[RSArchive Icon]
Rudolf Steiner Archive Section Name Rudolf Steiner Archive & e.Lib

Highlight Words

The Festivals and Their Meaning

Schmidt Number: S-4064

On-line since: 25th March, 2000


I SPOKE yesterday about the part played by the figure of Paul at the beginning of Christianity. Easter is an appropriate occasion for such study, and when we think of the numbers of people in the grip of materialism to-day who have no real right to celebrate an Easter festival, it is obvious that the subject is also very relevant to the conditions of the times. A true Easter impulse needs to be inculcated into present-day Europe and indeed into the whole of the civilised world in order to counter the rapid strides now being taken in the direction of decline. It is very necessary to realise how far men are from any real understanding of the Christ Impulse and how closely this lack of understanding is connected with the symptoms of decline in evidence at the present time. These symptoms show themselves clearly to-day in statements often made by well-intentioned people.

In the Basler Nachrichten yesterday you may have read a striking but at the same time tragic article which included the text of a letter from North West Germany. The writer of the letter, with whom the author of the article seems to some extent to agree, emphasises that the universal tendency of the day is to prepare for the destruction of the old without putting anything new in its place, that on all sides — right and left — people are succumbing almost eagerly to illusions. The author of the article himself says: What will come now is the spread of Bolshevism over Europe; that is to be expected, for it is the line of natural development. And then, once people have experienced what Bolshevism really is, something good can emerge. But he adds two or three lines which deserve attention, although the cursory reader will overlook them as he overlooks so many things. The author of the article adds: “It is not these illusions to which people readily succumb to-day that must be heeded, but something else ... We must not listen to what individual dreamers say but detect the general tendencies.”

These well-intentioned people are the really difficult ones to deal with. They realise that civilisation is going downhill and are always warning, warning most pessimistically against listening to those who make an attempt to better this miserable state of things. But as a matter of fact they are only representatives of large masses of people who are immediately satisfied whenever some acute crisis is followed by a measure of peace. They are blind to the fact that there is nothing really important about this interval of peace and that the path must inevitably lead downhill until a sufficiently large number of human beings realise that unless a wave of spiritual revival passes over this unhappy Europe, there can be no improvement. It is impossible to make any progress by perpetuating old conditions and least of all is it possible by means of compromises — which are always dangerous because the new that is trying to come to expression is itself compromised.

Even in their feelings men could promote the right attitude by thinking of the forcefulness with which a personality like Paul at the great turning-point of history introduced something entirely new into earth-evolution, something that has glimmered on but at the present time is covered by a layer of ashes. This turning-point divided the old from the new age, although the transition is not noticed because it came about so gradually. When men looked out at nature in olden times, they perceived the divine and spiritual in everything. And this perception of the divine and spiritual passed over into the views that were held concerning the social order, the configuration of life that ought to prevail among the masses, from whom individuals came forth as rulers, as priestly leaders. We will not at the moment consider how this configuration of the social life was regulated by the Mysteries, but it was respected and was administered in accordance with something bestowed upon man without action on his part, as a gift proceeding from the unity of nature and spirit.

A man who through the circumstances and conditions obtaining at some place or another, became the leader, was recognised and acknowledged as such, because the people said: Divinity itself speaks through him. Just as the divine and spiritual was seen in stones, in mountains, in water, in trees, so too was it seen in an individual man. In those past times it was a matter of course to regard the ruler as a God, that is to say, as one in whom the Godhead was manifest. If people of the present day were a little humbler and did not drag in their own opinion about ancient usages, those usages would be far better understood. To-day, of course, there is no such concept as: a man is a God. But in ancient times there was reality behind it. Just as men saw not merely a flowing stream but the divine and spiritual astir in it, so did they perceive the sway of the divine in the social life, as immediate reality. As time went on, however, this vision of the direct presence of the divine and spiritual grew dimmer and dimmer.

