Sunday, March 31, 2024

Easter: Spirit Triumphant


Rudolf Steiner, March 27, 1921:

There is a significant contrast between the Christmas thought and the Easter thought. Understanding of the contrast and also of the living relationship between them will lead to an experience which, in a certain way, embraces the whole riddle of human existence.

The Christmas thought points to birth. Through birth, the eternal being of man comes into the world whence his material, bodily constitution is derived. The Christmas thought, therefore, links us with the supersensible. Together with all its other associations, it points to the one pole of our existence, where as physical-material beings we are connected with the spiritual and supersensible. Obviously, therefore, the birth of a human being in its full significance can never be explained by a science based entirely upon observation of material existence.

The thought underlying the Easter festival lies at the other pole of human experience. In the course of the development of Western civilization this Easter thought assumed a form which has influenced the growth of the materialistic conceptions prevailing in the West. The Easter thought can be grasped — in a more abstract way, to begin with — when it is realized that the immortal, eternal being of man, the spiritual and supersensible essence of being that cannot in the real sense be born, descends from spiritual worlds and is clothed in the human physical body. From the very beginning of physical existence the working of the spirit within the physical body actually leads this physical body towards death. The thought of death is therefore implicit in that of birth.

On other occasions I have said that the head-organization of man can be understood only in the light of the knowledge that in the head a continual process of dying is taking place, but is counteracted by the life-forces in the rest of the organism. The moment the forces of death, which are all the time present in the head and enable man to think, get the upper hand of his transient, mortal nature — at that moment actual death occurs.

In truth, therefore, the thought of death is merely the other side of that of birth and cannot be an essential part of the Easter thought. Hence at the time when Pauline Christianity was beginning to emerge from conceptions still based upon Eastern wisdom, it was not to the Death but to the Resurrection of Christ Jesus that men's minds were directed by words of power such as those of Paul: “If Christ be not risen, then is your faith vain.”

The Resurrection, the triumphant victory over death, the overcoming of death — this was the essence of the Easter thought in the form of early Christianity that was still an echo of Eastern wisdom. On the other hand, there are pictures in which Christ Jesus is portrayed as the Good Shepherd, watching over the eternal interests of man as he sleeps through his mortal existence. In early Christianity, man is everywhere directed to the words of the Gospel: “He Whom ye seek is not here.” Expanding this, we might say: Seek Him in spiritual worlds, not in the physical-material world. For if you seek Him in the physical-material world, you can but be told: He Whom you seek is no longer here.

The all-embracing wisdom by means of which in the first centuries of Christendom men were still endeavoring to understand the Mystery of Golgotha and all that pertained to it was gradually submerged by the materialism of the West. In those early centuries materialism had not reached anything like its full power, but was only slowly being prepared. It was not until much later that these first, still feeble and hardly noticeable tendencies were transformed into the materialism which took stronger and stronger hold of Western civilization. The original Eastern concept of religion came to be bound up with the concept of the State that was developing in the West. In the fourth century A.D., Christianity became a State religion — in other words, there crept into Christianity something that is not religion at all.

Julian the Apostate, who was no Christian, but for all that a deeply religious man, could not accept what Christianity had become under Constantine. And so we see how in the fusion of Christianity with the declining culture of Rome, the influence of Western materialism begins to take effect — very slightly to begin with, but nevertheless perceptibly. And under this influence there appeared a picture of Christ Jesus which at the beginning simply was not there, was not part of Christianity in its original form: the picture of Christ Jesus as the crucified One, the Man of Sorrows, brought to His death by the indescribable suffering that was His lot.

This made a breach in the whole outlook of the Christian world. For the picture which from then onwards persisted through the centuries — the picture of Christ agonizing on the Cross — is of the Christ Who could no longer be comprehended in His spiritual nature but in His bodily nature only. And the greater the emphasis that was laid on the signs of suffering in the human body, the more perfect the skill with which art succeeded at different periods in portraying the sufferings, the more firmly were the seeds of materialism planted in Christian feeling. The crucifix is the expression of the transition to Christian materialism. This in no way gainsays the profundity and significance with which art portrayed the sufferings of the Redeemer. Nevertheless it is a fact that with the concentration on this picture of the Redeemer suffering and dying on the Cross, leave was taken of a truly spiritual conception of Christianity.

Then there crept into this conception of the Man of Sorrows, that of Christ as Judge of the world, who must be regarded as merely another expression of Jahve or Jehovah — the figure portrayed so magnificently in the Sistine Chapel at Rome as the Dispenser of Judgment. The attitude of mind which caused the triumphant Spirit, the Victor over death, to vanish from the picture of the grave from which the Redeemer rises — this same attitude of mind, in the year 869 at the Eighth Ecumenical Council in Constantinople, declared belief in the Spirit to be heretical, decreed that man is to be conceived as consisting only of body and soul, the soul merely having certain spiritual qualities. Just as we see the spiritual reality expelled by the crucifix, just as the portrayals of the physical give expression to the pain-racked soul without the Spirit triumphant by Whom mankind is guarded and sustained, so do we see the Spirit struck away from the being of man by the decree of an Ecumenical Council.

The Good Friday festival and the Easter festival of Resurrection were largely combined. Even in days when men were not yet so arid, so empty of understanding, Good Friday became a festival in which the Easter thought was transformed in an altogether egotistic direction. Wallowing in pain, steeping the soul voluptuously in pain, feeling ecstasy in pain — this, for centuries, was associated with the Good Friday thought which, in truth, should merely have formed the background for the Easter thought. But men became less and less capable of grasping the Easter thought in its true form. The same humanity into whose creed had been accepted the principle that man consists of body and soul only — this same humanity demanded, for the sake of emotional life, the picture of the dying Redeemer as the counter-image of its own physical suffering, in order that this might serve — outwardly at least — as a background for the direct consciousness that the living Spirit must always be victorious over everything that can befall the physical body. Men needed, first, the picture of the martyr's death, in order to experience, by way of contrast, the true Easter thought.

We must always feel profoundly how, in this way, vision and experience of the Spirit gradually faded from Western culture, and we shall certainly look with wonder, but at the same time with a feeling of the tragedy of it all, at the attempts made by art to portray the Man of Sorrows on the Cross. Casual thoughts and feelings about what is needed in our time are not enough, my dear friends. The decline that has taken place in Western culture in respect of the understanding of the spiritual must be perceived with all clarity. What has to be recognized today is that even the greatest achievements in a certain domain are something that humanity must now surmount. The whole of our Western culture needs the Easter thought, needs, in other words, to be lifted to the Spirit. The holy Mystery of Birth, the Christmas Mystery once revealed in such glory, gradually deteriorated in the course of Western civilization into those sentimentalities which revelled in hymns and songs about the Jesus Babe and were in truth merely the corresponding pole of the increasing materialism. Men wallowed in sentimentalities over the little Child. Banal hymns about the Jesus Babe gradually became the vogue, obscuring men's feeling of the stupendous Christmas Mystery of the coming of a super-earthly Spirit. It is characteristic of a Christianity developing more and more in the direction of intellectualism that certain of its representatives today even go as far as to say that the Gospels are concerned primarily with the Father, not with the Son. True, the Resurrection thought has remained, but it is associated always with the thought of Death. A characteristic symptom is that with the development of modern civilization, the Good Friday thought has come increasingly to the fore, while the Resurrection thought, the true Easter thought, has fallen more and more into the background. In an age when it is incumbent upon man to experience the resurrection of his own being in the Spirit, particular emphasis must be laid upon the Easter thought. We must learn to understand the Easter thought in all its depths. But this entails the realization that the picture of the Man of Sorrows on the one side and that of the Judge of the world on the other are both symptomatic of the march of Western civilization into materialism. Christ as a supersensible, super-earthly Being Who entered nevertheless into the stream of earthly evolution — that is the Sun-thought to the attainment of which all the forces of human thinking must be applied.

Just as we must realize that the Christmas thought of birth has become something that has dragged the greatest of Mysteries into the realm of trivial sentimentality, so too we must realize how necessary it is to emphasize through the Easter thought that there entered into human evolution at that time something that is forever inexplicable by earthly theories, but is comprehensible to spiritual knowledge, to spiritual insight.

