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On the Occasion of Goethe's Birthday

Schmidt Number: S-2439

On-line since: 23rd February, 2012

On the Occasion of Goethe's Birthday

Rudolf Steiner Archive Document

Lectures Section

The following lecture was given by Rudolf Steiner at Munich on the 28th of August, 1911. It is a previously unpublished, untranslated, typewritten transcription of a lecture that is from Bn/GA 129. It was given on, and dedicated to, the anniversary of Goethe's birthday, and in connection with the lecture series, Wonders of the World, Ordeals of the Soul and Revelations of the Spirit, published in German as, Weltenwunder, Seelenpruefungen und Geistesoffenbarungen.

A Lecture given by
Rudolf Steiner
Munich, August 28, 1911
Bn/GA 129

The following lecture was given by Rudolf Steiner at Munich on the 28th of August, 1911. It is a previously unpublished, untranslated, typewritten transcription of a lecture that is from Bn/GA 129. It was given on, and dedicated to, the anniversary of Goethe's birthday, and in connection with the lecture series, Wonders of the World, Ordeals of the Soul and Revelations of the Spirit, published in German as, Weltenwunder, Seelenpruefungen und Geistesoffenbarungen.

This lecture is not a part of the 10 lectures in the above named lecture series, and was presumably translated from shorthand reports, unrevised by the lecturer, by an unknown translator. It is presented here with the kind permission of the Rudolf Steiner Nachlassverwaltung, Dornach, Switzerland.

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Lecture #2439

of GOETHE'S Birthday
in connection with the lectures

Wonders of the World, Ordeals of the Soul
and Revelations of the Spirit

August 28, 1911

My dear theosophical Friends!

The composition of “Faust” was Goethe's companion from his early years, on, one may say in the truest sense of the word, — till his death. For the second part of the poem was left behind by him, sealed, as his literary testament. The composition of certain important passages of the 2nd part of Faust really belongs to the closing years of that universal genius. Anyone who has had the opportunity of following Goethe's spiritual evolution, as revealed in his life-work, will discover many a thing of the most extreme interest, particularly in reference to the fact that Goethe's ideas continually altered regarding the course of development of his poem, when he returned again and again to this labour of his life. There is an interesting memorandum extant on the conclusion of “Faust” as it was intended to be, in accordance with Goethe's views of that date — a period which we may fix at the end of the ’eighties or beginning of the ’nineties of the eighteenth century. We find here, besides a few notes on the first and second parts, a short sentence containing an indication bearing on the conclusion of the poem. This scrap of writing shows the words jotted down in pencil by Goethe, “Epilogue in Chaos on the way to Hell.” This reveals to us that it was Goethe's intention at one time not to honour his Faust by the kind of apotheosis which forms the present conclusion of the poem, brought to an end in his extreme old age; but that, in accordance with the course indicated in the Prologue in Heaven, — from Heaven, through the world, to Hell — he desired to bring Faust to a conclusion with the Epilogue in Chaos on the Way to Hell. At that time Goethe entertained thoughts which led him to believe that knowledge which overstepped certain limits could only end in chaos. We may trace a certain connection between the frame of mind which prompted these words, which I quoted as Goethe's own, with that which was said yesterday regarding the ordeals of the soul; on the one hand the losing of itself in nothingness; on the other hand the descent into the turbid inner nature of the human being and the failure, in spite of all efforts, to find the junction. Goethe's personality was indeed one which compelled him to vanquish all difficulties, step by step, and to experience all vicissitudes in his own person. It is for this reason that all his creations leave such an impression of sincerity and truthfulness on us, — sometimes indeed the effect is so powerful that we cannot immediately keep pace with him; because it is impossible for us, unprepared, to transport ourselves into the particular phase of his personality prevailing at one period or another of his life. We may note a truly great advance in Goethe between the moment at which he intended to conclude his “Faust” with an epilogue in chaos on the way to hell, and that other period in which he brings his work to a close in the spirit of the monumental words “Wer immer strebend sick bemüht, den können wir erlösen.” [Approximately: “He who is ever striving, toils onward, him we can deliver.”] For when Goethe, wrote the present, universally-known conclusion to his “Faust,” the premonition of which we spoke yesterday was alive within him, coupled with that inner strength which brings the assurance that, though we must pass through all ordeals of the soul, we shall-inevitably accomplish the closing of the circle described yesterday. This, my dear theosophical friends, is intended as a slight indication of the most pronounced characteristic in Goethe's life. Those among us who love a harmonious life, who cannot accommodate themselves to its contradictions, though these are the vital element in a progressive life reveals many contradictions, and that Goethe's judgment of many matters in his old age differed from that of his youth. But this was only because he was forced to conquer every truth for himself. Goethe's personality is a striking example of the necessity of the lessons of life; it shows us that it is precisely life on the physical plane which evokes direct inner experiences, and that life, with its succession of events, is needful for us, in order that we may become human beings in the true sense of the word. When we pass in review Goethe's whole life and contemplate its successive stages, we are struck by the universality of his genius, the magnificent comprehensiveness and many-sidedness of his mentality. It is most important to study Goethe precisely from this point of view, in his life-time, and also to measure by our own time the importance of that which he was by reason of the universality of his spirit, and then to ask ourselves how Goethe can above all things influence our own epoch by the universality of his genius.

