one reads the passage about the white raiment which people who have fulfilled the task of the fifth cultural epoch will have to wear, and if one does this with a certain reverence — because one can't really read the Apocalypse without reverence — one gets the impression that here it's a question of looking deeply into the special kind of consciousness which each human being has with the eye of a priest. It's a question of their becoming acquainted with the people who appear before them in the fifth post Atlantean age. We are being admonished to become acquainted with each human being in his soul garment, and not just in the clothes which he wears through what he is in the outer world. This admonishment of the Apocalypticer is addressed to our present time through this letter.
Today's priests must penetrate the souls of human beings as they momentarily disregard all the external things into which men are placed. Priests must really begin to look at human beings in the way I described, namely, in the way one must look at them if one wants to investigate their karma. The day before yesterday I said that if one wants to investigate someone's karma one has to immerse oneself in his soul and in the qualities which can come to expression in any profession and basically in any capacity, and one shouldn't look at people from the viewpoint of their vocation, social ties, and ability or non-ability. For one has to look at what a human being was in his past earth life. Now priests don't have to go quite that far, but they must begin to see through external things and to look at man's inner life and his purely human side, and at what gives each inner human being an individual constitution. It's really the case that if we read up to this Book of Revelation we feel that what is written in it is like a direct exhortation to present-day humanity. And if we read on we can get an even deeper impression.
Just consider the following. We're going through the fifth post Atlantean epoch; during this fifth post Atlantean age man is changing his consciousness in such a way that he sees through the work and activity of death itself. He will understand it. He will not learn to see through it in such a way that he knows how much longer he has to live; but he will see the working of death itself; he will have it as a constant companion. Of course he will have to have a soul content which will make this standing next to him of death seem natural, and this is something which will have to be created in the various spheres of life. If one's soul forces are constantly alert one will be able to have death next to one as a good friend and a constant companion.
You should realize that when you look out into your environment today, you are still seeing things like a man of the fourth post Atlantean epoch. You're basically looking at life which has death in it in every plant and rock, but you don't see the death, because you still don't see it in yourself. People will soon begin to see death all the time. This is what one will increasingly have to say to present-day men. People's whole perception will change as they see death more and more.
If one sees death one sees many things which are completely hidden in the phenomena. We see nature in a rather stable way today because we don't look into certain fine, intimate things in nature at all. We walk through the countryside, and we see signs which say that there is a lot of foot and mouth disease in this area. However, in reality something happened in the more intimate things above such a place — if one can see it — which can be compared with an ocean which is roiled by a storm or with a volcanic eruption. This is what will approach mankind in the sixth post Atlantean epoch.
Today people can observe the eruption of a Vesuvius or a great earthquake by means of a seismograph, but because they don't see death yet they don't see the tensions in the etheric which become manifest in all kinds of things, such as when a significant genius lives somewhere or is born there. People can see the tremendous working and weaving of the spirit behind the planets and stars and their configurations just as little; the latter are just an external manifestation of the former.
People will see all of this in a certain way during the sixth post Atlantean epoch. The sun and the stars and planets in their present form will have fallen down from the heavens. One will see the working and weaving of spirit where the materially abstract stars shine today. Thus the way that men see themselves will change a great deal in the course of the fifth post Atlantean age and the way they see the whole world around them will change greatly in the course of the sixth. For example, don't think that an initiate sees the world like a non-initiate does. Something similar applies to successive stages of consciousness. Human beings see the world differently in successive epochs.
The fact that we are living at a time when man and the way the world looks are being transformed is indicated in a number of ways but also by the fact that there is a relative uniformity in the description of the first four letters. The first letter is unsealed and a horse appears, a white horse. The second letter is unsealed and a red horse appears, but it's a horse. The third letter is unsealed and a black horse appears, but it's a horse. The fourth letter is unsealed and a pale horse appears, but again it is a horse.
The fifth letter is unsealed and no horse appears; there is no mention of horses anymore. The decisive thing here is indicated in an entirely different way. If we go on reading the letters, we find that a very important transformation which is occurring during our age is pointed to in this way.
We can only say that we must prepare ourselves to become the new, transformed community of Sardis. This new and transformed community in Sardis must realize that it's rather trivial to know plants, animals and rocks, for one only really knows these things if one finds the activities of the stars and planets in every stone and in every plant. The stars must fall down from heaven in a spiritual way. One can already begin to perceive this.
I would just like to give a particular example of this. People accept the outer forms of such things. One doesn't pay much attention to the way in which something like this is present in the whole spiritual evolution of mankind. Each person can only do something at the place where he stands. Before I went on my last trip to England, the following thing happened. You may know that when I'm here I give the people who are working on our building one or two hours a week during their working time, where I talk to them about scientific and spiritual things. I let the workers give me the themes, and they really like to do this. The workers like it if they can choose the themes. Now they wanted to know about things which are possible in present-day spiritual life. This is one of the things which priests should really understand.
When I walked into the classroom before I went on my trip to England, a worker had a prepared question: Why is it that only certain rocks and plants have an odor? Where does the fragrance of flowers come from? Now these workers were educated by the lectures which have been given for years to such an extent that they're not particularly interested in chemical explanations, where one tells them that one has this or that substance which is giving off this or that aroma, along the lines of explanations which tell one that destitution comes from poverty. The workers want real explanations.