Spiritual understanding finds in the Resurrection thought the first great source of strength, knowing that the spiritual and eternal — even within man — remains unaffected by the physical and bodily. In the words of St. Paul, “If Christ be not risen, then is your faith vain,” it recognizes a confirmation — which in the modern age must be reached in a different, more conscious way — of the real nature of the Being of Christ.

This is what the Easter thought must call up in us today. Easter must become an inner festival, a festival in which we celebrate in ourselves the victory of the Spirit over the body. As history cannot be disregarded, we shall not ignore the figure of the pain-stricken Jesus, the Man of Sorrows, on the Cross; but above the Cross we must behold the Victor Who remains unaffected by birth as well as by death, and Who alone can lead our vision up to the eternal pastures of life in the Spirit. Only so shall we draw near again to the true Being of Christ. Western humanity has drawn Christ down to its own level, drawn Him down as the helpless Child, and as one associated preeminently with suffering and death.

I have often pointed out that the words “Death is evil” fell from the Buddha's lips as long before the Mystery of Golgotha as, after the Mystery of Golgotha, there appeared the crucifix, the figure of the crucified One. And I have also shown how then, in the sixth century, men looked upon death and felt it to be no evil but something that had no real existence. But this feeling, which was an echo from an Eastern wisdom even more profound than Buddhisn, was gradually obscured by the other, which clung to the picture of the pain-racked Sufferer.

We must grasp with the whole range of our feelings — not with thoughts alone, for their range is too limited — what the fate of man's conception of the Mystery of Golgotha has been in the course of the centuries. A true understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha is what we must again acquire. And be it remembered that even in the days of Hebraic antiquity, Jahve was not conceived as the Judge of the world in any juristic sense. In the Book of Job, the greatest dramatic presentation of religious experience in Hebraic antiquity, Job is presented as the suffering man, but the idea of the execution of justice from without is essentially absent. Job is the suffering man, the man who regards what outer circumstances inflict upon him as his destiny. Only gradually does the juristic concept of retribution, punishment, become part of the world-order. Michelangelo's picture over the altar of the Sistine Chapel represents in one aspect a kind of revival of the Jahve principle. But we need the Christ for Whom we can seek in our inmost being, because when we truly seek Him, He at once appears. We need the Christ Who draws into our will, warming, kindling, strengthening it for deeds demanded of us for the sake of human evolution. We need, not the suffering Christ, but the Christ Who hovers above the Cross, looking down upon that which — no longer a living reality — comes to an end on the Cross. We need the strong consciousness of the eternity of the Spirit, and this consciousness will not be attained if we give ourselves up to the picture of the crucifix alone. And when we see how the crucifix has gradually come to be a picture of the Man of suffering and pain, we shall realize what power this direction of human feeling has acquired. Men's gaze has been diverted from the spiritual to the earthly and physical. This aspect, it is true, has often been magnificently portrayed, but to those, as for example Goethe, who feel the need for our civilization again to reach the Spirit, it is something which, in a way, rouses their antipathy. Goethe has made it abundantly clear that the figure of the crucified Redeemer does not express what he feels to be the essence of Christianity, namely, the lifting of man to the Spirit.

The Good Friday mood, as well as the Easter mood, needs to be transformed. The Good Friday mood must be one that realizes when contemplating the dying Jesus: This is only the other side of birth. Not to recognize that dying is also implicit in the fact of being born is to lose sight of the full reality. A man who is able to feel that the mood of death associated with Good Friday merely presents the other pole of the entrance of the child into the world at birth is making the right preparation for the mood of Easter — which can, in truth consist only in the knowledge: “Into whatever human sheath I have been born, my real being is both unborn and deathless.” — In his own eternal being man must unite with the Christ Who came into the world and cannot die, Who when He beholds the Man of Sorrows on the Cross is looking down not upon the eternal Self but upon Himself incarnate in another.

We must be aware of what has actually happened in consequence of the fact that since the end of the first Christian century, Western civilization has gradually lost the conception of the Spirit. When a sufficiently large number of men realize that the Spirit must come to life again in modern civilization, the World-Easter thought will become a reality. This will express itself outwardly in the fact that man will not be satisfied with investigating the laws of nature only, or the laws of history which are akin to those of nature, but will yearn for understanding of his own will, for knowledge of his own inner freedom, and of the real nature of the will which bears him through and beyond the gate of death, but which in its true nature must be seen spiritually.

How is man to acquire the power to grasp the Pentecost thought, the outpouring of the Spirit, since this thought has been dogmatically declared by the Eighth Ecumenical Council at Constantinople to be an empty phrase? How is man to acquire the power to grasp this Pentecost thought if he is incapable of apprehending the true Easter thought — the Resurrection of the Spirit? The picture of the dying, pain-racked Redeemer must not confound him; he must learn that pain is inseparable from material existence.

The knowledge of this was a fundamental principle of the ancient wisdom which still sprang from instinctive depths of man's cognitional life. We must acquire this knowledge again, but now through acts of conscious cognition. It was a fundamental principle of the ancient wisdom that pain and suffering originate from man's union with matter. It would be foolishness to believe that because Christ passed through death as a Divine-Spiritual Being, He did not suffer pain; to declare that the pain associated with the Mystery of Golgotha was a mere semblance of pain would be to voice an unreality. In the deepest sense, this pain must be conceived as reality — and not as its mere counter-image. We must gain something from what stands before us when, in surveying the whole sweep of the evolution of humanity, we contemplate the Mystery of Golgotha.

When the picture of the man who had attained freedom at the highest level was presented to the candidates for ancient Initiation after they had completed the preparatory stages, had undergone all the exercises by which they could acquire certain knowledge presented to them in dramatic imagery, they were led at last before the figure of the Chrestos — the man suffering within the physical body, in the purple robe and wearing the crown of thorns. The sight of this Chrestos was meant to kindle in the soul the power that makes man truly man. And the drops of blood which the aspirant for Initiation beheld at vital points on the Chrestos figure were intended to be a stimulus for overcoming human weaknesses and for raising the Spirit triumphant from the inmost being. The sight of pain was meant to betoken the resurrection of the spiritual nature. The purpose of the figure before the candidate was to convey to him the deepest import of what may be expressed in these simple words: For your happiness you may thank many things in life — but if you have gained knowledge and insight into the spiritual connections of existence, for that you have to thank your suffering, your pain. You owe your knowledge to the fact that you did not allow yourself to be mastered by suffering and pain but were strong enough to rise above them. And so in the ancient Mysteries, the figure of the suffering Chrestos was in turn replaced by the figure of the Christ triumphant Who looks down upon the suffering Chrestos as upon that which has been overcome. And now again it must be possible for the soul to have the Christ triumphant before and within it, especially in the will. That must be the ideal before us in this present time, above all in regard to what we wish to do for the future well-being of mankind.

But the true Easter thought will never be within our reach if we cannot realize that whenever we speak of Christ we must look beyond the earthly into the cosmic. Modern thinking has made the cosmos into a corpse. Today we gaze at the stars and calculate their movements — in other words we make calculations about the corpse of the universe, never perceiving that in the stars there is life, and that the will of the cosmic Spirit prevails in their courses. Christ descended to humanity in order to unite the souls of men with this cosmic Spirit. And he alone proclaims the Gospel of Christ truly who affirms that what the Sun reveals to the physical senses is the outer expression of the Spirit of our universe, of its resurrecting Spirit.

There must be a living realization of the connection of this Spirit of the universe with the Sun, and of how the time of the Easter festival has been determined by the relationship prevailing between the Sun and the Moon in spring. A link must be made with that cosmic reality in accordance with which the Easter festival was established in Earth-evolution. We must come to realize that it was the ever-watchful Guardian-Spirits of the cosmos who, through the great cosmic timepiece in which the Sun and the Moon are the hands in respect of earthly existence, have pointed explicitly to the time in the evolution of the world and of humanity at which the Festival of the Resurrection is to be celebrated. With spiritual insight we must learn to perceive the course of the Sun and Moon as the two hands of the cosmic timepiece, just as for the affairs of physical existence we learn to understand the movements of the hands on a clock. The physical and earthly must be linked to the super-physical and the super-earthly.

