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The Evolution of Consciousness

Evolution of Consciousness: Lecture XIII: The Entry of Man into the Era of Freedom


The Entry of Man into the Era of

From the descriptions given yesterday you will have gathered that man has gradually to acquire freedom in the present period of world and human evolution. On looking back into the past evolution of the world, we find how, in respect of his most important activities, his walking, speaking, thinking, man has been prepared from above by divine-spiritual Beings. We see how, in order to ensure that what these divine Beings have accomplished in man during his earthly existence shall take effect, if only unconsciously, he is always led between death and rebirth into association with these Beings.

You will remember that I spoke of a man being led through the forces of Sun and Moon, and then, in the realm of the Sun, through Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, into the world of the stars, spiritually understood. To this I would add that when a man in the life between death and rebirth has, so to say, to retrace his steps after, as at present, progressing in the region of the planetoids to a perception of the Saturn impulses, on this return journey he comes into relation with the most sublime divine-spiritual Beings of the higher Hierarchies — Thrones, Cherubim, Seraphim. These are spiritual Beings whose impulses extend over both spiritual and natural existence. While entering into the laws of nature and infusing them with life and with spirit, they have the purpose of bringing about enduring harmony between these laws of nature and the moral life of the whole Cosmos. They are Beings who have never appeared in any physical form, yet in the spiritual world they exercise a scarcely conceivable power upon the Earth, and make it possible for moral law to be brought into continuous harmony with natural law. And so, because a man during his existence beyond the Earth is able constantly to give new life to impulses of the past, he reaches a point in his evolution when he can work in accordance with these extra-earthly impulses.

In the present epoch of the evolution of world and of man, however, we are faced with the task of taking under our own free control everything that in the past was more or less a matter of compulsion, determined for all human beings by higher Powers.

When we survey this evolution of world and of man we find that at a certain definite time man encountered difficulties which had to be overcome on his way from being led exclusively by divine-spiritual Beings to the conscious work of raising himself to knowledge of these Beings and so to the gaining of human freedom. This point of time, which in a certain sense signifies the greatest crisis in the whole evolution of man, came approximately 333 years after the Mystery of Golgotha. Such dates are only approximate owing to time being reckoned in various ways. According to our present reckoning, it was 333 years after the Mystery of Golgotha that this crisis came about.

If we look back at this critical moment, we can describe it more or less in the following way. If the evolution of mankind and that of the Earth itself had continued as they were doing, if men had remained under the guidance of the divine-spiritual Beings who had been leading them up to that time, then, since it was intended by those Beings that men should acquire freedom, it would have been achieved — but with what result? At that time it would have meant upsetting the balance between the two parts of the human astral body.

Think of the connection between the physical body and the astral body: we will keep to the astral body first. Before the year 333 the greater part of the astral body had been active essentially in the upper man, and its smaller part in his lower body — the middle man being between the two. And because in those times the upper part of the astral body was the more powerful, it was through it that divine-spiritual Beings exercised upon man their greatest influence. In accordance with the plan for mankind, human evolution has proceeded in such a way that up to about 3,000 years before Christ those conditions for the astral body held good, but by 1,000 years before Christ the lower part of the astral body was becoming larger and the upper part relatively smaller, until, in the year 333, the two parts had become equal. This was the critical situation 333 years after the coming of Christ, and since then the upper part of a man's astral body has been continuously decreasing. That is the course taken by his evolution.

