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On the Mysteries of Ancient and Modern Times

Schmidt Number: S-3456

On-line since: 15th August, 2010

Lecture 2

Dornach, 26th December, 1917


N the last lecture I tried to describe the course which was taken during the 19th century and on into our time; I showed how the knowledge and awareness of super-sensible impulses working in World-evolution was more and more exterminated, I tried to illustrate this by an example which is especially significant for us, namely, the complete misunderstanding of the Mysteries. We saw that there existed until the end of the 18th century a clear and distinct consciousness of the fact that there is a super-sensible essence behind the world of things sensible — behind those entities which man can reach with his ordinary, every-day intellect. Moreover, until the end of the 18th century there was a consciousness of the fact that it is necessary, somehow to bring the human soul into direct connection with this super-sensible world,

I pointed out the great contrast between such ways of thought as those of Louis Claude de Saint Martin, and of Dupuis. In Saint Martin we still find a consciousness of ancient truths of the Mysteries. This was possible for him, inasmuch as he was himself, in a certain sense, a pupil and successor of Jacob Boehme.

In Saint Martin, therefore, whose ways of thought still had great influence at that time, we found the declining aspect of the consciousness of the 18th century. In Dupuis, on the other hand, we found the other aspect — the rise of the way of thinking which was typical of the 19th century. This latter way of thinking is convinced that all Mystery-revelations are fundamentally based on error or deceit ; and that no man is truly enlightened unless he does away with all that pertains to the truths of the Mysteries, and restricts himself to a science purely and simply founded on the world of the senses, and on the intellect which depends upon the senses. Then we pointed out that in contrast to the materialism which was subsequently developed in the 19th century, which was fundamentally Philistine, the materialism of Dupuis still had a certain greatness, freshness and freedom.

In a certain sense, the whole of the evolution of the 19th century — and reaching on into our time — stood under the influence of this rejection of all things super-sensible. Efforts were made, it is true, from one side and another, to introduce some kind of connection between the human soul and the super-sensible. But these attempts either remained in the most restricted circles, or else they worked with antiquated or otherwise inadequate methods. It was in fact the task of the 19th century to develop a certain fund drive man more and more into things utterly contrary to the wholesome evolution of the last three civilisation-epochs which the human race has still before it on the Earth.

We shall see the Mystery of Golgotha in the true light, if we recognise in it that which must compensate and balance the harmful forces which are arising from these quarters: All that the Mystery of Golgotha can bring about, is such as to counteract that which proceeds from these forces. The latter cannot be rightly paralysed in any other way than by intelligent devotion to the Mystery of Golgotha. The mere narration that the Mystery of Golgotha took place at the beginning of our era — the mere repeating of the Gospel story as interpreted in the ordinary Churches of to-day — is ineffective in this sense; for it implies the fundamental prejudice that Revelation was only possible at the beginning of our era. Revelation continues. Christ Jesus is always present. The spirit and the outlook, recognising Christ Jesus as ever-present, is precisely that Christian spirit which can be gained through anthroposophical Spiritual Science. But this requires us to make ourselves acquainted in all detail with the real impulses that are connected with the Mystery of Golgotha. We must learn increasingly to recognise that which lies hidden in the Mystery of Golgotha.

One such truth I have recently pointed out. Whatever a man undertakes — not as concerns his own individual, personal Karma, but in the whole context of the social, ethical, historic working of mankind, is subject to a certain law of historic evolution, namely this: That which is done in a given year, when, as a thought, it springs forth from man, has — so to speak — a Christmas character. This, as I said, refers to the effects of our deeds in the whole nexus of the social life; not to our personal Karma. If I manufacture a pair of shoes, needless to say there is something in this act that rays back, so to speak, into my personal Karma. That is a stream by itself. But I manufacture the shoes for another human being; and inasmuch as I do so, I am already working socially. No doubt an elementary process; and it is a long way from this to the measures of political and social life on a large scale. Nevertheless, everything that lies along this line belongs to the realm of those things which become effective after 33 years. And after the 33 years — when a seed which has thus been planted has had time, as it were, to ripen, — then it goes on working. A seed of thought or of deed takes a whole human generation — 33 years — to ripen. When it is ripened, it goes on working in historic evolution for 66 years more. Thus the intensity of an impulse planted by man in the stream of history can truly be recognised in its working through three generations, that is, through a whole century.