It is well for us, then, to devote a little study to the inner character of the time in which we live, — to our present epoch and its spiritual culture. It is especially important for theosophists to consider attentively the spirit of our age. It is often said that we live in an age of specialists, in which exact science must reign supreme. How frequently do we hear the words of the great physicist Helmholtz repeated, namely, that at the present day there can be no mind comprehensive enough to embrace all the various branches of human knowledge, as they now exist. It has become absolutely proverbial that there can be no doctor universalis at the present day, and that one must be content with a general knowledge of special subjects. But when we consider that life is one and undivided, that everything in life is involved with everything else, and that life does not ask whether our souls are capable of comprehending what belongs to the common spiritual living organism of our age; — when we consider this we must conclude that it would be a disaster for our age, were it impossible to find, at least to some extent, the spirit ruling in all specialisation. And our quest will be easiest, if we endeavour to approach the subject precisely by those avenues opened up by theosophy or spiritual science. That science must be universal; it must be in a position to survey at a glance the branches of the various sciences in all the different domains of civilised life. To-day let us examine at least one aspect of our modern intellectual life, and see how it appears in the light of theosophy. As our time is limited, we will avoid those departments of science which are more or less unaffected by the passage of time, as least as to their nature and purpose, in spite of the enormous extensions which they have undergone in our day, — I mean mathematics, although even here we might point to the fact that the weighty deliberations carried on in certain branches of mathematics during the nineteenth century may be said to have opened up the supersensuous world to that science. But it must be mentioned that great and wonderful discoveries have been made in all branches of science in the course of the last few decades, which testify everywhere, when examined in the proper light, to the fact that the teachings of theosophy exactly agree with science; whereas none of the theories that have been applied to these discoveries up to the present day at all coincide with the facts which have been accumulated with so much diligence and energy for the last forty or fifty years. Taking, for example, chemistry and physics, we see how remarkable has been the tendency in the development of these branches in that period. When we were young, in the ’seventies or ’eighties or earlier, the so-called atomistic theories prevailed in chemistry and physics. These theories attributed all phenomena to particular kinds of vibration, either of ether or some other material substance. In short we might say that it was customary then to explain everything in the world, in the final instance, by the theory of vibration. Then as we approached the last decade of the nineteenth century, it was shown by the facts which gradually came to light that the theory of motion, or atomistic theory, was untenable. It may even be called a remarkable achievement (in the most limited sense of the word), that Professor Ostwald, who was chiefly noted as a chemist and natural scientist, brought forward at a congress in Lubeck, in place of the atomistic theory, the so-called theory of energy, or energetics. In a certain respect this was a progressive step; but the later discoveries in the field of chemistry and physics, down to our own times, have finally given rise to a considerable amount of scepticism and want of faith regarding all theoretical science. The idea of attributing external physical facts, such as the phenomena of light, etc., to the vibration of minute particles, or to a mere manifestation of energy, is now only entertained by unprogressive minds. This opinion is chiefly strengthened by all that has become known of late years regarding the substances which gave rise to the theory of radium; and we can already note the extraordinary circumstance that, owing to certain facts which have come to light by degrees, distinguished physicists such as Thomson and others have found themselves obliged to throw overboard all theories, first and foremost the ether hypothesis with its artistic forms of vibration, once cultivated with such extreme seriousness and assiduous application of the integral and differential calculus. The theory of motion was therefore fated to be discarded by the great physicists, who then returned to the vortices of Cartesius, a theory which may be said to be based on ancient occult traditions. But even these theories have been relinquished in their turn; a feeling of scepticism towards all theorising shows itself precisely in physics and chemistry, as a result of the conviction that all matter crumbles away, as it were, under the experiments of modern physical science. Things have gone so far that, in view of the advance of modern physical science, the theories of atomistic vibration and of energetics can no longer be upheld. All that might still have found a hearing 5, 6 or more years ago, all on which so many fond hopes were built, when we were young, when even the force of gravitation was ascribed to motion, — in the eyes of those acquainted with the real facts, all this has been demolished. But we still of course hear of extraordinary ideas on the part of the unprogressive. There is an interesting fact in this connection, which I might mention, as it is my intention to discuss certain characteristics of our own time and of Goethe. A little book has just appeared which also takes the standpoint that there is no such thing as gravitation, that is, that there is no attraction between matter and the planets. — It has always been a difficulty for science to support this so-called theory of attraction, because one must ask: How can the Sun attract the Earth, if it does not stretch anything out into space? Now within the last few days this book has appeared, in which attraction is ascribed to the effect of concussion. For instance, we represent to ourselves a body, whether planet or molecule, upon which impacts are continually being exercised from all sides by other planets or other molecular bodies, How does it happen that these bodies impinge upon one another from all sides? For of course they do impinge upon each other everywhere, one in this, another in the opposite direction, an so on.

