The Festivals and Their Meaning
Ascension and Pentecost
On-line since: 1st June, 2000
The Message of Anthroposophy
WHEN we look back over the history of human evolution, events of major
or minor importance which have influenced the life of the whole of
mankind stand out in strong relief. The greatest of all these events
is that known as the Mystery of Golgotha, whereby Christianity became
an integral part of the evolution of humanity. In the age when the
Mystery of Golgotha took place, man's conception of it was quite
different from that of later times. In our present age a new
understanding, a new conception, must arise. It is the task of
Anthroposophy to promote an understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha
that is in keeping with the spirit of our epoch.
We must cast our minds back to earlier ages when human consciousness
was altogether different from that of to-day. Three or four thousand
years ago, men were instinctively conscious that before coming down
into a physical body on the earth they had lived in the spiritual
world. Every individual in those times knew that within him was a
being of soul-and-spirit, sent down by the Divine Powers into
earth-existence. Men's consciousness of death, too, was different,
for, in that they were able to look back in remembrance to their
pre-earthly existence as beings of soul-and-spirit, they knew that the
part of them that had lived before this earthly life would also live
on beyond death.
In those days there were schools of learning which were at the same
time religious institutions the Mysteries, as they are called
where men received instruction on what it was within their
power to know concerning their pre-earthly life. Thereby they came to
realise that before their earthly existence they had lived among stars
and among spiritual Beings, just as on earth they were living among
plants and animals, mountains and rivers. Man said to himself:
Out of the world of the stars I have descended to existence on
earth. He knew, too, that the stars are not merely physical,
that every star is peopled by spiritual Beings with whom he had been
connected before descending to the earth. He knew also that on laying
aside his physical body at death he would return to the world of the
stars, that is to say, to the spiritual world. He regarded the sun as
the star of supreme importance the sun with its Beings, of whom
the most exalted was the One known as the sublime Sun-Spirit.
From the Mysteries the teaching came to men that before they descend
to the earth the sublime Sun-Being gives them the power whereby they
are able to return in the right way after death into the spiritual
worlds of the stars. The teachers in the Mysteries said to their
pupils and these pupils in turn to other men: It is the
spiritual power of the sun, the spiritual light, which bears you on
beyond death and which accompanied you when you descended, through
birth, into earthly existence.
[Cp. John I, 9.]
Many were the prayers, many were the lofty teachings given by the
teachers in the Mysteries in order to glorify and describe the sublime
Sun-Spirit. These teachers in the Mysteries said to their pupils and
they in turn to all humanity, that when man has passed through the
gate of death he must enter, first, into the sphere of the lesser
stars and their beings, and then rise above the sun. This he cannot do
if the power of the Sun-Being is not bestowed upon him. Thus the
hearts of men who understood this were aglow with ardour when they
offered their prayers to the Spirit of the sun who gives them
immortality. The hymns and devotional exercises dedicated to the sun
had a particularly strong influence upon man's feeling and upon his
whole life of soul. He felt himself united with the God of the
universe when he participated in sun-worship.
Among the peoples where these customs prevailed, special rites and
ceremonies were enacted in connection with this veneration of the sun.
The ritual consisted, as a rule, in an image of the god being laid in
the grave and after some days taken out again, as a sign and token
that there is a god in the universe the Sun-God who ever
and again awakens men to life when he succumbs to death.
In enacting this ritual, the officiating priest said to his pupils,
and they then repeated it to others: This is the sign and token
that before you came down to the earth you were in a spirit-realm that
is the abode of the Sun-God. Look up to the sun which radiates light!
Whatever you see is only the outward revelation of the Sun-Being.
Behind its radiance is the eternal Sun-God who ensures immortality for
you. Thus those who received this teaching knew that they had
come down from spiritual worlds into the earthly world, but that they
had forgotten the world where dwells the Sun-God. But the priest told
them: Through your birth you have departed from the realm of the
Sun-God. When you pass through death you shall find that realm again
through the power that he, the Sun-God, has laid in your hearts.