Now the fixing of the two outstanding festivals of Christianity — Christmas and Easter — has been done in a very significant way. Christmas is a so-called immovable Feast, coinciding approximately with the Winter Solstice. Easter is a movable Feast. Christmas is fixed because, as you know, it expresses a certain cosmic fact — a fact we cannot bring before our souls too often. It is prejudice to suppose that our Earth is no more than what Geology and Physics, Mineralogy and Geophysics, are prepared to recognise. The Earth in reality is a mighty spiritual organism. We live not only on a mineral Earth, surrounded by an airy atmosphere; we live within the mighty spiritual organism, Earth. This spiritual organism has, in a certain sense, an ascending and a descending life. It sleeps in Summer-time; its deepest sleep is at the time when the Summer Solstice has occurred, that is, at the time when — for us — the days are longest and the nights are shortest. Man's sleep is only determined by time; the sleep of the Earth is also determined by space. The different places on the Earth sleep differently. But I will only touch on that. It is in Winter that the Earth has its true waking season; then it is that that which we may call the intellect of the Earth is most active.

Herein lies the deep meaning of the Christmas Festival. It is to remind us that when the shortest days and the longest nights are with us — for the place where this is so — the Earth is most wide-awake. So, then, it is, for one who truly recognises the Christmas Festival: he should seek for the Earth-intellect, even as it can be found in the deep depths of the Earth, — just as the Christ-Child is found in a stable, or in a cave or grotto, according to the various conceptions.

Christmas is therefore an immovable Feast. Easter, on the other hand, is movable; determined by the positions of the Sun and Moon. Thereby the Easter Festival becomes the symbol of cosmic events beyond the Earth; it is, as it were, a spiritual, if celestial Festival. Materialistically minded people, as I have often pointed out, have not refrained from attacking this mobility of Easter, for the simple reason that it brings disorder into the Philistine, bourgeois order of the 19th century. I myself have often been present at discussions, notably on the part of astronomers, where it was advocated that Easter should be fixed in a purely pedantic and schematic way, say, on the first Sunday in April. From the 19th century point of view, many reasons no doubt could be adduced in favour of a fixed Easter. After all, you need but think of this: The movable Easter is completely in accord with the cosmic Book of the New Testament; it is at least in accordance with the spirit of the New Testament. But in the 19th century, and in a preparatory way even before that, there was another book which became far more important than the Gospels. People may not always admit it, but it is so. The book which became more important than the Gospels is the one on the first page of which [in German- speaking countries] the words ‘Mit Gott’ are always printed, though needless to say, only the ungodliest matters are entered in it, namely the figures under the respective headings Debit and Credit. In other words, it is the business man's ledger, on the front page of which — so far, at least, as my experience goes — you always find the inscription ‘Mit Gott,’ although its contents are as I said.

This book, naturally enough, is thrown into no little disorder by Easter falling on a different date each year. It would be far easier to keep it in order it Easter were fixed. The proposal has often been made in one form or another. It is in fact the attack of materialism on one of the last and outermost ramparts of a spiritual view of the world, — on the arrangement of Easter according to the heavenly constellations of the Sun and Moon.

But there is a yet deeper meaning in it, that the time between Christmas and Easter is made to vary in successive years. We know that the Christmas Festival, properly speaking, belongs to the Easter Festival that follows 33 years later. This indeed is a fixed period of time, representing as it does the time, required for the working out of world-historic seeds. But there is another thing which is not so fixed, namely the following: Certain impulses — we may describe them here as Christmas-impulses — take place in a given year; others again in the next year, others the year after, and so on. Now the successive Christmas impulses in historic evolution are by no means all of equal intensity; some of them work more strongly, others more feebly. It may be, for instance, that the impulses laid down in a given year have less incisive power for the 33 years that follow, than the impulses of the next year have, for the 33 years which follow it in turn; and so on. Precisely this fact is indicated, in that the time between Christmas and Easter is longer or shorter as the case may he. Thus, even this mobility of Easter calls our attention to something which a man ought well to study, if he would truly understand the working of events in history.