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The essential point here is that when the number of impacts exercised from outside is compared with that produced by the bodies in the space between, the result is a difference. The last-mentioned are fewer and have less force than the outer. The consequence is that through the outer impacts the two bodies, whether molecules or planets, are driven together. According to this theory the force usually called attraction is attributed to the impacts of matter. It is refreshing to find something like a new thought now-a-days; but to any one who looks more deeply into the matter this theory is nothing more than refreshing. It is refreshing for the simple reason that the same theory had already been worked out with all possible mathematical quibbles. It is contained in a book, now out of print, written when I was a little boy, by a certain Heinrich Schramm, “The Universal Vibration of Matter as the First Cause of all Phenomena.” In this book the theory is much more thoroughly dealt with. Such ideas constantly reappear when scientists leave out of consideration the evolution of the spiritual life. In this respect the most extraordinary observations may be made; — errors caused by a one-sided view are repeated over and over again. What I should like to impress upon you above all is, that in consequence of the achievements of physics and chemistry of late years, abundant proofs have been furnished that that which is called matter is merely a human conception, which melts away under experiments, and that physics and chemistry, leaving behind all motion and energy, steer directly to the point at which matter merges into the spirit at its foundation. The body of facts accumulated by physics and chemistry already demand a spiritual foundation. Geology and paleontology are in a similar case. In these sciences more comprehensive theories, based upon vast aggregations of force, prevailed till about 1860–1870. To-day we find scepticism. everywhere; and among our best geologists and palaeontologists there is an inclination to restrict their labours to the bare registration of facts, because they dare not combine them in thought. A considerable amount of courage is needed to develop a system of thought embracing the series of facts before them. People are afraid to take the step now demanded even by geology and paleontology: — from the material to the spiritual, — a step which would transcend the Kant-Laplace theory. They dare not acknowledge that their imaginary universal nebula is finally merged in the spiritual regions, the world of the hierarchies, of which all that we might call the outer, physical, or perhaps the astrophysical theory, is but the garment. The case is different when we come to those sciences which have to deal more with life and the soul. We come in the first place to biology.

