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The Recovery of the Living Source of Speech

The Recovery of the Living Source of Speech

By Rudolf Steiner

GA 224

A lecture delivered in Dornach, on April 13th, 1923. Authorized translation from the German of Notes unrevised by the lecturer. Also known as: Archangels and the Living Source of Speech Lecture 2 of 11 from the lecture series: The Human Soul in its Connection with Godly-Spiritual Individualities. Published in German as: Die Menschliche Seele in Ihrem Zusammenhang Mit Goettlich-Geistligen Individualitaeten. Die Verinnerlichung der Jahresfeste. GA# 224.

Copyright © 1973
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Lecture given by


at Dornach, 13th April, 1923.

My DEAR Friends,

If you will remind yourselves of some of the things I have said in recent lectures, you will, I think, be able to call up a picture of the relationship of man's faculty of speech to those Beings in the spiritual world whom we are accustomed to assign to the Hierarchy of the Archangels. You will remember I explained to you the difference it makes to man whether the words he speaks are formed in such a way as to refer only to material things, in which case speech assumes a materialistic character, or whether in his speaking he unfolds a certain idealism, so that every time he utters a word, the feeling is present in him that he belongs to a spiritual world and that the words that ring in his speaking, coming as they do from the soul, must have some relation to Spirits. According as the one or the other is true, so does man come, between falling asleep and awakening, into a wrong or right relation with the Archangels. If he allows idealism to disappear altogether from his speaking, then he gradually loses the connection, which is so essential to him, with the Archangels. I am reminding you of this, because I want to speak to-day more particularly of one aspect of this relationship of human speech with the hierarchy of the Archangels. Speech, like everything else in evolution that has to do with man, as we have had full opportunity of realising in our study of his being, has had its history. What I want to bring forward does not refer to any one language in particular. The periods of time we have to take into view when we are studying some deep-seated change in speech are so long that even primitive languages show the same character as civilised ones in respect of such matters as we shall be considering. To-day therefore we shall not concern ourselves with the differences that exist between the several languages, but rather with those metamorphoses which human language in general has undergone in the course of the evolution of mankind on Earth.

If we consider the relationship man has to-day to language, we find that the words he speaks are nearly all of them signs for things that are round about him. As you will know, we have in the course of our studies alluded to a more intimate relationship between word and object. In our day however there is hardly any feeling left for this; words are very little more than mere outward signs for the objects indicated. Who is there who still feels, when the word Blitz (lightning) is uttered, something of the same experience he has when lightning actually flashes through space? To-day we are inclined to look on the word merely as a combination of sounds that is a sign for the phenomenon of the flash of lightning. It was not always so. If we go no farther back than to the earlier part of the Greek civilisation, we find that man's relation to language was not then one of thought, where the word is for him a sign and a symbol. The man of olden time entered with heart and soul into the sounds of his words and into the whole way the sounds were formed and arranged. And in the case of the languages of Northern Europe we do not even need to go back so far before we come to a time when the word Pflug (plough) gave man the same inner experience as did the activity of ploughing. This has been lost, and the word has become no more than a sign. But it is scarcely more than 1500 years or so since words were still felt in this way in the Northern parts of Europe. The feeling a man had when he was ploughing was similar to the feeling he had when he heard the word which in those days designated the plough. When anyone was listening to or speaking a word, it was not so much his thinking that partook in the experience as his feeling.

If now we go back into more remote ages, we find something different again; the will takes an intense and active part in the forming of words. But in order to study the times when man's relationship to external Nature was pre-eminently one of will, we must take our thoughts right back to Atlantis. For we have to reckon with long epochs of time when we are considering the evolution of language.

Within language lives the Genius of language. Language is not dependent for its evolution on the decision of man. In language lives the Genius of language. And the Genius of Language belongs to the hierarchy of the Archangels. When man speaks — when, that is, an atmosphere is prepared around the Earth within which can live man's utterances articulated into speech, then that atmosphere of speech and language is the element of the Archangels. Hence are the Archangels the Spirits of the different peoples — the Folk Spirits as we call them. You will know of this from the lectures I gave on the Mission of the Folk-Souls.

