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



Highlight Words

Three Lectures on Easter and Pentecost

Easter/Pentecost: Lecture I: Thoughts on Easter

Schmidt Number: S-S-4431

On-line since: 15th June, 2012

Thoughts on Easter

T

HERE is an important difference between thoughts on Christmas and thoughts on Easter. Those who can compare these thoughts in the sense often spoken of here, and then bring them into the right relationship to each other, making this relationship inwardly alive, will be aware of an inner experience which in a certain sense contains the whole secret of humanity.

Christmas thoughts speak to us of birth; we know that through birth the eternal part of man enters a world from which he derives his visible, sensible nature. When we approach the thought of Christmas from this standpoint, we feel it as something that connects us with what is super-sensible. Along with everything else it brings with it, such a thought seems to direct us to one pole of our existence where as physical beings of sense we come in touch with spiritual, super-sensible existence. On this account, the birth of man, taken in its full meaning, can never be understood by a science which draws its conclusions merely from observation of physical sense existence.

The thoughts that form the basis of the Easter Festival lie at the other pole of human experience, and in the course of Western evolution they have developed more and more into thoughts that have built up the materialistic conceptions of the West. The thought of Easter can be grasped — at first perhaps somewhat abstractly — when one realises that the eternal, immortal, part of men — the part that is not born — has come down like the spirit, from super-sensible worlds, and has clothed itself with the human physical body. I have frequently shown from the most varied standpoints that the activity of the spirit within the physical body has from the beginning of this physical existence, really been an introduction of the physical body to death, and that with the thought of birth the thought of death also enters.

On other occasions I have explained to you how the organisation of the human head is only to be understood when we know that, fundamentally speaking, continual death is taking place there, and that this is only counteracted by the life forces of the rest of the human organism. The forces of death are always present in the human head, making man's thought nature possible, and the moment these gain the upper hand over his mortal nature, death occurs. The thought of death is really but the other side of the thought of birth, and therefore cannot enter into the thought of Easter. At the time when Christianity still found its earliest form within Eastern mentality, the Pauline church directed the attention of men not so much to the death of Christ Jesus, but to His resurrection, and declared in the powerful words of Paul: “If the Christ be not risen, then is your faith dead.”

The resurrection, the triumph over death, was primarily the Easter thought in early Christianity, that form of Christianity which was still influenced by the wisdom of the East. On the other side, however, we see pictures rise which represent Christ Jesus as the Good Shepherd Who watches over the eternal interests of man who sleeps through his mortal existence. Above all, we see how early Christianity is directed to the words of the Gospel: “He whom ye seek is not here; you must not seek Him on the physical plane (so we might supplement the words); if you do we can but tell you — He Whom ye seek as physical Being is no longer here in this physical world of the senses.”

The great and comprehensive wisdom which in the early Christian centuries was still capable of penetrating to the Mystery of Golgotha and to all that went with it, died down soon afterwards into the materialism of the West. This materialism had not fully emerged in the early centuries; it was prepared gradually. The early, as yet feeble, materialistic impulse of the first centuries, which was hardly perceptible, only changed much later into something that developed into a materialism that more and more permeated the whole civilisation of the West. The religious thought of the East had been joined to the evolving state-controlled thought of the West. In the fourth century Christianity became the state religion, which means that something entered Christianity which no longer was religion.

Julian, the Apostate, who though no Christian was a religious man, could in no way accept what Christianity had become through Constantine. In the blending of Christianity with declining Romanism, we see how, at first weakly, but quite noticeably, the influence of Western materialism made its first appearance. It was under this influence that a representation of Christ Jesus appeared which was not seen anywhere at first, and, indeed, did not exist in original Christianity: the representation of Christ Jesus as the crucified suffering Man of Sorrows, as the Man Who perished under the burden of the unspeakable sufferings that came upon Him.

Through this a break occurred in the whole outlook of the Christian world; for this presentation of the crucified, pain-filled Christ, which since then has continued through the centuries, is a Christ Who can no longer be grasped in His spiritual nature, but only in His corporal nature. The more that signs of suffering were imprinted on the human body, the more that Art, in all its perfection, gave expression to the suffering Redeemer throughout the various epochs, so much the more were seeds of materialism implanted in Christian perception. The crucifix expresses the transition into Christian materialism. This in no way denies that what Art has embodied as the pain of the Redeemer in so stupendous a way must not be recognised in its full depth and meaning; but all the same it is true that with this presentation of the Redeemer dying under the sufferings of the Cross a departure was made from the really spiritual acceptance of Christianity.