Now you may raise the question: How shall man gain any idea, how strongly his impulses will work into the next 33 years? Can he gain any conception at all, as to whether his impulses are working in a favourable or in an unfavourable sense? Undoubtedly the answer to such it question is immensely difficult for our Time, inasmuch as this Time suffers from abstraction as from a terrible and insidious disease. This age only desires, wherever possible, to understand the Universe with a few abstract concepts; it would fain be removed as far as can be from any comprehension of events with the full human being, or from a living human experience of Time and of the streams of Time. If you will only recognise, as a true Science of the Heavens, what modern astronomers can calculate with their quite abstract mathematics, it is no doubt impossible to stir your heart and mind into a full and living interest in these calculations of an abstract mathematics. Yet this is what humanity needs to evolve once more. It is necessary for mankind that we should no longer merely devote the intellect to the things we do. We should know that our very heart's blood is united with every action we perform, be it the most trivial and everyday. This is sincerely possible if we are prepared to enter earnestly into Spiritual Science, — into what Spiritual Science is and what it can be. It is quite true: it man who only wants to enter into things with abstract intellect (unless they fall within the narrow circle of his own selfish or family affairs), — he will not easily find the way to unite his heart's blood with the things he wills and does. Yet this is precisely the mission of Spiritual Science: to widen out the souls horizon, to extend the circle of interest over far wider domains than is possible under the influence of the materialist abstractions of the 19th century. What mankind needs is, above all, this widening of the sphere of interest, and there is only one way to attain it: to fill the human soul again and again with Knowledge, which — as we have seen once more during the last week's lectures — can be widened out in our time far beyond the limits of the senses and the sense-bound intellect, or of the life between birth and death. Knowledge to-day can be widened out beyond these frontiers, — out into the Universal All, which, as we know, we share in common with those human souls who arc in the realms between death and a new birth. We cannot learn to know these human souls unless we also learn to know the other aspects — those other aspects through which human beings have to live between death and a new birth. No doubt the thoughts about life between death and a new birth were far remote from the Philistine science of the 19th or even of the 20th century. They could not have been more remote; for this epoch believed that the only salvation lay in piecing together by intellectual association all that the senses can afford.

From this point of view Spiritual Science is indeed in sharpest opposition to the ideal of the 19th century. Spiritual Science must emphasise most vigorously the turning of the soul towards the Spirit, even as the 19th century emphasised the turning of the human soul away from the Spirit. And as I have already pointed out during our recent lectures, the two fundamental pillars of the Christian understanding of the world, — namely the Immaculate Conception of Christ Jesus, and the Resurrection of Christ Jesus — can be none other than nonsense to the natural-scientific age. Spiritual Science, on the other hand, must turn again quite definitely to these two basic pillars of the Christian world-conception.

The Roman Catholic Church has acquired a certain habit of speech whereby it is able to get away from many important problems which are contained deep down within the womb of its evolution. The Roman Catholic Church will, speak, for instance, of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary; but it will not be prepared to look for those spiritual forces in the soul whereby the fact of the Immaculate Conception would be made intelligible. If you ask the enlightened theologians of the Roman Catholic Church about the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, you certainly will not expect them to enter into a discussion such as must be brought into flow once more through Spiritual Science. They will tell you something like this: — You must rise from the idea of the woman Mary to that which the woman Mary has really become in the course of evolution, namely, the Church; The Church in reality represents the Virgin Mary. This being granted, it goes without saying that the Virgin Mary, the Church, perpetually gives birth to the Christ. Through the Holy Spirit, the Church must perpetually conceive the Christ. That is to say, the Church is under perpetual inspiration from the Holy Spirit, and that which the Church reveals is none other than the Word, the Logos.

This is the perfectly correct Catholic doctrine. In Holy Catholic Church the inspiring Holy Spirit kindles the eternal Word — the Word which was in the beginning, and which is born throughout all time by Holy Church, the Virgin Mary. It is the correct and familiar Roman Catholic theological conception. You may tell me that one hears very little said of this. That is quite true, and for the 19th century it was just as well that there was little said of it. But the idea was all the more effective among those who were still able to be saved from the impulses of materialism.