The Easter thought can be interpreted only in the light of super-earthly realities, for the Mystery of Golgotha, in its aspect as the Resurrection Mystery, must be distinguished from ordinary human happenings. Human affairs take their course on the eErth in an altogether different way. The Earth received the cosmic forces and, in the course of its evolution, the human powers of will penetrate the metabolic processes of man's being. But since the Mystery of Golgotha took place, a new influx of will streamed into earthly happenings. There took place on Earth a cosmic event, for which the Earth is merely the stage. Thereby man was again united with the cosmos.

That is what must be understood, for only so can the Easter thought be grasped in all its magnitude. Therefore it is not the picture of the crucifix alone that must stand before us, however grandly and sublimely portrayed by art. “He Whom ye seek is not here” is the thought that must arise. Above the Cross there must appear to you the One Who is here now, Who by the spirit calls you to a spirit-awakening.

This is the true Easter thought that must find its way into the evolution of mankind; it is to this that the human heart and mind must be lifted. Our age demands of us that we shall not only deepen our understanding of what has been created, but that we shall become creators of the new. And even if it be the Cross itself, in all the beauty with which artists have endowed it, we may not rest content with that picture; we must hear the words of the Angels who, when we seek in death and suffering, exclaim to us: “He Whom ye seek is no longer here.”

We have to seek the One Who is here, by turning at Eastertime to the Spirit of Whom the only true picture is that of the Resurrection. Then we shall be able, in the right way, to pass from the Good Friday mood of suffering to the spiritual mood of Easter Day. In this Easter mood we shall also be able to find the strength with which our will must be imbued if the forces of decline are to be countered by those which lead humanity upwards. We need the forces that can bring about this ascent. And the moment we truly understand the Easter thought of Resurrection, this Easter thought — bringing warmth and illumination — will kindle within us the forces needed for the future evolution of mankind.


Deeper Secrets of Human History in the Light of the Gospel of St. Matthew. Lecture 1 of 3



“Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what's a heaven for?”
         - Robert Browning

Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, November 2, 1909:

Introductory lectures have already been given on the Gospels of St. John and of St. Luke. The impression they endeavored to convey can best be described by saying that, throughout, they took the view that the Being of Christ-Jesus — as far as human understanding in our present time is capable of conceiving Him — is so great, so all-embracing, so mighty, that there can be no one-sided presentation of who Christ-Jesus was and of His significance for the spirit and soul of every single human being. To attempt anything of the kind would seem presumptuous in the presence of the greatest of all world-problems. Reverence, veneration — these are the appropriate words to express the mood pervading our studies. This reverence expresses itself in the feeling that, when confronting the greatest problem of life, one should try not to place too high a value upon human powers of comprehension, nor even upon the knowledge imparted by a spiritual science able to penetrate into the very highest realms; one should not imagine that human words can ever be capable of describing more than a single aspect of this great, overwhelming problem.
All the lectures given on the Gospel of St. John during the last three years centered around the words contained in that Gospel: “I am the Light of the world. The aim of the lectures was to make this saying comprehensible, and they will have fulfilled their purpose if they bring a gradual understanding of these words, until they become one's own — or perhaps only an intuition as to their meaning as they stand in the Gospel of St. John.
When, however, you see a light shining, have you, simply by gazing at it or even by discovering something of its nature and properties, understood what it is that is shining there? Have you acquired any real knowledge of the Sun, simply through perceiving its manifested light? One must realize that it is one thing to perceive the radiance, and quite another to understand the light that is working within that radiance. Because the Being of Whom we are speaking can say of Himself: “I am the Light of the world”, it behooves us to grasp the meaning of this saying; but even then we have understood of that Being no more than the particular manifestation of His nature that is expressed in the words “I am the Light of the world.” Everything contained in the lectures on the Gospel of St. John was necessary in order to show that that Being, Who embraces in Himself all cosmic wisdom, is verily the Light of the world. But this Being Himself is infinitely greater than anything that could be conveyed in the lectures on the Gospel of St. John. If anyone were to believe that those lectures had enabled him to understand Christ-Jesus fully and completely, he would be labouring under the erroneous idea that a single manifestation which he dimly divines enables him to understand the whole radiant Being.
A different aspect was presented in the lectures on the Gospel of St. Luke. If our studies of the Gospel of St. John might be regarded as a means for helping us to understand the words “I am the Light of the world,” the lectures on the Gospel of St. Luke — provided they have been grasped with sufficient depth — may be conceived as an exegesis on the words “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” or “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” Here Christ-Jesus is seen not only as the Light of the world, but as the Being Who makes the offering of supreme self-surrender; the Being Who is all-comprising without losing His own identity; Who, in that He is capable of the uttermost sacrifice, of the greatest imaginable self-surrender, is the very fount of Compassion and Love; Whose warmth streams through the life of men and of the Earth now and in all ages of time to come. In everything that these words can express, a second aspect of the Being whom we call Christ-Jesus is presented.
In these two Gospels, therefore, this Being has been depicted as the One Who in His compassion can make the supreme sacrifice, and Who shines over all human existence through the power of His light. Light and Love made manifest in the Being of Christ-Jesus — these are the aspects that have been described. And those who have grasped the full compass of our studies of the Gospels of St. John and St. Luke will be able to gather some idea of what in Christ-Jesus was “Light” and what in Him was “Love and Compassion.”
We have tried, then, to understand two attributes of Christ-Jesus in their universal significance. The meaning of what was said of Christ as the Spirit-Light of the world streaming into all things, living and weaving within them as primordial, eternal wisdom, is reflected back to us from the Gospel of St. John. There is no wisdom accessible to man that is not in some way contained in this Gospel. All the wisdom of the universe is there, for he who contemplates this eternal wisdom in Christ-Jesus sees it not only as it has worked in the remote past but as it will work in the far distant future. In contemplating this Gospel, therefore, we hover, like the eagle, in heights far above the level of human existence. In glimpsing the sublime ideas which bring the Gospel of St. John into the range of our understanding, we are carried on the wings of transcendent, transforming ideas, above all occurrences in the life of the individual human soul. These all-embracing, eternal ideas are the concern of that Divine Wisdom which flows to us as we steep ourselves in this Gospel. What streams from it seems itself to be circling, like the eagle, in heights high above every happening in the daily, hourly, and momentary destiny of men.
Let us now descend from these heights, and contemplate individual human life from hour to hour, from day to day, from year to year, from century to century, from millennium to millennium, observing especially the forces expressed in what we call human love. We can perceive love surging and weaving in the living hearts and souls of men through the ages. On the one side we see how this love gives rise to deeds of supreme heroism in the life of mankind, how the greatest sacrifices spring from love for some being or cause; but we also see that, although supreme accomplishments are born of this love in human hearts, it is at the same time like a two-edged sword. For example, a mother loves her child inwardly, deeply; the child commits some misdeed, but so intense is the mother's love that she cannot bring herself to punish. A second misdeed occurs, and again the depth of the mother's love keeps her from punishing the child ... and so it goes on. The child grows up, becomes a lifelong good-for-nothing, a disturber of the peace. In speaking of matters as grave as this it is not good to take contemporary examples, so I will speak of something that happened a long time ago. In the first half of the nineteenth century there was a mother who loved her child with the very deepest intensity. Let it be emphasized that love in itself cannot be too highly valued, for whatever the circumstances, love remains one of the very highest human attributes. — But so great was the mother's love that she could not bring herself to punish the child for having committed a petty theft in the home. A second theft was again left unpunished, and finally the child became a notorious poisoner. Such was the outcome of the lack of wisdom in the mother's love. If love is pervaded by wisdom, it is capable of deeds of untold greatness. The significance of the Love that streamed into the world from Golgotha lies precisely in the fact that it was united, in a single Being, with the Light of the world, with true Wisdom. It is therefore when we contemplate these two qualities as manifested in Christ-Jesus that we realize that Love is the crowning glory of the world, but also that Love and Wisdom belong in the deepest sense together.
What have we actually understood from our studies of the Gospels of St. John and St. Luke? We have understood nothing beyond those attributes of Christ-Jesus which we may call the universal Light of Wisdom and the universal Warmth of Love, both of which flowed in Him as in no other Being, and which can never be wholly within the reach of our human comprehension. Whereas in connection with the Gospel of St. John we may speak of great, transcendental ideas sweeping like eagles in heights far above the heads of men, in the Gospel of St. Luke we find that which speaks at every moment to each individual human heart. The significance of St. Luke's Gospel is that it fills us with a warmth that is the outward expression of love, with understanding for the love that is ready to make the supreme sacrifice, which has no other desire than to surrender its very self.
A pictorial presentation of the mood and feeling arising from a right approach to the Gospel of St. Luke is to be found in portrayals of the Mithras bull being driven to the sacrifice, bearing on its back the figure of a man. Seen from below it is an earthly happening; but above the moving figures cosmic events hover. The man thrusts his knife into the body of the sacrificial bull, whose life-blood is offered up in order that man may conquer what has to be overcome. Contemplation of the sacrificial animal carrying the man, for whose sake it must be sacrificed in order that, as man, he may be able to advance along his path of life, provides the right basis of feeling for study of the Gospel of St. Luke. Those who know what the sacrificial bull, as the expression of inwardly deepened love, has betokened for men through all the ages, understand something of the qualities of love described in the Gospel of St. Luke. This Gospel, then, depicts a second attribute of Christ-Jesus.
But does knowledge of two attributes or qualities of a being justify the claim to have understood the whole nature of that being? It has been necessary to speak of these two attributes because in Christ-Jesus the greatest of all riddles stands before us. But no one should maintain that study of two such attributes yields anything like a true or complete picture of the nature of this being. In describing these two attributes of Christ-Jesus, nothing that can bring even a glimmering understanding of their infinite significance has been left unsaid. But our reverence and awe for this being is too great ever to allow us to imagine that thereby we have already grasped His other attributes.