It is impossible to follow the evolution of man in its reality unless we are able to understand what happens to the human astral body in the course of earthly evolution. If human beings had not undergone this decrease in the upper part of the astral body, their Ego would never have been able to gain sufficient influence and they could never have become free. This decrease in the astral body therefore contributes to the evoking of freedom. I have already said that there is no sense in asking why the Gods have not arranged everything to give human beings pleasure. The Gods had to create a universe that was inherently possible. Much that gives men the greatest pleasure rests on that, besides other things which, until they are enlightened, they do not find at all agreeable. This decrease of the astral body is connected with something else, for on the size of the astral body in the upper part of man — not on its size as a whole — depends his power to control, with his Ego and astral body, his physical and etheric bodies. Hence all men are likely to have their health gradually impaired by this decrease in the astral body. We can form a true conception of human evolution only if we recognise that freedom has to be paid for on Earth by a general weakening of health. Not, of course, in the form of cholera or typhus, but freedom is not to be gained without bringing ill-health of some kind along with it.

If all human forces after the year 333 had remained as they were, men on Earth would have become weaker and weaker, increasingly powerless. And earthly life would have come to an end through this complete decadence of mankind.

At this point there took place what I should like to describe as follows. At a gathering of those divine-spiritual Beings I spoke of as belonging to the Sun, it was decided to send down to the Earth their representative, the Christ, there to go through something that the divine Beings connected with mankind would be experiencing for the first time. Birth and death are certainly not what materialists imagine them to be, but they are part of man's earthly existence. None of the divine-spiritual Beings above man — Angels, Archangels, and so on up to the highest — had ever known death, but only metamorphoses. They change from one form to another, but they are not born and do not die. A man, too, changes form, but at the same time he lays aside his physical and etheric bodies, thus making birth and death a more radical change than any change experienced by the higher Hierarchies. So the leaders in the harmonies and impulses of the Sun resolved to send down to Earth the Christ, as a Being who had not yet experienced birth and death, so that He might go through this purely human destiny. The Mystery of Golgotha, therefore, is not merely the concern of mankind; it is also a concern of the Gods, and this can be put into words such as these: The Sun Gods met and held counsel together as to the steps they should take for warding off from mankind the danger of becoming weaker and weaker through the decline of the astral body.

And so the Christ was sent down to Earth and went through birth and death — naturally not as a human being but as a divine Being. The consequence was that through the Mystery of Golgotha, through the fact of Christ's death, forces came into Earth-evolution for the healing of those other forces which, in the sense already described, were the cause of sickness. Thus Christ became for mankind, in very truth, the great cosmic and terrestrial Healer of mankind. In other words, His forces entered everything that has to be healed in human beings, so that man, having his tendency to decadence on the one hand, but on the other the saving forces of Christ, can find his way to freedom. Therefore, provision was made in world-evolution to ensure that, 333 years before the great crisis, the Mystery of Golgotha should take place.

Human evolution on Earth, accordingly, could not have gone forward without this threat of disastrous universal sickness, to begin in the year 333. Then, through the Mystery of Golgotha, came the great universal healing. Everything therefore done by man without Ego-consciousness, everything that derives from the deeper forces tending to his future downfall, can be healed through association with the Christ. That is what the Mystery of Golgotha means for earthly and human evolution.

The situation I have just been explaining was known, until the fourth century after the coming of Christ, to certain men who still had some knowledge of the facts through having absorbed the spiritual life of their time. In all ages before the Mystery of Golgotha there had been old Mysteries, where the pupils were instructed concerning men's past earthly evolution, the coming of Christ, and what was to take place in mankind's future evolution. They were shown in great and powerful pictures the connection of men on Earth with the spiritual Beings of the higher worlds. At the time of the Mystery of Golgotha there were still isolated individuals here and there who, though scarcely more advanced than the old Mystery pupils, had preserved some knowledge of these matters — a knowledge later called Gnosis. They were scattered through Western Asia, Africa, Southern Europe. Their knowledge, their wisdom, extended to the source of events in the evolution of Earth and man, and to the mighty part played by the Mystery of Golgotha for dwellers on the Earth. But these men, who still had knowledge of the old Mystery secrets, were filled with anxiety. They knew that a crisis was coming for mankind. They knew that in the future human understanding would no longer be able to fathom the depths of earthly and human evolution.