Possessing this ancient vision, how did man conceive of his own being? He knew that his being was rooted in the world of the divine and spiritual; he knew that the divine and spiritual is present wherever sense-objects, wherever human beings themselves are, on the physical earth. He knew that he was born out of the divine and spiritual. Out of God I am born, out of God we are all born — this was a self-evident truth to man in those days, for he beheld its reality. It was the outcome of sensory vision.

Such a conviction was no longer within man's immediate reach at the time when knowledge of the divine and spiritual was to be brought to humanity in a new form by the impulse proceeding from the Mystery of Golgotha. In ancient times a man could say: Everything I see in the world reveals to me that objects and beings come from the gods, that their existence is not enclosed within the limits of earthly life. Man was conscious of the eternal nature of his own being, because he knew that he originated from the gods. This apprehension of spiritual existence before birth lay at the very root of the old Pagan creeds. The characteristics attributed to Paganism by scholars to-day are no more than conjectures.

The essence of Paganism before it fell into decadence, was that men knew: before our birth we were beings of spirit-and-soul; therefore our existence is not limited to earthly life. We have the assurance of eternal life, for we come from God and God will take us to Himself again. That, after all, was the knowledge emanating from the ancient, primeval wisdom. And it can be said that this knowledge came to the various peoples in the form appropriate to each of them, for it was bound up with innate vision of the divine and spiritual in the things of the world of sense. In ancient times, this vision of the divine and spiritual was dependent on the blood, and the particular form in which the primeval wisdom came to a man depended on his blood-relationships, his racial stock and his people.

The Jewish people alone were an exception in the sense that although their particular form of the primeval wisdom was bound up with their blood, they regarded themselves as the “chosen people,” as the people who, while possessing their own racial creed, maintained that this contained the true knowledge of the God of all mankind. Whereas the heathen people round about worshipped their racial Divinities, the Jewish people believed their God to be the God of all the earth.

This was a transitional stage. When Paul appeared with his interpretation of Christianity there was a fundamental break, with the principle whereby human knowledge was determined by the blood, the principle that had prevailed — and necessarily so — in earlier times. For Paul was the first to declare that neither blood nor identity of race, nor any factor by which human knowledge had been determined in pre-Christian times, could remain, but that man himself must establish his relation to knowledge through inner initiative: that there must be a community of those whom he designated as Christians, a community to which man allies himself in spirit and soul, into which he is not placed by his blood, but of which he himself elects to be a member.

Paul was well aware of the need to establish this spiritual community on earth, because the time was approaching when, in respect of external knowledge, man was destined to succumb to materialism. This being so, it was necessary that man's consciousness of his nature of spirit-and-soul should spring from a source other than that of the mere vision of the physical human being living on earth. In olden times it was a matter simply of looking with the eyes, for the spirit-and-soul in a man was immediately manifest. This was so no longer. Knowledge of the spirit-and-soul was to be sought in a different way. In other words, man had perforce to grasp the problem of death, to learn to realise that what can be seen of the human being here on earth through the senses may perish and disintegrate, but that there is within him an entelechy not immediately perceptible in this physical frame, a being who belongs to the spiritual world. The bond between men in this community of Christians was not to be dependent on the blood; for of this dependence it could always be contended, and rightly so, that if men are to recognise their immortality by what is determined by the blood, immortality is not assured, for the blood is the vitalizer and sustainer of that which ends with death — although in ancient times the spirit-and-soul shone through it. The spirit-and-soul must be revealed in its essence and purity if the possibility of understanding the problem of death in a non-materialistic way is not to be lost. The power to speak to men of a being of spirit-and-soul not bound to physical matter was able to work in Paul only because he had himself experienced this super-sensible reality at Damascus.