It was known to the initiated priests of these Mysteries that the
sublime Sun-Spirit of whom they spoke to the worshippers is the same
Being as He who would later be called the Christ. But before
the Mystery of Golgotha the priests could speak to this effect only:
If you desire to know something of the Christ, you will seek in
vain on the earth; you must be lifted to the secrets of the sun. For
only outside and beyond the earth will you find the mysteries
pertaining to the Christ.
Relatively speaking, it was not difficult for men at that time to
accept such teaching because they had an instinctive remembrance of
the realm of the Christ whence they had descended to the earth. But
human nature is involved in a process of evolution and this
instinctive remembrance of pre-earthly, spiritual life was gradually
lost. Eight hundred years before the Mystery of Golgotha there were
only a very few in whom any instinctive remembrance of pre-earthly
life still survived.
Let us picture for a moment the passing of a man through death.
He passes out into the starry universe, gradually reaching spheres
from which he beholds the stars and even the sun from
the other side. From the earth we see the sun in the way to which we
are accustomed here. When, after death, we pass into the cosmic
expanse and see the sun from the other side, we see it, not as a
physical orb, but as a realm of spiritual Beings.
Long before the Mystery of Golgotha took place, men had been able to
behold the Christ in the sun from the other side, both before their
birth and after their death. The teachers in the Mysteries were able
to recall this vision of the Christ to their pupils, and to awaken in
them the realisation: Before I came to the earth, I beheld the
sun from the other side. This was so in times long
preceding the Mystery of Golgotha.
Then came the age beginning about eight hundred years before
the Mystery of Golgotha when it was no longer possible to
quicken in men the remembrance that before they came down to the earth
they beheld the Christ from the other side of the sun. And now the
teachers in the Mysteries could no longer say to men: Look up to
the sun and behold the revelation of Christ! for men
would not have understood these words. It was as if men on the earth
had been quite forsaken by the Christ-power, were no longer able to
kindle to life within them any remembrance of the spiritual worlds.
Then, for the first time, there came upon men what may be called the
fear of death. When in earlier times they saw the physical body die,
they knew: As souls we are of the kingdom of Christ and do not die.
But now men were greatly troubled as to the destiny of the
immortal, eternal being within them. It was as though the link between
themselves and the Christ had been severed. This was because they were
no longer able to look up into the spiritual worlds, and in the
earthly realm the Christ was nowhere to be found.
Then, at the time when men could no longer find the Christ on yonder
side of the sun in the super-earthly world, out of infinite grace, out
of infinite mercy, Christ came down to the earth in order that men
might find Him there. Something happened then in the evolution of
worlds that has no parallel with anything within the range of human
knowledge. For in the spiritual world, the Beings above man the
Angeloi, Archangeloi, Archai, up to the very highest Divine Beings
only pass through transformation, metamorphosis. They are not
born, neither do they die. In the Mysteries of those times it was
said: Men alone know birth and death. The gods know
metamorphosis only; they do not know birth and death.
And so, since men could not longer reach Him, Christ came to them on
earth. In order that this might be achieved, it was necessary that He,
as a god, should undergo what no god had ever previously undergone,
namely, birth and death. Christ became the soul of a man, Jesus of
Nazareth, and passed through birth and death. That is to say: for the
first time a god trod the path which leads through human death.
The essential truth of the Mystery of Golgotha is that it is not a
mere human affair; it is a Divine affair. It was a resolve of the
divine world that the sublime Sun-Being Himself should unite His
destiny with mankind so completely as to pass through birth and death.
Since then, men have been able to look to that which happened on
Golgotha and so to find the Christ on the earth to find Him who
would otherwise have been lost to them because the heavens were no
longer within reach of their consciousness.