With this acceptance of Christ as the Man of sorrow was mingled the idea of “Christ, the Judge of the World,” in whom we have really to see another expression of Jahve or Jehova, especially of that Jehova transformed into a judge in so magnificent a manner in the Sistine chapel in Rome. The Spirit that was victor over death, that triumphed over the grave from which the Redeemer rose victorious, is the same Spirit which, in the representation of the crucifix we are permitted to lose sight of; this is the same Spirit, which in the year 869 at the Eighth Œcumenical Council in Constantinople, was declared to be something that it was unnecessary for man to believe. At that Council it was decreed that man must be held to consist of body and soul, and that spirit only occurs in certain attributes of the soul. Just as we have seen the Spirit expelled from the crucifix, and only that left which pain-racked souls can feel without the Spirit triumphant, the Spirit that supports, and at the same time cares for men, so in the conclusions of the Council of Constantinople we have to see the Spirit struck off from the nature of man.

Good Friday and the Easter Day festival of the Resurrection were compressed into one. In the days when men were not so dry and void of understanding as they became later, the Festival of Good Friday, became, in a certain sense, a festival in which the thoughts of Easter were transformed in an absolutely egotistic manner. Individual souls steeped themselves in pain; they rejoiced, as it were, to wallow in pain. During long periods of time this was the thought of Good Friday which had been intended originally to serve but as a background for the thought of Easter. All comprehension of Easter in its true acceptance became less and less possible. For those persons who had exalted into belief the principle that they consisted of body and soul alone, required to have their feelings stirred by the representation of the dying Redeemer. They required to be confronted with a picture of physical pain, in order that it might serve as a background (at least in an outward sense) for the perception which was theirs originally, that the living Spirit must always be victor over anything that might happen to the physical body. Men had need of the picture of the martyrs' death in order to experience, by way of contrast, the true thoughts of Easter. You must try to experience more and more deeply, how true spiritual perception and the true spiritual point of view gradually weakened, and to look with amazement, and at the same time with a consciousness of the tragedy of it all, on the artistic attempts that were made to represent the suffering Man on the Cross. It is not enough that we should turn our attention, with a few casual thoughts and feelings, to the things that are necessary for our day. We must thoroughly investigate that which, in respect to what is spiritual, has for long been on the downward path in Western civilisation. It is very necessary for us at the present time that those things which are greatest in one realm should also be felt as something to which humanity must rise. We have need of the thoughts of Easter throughout all Western civilisation. In other words, we have need of something that will raise us again to that which is spiritual. The holy mystery of birth — the mystery of Christmas — which emerged magnificently at one time in Western culture, has gradually been lost sight of in the evolving civilisation of the West; it has sunk down into those sentimentalities which are but the other pole of a materialistic development, and which simply revel in all kinds of songs about the little Jesus. It was a plunging into pleasurable emotions regarding the little child. Instead of feeling the stupendous mystery of the entrance of a super-earthly Spirit in the Christmas mystery; trivial songs about the Babe Jesus gained a predominant influence and set the fashion all through Europe. It is characteristic of the development of that Christianity which followed purely intellectual lines, that up to the present day certain writers in this domain have gone so far as to say: The gospels are not mainly concerned with the Son but with the Father — yet even this Christianity retains the resurrection, though thoughts of the resurrection are always mixed up with thoughts of death. It is, however, characteristic of the modern evolution of Christianity that the thought of Good Friday, in the form I have just described it, has come ever more to the fore, and the thought of the Resurrection — the true Easter thought — has gradually retired. Thoughts on Easter must point especially to a time in which man must experience the resurrection of his being through the Spirit. We have need of Easter thoughts, and of a full understanding of such thoughts. For this, however, it is necessary that we realise that the Man of Sorrows is just as much the sign of the entrance of materialism into Western civilisation as is, on the other hand, the idea of the purely juridical World-Judge.

We have, indeed, need of the Christ as a super-sensible Being, as a Being Who is above and beyond the earth and yet has entered into earthly evolution. We must reach up with our human conceptions to such solar conceptions.

Just as we must realise that thoughts of the birth at Christmas have become such that they have dragged trivial sentimental feelings into one of the greatest of mysteries, so we have also to recognise how necessary it is to stress the fact that something entered earthly evolution at that time which is incomprehensible to earthly means of cognition, but is comprehensible to spiritual knowledge.

Spiritual knowledge finds its greatest support in the Resurrection, and recognises that the eternal spiritual part, even of man, is untouched by what is physical and of the body. It recognises in the words of St. Paul, “If Christ be not risen, then is your faith vain,” confirmation of the real nature of the Christ, a confirmation which in time to come will be reached by other and more conscious methods.

It is in this way that we must recall thoughts of Easter at the present time. In this way we must make of this season an inward festival, one in which we solemnise the victory of the Spirit over that which is of the body.

As we cannot disregard history, we must keep before us the pain-stricken Jesus on the Cross — the Man of Sorrow; but above the Cross must appear the Victor, untouched equally by birth and death, Who can alone direct our gaze to the everlasting fields of spiritual life. Only in this way can we approach the true nature of the Christ. Western humanity has drawn the Christ down to its own level, has drawn Him down as a little child, as One pre-eminent in suffering and death.

