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Materialism and the Task of Anthroposophy

Materialism/Anthroposophy: Lecture XVII

LECTURE XVII
Dornach, June 5, 1921

In the course of the last few days we had occasion to refer once again to the turning point in Western civilization in the fourth century A.D. with the example of John Scotus Erigena. In the present, when so many things are supposed to change, it is particularly important to understand clearly what really happened then to the human soul constitution. For it is a fact that we too are living in an extraordinarily significant moment in humanity's evolution; it is necessary for us to pay heed to the signs of the times and to listen to the voices of the spiritual world, so that out of the chaos of the present we may find a path into the future.

In the fourth century A.D., changes took place in the souls of those belonging to the leading nations and tribes, just as in our century changes in part have begun to develop, in part will still occur. And in John Scotus Erigena we have observed a personality who in a certain way was influenced by the aftereffects of humanity's world view prior to the fourth century A.D.

We shall now call to mind other things that also make evident this change of character. As far as can be done in a more outward manner, we will consider from this standpoint how the study of nature developed, in particular people's views of health and illness. We shall confine ourselves, first of all, to historical times. When we ask what the views concerning nature, particularly human nature in connection with health and illness were, and look back into the early Egyptian period, we can for the first time speak of any similarity between these ancient views and ours now. Yet, in regard to health, illness, and their natural causes, these ancient Egyptians held opinions still differing significantly from ours. The reason was that they thought of their relationship with nature quite differently from the way we think of it today. The ancient Egyptians certainly were not fully aware that they were gradually separating from the earth. They pictured their own bodies — and they naturally started by considering what we call “body” in an intimate connection with the forces of the earth. We have already mentioned in the last lecture how such a concept arises, how it is that the human being pictures himself in a certain sense closely bound inwardly to the earth through his body. I referred to the ancient soul forces in order to illustrate this. It was altogether clear to the ancient Egyptians that they had to see themselves as part of the earth, similarly to how the plants must be seen as belonging to the earth. Just as it is possible to trace the course of the sap or at least the earth's forces in plants more or less visibly, so people in ancient Egypt experienced the working of certain forces that, at the same time, held sway in the earth. Therefore, the human body was seen as belonging to the earth.

This could only be done because a view of the earth prevailed that was quite different from the view prevalent nowadays. The ancient Egyptians would never have thought of representing the earth as a mineral body the way we do it today. In a sense, they pictured the earth as a mighty organic being, a being not organized in quite the same way as an animal or man, but still, in a certain respect, an organism; and they considered the earth's masses of rock as a skeleton of sorts. They imagined that processes took place in the earth that simply extended into the human body.

The ancient Egyptians experienced a certain sensation when they mummified the human corpse after it had been discarded by the soul, when they tried to preserve the shape of the human body by mummification. In the formative forces proceeding from the earth and forming the human body, they beheld something like the will of the earth. They were trying to give permanent expression to this will of the earth. These Egyptians held views concerning the soul that seem somewhat alien to a person of today. We shall now try to characterize them.

It must be emphasized that when we go back to early Egyptian times, and even more so to the ancient Persian and Indian epochs, we find that, based on instinctive old wisdom, the doctrine of reincarnation — the return of the essential human entity in successive earth lives — was widespread. We are mistaken, however, in assuming that these ancient people were of the opinion that what we know as soul today is what always returns. Especially the Egyptian concept demonstrates that such a view did not exist. Instead, it must be pictured like this: The soul-spiritual being of man lives in spiritual worlds between death and a new birth. When the time approaches for this being to descend to the physical earth, it works formatively in the human body, in what comes through heredity from the successive generations. On the other hand, these ancient people did not think that what they bore in their consciousness during life between birth and death was the actual psycho-spiritual being that lives between death and a new birth and then shapes the human corporeality between birth and death. No, these people of antiquity pictured things differently. They said: When I find myself in the waking state from morning until evening, I know absolutely nothing of the soul-spiritual matters that are also my own affairs as a human being. I must wait until my own true being, which worked on me when I entered into earthly existence through birth, appears to me in half-sleep or in image-filled sleep, as was the case in these ancient times.