Thus, in certain personalities of the first four Christian centuries it is possible to discern anxiety — not about earthly affairs but about the whole course of world-evolution. Will men be truly ripe enough, they asked, to receive what the Mystery of Golgotha has brought? This, in the first four centuries after the Mystery of Golgotha, was the great question for those we might call successors of the old Initiates.

From among those who in these first centuries were still initiated in Christian Mysteries there came, for example, a wonderful poem. It told of the coming of Christ to Earth, but it also gave in impressive dramatic form — although as a whole the poem was epic — powerful pictures of the men of the near future, who would no longer be able to understand the need for a healing element in human evolution. After these pictures had revealed something of what the Gods had decreed from the Sun — in the way I mentioned — and the descent of Christ into the man Jesus had been impressively described, the poem went on to picture how in human evolution there was to be, in a new, metamorphosed form, a revitalising of the old Demeter-Isis being. It was shown how this being was to be revered in a special, powerfully depicted human form, coming in the future as a solemn promise to mankind.

These poet-priests, as I might call them, of the first four Christian centuries, or at least the most outstanding among them, described how in the further evolution a certain cult was to arise, practised by all who were to attain to learning and a life of the spirit. For such men a sacrificial act of some kind would be established.

The epic pictured a younger man who was to enter into the whole way in which human evolution at that time was understood. It was shown how he was to pass from youth to maturity by developing a cult of the Virgin. This ritual observance, this sacrificial act, shown as necessary for all who were becoming learned and wise, if humanity was to find connection with what had come to men through the Mystery of Golgotha, was portrayed in vivid colours. A mighty poem, full of colour, came into being in those early centuries of Christianity. And among those living more or less in the atmosphere of this poem there were also painter-priests, who, it is true, painted these scenes in the simple way understood by ordinary folk; but their pictures had power and went straight to the heart.

This is what that poem accomplished. But together with all that came definitely from the Gnosis, it was rooted out later by the Church. We have only to remember how it was merely by so-called chance that later on the writings of Scotus Erigena were saved, and it will not seem absurd when spiritual research claims that this greatest of poems, evoking the New Testament, was exterminated root and branch by the later Church, so that nothing of it was left in the following centuries. Yet this poem had been there. It was rooted out, together with all the simple but impressive paintings connected with it. Concealed in it was all the anxiety felt at the time by the successors of the old Initiates. There rang through this poem the grave tones of an elegy.

Now, among those who did not follow Augustine into a quite different stream, a number of people retained the capacity to understand these things right into the fourth century, even up to the beginning of the fifth. But this understanding could not remain as vivid as it had once been; the spiritual forces of people in Southern Europe were no longer adequate for that. So the fundamentals of understanding became crystallised in the dogmas that have endured, though this could not have happened if the dogmas had not been preserved in a language growing ever more lifeless — the Latin language. This carrying on of Latin into the Middle Ages by learned men had the effect of benumbing a once living understanding, so that finally all that was known about Christ becoming man, about the sending of the Spirit, and about the great healing of which I have spoken, had become rigidified in dogmas. These dogmas were propagated through the Latin tongue, the very words of which had nothing more to do with the true content of the teaching. Thus, in the spreading of Western scholarship through the medium of Latin, there took place a gradual drying-up of the fiery, phosphoric element which had permeated that exterminated poem.

Then came all the youthful peoples of the North, stirred up more from the East, and they received the Christ Impulse in the Latinised form through which it was losing vitality.

We must picture this Christ Impulse coming up from the South, and the peoples who spread over the North accepting a dried-up Christianity because their youthful spiritual forces lacked power to give fresh life to the greatness underlying the frozen dogmas. The aftermath of all this is still with us to-day. Even now in those Northern regions there can apparently be found — for all this is only apparent — forces that seem to have been too late in receiving the Christ Impulse, already rigid in dogma, but are called upon, out of direct knowledge of the spirit, to rediscover all the secrets of the fact of Golgotha and of Christ's entry into earthly life — all of which has, however, to be re-discovered in complete freedom. For even the fact that after the year 333, Christianity, in its benumbed state, made its way up out of Italy, and young races of men swept down, whose successors are now spread throughout Russia, Sweden, Norway, Middle Europe, England, still living under that same influence — all this came about so that, ultimately, human beings should be able to lay hold of the Christ Impulse in freedom.