I have frequently said that the words of Buddha, “Death is evil,” came from his lips just as long before the Mystery of Golgotha as the crucifix appeared after they were uttered. Men looked on the crucified One and found death was no evil but something that in truth did not exist. This feeling, which arose out of the wisdom of the West, yet is profounder than Buddhism, underlay the other which adhered firmly to the view of the pain-oppressed Sufferer. We must rise not only in thought — for these are most inadequate — but with the whole scope of our feeling to what I might call the fate which in the course of the centuries overtook man's conception of the Mystery of Golgotha. We must keep in mind that even among the ancient Hebrews, Jahve was not thought of as a judge of the world in a juristic sense. The Book of Job, the greatest dramatic presentation of religious feeling among the ancient Hebrews, which presents to us the suffering Job, excludes the idea of external justice. Job is a suffering man, a man who regards what happens to him in the external world as fate. The legal idea of retaliation only entered gradually into the organisation of the world. Yet in a certain way what is represented in Michael Angelo's masterpiece in the Sistine Chapel is like a revival of the Jahve-Principle. It is the Christ we have need of, however, the Christ Whom we can seek in our own inner beings, and Who at once appears when we do seek Him. We have need of the Christ Who enters into our wills, Who gives warmth and fire to our wills that they may become strong to accomplish those deeds on behalf of humanity for which we long. We have need of that Christ, Whom we do not regard as the suffering Man of Sorrows, but as He Who has risen above the Cross, and thence looks down on that unreality which ended with the Cross. We have need of the vivid consciousness of the eternity of the Spirit.

We do not have this vivid consciousness of the Spirit when we loose ourselves in contemplation of the picture of the crucifixion; and when we see how this has gradually been changed more and more into something that calls up feeling of sorrow and suffering, we will realise what power this tendency of men's feeling has acquired. It has turned men's eyes from what is truly spiritual, and directed them to that which is earthly and physical. It is certainly occasionally expressed in a grand way, but it has always seemed to men like Goethe, for example, who have ever felt the need for our civilisation to reach up once more to what is spiritual, to be something in which they could not really participate. Goethe has said often enough that the crucified Saviour does not express to him what he feels in Christianity: the uplifting of man to that which is spiritual.

Of necessity it has come to pass that the characteristic note of Good Friday as well as that of Easter has changed. Good Friday has become that which brings along with it the contemplation of the end of Jesus; and with this the feeling that what is then contemplated is but the other side of birth, and those who do not see death equally in birth do not see with completeness.

Those who are not capable of feeling that in the atmosphere of death with which Good Friday is associated only one side of existence is presented to them; the opposite pole being that which is presented by the entrance of a child at birth into the world, are not prepared in the right way for the real Easter note, which is that we should realise: Whatever may be the human sheaths that here are born, the real man is not born nor does he die. The real man must unite himself with that which has entered the world as the Christ Who cannot die, and he must regard something other than himself when he looks on the suffering man on the Cross. We must feel what really has happened since the end of the early centuries through Western civilisation having gradually lost the conception of what is spiritual. The Easter of the world will only come when a sufficient number of people feel that the Spirit must rise again within Western civilisation. Outwardly this will find expression in that men will no longer wish to explore what is going to happen to them, will not explore natural laws or the laws of past history which are similar to natural laws, but they will have a great longing for knowledge of their own wills, of their own freedom; they will desire greatly to realise the nature of their own will which can bear them beyond the gates of death but which must be considered spiritually if it is to be perceived in its true form.

How is man to gain power to rise to the thought of Pentecost, the outpouring of the Spirit, since the eighth Œcumenical Council has dogmatically explained the thought of Pentecost to be an empty phrase?

How is man to win to the power of this thought if he does not do so by way of Easter thoughts — by true Easter thoughts, thoughts of the resurrection of the Spirit!

Man must not allow himself to be led astray by the picture of the dying, suffering Redeemer, but must learn how pain is bound up with the whole composition of human existence. This was a fundamental principle of that ancient wisdom which sprang from the instinctive depths of human knowledge. We must strive to re-acquire this instinctive knowledge with the help of conscious knowledge. One of the fundamental principles of this knowledge was that pain had its origin in matter. In any case it would be foolishness to think that the Christ did not suffer pain because He passed through death as a Divine Being, it would be to think without reality were it said that the pain of the Mystery was only apparent. It must be considered real in the most actual sense, and not merely as symbolical. Something further has to be gained from what faces us when, with the whole of human evolution in view, we contemplate the mystery of Golgotha.