Thus, the ancient human being was aware that in his waking state he was not meant to experience his actual soul being; instead, he was to look upon his true soul entity as upon an external picture, something that came over him when he passed into the frequently described dreamlike, clairvoyant conditions. In a certain sense, the human being in former times experienced his own being as something that appeared to him like an archangel or angel. Only beginning in ancient Egypt, people started to think of this inner human essence as belonging directly to the soul.

If we try to characterize how the ancient Egyptians pictured this, we have to say the following. They thought: In a dream image, my soul-spiritual being appears to me in its condition between death and a new birth. It shapes the body for its use. When I look at the form of the body, I see how this soul-spirit being has worked like an artist on this body. I see much more of an expression of my soul-spiritual being in my body than if I look within. For that reason I shall preserve this body. As a mummy, its form shall be retained, for in it is contained the work the soul has done on the body between the last death and this birth. That is what I retain when I embalm the body and in the mummy preserve the image on which the soul-spiritual being has worked for centuries.

By contrast, the ancient Egyptians considered the experiences of the human being in the waking state between birth and death differently: This is really like a flame kindled within me, but it has very little to do with my true I. My I remains more or less outside my soul experiences in the waking state between birth and death. These soul experiences are actually a temporal, passing flame, enkindled in my body through my higher soul being. In death, they are extinguished once again. Only then does my true soul-spirit being shine forth, and I dwell in it until the new birth.

It is true that the ancient Egyptians imagined that in the life between birth and death they did not properly attain to an experience of the soul element. They viewed it as something that stood above them, enkindled their temporal soul element and extinguished it again; they saw it as something that took from the earth the earth's dust to form the body. In the mummy, they then tried to preserve this bodily form.

The ancient Egyptians really placed no special value on the soul element that experiences itself in the waking state between birth and death, for they looked beyond this soul nature to a quite different soul-spirit essence, which ever and again forms new bodies and passes through the period between death and a new birth. Thus, they beheld the interplay of forces between the higher human element and the earth. They really directed their attention to the earth, for to them, the earth was also the house of Osiris. Inner consciousness was something they overlooked.

The development of Greek culture, which began in the eighth century B.C., consisted precisely in man's placing an ever increasing value on this soul element that lights up between birth and death, something the ancient Egyptian still viewed as enkindled and subsequently dying flame. To the Greeks, this soul element became valuable. But they still had the feeling that in death something like an extinction of this soul element took place. This gave rise to the famous Greek saying I have characterized often from this viewpoint: "Better a beggar on earth than a king in the realm of shades." This saying was coined by the Greeks as they looked upon the soul element. To them, the latter became important, whereas it had been less significant for the ancient Egyptians. This development is connected with the view of health and illness held by the ancient Egyptians.

They thought that this soul-spiritual element, which does not really enter properly into human consciousness between birth and death, builds up the human body out of the earth elements, out of the water, the air, the solid substances of the earth, and the warmth. And since the ancient Egyptians believed that this human body was formed out of the earth, they set great store by keeping it pure. During the golden age of Egyptian culture, maintaining the body in a pure state was therefore something that was especially cultivated. The Egyptians thought very highly of this body. Hence, they felt that when the body became ill, its connection with the earth was in some way disturbed, in particular its relationship to the earth's water, and this relationship had to be restored. Therefore, there were hosts of physicians in Egypt who studied the relationship of the earthly elements to the human body. Their concern was to maintain people's health and, when it was disturbed, to restore it by means of water cures and climatic treatments. Already in the heyday of Egyptian civilization, specialized physicians were at work, and their activity was principally directed at the task of bringing the human body into the proper relation with the earth's elements.

Beginning with the eighth century B.C., particularly in Greek civilization, this changed. Now, the consciously experienced soul element became really important. People did not see it anymore in as close a connection with the earth as people in ancient Egypt had done. For the ancient Egyptians, the human body was in a sense something plantlike that grew out of the earth. For the Greeks, the psycho-spiritual element was the factor that held together the earth elements; they were more concerned with the way these elements in the body were held together by man's soul and spirit. On this basis developed the scientific views of Greece. We find them especially well expressed by Hippocrates, the famous Greek physician and contemporary of Phidias, Socrates, and Plato. [Note 1] This view of the importance of the human soul element, which becomes conscious of itself between birth and death, is already clearly developed in Hippocrates, who lived in the fourth century B.C.