Now you all know how great were the hopes built on the progress of biology, the science of life, when Darwin's great work, “The Origin of Species”, appeared. Perhaps you also know that at the natural science Congress held in Stettin in the year 1863 Ernst Haeckel, with rare courage, extended to the human being the theory apparently applied by Darwin only to the animal, and we see that the science of biology afterwards developed in a remarkable way. We find cautious spirits who confine themselves more to the registration of facts; but others are there, who push forward impetuously, constructing daring theories on the results of investigations dealing with the relationship of forms among the different creatures. Foremost of all we find Haeckel boldly constructing pedigrees, showing how, from elementary forms of life, the most complicated structures have arisen through ever-new ramifications. But side by side with these more striking tendencies, — as we might call them — there is a line of investigation which it is also important to notice. This might be called the school of the anatomist, Carl Gegenbaur. In accordance with his nature, Gegenbaur was of opinion that, in the first place, we ought not to concern ourselves with the correlation existing between different creatures. He looked upon the Darwinian theory as a guiding principle of investigation, to be used as a standard, by the aid of which certain facts relating to the forms of living creatures could be traced. Let us suppose that the train of thought of a scientist might be expressed in the following words: — “I am not prepared to say that the higher animals might not be descended from the birds or fishes, but I will start from the principle that a relationship exists between them, and, keeping this in view, will examine the gills and fins, and will see whether more and more subtle resemblances do not come to light.” And in fact it was found that, by using Darwin's method as a clue, more and more important scientific facts were discovered. Important results were also arrived at when this method of research, stimulated by the Darwinian impulse, was applied to the descent of man, by following up all the evidence of paleontology and other archaeological records relating to geology. Wherever scientists have gone to work with caution, their method has been as follows: They begin by tracing the links, laying down Darwin's theory as a guiding principle. And here we have the astounding result that the Darwinian theory, used in this way, has shown itself to be extraordinarily fertile in results of late years, and that by the discoveries to which it has led up till the present time, it has contradicted and annulled itself! So that we may observe the remarkable fact, scarcely to be found to the same extent in any other domain of science, that the Darwinian scientists disagree on all points. Thus, there are still persons (certainly the very unprogressive) who relate the human being to the anthropoid apes still extant, or at least only slightly metamorphosed. There are some, particularly among those who pursue the modern analysis of the blood and the relationship among the components of the blood, who have returned to the older forms of the Darwinian theory. Katsch, for instance, affirms that it is impossible, in view of the facts which have come to light, to relate the human being to any animal form whatever now extant. All shades of opinion prevail, from that according to which man is related to the ape as he now exists, — on to others which diverge from the latter, but, following the descent of man is not traceable to the ancestors of these of these apes to any other mammals. It is held that we must retrace our steps to animals of which we can form no representation, and that from these man is descended on the one hand, while the mammals have branched off on the other hand, so that the apes are very distantly related to the human being. What strikes us as remarkable in this is the circumstance that when these scientists employ the forms familiar to us at present, in order to call up a picture of that real, primeval man, all existing physical forms dissolve into a nebulous mass; — the result is nil. How is this? Because there is a point in the science of biology, at which the outer physical facts arrived at by sincere effort, leads to the conclusion that the ancestors of man cannot be represented as physical beings, as all attempts in this direction fail. We at last arrive at the spiritual, primal form of man, the fruit of an earlier planetary evolution, — at that spiritual, primal man spoken of in theosophy. Precisely those facts which have been revealed by the researches of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries bear incontrovertible testimony to this truth, and the disagreement among scientists is concealed solely because the students only attend the lectures of one professor, and do not compare his teachings with those of others. If they compared the opinions of the various learned authorities, they would make strange discoveries. In the books of a certain naturalist they would find a passage very distinctly underlined, to the following effect: “If any of my students now preparing for his doctor's degree should propound this theory, which is brought forward by another, I would reject him unhesitatingly.” This assertion is however no exaggeration, it is only what is said by the professor of one university of his colleague of another university. And the disagreement mentioned is one of the most conspicuous phenomena in the field of biology; while in physics and chemistry the utmost resignation prevails with regard to theories. When we come to physiology we find still more singular conditions. We find that this science everywhere leads to the most