It would be possible to speak of a third attribute, but as it involves matters which have not yet formed part of our studies, a general indication of it is all that can here be given. I may put it in this way: The Christ presented in the Gospel of St. John is, in Himself, a being of the utmost sublimity, but in His works He draws upon the powers pertaining to the realm of the wisdom-filled Cherubim. It is for this reason that, in describing the Christ of St. John's Gospel, the dominating feeling will be that evoked by the picture of the eagle-soaring Cherubim. In the Gospel of St. Luke, however, the keynote of the picture is the warmth-bringing fire of love springing from the heart of Christ. This indicates that in what Christ signified to the world in this Gospel, He worked at those sublime heights which are the realm of the Seraphim. The fiery love of the Seraphim streams through the universe, and is conveyed to our Earth through Christ-Jesus. But there is a third aspect to be considered, namely, what Christ-Jesus signified for the earthly world in that He was not alone the Light of Wisdom, not alone the Warmth of Love, not alone the channel for the Cherubim and Seraphim within Earth existence, but with His whole Power ‘was’ and ‘is’ within this Earth existence, inasmuch as He worked in the realm of the Thrones, the realm whence all Strength and Power flow into the world, to the end that Wisdom and Love may be led to fulfillment. Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones: these are the three highest spiritual hierarchies. The Seraphim with their love lead us into the depths of the human heart, the Cherubim with their wisdom upwards to the heights of the eagle. Wisdom shines down upon us from those heights, while self-surrendering love is symbolized in the sacrificial bull. But strength pulsing through the world, strength which makes all things possible of fulfillment, strength which is the creative power surging through the world  for these, in all systems of symbolism, the token is the lion. The strength infused into our Earth through Christ-Jesus, the strength which orders and directs all things and which, when it is unfolded, signifies supreme power — that is what is described in the Gospel of St. Mark as a third attribute of Christ-Jesus. In connection with the Gospel of St. John we speak of Christ as the sublime Sun-Being, as the Light of the Earth-Sun in the spiritual sense; in connection with the Gospel of St. Luke we speak of the warmth of the Love streaming from Christ; in connection with the Gospel of St. Mark we shall speak of the Power of the Earth-Sun in the spiritual sense. Study of the Gospel of St. Mark will give us a picture of the forces present in the Earth, of the working and weaving of earthly forces and powers, both hidden and manifest. [ Note 2] If by lifting ourselves to Christ in the sense of St. John's Gospel we can claim to have some faint inkling of the transcendent ideas which came to the Earth as His earthly thoughts, if we can feel the warmth of His self-giving love by letting the warmth streaming from St. Luke's Gospel pervade our own hearts — if thus in St. John's Gospel we can glimpse Christ's thinking, and in St. Luke's Gospel His feeling — then in St. Mark's Gospel we can learn of His willing: we are presented with a picture of the forces by means of which Christ brings love and wisdom to actual fulfillment.
If the Gospel of St. Mark had been studied in addition to the Gospels of St. John and St. Luke, a tentative understanding of three attributes of Christ Jesus would be within our reach. We should then have the right to say: “With all reverence we have come nearer to Thee, and we have dimly divined something of Thy Thinking, Thy Feeling, Thy Willing. These three attributes of Thy Being hover above us as supreme prototypes of earthly existence!” We begin our study of an ordinary human being in the same way when we speak of Sentient Soul, Mind-Soul, and Spiritual Soul, and study the characteristics and functions of each. Of the ‘Spiritual Soul’ of Christ we can say that we acquire an insight into the understanding of it from St. John's Gospel; the ‘Mind-Soul’ of Christ becomes comprehensible to us through St. Luke's Gospel; and the ‘Sentient Soul’ of Christ, with all its forces of will, through St. Mark's Gospel. When we come to study this last Gospel, light will be shed on the forces of Nature, both manifest and hidden, concentrated in the single individuality of Christ, and on the essential character of all the forces operating in the world. The Gospel of St. John has deepened our understanding of the Thoughts of this Being, the Gospel of St. Luke our understanding of His Feelings, and because man is not wont to penetrate so deeply into these two realms of the life of soul, studies of the Gospels of St. John and St. Luke are relatively simple in comparison with the picture presented in the Gospel of St. Mark of the system and organization of the hidden forces, both natural and spiritual, operating in the world. All this stands revealed in the Akasha Chronicle and it will be mirrored before us when we pass on to study the power-filled Gospel of St. Mark. Then we shall begin to discern all that is concentrated in the Being of Christ, and which otherwise is distributed among the whole variety of individual beings in the world. We shall then be able to understand, and perceive in a higher, clearer way, all that we have learnt to know as the fundamental elemental laws and principles behind all kinds of existence. As we grasp the meaning of the Gospel of St. Mark, which contains all the secrets of the Universal Will, then, in all reverence, we draw nearer to Christ-Jesus, the focal point of the Universe, inasmuch as more and more we apprehend His Thinking, His Feeling, and His Willing.
When we observe the interplay of human thinking, feeling, and willing, we have an approximate picture of the whole man. But in observing a single human being, we cannot help envisaging each of these activities separately. Yet when we bring them together again into a collective whole, our observation cannot be anything like exhaustive. We make our task easier by observing each of the three functions separately, but on the other hand, the picture will lose precision when we bring them together again as a united whole. It is for our own advantage, then, that we separate the functions, inasmuch as a collective survey of the whole is beyond our power; but the picture becomes blurred when the attributes are brought together again. — In the same way, if we have acquired from the Gospels of St. John, St. Luke, and St. Mark some conception of the Thinking, Feeling, and Willing of Christ-Jesus, we can attempt to harmonize these three attributes into a united whole. The picture will inevitably lose precision and vividness, for no human faculty is capable of unifying what it has made separate and distinct. In being itself there is unity, not separation; but for us, only at the final stage is it possible to gather the separated attributes into a unity. Although it will be less vivid, we shall at last have a presentation of what Christ-Jesus was as earthly Man.
It is in the Gospel of St. Matthew that the picture is drawn for us of Christ-Jesus as man, of His life as a man during the thirty-three years of His sojourn on Earth. The contents of St. Matthew's Gospel present us with a harmonized human portrait. In St. John's Gospel we saw a Divine and Cosmic Man, in St. Luke's Gospel a Being Who is the embodiment of self-giving Love, and in St. Mark's Gospel the cosmic Will operating in a single Individuality. In St. Matthew's Gospel we have the portrait of the Man of Palestine who during the thirty-three years of His life united in His own being everything we have gathered from our study of the other three Gospels. Yet this picture of Christ-Jesus as a human being, as an earthly man, can be understood only against the background provided by our previous studies. As we saw was the case with the individual human being, so too, in this case, the attributes presented in the other three accounts are here less vividly apparent. But a picture of the human personality of Christ-Jesus can be afforded only by study of the Gospel of St. Matthew.
The situation is quite different from that in which we approached the study of St. John's Gospel. Now that the study of two Gospels lies behind us, we can perceive how they are inwardly related to each other and that we can only obtain a complete picture of Christ-Jesus if, with a similar approach, we consider the Man Who lived upon the Earth as Christ-Jesus. From St. John's Gospel we have a picture of the Divine Man, from St. Luke's Gospel a picture of the Being Who unites in Himself all the streams which came to expression in Zoroastrianism and also in Buddhism, with its teaching of compassion and love. All this from the past came before us when we studied the Gospel of St. Luke. Study of the Gospel of St. Matthew will give us, first and foremost, an intimate and faithful picture of a being who is the offspring of His own people, the ancient Hebrew race. And we shall come to realize why the blood of this people had to be prepared in a definite way in order to provide for mankind the blood of Christ-Jesus. The study of St. Matthew's Gospel will give us a picture not only of the essential character of Hebraic antiquity, but also of the mission of this people for the whole world, of the birth of the new era, of the birth of Christianity out of the ancient Hebrew world. What Christ-Jesus was and is as Man, and the secrets of human history and human evolution — these are contained in the Gospel of St. Matthew.
Thus through the Gospel of St. John we glimpse the ideas of the Divine Sophia, through the Gospel of St. Luke the mysteries of supreme, self-giving Love, through the Gospel of St. Mark the forces and powers of the Earth and the cosmos, and through the Gospel of St. Matthew we learn to understand human life, human history, human destiny.
If out of the seven years of the existence of our movement, four years had been devoted to acquainting ourselves with the principles and guiding-lines of spiritual science, and three to deepening our understanding of them as a light that must be shed on the many diverse domains of life, we might now have passed on to the study of St. Mark's Gospel, and the whole edifice could have been crowned by the study of Christ-Jesus as presented in St. Matthew's Gospel. But as human life has its limitations and this level has not been reached — at any rate in the case of everyone in the movement — it is not possible, without evoking misconceptions, to proceed at once to the study of St. Mark's Gospel. It would denote complete misunderstanding of the Being of Christ to believe that any knowledge of His nature could be derived from St. John's Gospel or St. Luke's Gospel alone, or from a one-sided application of all that is revealed in St. Mark's Gospel. The misunderstandings would be even greater than they have been already.
In view of all this we must choose the other path and pass on, as best we may, to the study of St. Matthew's Gospel. Although this means that for the present we must forgo the profundities of St. Mark's Gospel, it will prevent any repetition of the belief that by describing a single attribute, a picture is given of the whole Being, and thereby it will be possible to avoid wrong conclusions.
We shall now turn our minds to Christ-Jesus as the offspring of the ancient Hebrew people, and to the birth of Christianity in Palestine. Our studies will be based on the Gospel of St. Matthew, and it will then be easier to proceed to what we shall have to say about the Gospel of St. Mark.