These three, — the inspiring Spirit, the Virgin Mother, and the Logos or the Word — must of course be maintained; they must he sought for through Spiritual Science also. And would say, in an Imaginative form did endeavour to point out these things during my recent lectures, when I described the transition from the old Mysteries to the new. I said that Antiquity only got so far with its Mysteries that it was able to revere, in Pallas Athene, the Virgin Wisdom, Pallas Athene is indeed a virgin figure; but within the ancient epoch this Virgin Wisdom did not give birth to the Logos. This is precisely the characteristic feature of ancient Greece, for example; it stops short at the Virgin Wisdom, whereas the new Age passes on to the Son of the Virgin Wisdom — to the Logos, which is there on the physical plane through that which represents it: the human word, human speech or language. For human speech may truly be regarded from the point of view of its connection with Wisdom. In earthly life of man, Wisdom lives itself out through human thought. The air that is breathed out through our larynx, configured through our larynx and its movements, is wedded to the Wisdom that dwells in our thoughts; and the content we have to express is the inspiring Spirit. Every time you speak — no matter how profane the impulse of your speaking is — you have expressed earthly representation of the Trinity. The thought in your head, and the configured air that passes through your larynx, — these two arc wedded and united under the influence of the Spirit (that is to say, when you are voicing things of the sense-world, united by the percept itself).

It is indeed the earthly expression of the Trinity. And the Divine, the spiritual Trinity, must stand behind it, — the all-embracing Wisdom which becomes Teaching for mankind, and which expresses the Universal content. Anthroposophical Spiritual Science cannot admit or confess its faith in any earthly constitution; for an earthly constitution, whatever it might claim, would be unfolding mere claims of power. Anthroposophical Spiritual Science takes the Virgin cosmic Word in real earnest.

If we think in the sense of anthroposophical Spiritual Science, then, in this content of all that is brought forward by this Science, we see not a mere sum of abstractions or abstract ideas but a living entity that fills us and enfills us; For it can even fill us in our soul with active impulse. Thus it becomes the Word, the Teaching, not in a mere scholastic sense. For spiritual-scientific Wisdom grows to be of service in the social life. The Word itself becomes of social service, And the content which it expresses — brought down from super-sensible worlds into the world of sense, so to be the underlying basis of our impulses of action — is the inspiring Spirit. Thus I would say: We look for Pallas Athene, the Virgin Wisdom, the Virgin Wisdom of the Cosmos; but we also look for the Son who is born of her, who finds expression in this: that in all the things we do and will in the social life, the Virgin Wisdom is working with us, giving us that which becomes the guiding impulse of our willing and our doing. Then we express the Spirit — the Holy Spirit, the Supersensible — in our sense-perceptible actions on the physical plane.

All this implies that the Wisdom which we have to seek in the sense of Spiritual Science, must have a virginal character. Perhaps you will ask, is there any sense or meaning in this? Is it not mere talk, so many figures of speech.

There is indeed a meaning in it — important, significant, immense. Namely the following: Man turns his senses to the outer world. That is his proper task; for to this end he is placed into the world. What the senses as such receive, can only be naive and innocent; for the animals too receive it, and to the animals we cannot apply the ideas of ‘should’ or ‘should not.’ But man must go farther than that. With his intellect he combines and associates the things he perceives. What is the significance of this associative intellect? The Physical Science of to-day already gives an answer to this question (I mean, however, the Physical Science itself, and not its learned representatives).

The combinatorial, associative, intellect, and all that man thinks out concerning the impressions of his senses — his perceptions — is something that arises out of his own inner nature, and moreover, out of a comparatively lower part of his nature. Man is exceedingly proud of his brain, notably of the frontal portions. For a true Science, however, the frontal portions of the brain are of far less value than the portions that lie farther back, For the frontal portions of the brain are in their essence no more than the transmuted organ of smell. To be clever, in the sense of Physical Science, is to have developed the olfactory nerves, as man, to such an extent that you are equipped with good association-nerves. These nerves are then effective instruments for the associating or combining of sensory ideas. To be clever, in the materialistic sense, is to have a good metamorphosis of that part of the brain which, in the lower creatures — the animals — is connected with the nose. It is, so to speak, to be well “on the scent” in the associating of ideas. These things have indeed occasionally been pointed out by men who had a healthy faculty of insight and penetration. One need but think of this: if you have a sound feeling of such matters, you cannot but say that to be “sharp” or clever on the physical plane, is, in its essence, to have a peculiarly developed “scent” or sense of smell — transplanted into the human realm. It is, in a very real sense, to be able to “sniff things out,” Thus the Physical Science which has arisen by association of ideas is the mere outcome of human beings “sniffing things out” on the physical plane. This may be said in an absolutely literal senses. In so doing man can arrive at all manner of constructions of atomic processes, all manner of ideas of chemical and physical laws, and the like. But it is wide of the mark to pretend that there is anything very lofty or highly developed in these things; they are but the result of a metamorphosed sense of smell.