extravagant theories. We see how even the mere outside husk of physiology is everywhere influenced by all sorts of things behind or within the physical, even among thinkers who, without knowing it, are yet absolute materialists in their mode of thought. I might mention hundreds of things in this connection, such for instance as the strange theories put forward of late years by a school of thought in Vienna, the so-called Freud school; — theories dealing with the manner in which the sub-conscious life of man, as it shows itself in dreams or other phenomena of life, comes within the domain of physiology. I can merely hint at these facts, and only mention them because they show that it is necessary everywhere, even theoretically speaking, that the mass of empirical facts of the outer senses be traced to spiritual causes. At the same time we find that the moment at which general comprehension, or conception of the impression necessarily made by science as a whole at the present day, makes itself felt, a kind of resignation sets in. In philosophy also we find the same resignation. You are probably aware that under the influence of William James in America, of Schiller in England and of other scholars in the philosophic field, a strange theory has been developed, which is really the outcome of a tendency inherent in facts, to strive towards their spiritual origin; but its followers nevertheless refuse recognise that origin in the spirit. This is the so-called pragmatism, which affirms that, in considering the various phenomena of life, we must, invent theories regarding them, as if they were capable of being combined; but that everything that we think out exists as an economy of the mind, and has no inner, constitutive, real value. This theory is the final refuse of the seared minds of the present day. It denotes the most absolute unbelief in the spirit, a reliance only on fragile theories, invented for the purpose of combining facts, and a failure to believe that the living spirit first implanted in the objects the thoughts which we find in them at last. The strangest fate of all sciences in this respect is reserved to psychology. There are certain psychologists who are incapable of finding the way to a living spirit, in which the soul finds itself as if reborn in the objects. On the other hand they cannot deny that, if any harmony at all can be established between the soul and the objects, something must be transferred to the objects from the soul. What is experienced in the soul must have something to do with the objects. And in connection with this, there is a curious word in circulation in German systems of psychology, — one which really flies in the face of all philological thought — the word “to feel into” (an object) (Einfühlen). There can be no clearer example of helping oneself out of a dilemma, than the use of such a word to avoid exact thought. As if it were of any importance that we should feel something into the objects, without being able to find in the things themselves the essential, real connection between the objects and that which we see in them. This is a state of forlornness, in which psychology finds itself bereft of the spirit, and tries to help itself out of the difficulty by the use of such a word. Thus we might find many similar masterpieces brought into existence at the present day by systems of psychology which cannot be taken seriously. Other systems of psychology confine themselves to a description of the outer instruments of the soul-life, — the brain, etc.; and it has gone so far that psychologists are listened to with respect when they prove by experiment that no force or energy absorbed or taken into our system in food and drink, is lost. This is supposed to prove that the law of the conservation of energy must also hold good for psychology, and that there is no such thing as a soul-nature independent of the body, and working apart through its bodily instruments. A conclusion such as this is perfectly illogical. One who can draw such a conclusion, and who is in a position to formulate such a thought at all, must also admit that it would be reasonable to stand in front of a bank, to calculate how much money is carried in and how much is carried out, and then to reckon how much remains in the coffers; and from this to draw the conclusion that there are no employees at work in the bank. Such conclusions are really drawn, and they are even regarded as scientific in our day. Theories like these are built up on the returns of modern research. They cast a veil over the real nature of the facts. We can observe the real status of psychology in a highly interesting personality, a truly remarkable man, who wrote a work on psychology in the ’seventies of the last century, Francis Brentano. He wrote the 1st. volume of a psychology which should have filled several volumes. Whoever is willing to follow the contents of the 1st. volume with an understanding of the real standpoint of psychological facts, must reflect that, considering the nature of the premise from which Francis Brentano starts, and if it be at all possible to advance on the basis of these premisses, his arguments must lead into spiritual science or theosophy. This is the only way open; and those who will not be led to spiritual science, or even will not make a slight effort to arrive at a reasonable comprehension of the life of the soul, may be supposed to be incompetent. And here we have the interesting fact that the first volume of a psychological work intended to embrace several volumes, had no successor. He only wrote the 1st. volume; and though Brentano dealt, in smaller works, with one or another of the problem which occupied him, he never found his way to spiritual science; hence he barred the way to any further progress in psychology.