We would be very much mistaken, however, if we believed that this soul-spiritual element lived in Greek consciousness in the same way we experience it in our consciousness today. Just reflect on how poor, how abstractly poor this thing is that modern man calls his soul! When people speak of thinking, feeling, and willing, they picture them as quite nebulous formations. It is something that no longer affects the human being substantially. It had a substantial effect on the Greeks, for they had an awareness that this psycho-spiritual being actually holds together the elements of the body and causes their interplay. They did not have in mind an abstract soul element as people do today. They had in mind a full, rich system of forces that gives shape above all to the fluid element, bestowing on it the human form. The Egyptians felt: The soul-spirit being that finds its way from death to a new birth gives form to this fluid element. The Greeks felt: What I experience consciously as my soul element, this is what shapes the water; it has a need for air and then develops the circulatory organs in that form. It causes the conditions of warmth in the body and also deposits salt and other earthly substances in the body.

The Greeks actually did not picture the soul separately from the body. They imagined it molding the fluid body, bringing about the presence of air through inhaling and exhaling. They pictured the soul causing the conditions of warmth in the body, the body's warming and cooling processes, the breathing and movement of the fluids, the permeation of the fluids with the solid ingredients — actually representing only about 8% of the human body. The Greeks pictured all this in full vitality. They attached special importance to the shaping of the fluids. They imagined that in turn a fourfold influence was at work in these fluids due to the forces active in the four elements, earth, water, air, and warmth. This is how the Greeks pictured it.

In winter, human beings must shut themselves off from the outer world to a certain extent, they cannot live in intimate contact with it. They must rely on themselves. In winter, above all the head and its fluids make themselves felt. There the part of the fluids that is most waterlike works inwardly in the human being. In other words, for the Greeks this was phlegm or mucus. They believed all that is mucous in the human organism to be soul-permeated and particularly active in winter. Then came spring, and the Greeks found that the blood made itself felt through greater activity; the blood received greater stimulation than in winter. This is a predominantly sanguine time for human beings, emphasis is placed on what is centralized in the arteries leading to the heart and is active in the movement of fluids. In winter, it is the movement of the phlegm in the head, hence, this is the reason why the human being is then particularly inclined to any number of diseases of the mucous fluids. In spring, the blood circulation is especially stimulated.

The Greeks pictured all this in such a way that matter was not separated from the soul aspects. In a sense, blood and phlegm were half soullike, and the soul itself with its forces was something half physical in moving the fluids.

When summer approached, the Greeks imagined that the activity of bile (they called it yellow gall), which has its center in the liver, is particularly aroused. The Greeks still had a special view of what this is like in the human being. For the most part, people have lost this view. They no longer see how, in spring, the skin is colored by the blood's stimulation. They no longer notice the peculiar yellow tinge coming from the liver where this so-called yellow bile has its center. In the rosy flush of spring and the yellowish tinge of summer, the Greeks saw activities of the soul.

When autumn came, they said: Now, the fluids having their center in the spleen, the fluids of black bile, are particularly active. In this way, the Greeks pictured in the human being movements and effects of fluids that were directly under the influence of the soul. Unlike the Egyptians, the Greeks considered the human body by itself, apart from the whole of the earth. Thus, they came closer to the inner soul configuration of the human being as it is expressed between birth and death.

As this civilization progressed further, however, particularly as the Western element, the Latin-Roman element, gained ground, this view, which we find especially in Hippocrates who based his medical science on it, was to a certain extent lost. Hippocrates held that the soul-spiritual nature of man manifesting between birth and death causes these mixtures and separations of the fluids. When these do not proceed as the soul-spiritual influence intends them to go, the human being encounters illness. The soul-spiritual element actually always strives to make the activities of the fluids run their normal course. This is why the physician has the special task of studying the soul-spirit nature and the effect of its forces on the activities of the fluids in addition to observing the illness. If the activity of the physical body somehow tends to cause an abnormal mixture of fluids, then the soul element intervenes. It intervenes to the point of a crisis, when the outcome in the struggle between corporeal and soul-spiritual elements hangs in the balance. The physician must guide matters in such a way that this crisis occurs. Then, at some point in the body it will be evident that the bad fluid combination is trying to come out, to escape. Then it is the physician's task to intervene in a proper way in this crisis, which he has introduced in the first place, by removing the fluids that have accumulated in the way described above and that are resisting the influence of the soul-spiritual element. The physician accomplishes this either by means of purging or by bloodletting at the right moment.