The evolution of language on Earth has thus a deep and intimate connection with the evolution of the Archangels. We can go so far as to say that in the evolution of speech and language we are beholding the evolution of the Archangels themselves. For even when we are studying something that has to do with the Earth, it is by no means impossible in the course of that very study to come to a knowledge of the evolution of higher spiritual Beings. We need only learn how to relate particular facts and phenomena to particular higher spiritual Beings, and we can arrive at a clear perception of how the continuous evolution of the Archangels is expressed and revealed in the changes that are to be observed in man's faculty of speech.

Now in those far-off times when an element of will came to expression in man's speech — that is, in the later part of the Atlantean evolution — it was not the same Beings of the Hierarchy who lived in his language as in more recent times. The whole relationship moreover was different. In those remote times man was not yet so interested in the feelings aroused in him at the sight, for example, of the blossoming of flowers or by changes in weather. These feelings interested him, it is true, in another connection, but not in respect of the faculty whereby the word welled up from the depths of his soul. Whether danger threatened him from this or that fact in Nature, summoning him to defend himself, or whether something else had a kindly and favourable influence and he would fain bring it into the orbit of his life, or again whether another object of perception were good or bad for his health, — in effect, how his will was aroused to activity, what he was induced to do under the influence of some fact or other, — this was the aspect of experience that interested him, and he formed his words accordingly. So that in those older times we find words that express how man reacts, what he finds himself impelled to do under the influence of the world around him. The most ancient language of all consisted almost entirely of expressions of will. How do we account for this? It was due to the fact that the Archangels came to language by way of Intuition. Read the descriptions I have given in my books of the nature of Intuition, and you will have a picture of the activity exercised by the Archangels in the later part of the Atlantean evolution, when they bestowed upon man the language of will.

Later, these Archangels moved forward in their own evolution. In my little book, “The Spiritual Guidance of Man and of Mankind,” I spoke about the evolution of the Leaders and Guides of humanity who live in the spiritual world. To-day we will extend this into a realm to which on that occasion we gave little attention, — the realm of speech and language. The advance made by the Archangels in their relation to language may be described in the following way. In the older faculty of Intuition they were standing within the world of still higher Hierarchies, giving themselves up in devotion to these worlds, so that together with speech they received something of the very being of higher Hierarchies than themselves. So long as it all depended upon Intuition, the Archangels surrendered themselves to the next higher Hierarchy, — Kyriotetes, Dynamis, Exusiai. They were within the worlds of this higher Hierarchy, and it was the experience of standing intuitively within this higher Hierarchy that enabled them to put the speech-forming power into human life on Earth.

In the next epoch the Archangels make, as it were, a step forward and then their speech-forming power flows no longer out of Intuition but out of Inspiration. They are not now completely surrendered to the next higher Hierarchy. (What they did still receive through their devotion to this Hierarchy underwent a change; it ceased to be something they could then communicate to man as speech or language). Now they hearken to the Inspirations of the First Hierarchy, — Thrones, Cherubim, Seraphim, — and from out of this Inspiration they pour down to Earth the speech-forming power.

If we go back to the earliest times of Post-Atlantean evolution, or even only as far as ancient Egypt and Chaldea, we find in every land that the source from which the Archangels drew, in order to communicate speech to man, is Inspiration. Language itself is metamorphosed. Words become an expression before all else of sympathy and antipathy, of every shade of human feeling. Instead of a language of will, as in former times, we have now a language of feeling. We have come to a stage where this feeling, which is called forth in man by an external process or being is the very same as is experienced when the sounds issuing forth from the depths of his being are uttered by the speech organs and articulated into the word.

We have reached a significant phase in the evolution of mankind. The Hierarchy of the Archangels is at first the receiver of Intuitions; and the language of will, brought down as it were out of these Intuitions, is created by these Beings. The Archangels move on further and become the receivers of Inspiration. And what they receive through the inspiration of Beings of the First Hierarchy, gives rise to the language of feeling.