It is the present task of those peoples who, as representatives of a civilisation, are the first to whom Anthroposophy has to be brought, to accept all that is connected with Christ Jesus, and to recognise that without the Christ Impulse all men would have become mere “pillars of salt”. We can use these physical terms, for the Christ Impulse goes into the physical — right into the healing of the physical. Christ has become the great spiritual Phosphorus working to overcome the salt-forming processes in man. Christus verus Phosphorus — this phrase could be heard on all sides in the first three centuries of Christianity. It was also a leading motif in the lost poem I have described.

So, between past and future, we must take our place in the present, and by the same token be able to look back. Naturally, I have no wish to urge upon you dogmatically what I have just been relating about a lost poem and a forgotten teaching. That is far from my intention. But the methods leading to investigation of man's true spiritual course bring us knowledge of such facts, no less reliable than the facts discovered by modern science and far more reliable than its hypotheses. Just as nobody can be compelled to interest himself in matters which, influenced by present-day materialism, he has always rejected, so will nobody who is as sure of them as of his own life be deterred from speaking of them to those who, with a sound feeling for the whole course of human evolution, are able to perceive the reality of such an impulse at work therein.

After the fourth century of Christianity, the poem referred to no longer existed, but in certain circles many details of it were passed on by word of mouth, and lived on in memory. But the members of these circles were prevented by the growing power of the Church from speaking publicly of any such occurrences during the early Christian centuries. One of those who still had some notion of the poem — though they knew of it only in a greatly changed and weakened form — and some idea of the mood from which it arose, was the teacher of Dante. It may indeed be said that Dante's Commedia, though dogmatically inclined, owed some of its inspiration to what had been there in the first few Christian centuries.

Naturally I am well aware of the objections that can be made to such an interpretation of history — I could make them myself. But recognising, as one must, the care taken by authors of the history taught in our schools, and with all respect for the precision that relies on records and conscientious historical criticism, what is it all worth? It cannot claim to be true history, real history, for it takes no account of those records which have been side-tracked in the course of time. Hence, though documents may be subjected to the most conscientious criticism, true history will be revealed only in the same way as true knowledge of nature and of the heavens — through spiritual investigation. Men must therefore find courage not only to speak about the world of the stars, as we have been doing during our time here, but also to introduce into the usual presentation of history all that it lacks because it was in the interest of certain circles to deprive posterity of relevant documents. But the impulses in those destroyed documents live on in the souls of human beings; live on in those who have come later and crave for the impulses no longer recorded but once so alive in mankind. Hence it will not only be necessary for men — if they wish to reach in their evolution the future intended for them — to transform, to a certain extent, many of their concepts; they will have also to transform their attitude to the truth.

To speak fundamentally: we must find our way again to Christ. Christ must come again. This assumes that during the present century there will be men able to understand in what way Christ will announce His presence, in what guise He will appear. Otherwise terrible disturbances may be stirred up by people who, having in the subconscious depths of their being a premonition of this coming of Christ in the spirit, will represent it to others in a shockingly superficial way. Clear vision into man's evolution during the early future will be possible only when an ever-increasing number of people are sufficiently ripe to see how spiritual research can make real progress; people who are able to discover in the spiritual world what men need for the right shaping of their further course. Failing this, we shall become more and more implicated in all that hinders our approach to the spiritual — not so much where ideas and concepts are concerned, as in our general attitude.