In ancient times a pupil of the mysteries who was about to be initiated was shown a picture of a man who had reached the highest point of freedom. Such a pupil when he had gone through the necessary preparation and had fulfilled all the exercises required of him in order that he might gain certain knowledge, was confronted with dramatic pictures; he was ultimately placed before the picture of a man who had passed through the severest physical sufferings, who was clothed in a red-purple robe and had a crown of thorns on his head — the picture of the Chrestos. In looking upon this Chrestos the soul of the aspirant to initiation was expected to gain the power which would make of him a true man. The drops of blood which were shown to the aspirant on all the more important places of that ancient Chrestos were for the purpose of removing all human weaknesses and calling up the triumphant Spirit from the man's inner being.

The contemplation of suffering was intended to indicate the resurrection of the spiritual nature. It was sought to place before men in the most profound sense what may be expressed in the following simple words — Thou hast to thank many things in life for thy happiness, but if thou hast acquired knowledge — gained insight into spiritual connections, thou hast to thank suffering for these. Thou must be thankful that thou hast not succumbed to sorrow and suffering, but hast had the power to rise above them.

This is the reason why in the mysteries of old, the picture of the suffering Chrestos was replaced by the other picture — that of the triumphant Christ, who looked down upon the suffering Chrestos as on something that had been surmounted.

In a similar way it must be found possible once again to have the triumphant Christ before and in our souls, and especially in our wills. This is what we must keep before us at the present time, and more especially we must keep it before us with regard to what we wish to do to help in bringing about a sound future for humanity.

We will never be able to grasp the true thought of Easter unless we realize that in speaking of the Christ we must look upwards from what is merely earthly to what is cosmic. Modern thought has made a corpse of the cosmos. To-day we look at the stars and calculate their courses. This means we calculate something about the corpse of the world — we do not see that life dwells in the stars, and that in the courses of the stars the intentions of the cosmic Spirit rule. Christ came down among men in order to unite the souls of men with the Cosmic Spirit. Only a true expounder of the Gospel of Christ points out that what we see in the physical sun is the outward expression of the Spirit of our universe — the resurrecting Spirit of our universe.

Such connection as that between this World-Spirit and the sun is something that must become living to us, and the way in which the festival of Easter is determined — through the relationship of sun and moon in spring — must become living to us again. We must be able to associate with it what the Easter festival has ordained for earthly evolution from out the cosmos itself. We must realise that it was the most watchfully protective Cosmic Spirits who, by means of the world timepiece whose pointers for earthly existence are the sun and moon, made us understand that the moment in which the resurrection occurred has to be regarded as the greatest and most important point of time in the evolution of both the universe and man. Through the spirit we must learn to feel the movements of these two pointers (sun and moon) just as for physical occasions we must learn the movements of the hands of a clock. We must learn to connect what is earthly and physical with what is super-earthly and super-physical.

The thought of Easter can only bear interpretation by what is super-earthly, for in the Mystery of Golgotha (in so far as it is a resurrection mystery) something took place which distinguishes it from all other events.

Through it the earth has been endowed with cosmic powers, and because of what she has become through this, human forces of will have arisen within human alimentation. A new concentration of will power has entered earthly activities because of the Mystery of Golgotha, something took place on earth at that time which might be described as Cosmic activities, for which the earth was but a stage. Through these activities man has once more been united with the cosmos.

This is something which must be understood, and comprehension of it in all its fullness is first given by the thought of Easter. Therefore, however beautifully, however splendidly Art has represented the crucifixion, it alone must not rise before our souls with the thought of Easter, but the thought must rise: “He Whom thou seekest is not here.” Beyond the cross He must appear, He Who is here now, He Who speaks to us from the Spirit, in order to awaken the spirit in us.

This is what must enter human evolution as the thought of Easter; it is this to which the human heart and the human mind must rise.

It is not enough in our time that we should be able to enter thoroughly into and steep ourselves in what has been created up to now. We must become newly creative. Even were it at the cross, with all the beauty with which artists have endowed it, we may not rest there: we must harken to the words of the Spiritual Being Who, when we look for Him in death and suffering, calls to us: “He Whom ye seek is no longer here.”

Therefore we must seek that which is here. At Easter we must learn to turn to the Spirit, and the picture of the resurrection is alone able to present this to us. Only with it before us can we pass in the right way from the sorrow-filled atmosphere of Good Friday to the joyful atmosphere of Easter Day. In it we will be able to find what we have to grasp with our wills in order that we may become active in changing the downward tending forces of humanity into upward tending forces. We are in need of forces capable of doing this.

The moment that we understand the resurrection thought of Easter aright, this thought, warm and illuminating, will kindle in us the forces that are necessary for the future evolution of mankind.

Dornach, 27th March, 1921.




Last Modified: 15-Nov-2017
The Rudolf Steiner Archive is maintained by:
The e.Librarian: elibrarian@elib.com
[Spacing]