Diagram 1

It was out of an extraordinarily deep perception that the well-known scholar and writer on the history of Art, Hermann Grimm, drew a clear line of division between the Greeks and the Romans. When we learn history at school or at the university, we are, he said, exhorted to take pains to understand what we learn; but as we go back over the evolution of mankind, we can only understand history as far back as Roman times. Cicero and Caesar we can still understand, for up to a point they are similar to the man of the present day, — although it must be said that the understanding generally brought to a study of Caesar is far from being free and natural. If we were not so thoroughly drilled and trained to it, we would never take much interest in Caesar! We would leave it to the pupils in military schools. Generally speaking, however, it is possible to trace a continuous stream back from our own day to Rome. A certain element of pedantry, which has gradually been creeping into man's life and has to-day reached a kind of culmination, first began to show itself in Rome. But, thinks Hermann Grimm, if we are honest with ourselves, we cannot claim to understand Pericles or Alcibiades. We understand them in the same way as we understand characters in fairy tales. As a matter of fact, it is only through a deeper study of Anthroposophy that one can come again to an understanding of the soul life of such figures; as you know, we have sought here again and again to enter into the whole way in which a Greek thinks and forms his ideas. Hermann Grimm is aware of the distance that lies between the inner life of a Greek and the inner life of a man of the present day. To the Roman we can still feel ourselves near; then comes a great gulf. The way the Greeks are described in the schools to-day is really deplorable! They are made out to be just like ourselves. They were not so at all, their whole life of soul was of a different character altogether. We need to look round for quite other methods to describe the Greeks. You could not have more striking evidence of this than when the learned Wilamowitz undertakes to translate the Greek tragedians. The whole affair is simply a disgrace. I need hardly say, there is nothing of the Greek tragedies left in his translations, not a trace! And yet people are immensely pleased, quite enchanted with them. Their dramatis personae simply do not exist in the tragedies themselves.

Hermann Grimm showed a true and sure instinct, when he said that we come into an entirely different world when we come to Greece — to say nothing of the Orient. It is really no more than a ridiculous mockery for modern man to imagine he can understand anything of the true Orient out of Deussen's translations. The first thing necessary is to be able to comprehend the change that has come about since then in the very being of man's soul.

And now when we come to consider our particular sphere, the sphere of speech or language, then we find that the language of feeling still prevailed in Greece among the philosophers up to the time of Plato. The first philosophical pedant [ ’Pedant’ seems to be, in this connection, the nearest rendering for ‘Philinter.’ (Note by Translator). ] is Aristotle, the great and universal spirit. It will surprise you that I give him these two appellations, one after the other, but we do not understand Aristotle unless we see in him the first philosophical pedant and at the same time the universal spirit. He is great in a certain aspect but he is in another aspect the first pedant philosopher, for he made out of words categories of thought. It would never have occurred to the Greek of an older time to take words and force them, as it were, to yield categories of thought; he still felt the words as something that is inspired into man, still felt the presence of higher Spirits in speech and language.

Well on into the Greek epoch and — for the man in the street, as we say — as late as the Mystery of Golgotha, we can still detect in the speech-forming power of man the element of Inspiration, as it lives in the soul of the Archangel. True, the ordinary person lags behind the philosopher in certain respects; but in spiritual matters he is often less behind, and in the matter of the speech-forming faculty, he retains the Inspirations longer. Dates can of course be no more than approximate. In one region of the earth Inspiration lasts a longer, in another a shorter, time. In one region, men still feel how the word pulsates in them as the blood pulsates in the body; they feel it in the power of the breath. In the power of the breath as it enfills and surges through the body, they feel the presence of the Archangel, who is himself subject to Inspiration.

Then we come into a time when it is no longer so that the Archangel is yielding to Inspiration when he communicates to man the power of speech, but to Imagination. And language becomes the language of thought. Man begins to speak more out of thoughts; language approaches the abstract. And behind this lies a fact of great significance.

Diagram 2

The Archangels, who belong to the Third Hierarchy, received Intuitions from the Second Hierarchy, and Inspirations from Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones — the First Hierarchy. Whence do they receive Imagination? There is no Hierarchy beyond the First! The Imaginations cannot at any rate come to them from any one of the Hierarchies named in the writings of Dionysius the Areopagite. For he tells of no Hierarchy beyond the first. Certain Archangel Beings were therefore obliged to turn to the past for Imaginations, to find in the past the pictures of the speech-forming power, — for that is what the Imaginations are. What came from an earlier time had to be carried on into the future. There was no longer any immediate and present flow of the speech-forming power. And inasmuch as speech now took its source from an earlier stage, into it crept an Ahrimanic element. This is a fact of incalculable significance. And what the Archangels felt above them came to expression in the world of man in a deadening of speech and language. Language became polished and at the same time paralysed, it no longer retained the livingness it had in earlier days.