Knowledge of the super-sensible, of the spirit-and-soul was dependent in olden times on the blood; the blood itself brought the revelation of the spirit-and-soul to men in the material world. This was so no longer, and it was therefore necessary for men to turn to something not dependent on the blood. But there was a great danger here — the danger that in the age now dawning, man would still be prone to look to the innate qualities of his own being for spirit-and-soul knowledge. Formerly, this was possible because the blood itself was the bearer of super-sensible knowledge. For men of good will the Event of Golgotha had done away with this dependence, but the general trend of evolution was such that for a time men continued the once well-founded habit in regard to the blood. Without being bearers of the now sanctified blood, they still wanted to understand the divine and spiritual through attributes innate in their human blood.

The danger resulting from this consisted in the following, and it is important that this danger should be elucidated. — Man receives his blood through descent, through birth, and when he is 25, 30, 35 years old, he bears this inherited blood within him. In that he is brought into existence by the world-order, he receives his blood. If the blood is itself the guarantee of the existence of the spirit-and-soul, then man can look to the blood. But although little by little the blood had lost the power to be the bearer of the divine and spiritual, men still went on desiring to find in themselves the way to the divine and spiritual through the simple fact of being human. This was less and less possible, for if the blood does not carry into material existence the conviction of the super-sensible, the organism itself can promote no relationship with super-sensible reality. Men came to the point of enquiring into the super-sensible by looking to themselves alone, relying upon what comes with them at birth. But Christianity summons men not to rely upon what is brought into earthly existence at birth; it summons them to undergo a transformation, to allow the soul to develop, to be reborn in Christ, to acquire through effort and training, through earth-life itself, what is not acquired through the mere fact of birth. This could not be grasped all at once and it therefore came about that echoes of the old blood-wisdom persisted right on into the 15th century — and even then a remained the custom to relate the divine and spiritual to descent, to heredity, until in the 19th century even this glimpse of the divine and spiritual was lost and man had eyes for the material alone. Because he was only willing to cognise the divine and spiritual through an organism still untransformed, he lost sight of it altogether, and in the 19th century there befell the great catastrophe; men had forsaken God, had become unchristian, because a situation which had been concealed for a time under the mantle of tradition now came to the surface.

Until the rise of Protestantism a Christian tradition was still alive. What the Apostles, the disciples of the Apostles and the Church Fathers imparted through teachers who preserved a living tradition, was linked with the revelation of Golgotha. But the sustaining power of this tradition steadily diminished. Nor were men able of themselves to reach any true understanding of the Event of Golgotha. Then came the 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, and connection was lost even with tradition, in the end it was to documents alone that a measure of importance was still attached. Protestantism set store by documents, by scripts; tradition had been abandoned. But even a genuine understanding of documents came to an end in the 19th century and the fact is that the body of belief professed by the vast majority of those calling themselves Christians to-day is no longer Christianity. Thus in the 19th century the dire need arose to discover the Event of Golgotha anew, and with this need came the last flare-up of the anti-Christian impulse, which was of course there under the surface but had for a time been cloaked by tradition and by scripture. This element made its way to the surface during the 19th century and reached full force in the 20th, when for the majority of people neither scripture nor tradition have importance any longer. At the same time they have not yet themselves kindled the light which can lead again to an understanding of the Event of Golgotha.

To this cause alone are to be attributed the utterly unchristian impulses which laid hold of mankind in the 19th century and have persisted into the 20th. Two of the most unchristian impulses of all are those which took effect in the 19th century. The first impulse which came to the fore and gained an ever stronger hold of men's minds and emotions, was that of nationalism. Here we see the shadow of the old blood-principle. The Christian impulse towards universal humanity was completely overshadowed by the principle of nationalism, because the new way to bring this element of universal humanity to its own had not been found. The anti-Christian impulse makes its appearance first and foremost in the form of nationalism. The old Luciferic principle of the blood comes to life once again in nation-consciousness. We see a revolt against Christianity in the nationalism of the 19th century, which reached its apex in Woodrow Wilson's phrase about the self-determination of nations, whereas the one and only reality befitting the present age would be to overcome nationalism, to eliminate it, and for men to be stirred by the impulse of the human universal.