I said: Even Physical Science bears witness to this fact. You may convince yourself of what I have told you, from the physiological and anatomical facts. Unhappily, the transmuted olfactory sense, or “nose,” of our scholars is not yet quite adequate to draw this conclusion, so they most continue “nosing about” till they are able to draw this conclusion, too!

Among those who had healthy human feeling of this fact was Goethe. Goethe said something highly significant from this point of view. As I have shown for many years past and along many different lines, Goethe demanded quite another trend of Physical Science than that which actually arose in the 19th century and continued into our time. He wanted to have expunged from scientific research what is indeed quite justified in ordinary life; he wanted it radically expunged from our research into Nature. Goethe comes hack to this point again and again. The thing that he wished to have expunged was precisely the combining, the interpreting, the putting constructions on the facts perceived with the senses. He wanted to have the sense-perceived facts simply described according to their own nature, as pure phenomena; he wanted to refer the sense-perceived phenomena to their archetypal phenomena, — the “Ur-phenomena.” He did not want constructions put on them with the intellect, theorizing and inquiring as to what might lie behind them here or there.

There is a wonderful saying of Goethe's, a saying that throws a vivid light on his entire World-conception. “The blue of the sky,” Goethe once said, “is in itself the Theory; you should not look for anything behind it,” It was the pure perception, the pure vision of things which Goethe wanted men to seek. As to the intellect, he would only have it used to put the phenomena together in such a way that they would voice their own secrets. He wanted a Natural Research free of hypotheses and intellectual constructions. This is the very method of his Theory of Colour. People have failed to understand the fundamental point. Goethe wanted the associative intellect to refrain from putting constructions on the sense-impressions; he wished it to take another path. It amounts to this in other words: He wanted to make the human intellect — the human faculty of intellectual association — virginal, even in Natural Science. He wanted to take away the unchaste quality it has, inasmuch as it has suffered the Fall, so to speak, whereby it is now a mere transmuted organ of smell. For it is so indeed: The one part of the Fall is the event which we can place in the primeval epoch of which I have so often told you. But there was also a sequel to this “Fall into sin.” Again and again in their subsequent evolution, the organs of man took on a lower level than they should have had. The associative intellect of man is indeed subject to the Fall, inasmuch as it is working in the outer physical world.

For the outer physical world it is quite justified. This physical intellect cannot but be bound to the transmuted organs of smell. It must be so, just as for the outer physical world physical sexuality and reproduction must exist. In Science, however, we should seek the virginity of the intellect; — That is to say, we should loosen the intellect from the functions it performs when, as it mere transmuted sense of smell, it combines and associates the sensible objects. The blue of the sky should not be interpreted in the sense of Physical Science (Newtonian physics), as you will find it to-day in every textbook of Physics. The blue of the sky itself is Theory in Goethe's sense, — that is the true conception. In this sphere, too, rightly to understand Goethe is to see in him that personality who wanted to work entirely in the spirit which is also the spirit of Spiritual Science. Goethe thought consistently, right into the sphere of Natural Research. In Natural Research he demanded only those theories that go to the “Ur-phenomena,” the archetypal phenomenon. He did not want all manner of atomic theories, — theories of ions and electrons, theories of gravitation and the like — deduce by the combining intellect from the phenomena. Inasmuch as he thought thus, in Physics itself Goethe was pointing to that which I desired to point out when I referred to Pallas Athene as the representative of Wisdom. Thereby alone, we begin even in the realm of Natural Research to turn to the Son. We only begin to do so when we free the Mother from these intellectual constructions, and turn to the vision of the pure virgin “Ur-phenomena.”