Try to understand the significance of this change. Something enters into the life of man that in reality requires a higher hierarchy than the First. If we have a right understanding for this event in human development in all its tremendous significance, we shall come to see that a time had arrived when the Gods had to grow out beyond what is contained in the First Hierarchy. There is one thing that up to that time had not yet been achieved by the Gods, and was already present here on Earth in picture. What the Gods had not yet achieved is the passage through Death. You have often heard me speak of this. The Gods who stand above man in the various Hierarchies knew only of changes from one form of life into another. The actual event of death in life had not, up to the time of the Mystery of Golgotha, been an experience of the Gods. Death came as a result of Luciferic and Ahrimanic influences; it came, that is, through the agency of Divine Beings who had either remained behind in evolution or pressed forward too quickly. Death had no place in the life-experience of the higher Hierarchies. It enters into their experience in the moment when the Christ passes through the Mystery of Golgotha — passes, that is, through Death, uniting Himself so deeply with the destiny of Earth Man as to have this also in common with him, — that He passes through Death. The event of Golgotha is accordingly more than an event of the life of Earth, it is an event of the life of the Gods. The actual event that took place in that moment on Earth, and the knowledge of the Event that finds its way into the hearts and minds of men — all this is an image of the infinitely more lofty and sublime and far-reaching Event that took place in the worlds of the Gods themselves. Christ's passing through death on Golgotha is an event whereby the First Hierarchy reached up into a still higher realm. Therefore have I always had to speak to you of the Trinity as standing above the First Hierarchy. In reality It only came there in the course of evolution. Everywhere there is evolution.

And so, if we are speaking of the Hierarchies as described in Dionysius the Areopagite, we have to say that the Archangels lose the possibility of forming Imaginations from above. Consequently Man loses the possibility of continuing to build and fashion his language in a living manner. In the world of the Gods an event takes place of which the Mystery of Golgotha is an earthly reflection. Therefore the Event of Golgotha contains among its many implications also this, — that as men gradually receive into themselves more and more of the Christ Impulse, they receive again through the Christ Impulse the living spring and fountain of language.

We have to-day the various languages that run their course like diverging streams. And if we look at these various languages in a free and unbiassed way, we cannot fail to observe how they carry in them — and more especially, the farther we go Westward — an element of death, how they tend to become mere empty husks. In Asia things have not yet gone so far, but as we go West we find increasingly how the languages show signs of dying.

There is only one way whereby the speech-creating power can be quickened into life, — and that is through men coming to realise the Christ Impulse as a living Impulse. Then the Christ Impulse can become a power in man that can create speech. And among all the facts to be noted if we want to form a true picture of the significance of the Christ Impulse in the whole evolution of mankind, this must also have place, that at the time when man went forward into freedom, he came right out of the Divine and spiritual stream in which he had been steeped hitherto. Had speech remained as it was in the time of ancient Greece, man would not have been able to evolve to freedom. That speech serves the purpose merely of a sign, — this absurdity (for so I must call it) had to come about when the Archangels lost the possibility of forming Imaginations from the present and had to resort to the past. During the time since the Christ first made Himself known to men, during all this time while He has let the Mystery of His Being and His activity be there on record in the Gospels, the knowledge of Christ has not come in its fullness, the knowledge men have had of Him has not been sufficiently spiritual, it has often been merely traditional. But when the word of the Gospel is quickened to life by an understanding of the Christ, an understanding that derives from the Christ Himself as He still works on in the world, continuing to have influence always upon man, then — and only then — will proceed from the Christ Impulse, from the living Christ Impulse, the speech-forming power.

Let us now set down on the blackboard what I have been indicating. Here up above, the Gods grow more and more exalted. Down below an evolution goes on among men. On the one hand they receive more and more of the Christ Impulse, on the other hand they move further and further forward in the direction of freedom.

And when man rises to a higher stage, the higher Hierarchies also reach a higher stage. The Archangels gradually receive more and more of the Christ Impulse, on the other hand they move further and further forward in the direction of freedom. And when man rises to a higher stage, the higher Hierarchies also reach a higher stage. The Archangels gradually receive more and more of the Christ, Who has found His home in the hearts of men on Earth; He enters with His Impulse right into the Imaginations of the Archangels, and these become alive, become quick with immediate present life.