By another and still more pregnant fact we may see how even the negative, principle, so conspicuous everywhere at present, demands that the thinkers who take their stand on the wonderful facts that have come to light during the last few decades, should tend towards spiritual science. This is doubtless a difficult step for many at the present day. Some are deterred by reasons into which we need not enter now; we will merely show how, on all hands, when we try to find the true forces in modern science, when we set to work with honesty and sincerity, comprehensively and energetically, the merging of science into theosophy is a necessary consequence. Farthest of all from the union with spiritual science is history, as it is written at the present day. The historians who apparently approach it most nearly, — those who do not merely regard history as a succession of fortuitous human impulses and passions and other facts belonging to the physical plane, — are those who recognise the existence of ruling thoughts. As if abstract thought could possibly have any influence! Unless we ascribe will to those thoughts, they cannot be spiritual powers, nor can they become active. To recognise governing ideas in history, therefore, apart from entities, is devoid of all sense. Not until active life has been infused into history, not until the spiritual life-principle is conceived as pervading the soul, expending itself ever more intensely as it passes from soul to soul, — not until history is understood as it is understood in “les Grands Inities” (by Édouard Shuré) has the point been reached at which that science merges into theosophy or spiritual sciences. Thus we may boldly affirm that it is evident to any unprejudiced observer that all learning imperatively calls for the theosophical mode of thought. Thinkers who penetrate deeply into the spiritual life, who follow the path of knowledge with heart and soul, and are not content merely to weave theories, but whose very heart is bound up with true knowledge, — spirits like these, it is true, show by their lives how life is everywhere in touch with spiritual science. As an example, I may cite a man who was known to the world for years as a celebrated poet, who was for long years condemned to a sick-bed and during that time wrote down the thoughts and experiences that came to him on the path of knowledge, as a bequest to posterity; — a poet who was not of course taken seriously as a philosopher, by philosophers. I mean Robert Hamerling. But the latter, who was perhaps only justly appreciated by Vincenz Knauer (who even made him the subject of lectures) was not a theoretical philosopher, but one who entered heart and soul on the paths of wisdom, and synthesised the sciences of chemistry, physics, philosophy, physiology, biology and history of modern times, as far as these were accessible to him, fertilising his knowledge by his poetic intuition. Robert Hamerling, who was able to fructify the thoughts regarding the world, by his own gift of poetic intuition, laid down in his “Atomistics of the Will” all that he found upon the path of knowledge. His path was not like that trodden by so many to-day, who start from the mere theory of some school of thought; it led directly from life itself. In his “Atomistics of the Will,” he has written much of importance for those who take an interest in the tendency of ordinary learning and intellectuality to merge into spirituality. A passage from the “Atomistics of the Will” written in 1891, will follow here as an example of the thoughts collected by him in his solitude, on the evolutionary path of knowledge on which he had entered. “It is possible,” says Hamerling on p. 145 of Vol.II. of “Atomistics of the Will,” “ that living beings exist, whose corporeality is more tenuous than atmospheric air. At regards other heavenly bodies, at least, nothing can be urged against this supposition. Beings whose corporeality is of such extreme subtlety would be invisible to us, and would exactly correspond to those beings ordinarily called spirits, or to the etheric bodies, or souls surviving after the death of individuals ... ” He continues in the same strain. Here we have an allusion to the etheric body in the middle of a book which is the outcome of the intellectual life of the present day. Let us suppose that truth and uprightness everywhere prevailed, together with an earnest striving to know what really lives in the thought of men; let us imagine that an honest desire existed to try to understand what we already possess; that, in other words, people should write fewer books, until they have learnt the content of other books already written, — then the work done in our time would be very different; there would be continuity in it. Were this so, it would have to be admitted that, during the last few decades, spiritual life has been breaking forth, and vistas opening of spiritual aims and perspectives, wherever science has been honestly and earnestly prosecuted. For there are many examples like that of Robert Hamerling.