Herein you see what a deep earnestness and significance is really contained in that which we may call Goetheanism. I simply wanted to point out to you, how — quite apart from the prevailing culture, so-called — even in the 19th century the impulses that lead in the other direction were there. Let us be mindful of this fact. Then, too, we shall interpret truly the requirements of the present time, and out of these requirements we shall derive the true and the right impulses. We live in a time of catastrophe. It would, of course, be wrong to imagine that that which is catastrophe in the Christmas sense must necessarily be catastrophe also in the Easter sense. Indeed, from the catastrophes of to-day the very opposite, the greatest things of human evolution, can result, — if only humanity finds ways and means to learn from them, and with straightforward sense and vision to observe what has taken place.

If I bring forward such ideas, which may be remote from the thoughts of many of our friends, it is only to point out again and again the important fact, that in our time we must not seek in a comfortable way to work with the old concepts and ideas, but strive in all earnestness towards new ideas and new perceptions.

What is it really underlies such a tendency as Goethe's, not to apply the combinatorial intellect to the outer phenomena, but to recognise the latter in their virgin nature; It is none other than this: that when we do so, we are not letting the intellect suffer the Fall into sin, by all manner of intellectual combinations, of atoms and groups and complexes of atoms, and ions, and gravitation, and so forth. We save the intellect from mingling with the outer sensual nature, to give birth to materialistic theories. When we do so, the intellect turns in the other, in the spiritual direction, and gives birth to the Son — that is, to the spiritual-scientific teaching which leads at length to a real understanding of man, of the whole man. For, as I told you in these days, the ancient Wisdom only led up to a certain point. Man, as it were, was not included in the wisdom of the middle epoch, — the fourth PostAtlantean epoch. To-day we have the task of understanding man, by a true grasp of spiritual facts.

Humanity should really be pining for concepts, new ideas. We must bring this fully to our consciousness. And if we ask to-day. What thoughts will be the best Christmas thoughts, what thoughts will bear the best fruits after 33 years, the answer is: they will be those thoughts which take their start from seeking honestly and uprightly for a new grasp of the world, a new grasp of reality. To develop a longing for what the world has to reveal in the new sense will be the best of Christmas thoughts; — not to want to remain contented with the old. Alas! to this day it is an all-pervading impulse of mankind, to stop short at the old, because humanity can with such difficulty bestir itself to draw forth, from the inmost being of the soul, that which shall be made known by human lips. Man to-day can only rightly develop his task as man if he unfolds the will, down to the very centre of his being, to be genuine and true, — not only trying to ponder on the old things, but to make the new — the new that must be drawn out of the very depths of being into the content of his faith and action.

In thoughtless and inane repetition of what others say, one need not go so far as yonder politician who, wishing to send out into the world a great political manifesto in the year 1917, took up an old political Pronunciamento of the year 1864, and copied it almost word for word. Truly, one does not need to think very deeply if, as a dominant politician of 1917, one merely takes an old Brazilian document and copies it sentence by sentence, and places it before the world as though it were a great revelation. Truly, one need not go so far as this Woodrow Wilson, who actually contrived to fabricate the “highly important manifesto” which he sent forth a short time ago, by copying almost word for word a manifesto of the Emperor of Brazil of the year 1864. But it is necessary to see things in their true form and aspect, even such wretched details as this. One would be almost overcome with pity for poor mankind, when men are taking seriously things which if seen in their true light can only represent the most appalling untruthfulness and perfidy, passing throughout the world to-day.

I do not say this to make any attack, — nay, not even to criticise; but to awaken the sense of people, that they may open their eyes at length, and see with open eyes what is happening. Occasionally, nowadays, we see the world worshipping as greatness things that are merely absurd and laughable. These are precisely the things we must see through. If we develop the will really to see into things, then we shall also develop the Christmas thoughts which will become the true Easter thoughts. For we may even say, paradoxical as it may sound: the more full of pain and suffering this present is, the greater the fruits it can bear for the future.

A time like ours stands most in need of the poet's word not finding fulfilment in it, — I mean the word of the poet who said that “a great Time finds but it small and petty generation.”

Full of pain is our Time, yet great it can be; and in a certain sense, it must find the men who can think greatly. But they will not be the Wilsonians!

Last Modified: 17-Feb-2018
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