Hippocrates' manner of healing was of a quite special kind and connected with this view of the human being. It is interesting that such a view existed that pictured an intimate relationship between the soul-spirit element as expressed between birth and death and the system of body fluids. Things changed, however, when the Latin-Roman influence continued this development.

This Roman element had less inclination for a full comprehension of the form and the system of fluids. This can be clearly seen in the case of the physician Galen [Note 2] who lived in the second century A.D. The system of fluids that Hippocrates saw was no longer so transparent to Galen. You really have to picture it like this: Today, you watch how a retort in a chemistry laboratory is heated by a flame underneath, and you see the product of the substances inside. For Hippocrates, the effect of the soul-spiritual element in the fluids of the body was just as transparent. What took place in the human being was to him visible in a sensory-supersensory way. The Romans, on the other hand, no longer had a sense for this vivid view. They no longer considered the soul-spiritual element that dwells in man in its connection to the body. They turned their glance in a more abstract, spiritual direction. They only understood how the soul-spiritual being can experience this spirit within itself between birth and death.

The Greeks looked at the body, saw the soul-spiritual in the mixing and separating of the fluids and, to them, the sensory view in its clarity and vividness was the main thing. To the Romans, the essential thing was what a man felt himself to be, the feeling of self within the soul. To the Greeks, the view of how phlegm, blood, yellow, and black bile intermingle, how they are, in a manner of speaking, an expression of the earthly elements of air, fire, water, earth in the human being became something they saw as a work of art. Whereas the Egyptians contemplated the mummy, the Greeks looked upon the living work of art. The Romans had no sense for this, but they had an awareness for taking a stand in life, for developing inner consciousness, for allowing the spirit to speak, not for looking at the body but for making the spirit speak out of the soul between birth and death.

This is connected with the fact that at the height of Egyptian civilization, four branches of knowledge were especially cultivated in their ancient form: geometry, astrology, arithmetic, and music. In contemplating the heavenly element that formed the human body out of the earth, the Egyptians imagined that this body is molded in its spatial form according to the law of geometry; it is subject to the influences of the stars according to the laws of astrology. It is involved in activity from within according to the laws of arithmetic and is inwardly built up harmoniously according to the laws of music — music here conceived not merely as musical tone elements but as something that lives in harmonies in general. In the human being. as a product of the earth, in this mummified man, the Egyptians saw the result of geometry, astrology, arithmetic, and music. The Greeks lost sight of this. The Greeks replaced the lifeless, mummified element, which can be comprehended by means of geometry, astrology, arithmetic, and music, with the living soul element, the inner forming, the artistic self-development of the human body.

This is why we note in Greek culture a certain decline of geometry as it had existed among the Egyptians. It now became a mere science, no longer a revelation. The same happened with astrology and arithmetic. At most, the inner harmony that forms the basis of all living things remains in the Greek concept of music.

Then, when the Latin element came to the fore, the Romans, as I said, pictured this soul-spiritual being as it is between birth and death together with the inner spirit now expressing itself not as something that could inwardly be seen but inwardly experienced, taking its stand in the world through grammar, through dialectics, and through rhetoric. Therefore, during the time when Greek culture was passing over into Latin culture, these three disciplines flourished. In grammar, man was represented as spirit through the word; in rhetoric, the human being was represented through the beauty and forming of the word; in dialectics, the soul was represented through the forming of thought. Arithmetic, geometry, astrology, and music continued to exist, but only as ancient legacies turned science. These disciplines, which in ancient Egypt had been very much alive, became abstract sciences. By contrast, the arts attached to man — grammar, rhetoric, dialectics — took on new life.

There is a great difference between the way a person thought of a triangle in ancient Egypt prior to Euclid and the way people thought of it after Euclid's time. The abstract triangle was not experienced in earlier times the way it was conceived later on. Euclid signified the decadence of Egyptian arithmetic and geometry. In Egypt, people felt universal forces when they envisaged a triangle. The triangle was a being. Now, all this became science, while dialectics, grammar and rhetoric became alive.