Now you see, I had to tell them the following. I will briefly repeat what I explained to them for about an hour. Things which smell refer us to our sense organs; we perceive the aroma through our organ of smell. But let's ask ourselves whether we have developed our organ of smell to the point where we can compete with a police dog. You will have to admit that we can't. On the contrary, you will have to admit that man has a rather crude organ of smell and that one runs into more sensitive organs of smell if one goes down to certain lower forms in nature.
One can see this from the following. Take a dog, which has this sensitive organ of smell, so that it can become a police, dog. You will see that it has a receded forehead which follows the olfactory nerves that bear smells into its system. All of this is puffed up into a forehead in us; our intellectual apparatus and especially our ability to recognize things is a transformed organ of. smell. This explains why we find more sensitive organs of perception when we descend to lower creatures.
Now spiritual science teaches us that the fragrant flowers of a large number of plants are really organs of smell; they're vegetable organs of smell which are extraordinarily sensitive. And what do they smell? They smell the omnipresent, world's aroma. The worldly smell which is emitted by Venus is different from the ones which are given off by Mars or Saturn. For instance, violet smells are the aromatic echo of the cosmic smell which violets perceive. Such pleasant smelling plants perceive the elements of the world's smell which. come from Venus, Mercury and Mars. Stinky asafetida smells Saturn odors and reproduces them.
Here one has to explain to people how the stars fall down, because they want to know this; for the things of the world are basically nothing else than what they give out or radiate down. If one wants to talk about things in a realistic way, one has to say that the stars are really falling down already, because they are in the plants. Plants are aromatic and they are also olfactory organs. This morning I let the workers give me some more questions. One of the questions was: If what was said about smells is correct and plants are sensitive organs of smell, where do plant colors come from?
I had to explain that although plant aromas come from the planets, plant colors come from the power of the sun. I gave an example to make this'seem plausible. However, one of the workers wasn't entirely satisfied with this answer, and he said: this doesn't explain why rocks have colors; I can understand' why plants have colors, for if there's a plant growing in the cellar where there's no sunlight, it has a form which has an aroma, because the world's aroma passes through the walls of the cellar; but the sun doesn't shine through the walls and so plants remain pale or even white; but how do rocks become colored? Then I had explain[ed] that we have the course of the day, with a revolution with respect to the sun in hours, and we have the course of the year which brings about the seasons during which the sun goes up towards the zenith and back down again; but we also have something else. I had to explain the Platonic year, and I explained that although the sun is now in Pisces at the vernal equinox it was previously in Aries, Taurus and Gemini, and that it takes 25.920 years for it to go all the way around. So that the sun is connected with the course of a day, the course of a year and the course of a world year; and whereas plants get their colors from the sun in the course of a year, rocks get their colors in the course of a world year.
The power which the sun develops in its movement through a Platonic year lives in the colors of green emeralds, wine yellow topaz and red rubies. And so you see that if one begins to speak about the spiritual world people are no longer satisfied if one explains their questions about earthly things with the trivialities which come out of our laboratories and dissecting rooms. They want to know things, and they feel very satisfied if they know them in a Sardisian way or in a way where one brings in the stars and planets and their activities. After all, by placing Sardis into the present time, one is doing the same thing that the Apocalypse is doing.
You see, this is an example, but on the other hand, one has to begin to carry this sensing of the stars and their beings into the present People will have to begin to see that the Christ is a sun being again. But this is what they fight most of all. But if I tell you such things, namely, if I tell you that our modern, fifth post Atlantean epoch must be the resurrected Sardis, in the way that this is concisely and wonderfully described in the fifth community and in the fifth seal, when these things are unsealed, if I say this to you, you will feel that one of our tasks is to develop this particular understanding of the Apocalypse today, namely, to be able to understand the tasks which are demanding our heartfelt attention every day. It doesn't do any good to merely interpret the Apocalypse today. We must put the Apocalypse into practice in everything we do, otherwise we might just as well forget about it. A desire to interpret it in order to satisfy one's curiosity doesn't have much value.
Thus I have tried to show you the second thing which belongs to a reading of the Apocalypse. Yesterday I tried to indicate the formal aspect to you; today I tried to indicate that it takes will power to read it. But this is only natural. For apocalypses have always arisen through inspirations of the will, and here we touch upon a really apocalyptic point, because it is an apocalyptic point which is full of life.
We already have people today who are being trained in an apocalyptic way; but they are being apocalyptically trained so that they receive their training of the will in a way which is oriented specifically towards the Roman catholic church; these are the Jesuits. There is something very apocalyptic about the Jesuits' training and exercises. The Jesuits' exercises involve a training of the will, which always underlies the perception of apocalyptic things. Hence anyone who takes a real priesthood in the sense of a Christian renewal seriously today has to keep this training of the Jesuits in mind.
He must understand the Apocalypse so that he can find the right impulse for his will in it, whereas although the impulse for the will which was given by Ignatius of Loyola was wonderful, it was very one-sided, and it has become Ahrimanically hardened today. For Ignatius of Loyola is a good example of how wrongly we can look at the world if we don't gain knowledge of it in a spiritual scientific way.
People ascribe the present development of the Jesuits to Ignatius of Loyola. But it no longer has anything to do with him. Ignatius of Loyola reincarnated a long time ago, and of course he has separated himself from the movement completely, for he lived as Emanuel Swedenborg; and so the Jesuitic movement has become completely Ahrimanic since then. It is no longer connected with Ignatius and it is active in an Ahrimanic way. Here you have a kind of shadowy counter image of what you must train yourself to do, when you take apocalyptic things into your ego in the way I mentioned, so that your ego becomes a sum of active forces which are also apocalyptic.