Saturday, March 30, 2024

Evolution, Initiation, and Christ. What the world needs now is anthroposophy



The Gospel of St. John and Its Relation to the Other Gospels
Lecture 6 of 14

Rudolf Steiner, Kassel, Germany, June 29, 1909:

We said yesterday that mankind had great leaders even in that early period of human evolution called the Atlantean; and we saw that this period ran its course on a continent situated between the present Europe and Africa on one side, and America on the other, and was called the old Atlantis. We also mentioned how different human life was at that period, especially as regards the state of human consciousness. We could conclude from yesterday's lecture that the consciousness of the present day has evolved by degrees, man having started with a kind of shadowy clairvoyance. We know that the human physical bodies of the Atlantean period were of an essentially softer, more flexible and plastic substance than is today the case; and we also know, taught by clairvoyant consciousness, that the man of that time was not yet able to perceive solid objects in sharp outline, as we see them today. The Atlantean could indeed distinguish the objects of the outer world — the mineral, vegetable, and animal kingdoms — but vaguely and indistinctly. As we now see the street lamps on a foggy autumn evening, as if fringed with colour, man then saw something like coloured borders surrounding the objects — ‘auras’, as we say. These were indications of the spiritual beings who belonged to the things. At certain moments during the day the perception of these spiritual beings was very indistinct; but at others, especially in the intermediate state between waking and sleeping, the perception of them was very distinct.
If we wish to have a vivid idea of the consciousness of an old Atlantean we must say to ourselves: He could never have seen a rose, for instance, as we see it today, in sharp outline. It was all vague and indistinct; in the intermediate state between waking and sleeping it became still more indistinct, indeed it disappeared altogether. On the other hand he could clearly see what we must describe as the ‘rose-spirit’ or ‘rose-soul’. It was thus with all objects of the surrounding world. The progress of evolution consisted in the fact that the external objects became increasingly distinct, while the perception of the spiritual beings who belonged to the things became increasingly indistinct. On the other hand man developed his consciousness of himself to an increasing extent, and learnt more and more to feel his own existence. We indicated yesterday the moment at which a distinct feeling of the Ego came to the fore. We said that the etheric body came to coincide with the physical body at the dawn of the third phase of the Atlantean period. As you may imagine, human leadership was also very different before this. The sort of understanding between man and man, when one appeals to the judgment of the other, was altogether non-existent in Atlantean times. In that age of shadowy clairvoyance, the understanding consisted of a subconscious influence which passed from man to man. What we know today as a last (often misunderstood) vestige of a former state, existed then in a high degree. This was a kind of suggestion, a subconscious influence from man to man, which made but little appeal to the cooperation of the other soul. When we look back to the early times of Atlantis we see that a powerful influence was exerted, when some image or sensation rose in the soul, and one man directed his will upon another. All influences were powerful, and the will to receive them was also powerful. Today there are but remnants of this condition. Picture to yourselves a man in those days moving past another and making certain movements. The other, the spectator, need only have been a little weaker, and the effect produced on him would have been to make him try to reproduce or imitate all the movements he had seen. A last heritage of this condition today is the inclination for one person to yawn when he sees another do so. In those days the tie between man and man was far more intimate, the reason being that humanity lived in a quite different atmosphere. In our time the air in which we live is not impregnated with water unless it rains heavily. At that time it was always charged with dense vapours; and at the beginning of the Atlantean period the substance of man's body was no more solid than that of certain jelly like animals which can scarcely be distinguished from the water in which they live. Such was the human being; his densification was a long and gradual process. But we know that man was nevertheless exposed to influences, not only from the higher spiritual beings who, dwelling on the Sun or the various planets of our solar system, were his rightful leaders, but also from the Luciferic spirits who influenced his astral body. We have already described the manner in which these influences made themselves felt, and how the appointed leaders of the Atlantean people had to combat these Luciferic influences in their own astral body. Human consciousness being at that time still spiritual and clairvoyant, men could perceive everything in the nature of spiritual influences at work within themselves. Nowadays, a person who knows nothing of spiritual science would laugh if he were told that the influences of the Luciferic spirits are embedded in his astral body. He does not, of course, know that these beings exert a far stronger influence upon him when he pays no heed to them.
‘The Devil, your good-folk ne'er scent,
E'en though he have them by the collar.’
That is a very deep saying in Goethe's Faust, and many a materialistic influence would not be there today, if people knew that the Luciferic influences were not yet eradicated from the human soul. At that time, the leaders and their pupils were strictly on the watch against everything which excited passions and desires, with the tendency to infuse into man a deeper interest in his physical surroundings than was good for his progress and development in the Cosmos. Thus, the would-be leader had, above all things, to exercise self-knowledge and keep intensely alert for everything that might reach him from Lucifer. He had to study closely these Luciferic beings in his own astral body. By doing so he could keep them at a distance, and this again enabled him to see the other, higher, guiding spiritual beings, especially those who had transferred the scene of their activity from the Earth to the Sun or to one of the other planets. The spheres seen by men corresponded to the origin of their descent. There were human souls who, let us say, were descended from Mars; when they, in keeping with their development, proceeded to combat the Luciferic influences in their astral body, they were led to a higher grade of clairvoyance — to a good, pure seership — and they beheld the higher spiritual beings in the sphere from which they had descended — the Mars sphere. Souls from the Saturn sphere became capable of seeing the Saturn beings; others from Jupiter or Venus, saw the beings of those planets. Each soul saw the region corresponding to itself; but the most advanced among the human beings (those who had survived the lunar crisis) were able to prepare themselves gradually to see, not only the spiritual beings of Mars, Jupiter, and Venus, but those of the Sun itself, the high Sun beings. Having descended from the various planets, the initiated could not perceive the spiritual spheres of these planets. You will therefore understand that there were institutions or schools in ancient Atlantis, in which the descendants of Venus were taught the Venus Mysteries. If we give these schools a later name of ‘Oracle’, we may say that in Atlantis there was a Mars-oracle, in which the Mars Mysteries were investigated, a Saturn-oracle, a Venus-oracle, and so on. The highest of all was the Sun-oracle, and the highest initiate of the Sun-oracle was the highest of all the initiates.
Since suggestion and the influence of the will were modes of intercourse in those days, it follows that instruction was given in quite a different way. Let us try to form an idea of the intercourse between teacher and pupil. Let us assume that there were spiritual teachers, who had received their initiation by an act of grace. How did the later initiates, their pupils, receive their initiation in Atlantean times?
We may imagine that the initiated, by their very presence and the mere fact of their existence, exerted a tremendous influence on those predestined to become their pupils. No Atlantean initiate could show himself without setting a note vibrating in the soul of those who were to become his pupils, whereby the possibility of such discipleship was revealed to them. The influences which proceeded from man to man were entirely removed from objective, waking consciousness, and the kind of instruction familiar to us was not necessary. All intercourse with the teacher, everything that he did, worked hand in hand with the human imitative faculty. Much was unconsciously transmitted from the teacher to the pupil. Hence the essential thing for those who were conducted to the oracles, after having attained the requisite maturity, was the fact that they lived in the vicinity of the teacher. By observing the acts of the teacher, and by the impression made on their feelings and sensations, they were prepared — it is true in long, very long stretches of time. Then came the time when there was so intense a concord between the soul of the teacher and that of the pupil, that the whole knowledge of the higher Mysteries possessed by the teacher became transmitted to the pupil. It was thus in ancient times. Now what happened after the coincidence between the physical and etheric bodies had taken place?
Although this coincidence had been fully effected in the Atlantean period, the union between the physical and etheric bodies was not particularly close, as yet, and it required no more than an effort of will on the part of the teacher, for the etheric body to be withdrawn from the physical. It was no longer possible, even when the right moment had arrived, for the teacher's wisdom to pass, as though of itself, to his pupil. And now came the great cataclysm which swept away the Atlantean continent. Stupendous perturbations of air and water, vast upheavals gradually changed the whole face of the Earth. Europe, Asia, and Africa, of which only a small area was solid land, also America, arose out of the water. Atlantis vanished. The people wandered East and West, and many and various colonies came into existence. But after this tremendous catastrophe, the human race had advanced a step. Another change had taken place in the connection between the physical and etheric bodies: they were much more closely united in post Atlantean times. It was now no longer possible for the master to draw out the etheric body by an impulse of his will, and to transmit every observation to his pupil. Hence it was necessary that initiation leading to vision of the higher worlds, should now assume another form, which may be described somewhat as follows.