Schools were now established in accordance with the following thinking: Those people who want to be educated have to develop the spiritual potential in their already existent soul-spiritual human nature. As the first stage of instruction, they must master grammar, rhetoric, and dialectics. Then, they have to go through what remains only as a traditional legacy but forms the subjects of higher education: geometry, astrology, arithmetic, and music. These then were the seven liberal arts, even throughout the Middle Ages: grammar, rhetoric, dialectics, geometry, astrology, arithmetic, and music. The arts that came more to the fore were grammar, rhetoric, and dialectics; the arts that were more in the background, conceived by the ancient Egyptians in a living manner as they stood on a relationship to the earth, were the subjects of higher learning.

This was the essential development between the eighth century B.C. and the fourth century A.D. Look at Greece in the fourth century or in the third or fifth centuries. Look at modern Italy. You find everywhere in full bloom this knowledge of the human being as a work of art, as a product of the soul-spiritual element, of life of the spirit through dialectics, rhetoric, and grammar. Julian Apostate [Note 3] was educated in approximately this way in the Athenian school of philosophers. This is how he saw the human being.

Into this age burst the beginning of Christianity. But by then all this knowledge was in a certain sense already fading. In the fourth century it had been in its prime, and we have heard that by John Scotus Erigena's time only a mere tradition of it existed. What lived in the Greeks based on the view I have just characterized, then was transmitted to Plato and Aristotle who expressed it philosophically. When the fourth century B.C. drew near, however, people understood Plato and Aristotle less and less. At most people could accept the logical, abstract parts of their teachings. People were engrossed in grammar, rhetoric, dialectics. Arithmetic, geometry, astrology, and music had turned into sciences. People increasingly found their way into a sort of abstract element, into an element where something that had formerly been alive was now to exist only as tradition. As the centuries passed, it became still more a tradition. Those who were educated in the Latin tongue retained in a more or less ossified state grammar, rhetoric, and dialectics. Formerly a person would have laughed if he had been asked whether his thinking referred to something real. He would have laughed, for he would have said: I engage in dialectics; I do not cultivate the art of concepts in order to engage in anything unreal. For there, the spiritual reality lives in me. As I engage in grammar, the Logos speaks in me. As I engage in rhetoric, it is the cosmic sun that sends its influences into me.

This consciousness of being connected with the world was lost more and more. Everything became abstract soul experiences, a development that was completed by Scotus Erigena's time. The ideas that had been retained from earlier times — from Plato and Aristotle — were only comprehended more or less logically. People ceased to find any living element in them.

When the Emperor Constantine [Note 4] made Rome the ruling power under the pretext that he wished to establish the dominion of Christianity, everything became entirely abstract. It became so abstract that a person like Julian Apostate, who had been educated in the Athenian school of philosophy, was silenced. With an aching heart, he looked at what Constantine had done in the way of ossifying concepts and ancient living ideas, and Julian Apostate resolved to preserve this life that had still been evident to him in the Athenian schools of philosophers.

Later on, Justinian ruled from Byzantium, from Constantinople, which had been founded by Constantine. [Note 5] He abolished the last vestiges of these Athenian philosophers' schools that still possessed an echo of living human knowledge. Therefore, the seven wise Athenians — Athenians they were not, they were a quite international group, men from Damascus, Syrians, and others gathered from all over the world — had to flee on order of Justinian. These seven wise men fled to Asia, to the king of the Persians, [Note 6] where philosophers had had to escape to already earlier when Zeno, the Isaurian, [Note 7] had dispersed a similar academy. Thus we see how this knowledge, the best of which could no longer be comprehended in Europe, the living experience that had existed in Greece, had to seek refuge in Asia.

What was later propagated in Europe as Greek culture was really only its shadow. Goethe allowed it to influence him and as a thoroughly lively human being, he was seized with such longing that he wished he could escape from what had been offered to him as the shadow of Greek culture. He traveled to the south in order to experience at least the aftereffects.

In Asia, people who were capable of doing so received of Plato and Aristotle what had been brought across to them. This is why during the sixth century Aristotle's work was translated based on the Asian-Arabic spirit. This gave Aristotle's philosophy a different form.