We shall in the future have an altogether different kind of language-forming power. A quite new kind will begin to work. I have spoken of this from other points of view in earlier lectures.

Diagram 3

We can describe the evolution that goes on above in the Heavens at the same time as mankind evolves on the Earth below. And we can also describe its copy or reflection on Earth, — the progress from the language of will to the language of feeling and thence to the language of thought or symbol. And we can know that amidst it all Archangels are ascending — or shall we rather say descending — from Intuition to Inspiration and to Imagination. We behold first the evolution of the Archangels and all that takes place in connection therewith among the higher Hierarchies, and when we turn from that to man in his evolution, it is on the evolution of language and of the word that we have to fix our attention. We will consider one particular stream in the whole history of mankind, into which a divine stream was interwoven. It goes back to the origin of all things, the far beginning of all things. “In the Beginning was the Word” where was the word in those distant ages, when mankind had a language of the will? The Word was with God, it had to be sought there by means of Intuition. “The Word was with God ”.

The Archangels had to transpose themselves by means of Intuition into the Being of the Second Hierarchy. The Being that flowed over into Them was the Word. “And a God was the Word”.

In the Beginning was the Word
And the Word was with God
And a God was the Word.

We see how intimate is the connection of that stream in evolution which finds its culmination in the Mystery of Golgotha with the Logos, the Word. And it is all bound up with the great cosmic event of man's “becoming” and the passage of Christ through death. When those great sentences were uttered: “In the Beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and a God was the Word ” — in those days the Word was felt as moving and weaving in the soul of man. With the Advent of the Mystery of Golgotha came a time when Christ was present in a human body — men beheld Him through the Word. The Word had entered into physical man. “ And the Word became flesh ”.

Deep truths, deep facts of evolution, lie hidden in the ancient writings, but earnest and persistent work is needed to find them again. We must first be able to observe in the spiritual world. Above all, we must approach these ancient writings with reverence, knowing that we shall only be able to deepen our understanding of their content by learning to investigate these sublime matters for ourselves. And as we are able to enter into their deeper meaning we enter also into spiritual life itself.

Well indeed would it be for us in this age, had we a Michael civilisation, a culture and a civilisation fired by what I recently called the Michael thought! This Michael thought should be alive, above all, in the autumn time. The festival of autumn should be filled with it. The leaves have withered and are falling from the branches of the trees, the plants are fading away, life is being mineralised. All the fresh young sprouting life that we saw in the earlier part of the year is receiving death into itself, death and decay, and is fast undergoing mineralisation. Now must the Michael power well up from man's inner being; now must man recognise how, just where the physical and material grows weak and faint and tends to die away, — just there the spiritual enters in! The Autumn Festival of Michaelmas at the end of September should become a festival filled with life and impulse. It has to express how man, while he stands right within the decaying processes of Nature, grows correspondingly active in his soul. When the Michael Festival shall have this character, then all human activity will be fructified from it. And how sore is the need to-day for such fructification! Let me give you an instance.

A short while ago, we heard a great deal about a resolve some people had made to study language. Nothing came of it, nothing at all. All manner of facts about language were collected, but the whole effort was completely lacking in spirituality. It was really so. There you had a group of young people, straight from school. At school of course, they had not yet woken up, but now — they are going to “study language”! They begin to plan it all and think how it will be when they have gone on studying for some time; a dazzling picture floats before their eyes of the fruit of all their labours. Actually all the preliminary steps are there; they could quite well have gone on to a recognition of the great miracle that unfolds before us when we look away from the present-day language of thought, through the language of feeling, to the language of will, and behold there the wonderful working and weaving of the Divine Archangels, behold too how their working and weaving stirs even yet in the language corpses of to-day. Were the life of the First Beginnings to flow again in language, what a sublime greatness were there revealed!

You must understand that the Michael thought is not a thing to be taken easily. You cannot simply say: Let us inaugurate a Michael Festival; it will be wonderful, and we shall then be in the very forefront of progress. The Michael thought has relation to the strongest and deepest impulses of the human will. It must reckon with these innermost impulses, and a Michael Festival cannot be other than a festival which gives a tremendous urge to human life, much as in those olden times, when man had the power to create festivals, the institution of the Christmas Festival or of the Easter Festival gave a new urge and impetus to the whole life of man on Earth.

Published in the Golden Blade, 1973  

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