Thus the special branches of the various sciences unite and demand that which can alone give a comprehensive view of the world at the present day, such as I have endeavoured to sketch lately in “Occult Science”. Into that work are woven, imperceptibly, the latest results of all the sciences, side by side with spiritual research. When we consider this we must acknowledge that open doors to spirituality are everywhere to be found; but we pass them by unnoticed. Whoever is acquainted with modern science finds without exception that its facts, not its theories, require a spiritual explanation. Were it possible for ordinary science to emancipate itself from all theories — the atomic, the vibratory, energetics and all other forms of one-sidedness with which the world is continually hedged about by a few stock ideas, — if scientists could only liberate themselves from such trammels; did they allow the great mass of facts now brought to light by science to speak for themselves, all contradiction between the spiritual science which we follow here and the genuine results of modern research would cease. Here, Goethe may be our great helper — Goethe, who fulfilled all the conditions of a universal mind so magnificently. He fulfilled those conditions even outwardly; for whoever is acquainted with Goethe's correspondence knows that he exchanged letters with countless naturalists on all the most important questions in the various departments of science. From his experimenting cabinets and from his study, communications went forth to the different branches of science at all points of the compass. He corresponded with botanists, opticians, zoologists, anthropologists, geologists, mineralogists and historians, in short with scientists in every field. And though unprogressive minds certainly refused to recognise him as an authority, because his investigations were beyond their understanding, he found other thinkers by whom he was most highly appreciated, and who consulted him when it became necessary to settle any question of special interest. This is an incident of no great importance, but at the same time we can see how Goethe worked in thought and also in deed with the foremost philosophers of his day, such as Schelling and Hegel. We find that the minds of a number of philosophers were fructified by him, and that Goethe's thoughts reappeared in their work, in the same or another form. Finally we can see how in the course of his life Goethe seriously occupied himself with the study of botany, zoology, osteology in particular, also with anthropology in a wider sense; further with optics and physical science in their wider scope. Isolate scientists in the domain of biology are now showing a disposition to do justice to Goethe in a small degree. On the other hand it is quite comprehensible that physicists are perfectly sincere in their inability to understand Goethe's teachings regarding colour, from their own standpoint. These truths regarding colour can only be understood in the future, — unless the acquaintance with theosophy has meantime brought about a change, — perhaps not before the second half of the twentieth, or even the first half of the 21st. century. The physical science of the present day can only look upon Goethe's ideas regarding colour as nonsense; this however is no fault of the teaching; the fault lies in the forms of modern science. If you read my book, “Goethe's Conception of the World,” also the preface to Goethe's works on natural science, published by Kirschner, you will see what I mean. You will see that the latter contains an appreciation, of Goethe's theory of colour, which is scientific in the truest sense, and, compared with which, all modern theories relating to physical science are mere dilettantism. Thus we see how Goethe laboured in all departments of science. We can see how his endeavours to understand the laws of nature were everywhere fertilised by the poetic forces of his genius. Goethe looked upon nothing as separate from the rest; everything intermingled in his soul. There no one pursuit interferes with another. Goethe is himself a proof that it is an absurdity to believe that the active pursuit of some branch of intellectual knowledge could hamper intuition. If both impulses are only present in strength and originality, they do not interfere with one another. We can form an idea of the living cooperation of the human forces of the soul, as they are expressed in the different sciences, and in the entire personality of the human being; the necessity of life makes it possible for us to form such an idea, and we are helped by the fact that a modern intelligence exists, in whom this cooperation of the different soul-forces of the whole personality was actually living. It is for this reason that Goethe's personality is a model, to which we must look up in order to study that living cooperation of the soul-forces. As he is a man whose progress we can watch from year to year, in the deepening of his own inner life and understanding of the world, he is an example to us of the manner in which man must strive, in order to attain a greater intensity of the inner life. Not the mere contemplation of Goethe, not the repetition of his words, nor even devotion to his works should be our duty on a day which the calendar shows us to be closely connected, in a narrow sense, with Goethe's life, — but to consider the grandeur that radiates from his whole person, in the light of a model for our epoch. Especially the scientific thinker of our day might learn much from Goethe. For in respect to the comprehension of the spiritual life, scientific thought is not in a flourishing condition; but precisely from that quarter we shall inevitably live to see a great revival of Goethe, and a gradual and increasing understanding of his genius. A contemplation of Goethe's life may throw a flood of light on our advance to spirituality, on theosophy in general; it will illuminate our progress healthfully, because in Goethe everything is healthy. He is trustworthy in every particular, and, where he contradicts himself, it is not his logic that is at fault. Life itself is a contradiction, and must be so in order that it may continue to live. This is a thought which I would fain kindle in you on this birthday of Goethe's, to show how necessary it is that we should become absorbed in the things lying open to us. Goethe can give us an infinity. We can learn most from him if we forget much that has been written in the countless works extant on Goethe, for such communications are more likely to cast a veil over the real Goethe than to make us acquainted with him. But Goethe has an occult power of attraction; there is something in him which works of itself. If we yield ourselves up to Goethe we shall find that we can celebrate his birthday within ourselves, and we shall feel something of that which is ever young and fresh in Goethe, of which we might say that Goethe may rise again in a soul steeped in theosophy. Though Goethe's name is so often heard and his works so often quoted, our materialistic age has but a meagre understanding of him. There was a time when people were really fascinated, even by very serious discussions on the subject of Goethe, — not literary and historical discussions in our sense of the word, for these are not serious. When Goethe was the subject of serious talk there were always listeners who were carried away by that inner spiritual vein which is never wanting in Goethe. We may recall the time when old Karl Rosenkranz, the Hegel scholar, who was on a level with the highest culture of his day, ventured between 1830 and 1840 to announce a series of lectures on Goethe at the university of Königsberg. He wished to state frankly a philosopher's opinion of Goethe. He prepared his lectures, and left his study with the thought: “Perhaps one or two may come to hear what I have to say!” — But thought nearly died within him, when he found himself outside in the midst of a wild snowstorm, so violent that no one could be expected to venture out to a lecture that was not obligatory. He made his way to the lecture-hall and behold, nothing could be more unfavourable than the conditions under which he had to deliver his lecture. It was a hall which could not be heated, the floor was in bad repair, and the walls ran water in streams. But the name of Goethe was an attraction and there was a good audience, even on the first evening, and though at each lecture the conditions grew worse, and the hall more uncomfortable, the audience grew more and more numerous. Finally the attendance at Karl Rosenkranz' lectures was so great that the hall could scarcely contain it.