What had in fact been attempted here? The attempt had been made to take what the Greeks had experienced as the relationship between the soul-spiritual element and the body's system of fluids, what they had seen in full physical and soul-spiritual clarity and formative force, and to raise it up into the region where the ego could be fully comprehended. From this originated the form of science tinged with Arabism, which was especially cultivated in the academy of Gondishapur [Note 8] throughout the whole declining age of the fourth post-Atlantean epoch. This form of science was brought in later centuries by Avicenna [Note 9] and Averroes [Note 10] by way of Spain into Europe and eventually exerted a great influence on people such as Roger Bacon [Note 11] and others. It was, however, a completely new element that the academy of Gondishapur meant to bestow on mankind in a manner that could not endure by way of the translation of Aristotle and certain mystery wisdom teachings, which then continued in directions of which we shall talk another time.

Through Avicenna and Averroes, something was introduced that was to enter human civilization with the beginning of the fifteenth century, namely, the struggle for the consciousness soul. After all, the Greeks had only attained to the intellectual or rational soul. What Avicenna and Averroes brought across, what Aristotelianism had turned into in Asia, so to speak, struggles with the comprehension of the human I, which, in a completely different way, has to struggle upward through the Germanic tribes from below to above — I have described this in the public lectures here during the course. [Note 12] In Asia, on the other hand, the I was received like a revelation from above as a mystery wisdom. This gave rise to the view that for so long provoked such weighty disputes in Europe, namely, that man's ego is not actually an independent entity but is basically one with the divine universal being. The aim was to take hold of the ego. The I was supposed to be contained in what the Greek beheld as the being of body, soul, and spirit.

Yet, people could not harmonize the above with the I. This is the reason for Avicenna's conception that what constitutes the individual soul originates with birth and ends with death. As we have seen, the Greeks struggled with this idea. The Egyptians viewed it only in this way — the individual soul is enkindled at birth, extinguished at death. People were still wrestling with this conception when they considered the actual soul element between birth and death, the true soul element. The I, on the other hand, could not be transitory in this manner. Therefore, Avicenna said: Actually, the ego is the same in all human beings. It is basically a ray from the Godhead which returns again into the Godhead when the human being dies. It is real, but not individually real. A pneumatic pantheism came about, as if the ego had no independent existence but was only a ray of the deity streaming between birth and death into what the Greeks viewed as the soul-spiritual nature. In a manner of speaking, the transitory soul element of man is ensouled with the eternal element through the ray of the Godhead between birth and death. This is how people imagined it.

This shows to some extent how people of that age struggled with the approach of the I, the consciousness of the ego, the consciousness soul. This is what occurred in the span of time between the eighth century B.C. and the fifteenth century A.D., the middle of which is the fourth century A.D. People were placed in a condition where the concrete experience, which still dwelled in the mixing and the separating fluids and beheld the soul element in the corporeal being, was replaced. A purely abstract state of mind, directed more toward man's inner being, replaced this vivid element of perception.

It is indeed possible to say that until the fourth century A.D., Greek culture predominated in Romanism. Romanism only became dominant when it had already declined. In a sense, Rome was predestined to exert its activity only in its dead element, in its dead Latin language, in which it then prepared the way for what entered human evolution in the fifteenth century. This is how the course of civilization must be observed. For, once again, we are now faced with having to seek the way toward knowing of the approach of spiritual revelations from the higher worlds. Once again, we must learn to struggle, just as people struggled then.

We must be clear about the fact that what we possess as natural science came to us by way of the Arabs. The knowledge we have acquired through our sciences must be lifted up to Imagination, Inspiration, and Intuition. In a certain sense, however, we must also steel our faculties by means of observing the things of the past, so that we acquire the strength to attain what we need for the future. This is the mission of anthroposophical spiritual science. We must recall this again and again, my dear friends. We should acquire quite vivid perceptions of how differently the Greeks thought about soul and corporeal aspects. It would have sounded ridiculous to them if one had listed seventy-two or seventy-six chemical elements. They perceived the living effect of the elements outside and of the fluids within.

We live within the elements. Insofar as the body is permeated by the soul, the human being with his body lives within the four elements the Greeks spoke about. We have arrived at the point where we have lost sight of the human being, because we can no longer view him in the above manner and focus only on what chemistry teaches today in the way of abstract elements.




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