In the ideas and concepts of to-day there is much which looks like a movement towards what must be the true goal of knowledge in our time. In fact, however, this serves somewhat to hinder men from seeing the findings of natural science in the right light. They are left groping for the facts, as it were, in the dark. Observe how to-day — with the general spreading of scientific, medical conceptions — we hear of men who in their later life begin to suffer from nervous troubles that affect their whole physical constitution and lead to genuine symptoms of illness. Our present-day physicians realise, then, how powerless they are to get the better of these symptoms in any obvious way, or to proceed from pathology to therapy. As an immediate contemporary of the outstanding Viennese physician, Breuer, I remember his having a patient in whom physical examination could detect no pathological condition. It was decided to have recourse to hypnosis, which was becoming very popular at that time. Under hypnosis, the patient was found to have had, at an earlier period in his life, a terrible experience, overwhelming him with horror. As far as could be made out, this experience had been repressed into the realm of the subconscious, the unconscious, creating there a “hidden province” of the soul. Though the man himself knew nothing of this, it was there in his life and threatened his health. A man can thus have within him something which, beginning as a soul-experience, has disturbing after-effects; it sets up in his soul an isolated region of which he is unconscious.

It was thought that if the patient recalled his experience, and so became fully conscious of it, this very awareness would lead to his cure.

Cases such as this will be found with increasing frequency in life to-day. But if we are to understand why people are afflicted so often in this way, spiritual knowledge must teach us what happens when the upper part of the astral body decreases, while in its lower part there is a tendency to accumulate subconscious provinces of the soul. We must rise from knowledge of man's soul to the historical knowledge of the spirit, to cosmic spirit-knowledge, in order to explain such phenomena. I knew Breuer well; he was a man of depth; and, because he felt that with our present degree of knowledge no progress was to be made in these matters, he gave up this line of research. He then became involved with other interests, particularly with those of Freud and his followers. Out of that grew psycho-analysis, which rests upon something true, for the phenomena certainly exist. The origin of physical symptoms must be searched for in the soul; the idea is quite right. But the knowledge needed to master the phenomena is not to be found here, for it has to become spiritual knowledge.

Hence this psycho-analysis, which has to do with the quite natural, historical decrease in man's upper astral body, is in the hands of people who are not only amateurs at investigating soul and spirit, but also amateurs in the investigation of the physical body, not knowing how to follow the working of spirit there. So we have two forms of dilettantism coming together; they are really alike, for these people know just as little of the real life of man's soul and spirit as they do of his physical and etheric life. The two extents to which they are dilettante coincide; and when two similar quantities work on each other, they multiply: a x a = a2, or d x d = d2; thus dilettantism x dilettantism = dilettantism squared. So it really comes about that something right, based on true foundations, appears amateurish because of the weakness of present-day research. In all this, however, we can see a striving in the right direction. Anything like psycho-analysis should not, therefore, be treated as an invention of the devil, but as an indication that this age of ours wants something it is unable to achieve, and that anything like psychoanalysis will prosper only when founded on spiritual research. Otherwise psycho-analysis will come to us in the strange form to which Jung's logic has driven it.

Jung is indeed capable of writing, for example, a sentence such as this: One can say that through the “hidden provinces” of the soul, man was at one time disposed to assume the existence of a Divine Being. Jung then adds (he is, of course, inclined to atheism): It is obvious that such a Being cannot exist. Psycho-analysis, however, argues that man, having this disposition to believe, must assume the existence of a Divine Being in order to preserve the balance of his soul. For a conscientious person — and I would never fail to recognise that a man such as Jung is both conscientious and precise — this really means: You are obliged to live with an untruth because you are unable to live with the truth. There is no truth in theism, but you have to live with it. In our state of development to-day such things are not taken in earnest; they must, however, be taken with all possible earnestness.

So on all sides, without it being realised, these subconscious yearnings arise. Those of you who have heard or read other lecture-cycles of mine will know that I have often pointed out, from spiritual perception, how it is not right to say: Light streaming from the Sun, for example, goes out endlessly into the infinity of cosmic space, always decreasing in intensity with the square of the distance.

