This is an outline written beforehand by Rudolf Steiner of what he planned to say in lecture 7 of the series Philosophy, Cosmology, and Religion.
"Christ in His Relationship to Mankind and the Riddle of Death"
I attempted to show in my last observations how, in the realm of human evolution, the psycho-spiritual existence is transferred to that of the physical senses. Now it depends on the understanding which man can bring to bear on this transference whether he can gain a relationship, in accordance with modern consciousness, to the event of Golgotha and its reference to man's development on earth.
If one does not realize in one's own physical nature how something psycho-spiritual has so changed itself from a spiritual form of experience as to become manifest in the physical world of the senses, one will also never know how the Christ spirit coming from spirit worlds was made manifest in the man Jesus on earth.
But it must be once more emphasized that it is not a case of individual knowledge derived from observation, but rather of understanding with one's whole nature and being what observation has brought to light. Only a few men achieve the former, but the latter is possible to all. The man who realizes the worlds through which the human soul has passed in its pre-earthly existence learns also to look up to Him who before the event of the mystery of Golgotha had lived as Christ only in those worlds, and who through this mystery and since its occurrence has united His life with mortal humanity.
Our earthly souls have attained the condition in which they now live only through a gradual development. Ordinary consciousness takes the condition of the soul as it is today and constructs a ‘history’, in which things are represented as if man in the grey dawn of time had thought and willed and felt practically as he does now. But that is not so. There have been times in which the soul condition was quite different — times when there was no such sharp distinction between sleeping and waking. Dreams now are the only bridge between the two; and their content has something deceptive and questionable about them. Primitive man knew a stage between full wakefulness and unconscious sleep, which was pictorial and remote from the senses, but revealing something really spiritual, just as the sense-observation reveals something of the actually physical.
In this life of pictures, and not of thoughts, early man had a dreamlike experience of his pre-earthly existence. He felt his pre-earthly soul-nature as an echo of what he had gone through. On the other hand he had not that sense of self which present-day man has. He did not find himself in the same degree as today as an ‘Ego’. This feeling has arisen only in the course of human spiritual evolution, and the decisive epoch of this development is that in which occurred also the event of Golgotha.
At this time in the ordinary consciousness the psychic experience of an echo from pre-earthly existence grew ever fainter. Man's knowledge of himself became more and more limited to what his physical sense-life on earth told him.
Moreover, from this moment the perception of death took on a new meaning. Previously man knew, as I have described, of the central point of his being. He knew it through the contemplation of this echo in such case that he was convinced this echo could not be affected by death. At the moment of historical time when the view became limited to the physical nature of man, death became a disturbing problem for the soul.
The further development of purely inner faculties of knowledge did not suffice to solve this problem. It was solved by the events of Golgotha occurring in the evolution of the earth.
The Christ came down to earthly existence from those worlds in which man had passed his pre-earthly life. By combining the experience of the ordinary awake consciousness with the contemplation of the acts of Christ, man can find, since Golgotha, what he formerly found through a natural function of his consciousness.
The initiates of the ancient Mysteries spoke to their followers in such a way that they saw in their considerations of pre-earthly life a gift of grace from that spiritual Sun-Being which has its counterpart in the physical sun.
The initiates who at the time of the mystery of Golgotha still continued the ancient initiation-methods, told those who had ears to hear how the Being who had before given to man the echo from spiritual worlds of pre-earthly existence that he could carry into the earthly life, had descended as the Christ upon the physical earth and taken flesh in the person of the man Jesus.
Those who knew the truth about the mystery of Golgotha always, as in the early days of Christianity, spoke of the Christ-Being as one who had descended from spiritual worlds to an earthly one. The teachers of mankind of that time stressed particularly this aspect of the Christ coming from a higher world down to the earth.
This view was conditioned by the fact that one still knew enough, from the ancient initiation, about the supernatural worlds, to see in Christ a Being of the spiritual world before his descent to earth.
The remnants of this knowledge lasted into the fourth century, and then faded in man's consciousness. The event of Golgotha thus became an event which was known only through the construction of political history.
The principles of initiation of the old world were lost to the outer world, and took root only in almost unknown places. Only now, since the last third of the nineteenth century, has a stage in human evolution been reached again in which the new Initiation, as has been described, leads to an aspect of Christ's nature within the spiritual world.
It was necessary for the complete unfolding of the ego-consciousness, which was to come into being in the development of humanity, that initiate knowledge should disappear for a few centuries, and that man should turn his attention to the outer world of the senses in which the ego-consciousness could be freely cultivated.
Thus it was only possible for the Christian community to direct the attention of believers to the historical tradition concerning the mystery of Golgotha and to clothe what was once known by spiritual knowledge in ‘Dogmas of Belief’ for the Earth. The content of these Dogmas does not concern us here, but only the manner in which they affect the soul, whether through faith, belief, or through knowledge.
It is again possible today to have a direct knowledge of the Christ. The figure of Jesus stood for centuries in front of the ordinary consciousness, and the Christ who lived in him had become an object of faith. But more and more the inclination to dogmatic faith grew less, precisely among the spiritual leaders of mankind; Jesus was seen more and more only as history made him appear to the ordinary consciousness. The sense of Christ was gradually lost; and so there grew up a modern branch of theology which concerns itself really only with the man Jesus, and which lacks a living sense of the Christ. But a mere Jesus-Faith is really no longer Christianity.
In the consciousness which early man had of his pre-earthly existence, he had also an anchorage for a proper relationship to his existence after death on earth.
In later times his union with the Christ was to give him in another way what had thus been given him in primæval time by nature, through the sense of his own life-experience concerning the problem of death. The Christ was so to permeate him — in the words of St. Paul, ‘Not I, but the Christ in me’ — that He might be his guide through the gate of death. Man now had indeed something in the ordinary consciousness which could develop the complete Ego-sense, but nothing which could give the soul the strength to approach the gates of Death with certain knowledge of its living passage through them. For ordinary consciousness is a result of the physical body, and therefore can give the soul only such strength as must be regarded as extinguished in death.
To those who could learn all this from their old initiation, the human physical organism appeared out of order, for they had to assume that it could not develop the power to give the soul such a comprehensive consciousness as to enable it to live its full life. Christ appeared as the soul-doctor of the world, as the Healer, the Saviour, and as such in His fundamental relationship to humanity He must be recognized.
The event of death and its relationship to the Christ is to be the subject of my next study.
Through the taking-up of the Christ-experience a Philosophy has grown out of what the ancient consciousness, deepened by the saying of the initiates, had given to man as an experience of eternity, and a philosophy which can include the divine Father principle. The Father in Spirit can be regarded again as the all-pervading Being. Cosmology gains its Christian character through the knowledge of the Christ, who, as a being from outside the earth, assumed mortal shape in the person of Jesus. In the events of human evolution the Christ is recognized as the being to whose lot has fallen a decisive part in this evolution. And through the re-awakening of the half-forgotten knowledge of the ‘Eternal Man’, the human mind is led out of the purely sense-world in which the ego-consciousness develops, to the spirit, which can be experienced with full understanding by the soul in conjunction with God the Father and the Christ in a renewed perceptive knowledge of Religion.
Source: September 12, 1922. GA 25