In place of the instruction based upon the immediate psychic influence passing from teacher to pupil, a new form of teaching was gradually adopted, which by degrees came to approach the method of the present day. As in Atlantean times, institutions were established by the great leaders of humanity, in which reminiscences of the old Atlantean-oracles were preserved. Mysteries, sites of initiation, were founded in post Atlantean times. And just as suitable candidates had formerly been received into the oracles, so were they now admitted into the Mysteries. Here the pupils were prepared by a severe course of instruction, for it was no longer possible to work upon them as in former times. Through long periods of time we find such Mysteries in all civilizations. Whether we turn to the first period of post Atlantean civilization which ran its course in ancient India, or to the civilization of Zarathustra, or to that of Egypt or Chaldea, we find everywhere that pupils were admitted to Mysteries, which were something between church and school, there to undergo a strict course of instruction in thinking and feeling, not merely with regard to the things of the physical world, but to the facts of the invisible, spiritual world. Today we can describe exactly what was taught there; to a large extent it was the same as what we know as Anthroposophy; this was the subject of study in the Mysteries. It differed only in being more adapted to the manner and customs of that time, and it was strictly regulated. Whereas today the mysteries of the higher worlds are, to some extent, freely and rapidly imparted to those who are in a degree ripe for them, in those days the instruction was strictly graduated; at the first stage, only a certain sum of knowledge was communicated. Everything else remained an absolute secret. Not until the pupil had mastered the first steps was he entrusted with the knowledge belonging to a higher stage. Through this preparation, thoughts, ideas, sensations, and feelings relating to the spiritual world were implanted in the astral body of the pupil. This meant that he had to some extent combated the Luciferic influence. For all that is imparted in the form of spiritual science relates to the higher worlds, not to the world for which Lucifer would excite man's interest — namely, the world of sense alone. Then, after this preparation, the time drew nigh when the pupil could be led to independent vision; he was himself to behold the spiritual world. For this it was necessary that he should be able to reflect in his etheric body all that he had elaborated for himself in his astral body. For vision in the spiritual world can be attained in only one way. The fruits of learning stored in the astral body must work upon the pupil so deeply, through certain feelings and emotions evoked by that learning, that not only his astral body but also the denser etheric body is influenced thereby. Before the pupil can rise from study to vision, the result of his instruction must first produce its effect. For this reason the course of instruction, throughout the Indian, Persian, Egyptian, and Greek periods, concluded with a certain ceremony consisting in the following act.
To begin with the pupil underwent a long course of preparation consisting not of study and learning, but of that which we call meditation, and of other exercises to develop self-possession, inner tranquillity, and a dispassionate attitude. The preparation was designed to fit the astral body in every respect to become a citizen of the spiritual world. Finally when the right moment had come, and as a final act of this preparation, the pupil was thrown into a death-like condition which lasted three and a half days. Whereas in Atlantean times, the etheric and physical bodies were so loosely joined that the former could be withdrawn with comparative ease, it was now necessary that the candidate for initiation should be thrown into a death-like sleep in the Mysteries. While this condition lasted, he was laid in a kind of coffin, or bound to a cross or something similar. During this time the Initiator or Hierophant, as he was called, had the power to work upon the astral and especially the etheric body; for during this procedure the etheric body was withdrawn from the physical. This is not what happens in sleep; for then the physical and etheric bodies remain in bed, while the astral body and Ego withdraw. But here, in this concluding act of initiation, the physical body remains, and the etheric body is almost fully raised out of it; only the lower portions are raised out of it and the candidate is then in a death-like condition. Everything that had been learnt by meditation and the other exercises was now impressed upon the etheric body in this condition. In these three and a half days the initiate actually roamed through the spiritual worlds, where the spiritual beings live. At the end of the three and a half days the Initiator called him back again, that is to say, he had to power to awaken him. The latter now brought with him the knowledge of the spiritual world. He could behold that world and announce its truths to his fellow-men, who were not yet ready to behold it themselves. Thus the teachers of pre-Christian times were initiated into the deepest Mysteries. They were led by the Hierophant during those three and a half days and were living witnesses of the reality of spiritual life, that is, of the truth that behind the physical world there is a spiritual world, to which man belongs, with his higher principles, and into which he must find his way. The form of initiation I have just described reached its climax in the period immediately following the Atlantean cataclysm. But in the course of time, as the union between the physical and etheric bodies grew increasingly close, the process of initiation became increasingly dangerous. Men were becoming ever more accustomed to the physical world of sense, with their full consciousness. Indeed it is the very purpose of evolution that man should accustom himself to live in the physical world, with all his inclinations and sympathies. The great progress of humanity consists in the fact that man actually developed this love for the physical world.
In the earliest period of post Atlantean civilization, there was a vivid recollection of the reality of the spiritual world. People said: ‘We, the late descendants, can yet see into the spiritual world of our ancestors.’ They still retained that dull, shadowy consciousness; they knew where the true world lay, which was their home. ‘All that surrounds us in waking consciousness,’ they said, ‘is like a veil shrouding the truth; it hides from us the spiritual world; it is Maya or illusion.’ They could not readily accustom themselves to what they now saw. It was difficult to understand that the consciousness of the old spiritual world must be lost. That is the keynote of the first post Atlantean civilization. It was therefore easy to lead the men of that time into the spiritual world, for they had a lively attachment to it. Of course this state could not continue; for it is the mission of this planet that men should become enamoured with the forces of the Earth and conquer the physical plane. Could you behold that India of the past, you would find an enormously high level of spiritual life. An understanding of the teachings propounded by the ancient teachers of humanity is only possible today when preceded by a study of spiritual science. Failing this, the teachings of the great and holy Rishis must appear nonsense or folly; for people cannot bring themselves to think that there is any sense in such teachings concerning the mysteries of the spiritual world. From their point of view such people are of course right, for people are always ‘right’ from their own particular standpoint.
There was an enormous capacity of spiritual contemplation, but the power of handling the simplest implement was lacking. Wants were satisfied in the most primitive manner. Natural science, or what is known by that name, did not exist; for in everything visible to him on the physical plane, a man saw Maya, the great illusion, and nothing but an elevation to the great Sun-being, or to Beings akin to him, could reveal truth and reality. But this condition would not last. It was necessary that among the men of post Atlantean times there should be some who were desirous of conquering the kingdom of the Earth. A beginning was made in the time of Zarathustra. Indeed a mighty step forward can be observed in the transition from the ancient Indians to the ancient Persians. To Zarathustra the external world was no longer merely Maya or illusion. He showed the people that our physical environment has value, but that the spiritual is behind everything. Whereas the flower was Maya in the view of the ancient Indian, and he sought the spirit behind the flower, Zarathustra said: ‘The flower is something to be prized, for it is a member of the universal All-spirit; the material grows out of the spiritual.’ We have already mentioned that Zarathustra pointed to the physical Sun as being the sphere of spiritual beings. But initiation was hard of attainment and for those who, not content to hear from the initiates that there is a spiritual world, themselves desired to behold the great Sun-aura, more stringent measures were needed for the attainment of initiation. All human life altered little by little, and in the following period, the Egypto-Chaldean civilization, men devoted themselves increasingly to the conquest of the physical world. A purely spiritual science which investigates all that lies behind the physical world, was no longer man's sole interest. He observed the course of the stars and sought to discern in their position and movement — in all that is outwardly visible — the writing of the divine spiritual beings. He recognized in the characters traced between one object of sense and another, the will of the gods. Thus he studied the objects in their mutual relation. In Egypt we see the rise of a science of geometry applied to external things. In this way man becomes master of the external world. The Greeks progressed still further in the same direction. In this (Greek) period we see how that union is accomplished between the experience of the soul and external matter. All that man has won for himself flows out, as it were, into the world of sense. But inasmuch as man grew increasingly powerful in the world of sense, and his soul became ever more attached to it, he grew to the same extent more estranged from the spiritual world in the interval between death and a new birth. When the soul left the body in ancient India, and entered the spiritual world, there to fulfil its development till rebirth, there was still a vivid experience of spiritual life. For man's whole life was filled with longing for spiritual culture, and his feelings were fired by the declarations to which he listened concerning life in the worlds of spirit, even though he were not himself an initiate. Hence, when he passed through the portal of death, the spiritual world lay open before him; light and radiance surrounded him. But in proportion as man's sympathies were directed towards the physical world, and he grew more skilful therein — in the same measure did darkness shroud the interval between death and rebirth. In Egyptian times this was so marked that we can ascertain, with clairvoyant consciousness, that a state of darkness and dreariness became the lot of the soul upon leaving the physical body and entering the spiritual world. The soul felt lonely and isolated from its fellows; and a frosty chill pervaded the soul in its loneliness, as it strove in vain to gain contact with the other souls. The Greeks lived in a time when man, by the superb outer beauty of his culture, had made the Earth something altogether remarkable, but the interval between death and rebirth was most dark, dismal, and frosty for the souls of that period. The story of the noble Greek who, when questioned about the sojourn in the underworld, replied: ‘Better a beggar in the upper world than a king in the realm of the shades!’ is in accordance with facts and no mere legend.
Thus we can say that with the advance of civilization man became more and more estranged from the spiritual world. Initiates capable of beholding the higher regions became increasingly rare; for the procedure of initiation grew ever more dangerous, and it became increasingly difficult to survive the death-like condition for three and a half days, and to submit to the withdrawal of the etheric body without the risk of death.
A renewal now took place for the whole of humanity through that impulse of which we have spoken in our last lecture — the Christ Impulse. We have already described how Christ, the high Sun-Spirit, approached the Earth by degrees. We have seen that in the days of Zarathustra He was still to be sought in the Sun, as ‘Ahura Mazdao’, and that in the time of Moses He could already be seen in the burning bush and in the fire on Sinai. Gradually He entered the Earth-sphere in which so great a change was to be wrought. In the first place it was important for this Spirit that men should learn to recognize Him here on Earth. Now what was the essential condition in all forms of ancient initiation? That the etheric body should be raised out of the physical; and even in post Atlantean times it was necessary that the candidate should be thrown into a death-like trance, that is, that he should be physically unconscious. This entailed his subjection to the will of another Ego, which, again, was inseparable from initiation. The pupil's Ego was wholly under the dominion of his initiator. He quitted his physical body entirely; his Ego neither occupied it nor exercised any influence upon it. But the great goal of the Christ Impulse is that man should develop his Ego entirely within himself, and not descend to a state of consciousness lower than his Ego for the purpose of entering the higher worlds. That this might be fulfilled, it was necessary that one should offer himself as a sacrifice in order that the Christ-Spirit Himself should be received into a human body. We have already shown that an initiate who had prepared himself through many, many incarnations, became able, at a definite point of his life, to yield up his own Ego and receive into himself the Christ-Spirit. This is indicated in the Gospel of St. John, in the account of the Baptism in the Jordan. Now what was the meaning of this Baptism?