The second phenomenon is that men seek to draw their knowledge of the world, not from awakened powers of soul, but from the material image of these powers only. Vision of the soul has faded, and in his physical being, man is only an image of the divine and spiritual. This image can bring forth intellectualism, but not knowledge of the spirit. A secret of which I have often spoken to you is that man can only recognise and know the spiritual by lifting himself to the spirit; the brain is merely the instrument for intellectual apprehension. Intellectualism and materialistic thinking are one and the same, for all the thinking that goes on in science, in theology, in the sphere of modern Christian consciousness — all of it is merely the product of the human brain, it is materialistic. This manifests itself, on the one side, in formalism of belief; on the other, in Bolshevism. Bolshevism owes its destructive power to the fact that it is a product of the brain pure and simple, of the material brain. I have often described how the material brain really represents a process of decay: materialistic thinking unfolds only through processes of destruction, death-processes, which are taking place in the brain. If this kind of thinking is applied, as it is in Leninism and Trotskyism, to the social order, a destructive process is set in motion inevitably, for such ideas about the social order issue from what is itself the foundation of destruction, namely, the Ahrimanic impulse. — That is the other side of the picture.

These two impulses, Nationalism, the Luciferic form of anti-Christianity, and that which culminated in the tenets of Lenin and Trotsky, the Ahrimanic form of anti-Christianity, have insinuated themselves into what ought to have been the Christian impulse of the 19th and 20th centuries. Nationalism and Leninism are the spades with which the grave of Christianity is being dug to-day. And wherever these principles, even in a mild form, become a cult, there the grave of Christianity is being prepared. Those who have insight can discern here a mood that is in the real sense the mood of Easter Saturday. Christianity lies in the grave and men place a stone over the grave. In truth, two stones have been laid over the grave of Christianity — the stones of Nationalism and of external forms of Bolshevism. It now behoves humanity to inaugurate the epoch of Easter Sunday, when the stone or the stones are rolled away. Christianity will not rise from the grave until men overcome nationalistic passions and false forms of socialism; until they learn how to find, out of themselves, the forces that can lead to an understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha.

When with the mood-of-soul prevailing at the present time, men profess belief in Christ, the Angel can only give the same answer as was given in the days of the Mystery itself: “He Whom ye seek is not here.” At that time He was no longer there, because men had first to find the way through tradition and then through documents and scripts before reaching knowledge of their own concerning the Mystery of Golgotha. The need for such understanding is urgent to-day, for neither scripture nor tradition tell us those things that need to be known; direct knowledge alone can reveal these things. The age must be brought about when the Angel can answer: “He Whom ye seek is here indeed!” But that will not be until the anti-Christian impulses of our time are cast aside. The community which Paul wished to found, a community filled with the consciousness that immortality is assured to man beyond death — this is what must become reality. “In Christo morimur” — In Christ we pass through death. — Not until it is realised that spiritual knowledge alone can lead to an understanding of what Paul wished to establish, will any improvement in the social life of men be possible; there can only be decline.

What must be understood with regard to Christianity to-day is that man must train himself for the attainment of spiritual knowledge, whereas in ancient times it was given him together with the blood.

In the light of these thoughts, the gravity of the present time comes vividly before us — above all the need to work for the spiritualising of our civilisation. Must the bridge leading to the spiritual world — into which man will in any case enter when he passes through the gate of death and in which he will sojourn between death and a new birth — must this bridge be utterly demolished? True it is that this bridge is broken by nationalism and by false socialism; for these tendencies are at the root of all the urgent and fundamental crises of our time. Those who cannot realise this, who want to continue with a consciousness that is merely the outcome of material processes in the human being — such people are lending all their forces to the furtherance of decadence. The time has come when these issues must be decided, and they can be decided only by the free will of man. Free will itself, however, is possible only on the foundation of actual spirit-knowledge.