I have repeatedly said that spiritual perception gives a different picture. The idea that light from a centre streams out into endless distance is not correct. Just as a bow-string when drawn can be stretched only to a certain point, and will then spring back, so light goes only to a certain point and always returns. It does not only expand; it is also elastic, rhythmical. Hence the Sun not only radiates light but is all the while receiving it back; for at the end of their outward course the intensity of the rays is different and their course can be changed. I want merely to indicate this as revealing itself in connection with higher cognition, with cosmic knowledge of the world — the true knowledge of Spiritual Science.

Please do not take these remarks as indicating any lack of respect for science on my part. I appreciate science fully; it cannot be sufficiently praised, and one must recognise the high level of intelligence it brings into life to-day. But its statements about light, for example, are amateurish compared with the truth. It is important that the truth should be reached, if only to bring into all these prevailing ideas, which men do not know how to deal with, the impulse that could raise present-day research into the spiritual realm.

In certain occult circles there is a wrong practice: the student is given various occult teachings, but is never brought to the point of being shown whence they derive. The teachings are given in pictures, and the student is not led on to the realities which are imaged in the pictures. Hence his soul is surrounded by a world of pictures, and he never comes to see that through the pictures he ought to be learning about the whole Cosmos.

For this reason, after my Theosophy had appeared, it had to be followed by Occult Science. Here the pictures given in Theosophy are led on into the reality of the starry world, into the evolution of the Earth through Saturn, Sun, Moon, and so on. The two books are complementary to each other.

When in any sphere men are given nothing but pictures, they are hemmed in by them. Persons who practise a wrong kind of occultism do this with a student they are not sure of, and by this means they lead him into what is called “occult imprisonment”. He is then encircled by confusing pictures from which there is no escape — a veritable prison of pictures. That is how much occult harm has been practised, and is still practised to-day. There are even spiritual beings who drive certain people into this occult captivity; but for the soul the phenomenon is just the same. These spiritual beings are let loose in nature when nature is not understood spiritually, but viewed as though atomic processes were part of nature. The spirit in nature is thus denied. Those spirits who are always striving to work against man — the Ahrimanic spirits — then become active in nature, encompassing man with pictures of every kind, so that in this case, too, human beings are occultly imprisoned.

A great part of what to-day is called the scientific outlook — not the facts of science, for they can be relied on — consists of nothing else than pictures of the general occult captivity threatening to overtake mankind. The danger lies in the surrounding of people everywhere with atomistic and molecular pictures. It is impossible, when surrounded by such pictures, to look at those of the free spirit and the stars; for the atomistic picture of the world is like a wall around man's soul — the spiritual wall of a prison house.

This prospect can show us, in the light of Spiritual Science, what should be rightly striven for to-day. The facts of natural science are always fruitful and lead out into the wide realms of the spirit, if they are not approached with the prejudices of the occult prison in which, fundamentally, science is at present confined. These things must be a deep inward experience for us, if we wish to take our right place in the evolution of the Earth and mankind, in accordance with its past and its future. It is all this that speaks to us when in some region we have before our eyes the evidence of human aspiration in the past and are now able to see it in the full light of spirit and of soul.

When here we climb the hills and come upon the Druid stones, which are monuments to the spiritual aspirations of those ancient times, it can be a warning to us that the longings of those people of old who strove after the spirit, and looked in their own way for the coming Christ, will meet with fulfilment only when we, once again, have knowledge of the spirit, through the spiritual vision that is our way of looking for His coming. Christ must come again. Only thus can mankind learn to know Him in His spiritual form, as once, in bodily form, He went through the Mystery of Golgotha.

This is something that here, where such noble monuments of the past have been preserved, can be felt in a particularly living way.

Last Modified: 17-Feb-2018
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