We know that this Baptism by the forerunner and herald of Christ Jesus, John the Baptist, was accomplished upon those whom he had prepared to receive Christ Jesus in the right way. We shall fail to understand what is written concerning the Baptism in the Gospel of St. John unless we bear in mind that the purpose of John's Baptism was the true preparation for Christ. If you think of a baptism of the present day, which is only an imitation of the original symbol, you will fail to understand it. It was not a mere sprinkling with water, but a complete immersion; the candidate lived for a certain time, long or short, under water. The meaning of this will be clear if we seek its clue in the mystery of the human constitution.
Call to mind again that man consists of physical body, etheric body, astral body, and Ego. In his waking state these four principles are firmly knit together; in sleep the physical and etheric bodies lie in bed, while the astral body and the Ego are outside. In death the physical body remains behind as a corpse — the etheric body withdraws and then, for a short time, the Ego, the astral body, and the etheric body are united. To those who have heard even a few of my lectures it will be evident that an important experience is associated with this moment. The deceased sees his past life unfolded before him in a mighty tableau; the whole circumstances of his life stand out before him as though ranged side by side in space. For, as we know, the etheric body is also the vehicle of memory, and nothing but his physical body prevents a man from seeing all this during his lifetime. After death the physical body is cast aside, and everything that a man has experienced in his life just ended, can now enter his consciousness. Now I have also mentioned that a similar review of the past life takes place when a person finds himself in peril of death, from any cause, or when he is overcome by terror or by any great shock. You already know from narratives that when a man's life is endangered, say, by drowning or by a fall from a height, and he does not lose consciousness, his whole life hitherto appears before him as in a great panorama. What a man experiences, say, when in danger of drowning, was experienced by almost all who were baptized by John. The baptism consisted in the immersion of the candidate until he had experienced his life hitherto. This experience, however, was in the nature of a spiritual picture; and what the spirit experienced in this abnormal condition was seen to be connected, in a measure, with the rest of the spiritual world. So that he who was raised from the water after the baptism by John could say: ‘There is a spiritual world! In truth, that which I have within me is something which can exist without a body!’ After this baptism a man was convinced that a world indeed existed to which he belonged in the spirit. What then had John the Baptist accomplished by this Baptism?
Men had become more and more attached to the physical world; they came together more and more in it and believed ever more firmly that the physical world was actual reality. But they who came to the Baptist experienced their own life as a spiritual fact. After baptism they could say with conviction: ‘I am something more than what I am through my physical body!’ The mind of man, in its development, had become directed towards the physical world. John had evoked in men the consciousness that there is a spiritual world to which they belong with their higher nature. So that we need only clothe his exhortations in other words: ‘Change your heart, which is directed to the physical world!’ And indeed their heart was changed when they were truly and rightly baptized. Then they knew: ‘I have spirit in me; my Ego belongs to the spiritual world!’ The individual had gained this conviction while in his physical body; there had been no special procedure, as in initiation; he had experienced this while in his physical body; and, owing to the manner in which all the teaching since Moses had been received by men and united with their soul, the experience of the baptism by John acquired a special significance.
After the rite, the individual was not only conscious of his unity with the spiritual world; he also knew what that spiritual world was, which was now approaching the Earth. He who had proclaimed Himself to Moses as ‘Ejeh asher ejeh’ in the burning bush and in the fire on Sinai, the same, he knew, now permeates the Earth. ‘Jahve’ or ‘Jehovah’, ‘Ejeh asher ejeh’ or ‘I am the I AM’ — these words, he knew, rightly designated the spiritual world. Thus the disciple not only knew through the baptism by John that he was one with the spiritual world; he could also say with truth: ‘The I AM, out of whom the spirit in me is born, lives in that spiritual world!’ John had thus prepared his disciples by baptism. He had aroused this feeling in them, but of course only in a few; most of them were not ripe for such an experience during immersion. Nevertheless a few there were who recognized that He was approaching — the Spirit who was afterwards called the Christ.
Now try to compare what has been said today with what was said yesterday. The spiritual beings of old had effected love founded on ties of blood and physical relationship. But the Luciferic spirits sought to establish man in his individual personality. Lucifer and the high spiritual beings had worked simultaneously. Little by little the old blood ties were loosened, and this can be historically traced. Consider the conglomeration of races in the great Roman Empire; it was brought about by the loosening of the old blood ties, and the growing tendency of men to seek the firm standpoint of their own personality. As a result, however, they had lost their connection with the spiritual world; they had become merged in the physical world and had grown to love the physical plane. In proportion to the increase of self-consciousness through the influence of Lucifer, man had become centred in the physical world and had rendered desolate his life between death and a new birth. The Baptist had now prepared a great and momentous experience for mankind. Human personality was to be preserved and, by the immersion in water, man, though remaining in his personality, was to find the very beings whom he had formerly known as ‘gods’, when he himself lived in water, and the atmosphere was laden with water, mists, and vapours. The experience in the divine worlds was now repeated. Man, though an Ego, was now prepared to seek reunion with his fellow-men, and to be led back to love, now a spiritualized love.
This gives you the keynote of the Christ-event regarded from another point of view. Christ represents the descent to our Earth of the force of spiritual love, which is today but at the beginning of its work. If we pursue this thought with the help of the Gospels of St. John and St. Luke, we shall see that spiritual love is the very keynote of the Christ-impulse; we shall see how the Egos which had been sundered, are drawn together as regards their inmost being. From the beginning men have had but a dim presentiment of the significance of Christ for the world; as yet very, very little of this mission had been realized, for the separative influence (the after effect of the Luciferic powers) is still there, and the Christ principle has been at work but a short time. Though it is true that in our day a sympathetic cooperation is sought in certain external departments of life; in the most intimate and important things people have no inkling of the meaning of harmony and concord between souls, or at least they have it only in their thought and intellect, which matters least. It is indeed true that Christianity is only at the beginning of its mission; but it will penetrate ever deeper into the souls of men and ennoble the Ego ever more and more. Precisely the youngest nations recognize this in our day. They perceive that they must unite themselves with the power of Christ, and penetrate themselves with His force, if they would progress. A contemporary personality in Eastern Europe, the executor of the great Russian philosopher Solovioff, said: ‘Christianity must unite us as a nation, otherwise we shall lose our Ego and, with it, the possibility of being a nation!’ Powerful words which seem to issue from an intense intellect for Christianity. But it also shows how necessary it is that Christianity should pierce to the depths of the soul. Let us examine an outstanding case and we shall find that, as regards the inmost life of the soul, even the most exalted and noblest are far from grasping what they will one day experience, when man's inmost thoughts, opinions, and feelings are steeped in Christianity. Think of Tolstoi and his work in the last few decades, as he strives to expose the true meaning of Christianity. Such a thinker must inspire the greatest respect, especially in the West, where whole libraries are filled with endless philosophical disquisitions on the same subject which Tolstoi treats in a few powerful touches in his one book On Life. There are pages of elemental strength in Tolstoi's works, which betray a deep knowledge of anthroposophical truths, certainly unattainable by a philosopher of Western Europe, or on which he must write an extensive literature, because something unusually powerful is expressed therein. In Tolstoi there is an undertone which we may call the Christ-impulse. Meditate on his words and you will see that the Christ-impulse it is, which fills him. Turn now to his great contemporary, who interests us for the reason that he soared upwards from a comprehensive philosophical conception of the universe to the boundary line of a life so truly visionary, that he could survey an epoch, as it were in perspective, apocalyptically. Even though his visions are distorted, because they lack the true foundation, Solovioff nevertheless rises to a visionary perception of the future; he places before us vistas of the future of the twentieth century. If we give him our attention, we find in his writings great and noble thoughts, especially with regard to Christianity. But he speaks of Tolstoi as of an enemy of Christianity, as of Antichrist! Thus two men of our day may believe in their deepest thoughts that they are doing the best for their time; their work may spring from the profoundest depths of their soul, and yet they may altogether fail to understand one another, and see, each in the other, nothing but an antagonist. No one today stops to think that if outward harmony and a life steeped in love are to be realized, the Christ-impulse must have penetrated to the utmost depths of human nature, so that human love becomes something entirely different from what it is at present, even among the noblest spirits.
The Impulse which was foretold, and then entered the world, is only at the beginning of its work, and an even deeper understanding for it must be shown. What is lacking to all those who, precisely in our time, cry out for Christianity and declare it to be a necessity, yet cannot bring it within their reach? Anthroposophy, spiritual science, is lacking to them — the present day way of comprehending Christ. For Christ is so great that each successive epoch must find new methods by which to know and understand Him. In earlier centuries other methods of striving for wisdom, and other forms were employed. Today Anthroposophy is a necessity, and, for long periods to come, what Anthroposophy now teaches will hold good for the purpose of understanding the Christ. For Anthroposophy will prove to be a stimulus for all human powers of cognition. Man will gradually find his way to an understanding of Christ. But even the anthroposophical presentation is only temporal: of this we are well aware. We know too that the great subject of our temporal representations will require still greater modes of representation.