At the time of the Mystery of Golgotha, remarkable tolerance towards all faiths was practised in Rome. Little by little, having long refrained, people even brought themselves to exercise a certain tolerance towards Judaism. There was great tolerance in Rome in the days when the impulse of the Mystery of Golgotha was finding its way into the evolution of humanity. Towards the Christians alone did intolerance become more and more vehement, Them developed in Rome an intolerance towards the Christians as great as the intolerance now prevailing in one nationality towards the other nationalities. The attitude of the different nationalities to-day towards each other has its prototype in the intolerance of the Romans towards a genuine knowledge of the spirit, for this meets with opposition on all sides. There are alliances to-day — all unperceived — between Jesuitism and the extremist elements here and there. For in the repudiation of spiritual knowledge the ultra-radical Communists and the Jesuits are completely at one. That too is reminiscent of the intolerance of the Roman State towards Christianity, and then, as now, the fundamental impulse is the same: in the unconscious part of their being, men hate the spirit, yes, actually hate the spirit. This unconscious hatred of the spirit confronts us from the side of nationalism as well as from that of false socialism. For think what this hatred of the spirit means to-day, what nationalism means to-day! In ancient times nationalism had its good purpose, because knowledge of the spirit was connected with the blood; to be swayed by nationalistic passions as people are swayed to-day is completely senseless, because blood-relationship is no longer a factor of any real significance. The factor of blood-relationship as expressed in nationalism is a pure fiction, an illusion.

For this reason, people who cling to such ideas have no real right to celebrate an Easter festival. To celebrate an Easter festival is for them a piece of untruthfulness. The truth would consist in the Angel again being able to say — or rather to say for the first time: “He Whom ye seek is here indeed!” But of this we may be sure: His presence will be vouchsafed only where the principle of the human universal takes effect! It is to-day as it was among the Romans, who showed the greatest intolerance of all to the Christians. What were all the others doing — all of them with the exception of the Christians? The others were still venerating the Roman Emperor as a God, were also making sacrifice to him. The Christians could do no such thing; the only King whom the Christians could acknowledge was the Representative of universal humanity — Christ Jesus.

This is one of the points from which a direct line has continued right into the present time. One has only to think of it as follows. — Does the formula “In the Name of His Majesty the King” which appears on every ministerial decree, really mean anything to individuals in England, for example? If the truth as demanded by the spirit were to prevail, such a formula would simply not be there. And how, I ask you, are the interests of a true Frenchman to-day furthered by Clemenceau's nationalism, with its inner untruthfulness? It would be Christian to-day to acknowledge such things, but such acknowledgment would at once be the target of intolerance.

These are the domains where untruthfulness is rampant, deep down in the souls of men. And this untruthfulness makes the other stones of nationalism and of false socialism into one stone which is rolled upon the grave and covers it. The grave will remain covered until men again acquire a true knowledge of the spirit and through this knowledge an understanding of universal Christianity. Until then there can be no true Easter festival; until then the black of mourning cannot with integrity be replaced by the red of Easter, for until then this replacement is a human lie. Men must seek for the spirit — that and that alone can give meaning to present existence.

It devolves upon those who understand the evolution of mankind to bring to fulfilment the words: “My kingdom is not of this world.” If the future is to contain hope, what must be striven for cannot be ‘of this world.’ But that, of course, runs counter to man's love of ease. It is more convenient to set up old customs as ideals and then to bask in the glow of self-congratulation; this is far pleasanter than to say: The great responsibility for the future must be shouldered, and this can be done only when striving for spiritual knowledge becomes a driving force in mankind.

Therefore Easter to-day remains a festival of warning instead of being a festival of joy. And in truth those who would fain speak honestly to mankind will not use the Easter words, “Christ is risen” ... but rather: “Christ shall and must arise!”

Last Modified: 17-Feb-2018
The Rudolf Steiner Archive is maintained by:
The e.Librarian: elibrarian@elib.com