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Rudolf Steiner Archive Section Name Rudolf Steiner Archive

Metamorphoses of the Soul
Paths of Experience Vol. 1

Schmidt Number: S-2070

On-line since: 15th January, 2008

The Mission of Spiritual Science

Berlin, 14th October 1909

This year I shall again be giving a series of lectures on subjects related to Spiritual Science, as I have done now for several years past. Those of my audience who attended those previous lectures will know what is meant here by the term, Spiritual Science (Geisteswissenschaft). For others, let me say that it will not be my task to discuss some abstract branch of science, but a discipline which treats the spirit as something actual and real. It starts from the premise that human experience is not unavoidably restricted to sense-perceptible reality or to the findings of human reason and other cognitive faculties in so far as they are bound up with the sense-perceptible. Spiritual Science says that it is possible for human beings to penetrate behind the realm of the sense-perceptible and to make observations which are beyond the range of the ordinary intellect.

This introductory lecture will describe the role of Spiritual Science in present-day life, and will show how in the past this Spiritual Science — which is as old as humanity — appeared in a form very different from the form it must take today. In speaking of the present, I naturally do not mean the immediate here and now, but the relatively long period during which spiritual life has had the particular character which has come to full development in our own time.

Anyone who looks back over the spiritual life of mankind will see that “a time of transition” is a phrase to be used with care, for every period can be so described. Yet there are times when spiritual life takes a leap forward, so to speak. From the 16th century onwards, the relationship between the soul and spiritual life of human beings and the outer world has been different from what it was in earlier times. And the further back we go in human evolution, the more we find that men had different needs, different longings, and gave different answers from within themselves to questions concerning the great riddles of existence.

We can gain a clear impression of these transition periods through individuals who lived in those days and had retained certain qualities of feeling, knowing and willing from earlier periods, but were impelled to meet the demands of a new age.

Let us take an interesting personality and see what he makes of questions concerning the being of man and other such questions that must closely engage human minds — a personality who lived at the dawn of modern spiritual life and was endowed with the inner characteristics I have just described. I will not choose anyone familiar, but a sixteenth century thinker who was unknown outside a small circle. In his time there were many persons who retained, as he did, mediaeval habits of thinking and feeling and wished to gain knowledge in the way that had been followed for centuries, and yet were moving on towards the outlook of the coming age. I shall be naming an individual of whose external life almost nothing is historically known. From the point of view of Spiritual Science, this is thoroughly congenial. Anyone who has sojourned in the realm of Spiritual Science will know how distracting it is to find attached to a personality all the petty details of everyday life that are collected by modern biographers. On this account, we ought to be thankful that history has preserved so little about Shakespeare, for instance; the true picture is not spoilt — as it is with Goethe — by all the trivia the biographers are so fond of dragging in. I will therefore designate an individual of whom even less is known than is known about Shakespeare, a seventeenth century thinker who is of great significance for anyone who can see into the history of human thinking.

In Francis Joseph Philipp, Count von Hoditz and Wolframitz, who led the life of a solitary thinker during the second half of the seventeenth century in Bohemia, we have a personality of outstanding importance from this historical point of view. In a little work entitled Libellus de nominis convenientia 1 ] — I have not inquired if it has since been published in full — he