Goethe is one of those thinkers who can best stimulate us theosophically. A healthy view of Goethe would be to regard him, in the light of theosophy, as a great spirit incarnated in the body of Goethe, — a spirit whom we must first learn to understand. We must not allow him to be represented to us as a fleshly form in which there dwells a great spirit whom we are bound to take on authority. There are really safe paths leading to theosophy, it is only necessary to follow them, without shrinking from the trouble. This is why I never hesitate, even when great numbers are present at a course of lectures, to shed light, sometimes in a manner inconvenient perhaps to many, on some bye-path of spiritual knowledge, to risk a bold assertion or to make a statement difficult to understand. I should never shrink from such a step, because I know that only in this way is it possible for theosophy to make sound progress, or to take root in modern civilised life. It seems to me that we may mount to the highest spiritual regions without losing our warmth of heart; it seems to me that all those assembled here must be conscious to some degree of the truth, that the methods applied to the interpretation of theosophy here are those of the most modern intellectual life, and the strange opinion which prevails even in theosophical circles, that a réchauffé of mediaeval learning is served up here, instead of facts in agreement with modern science, is a very grave departure from the truth. As this has been pronounced by many — even among theosophists — it must be pointed out that anyone who can follow with understanding will be convinced that no mediaeval learning, but the union of objective, scientific teachings with genuine, modern spiritual aspirations, is our aim. It is not my province to judge how far this object has been attained; but it ought to be clear to everyone that nothing mediaeval in its character, nor anything merely associated with traditions, but objective knowledge, on a level with modern science, is the object of our study here. It should also be experienced as a certainty that the conditions of life which are the outcome of our theosophical studies are able to fill our hearts with enthusiasm. What seems to me of most importance is that what our hearts have gained from such a course of study and we carry away with us into the world, — what we have grasped in the breadth of the conceptions and words, is concentrated in our hearts; it lives itself out in our feelings and sensations, in our compassion and in our actions, and we are then living theosophy. As the rivers can only flow over the lands when they have been fed by the sources, so the life of theosophy can only stream out into the world, when it draws its forces from the springs of wisdom open to us to-day by those spiritual Powers whom we call the Masters of Wisdom and of the Harmony of Feelings. And we have grasped the true meaning of the word theosophy, or spiritual science, when it speaks to us in the forms of modern, intellectual life, when, at the same time, instead of leaving, our hearts and souls cold, it warms them, so that that warmth may communicate itself to others everywhere in the world. In proportion as you carry out into the world what has been said here, not only in your thoughts, but also in your feelings, your impulses of will and your actions, these lectures will have served their purpose. This is the aim of these lectures. With this wish, my dear theosophical friends, I always welcome you from the heart when you come, and with the same wish I take leave of you on this day, at the close of our series of lectures, with the words: “Let us remain united in the theosophical, in the intellectual and spiritual sense, even though we must live in space separated one from the other and from the present time, in which we can be more closely united in space; let us take, as the most inspiring mutual greeting and farewell, the thought that we are together in spirit, even when we are dispersed in space. In this spirit I take leave of you to-day, on the occasion of our celebration of Goethe's birthday, at the close of our course of lectures. Let us think often of the object which has brought us together, and may it also bear fruit for that personal bond which may always unite one theosophist with another in love. May we be together in this sense, even after we have parted, and may we ever anew be drawn together again, that we may rise to heights of spiritual and supersensuous life.

Last Modified: 15-Nov-2017
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