In those who were the first to share in the secrets of Golgotha, the
apostles and disciples of Christ, a last vestige remained of an
instinctive consciousness of what had come to pass. These men knew:
The Being who was formerly to be found only by those able to look up
in spirit to the sun, can be found here and now if men rightly
understand the birth, life and suffering of Christ Jesus. There were,
then, at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha, a few who knew that He
who, as the Christ, was in Jesus of Nazareth, is the sublime Sun-Being
who has come down to the earth.
Until the fourth century after the Mystery of Golgotha there were
always some who knew that Christ, the Sun-Being, and the Christ who
had lived in Jesus of Nazareth were one and the same. It is deeply
moving to learn from Spiritual Science of the fervent prayers of men
in the early Christian centuries: Thanks be to the Christ-Being
from whom we should perforce have been separated, had He not come down
from spiritual worlds to us here on earth!
After the fourth century A.D. the human mind
could no longer comprehend that the Christ, who ensures immortality
for men, was the sublime, divine Sun-Being. From that time until our
own day there have been only the external words of the Gospels,
telling of the Mystery of Golgotha. Nevertheless, these words of the
Gospels worked throughout the centuries with such power that they
turned men's hearts to the Mystery of Golgotha.
To-day, however, we are on the threshold of an age when, having
acquired great knowledge about the secrets of nature, men would be
wholly estranged from the Gospel tidings if a new path to Christ were
not opened. Anthroposophy would fain open this path by leading men
again to knowledge of the spiritual world. For the Christ Event can
only be understood as a spiritual Fact. Those who are
incapable of this do not understand the Christ Event at all.
With the help of anthroposophical knowledge we can carry ourselves
back in imagination to the time when Christ Jesus walked in Palestine
and lived through His earthly destiny. We can look into the hearts of
the disciples and apostles who realised with their intuitive
knowledge: The Being whose abode in former time was the sun, has
come down to the earth, has dwelt among us. He who has dwelt among us
as Christ Jesus, He who has walked the earth, was once to be found
only in the realm of the sun. Therefore these disciples
said to themselves: Out of the eyes of Jesus of Nazareth the
light of the sun rays forth to us. Out of the words of Jesus of
Nazareth streams the power of the warmth-giving sun. When Jesus of
Nazareth moves among us it is as though the sun itself is sending its
light and power into the world.
Those who understood this, said: Moving among us in the form of
a man is the Sun-Being, who in earlier times could be reached only
when man's gaze was directed upwards from the earth to the spiritual
world. And because the disciples and apostles knew this, their
attitude to Christ's death was also true and right, and they could
remain disciples of Christ Jesus even after He had passed through
death on the earth.
Through Spiritual Science we know that when the Christ had departed
from the body of Jesus of Nazareth, He moved in a spirit-body among
His disciples and gave them further teaching. A power had been given
to the apostles and disciples which enabled them still to receive the
teaching of Christ when He appeared to them in this spirit-body. This
power however, departed from them after a certain time. There was a
point in the lives of the disciples of Christ Jesus when they said
among themselves: We have seen Him but we see Him no longer. He
came down from heaven to us on earth. Whither has He gone?
The point of time when the disciples believed they had again lost the
presence of Christ is commemorated in the Christian festival of the
Ascension, which preserves in remembrance the disciples' conviction
that the sublime Sun-Being who had walked the earth in the man Jesus
of Nazareth had vanished from their sight. At this happening there
fell upon the disciples a sorrow such as cannot be compared with any
other sorrow on earth. When in the ritual of the Sun Cult in the
ancient Mysteries, the image of the god was laid in the grave and
lifted out only after a period of days, the souls of those
participating in the ceremony were filled with sorrow at the death of
the god. But this sorrow was not to be compared in magnitude with the
sorrow that filled the hearts of Christ's disciples. All knowledge that
can truly be called great is born from pain, from inner travail. When
through the means for the attainment of knowledge described in
anthroposophical spiritual science one tries to tread the path into
the higher worlds, the goal can be reached only by experiencing pain.
Without having suffered, suffered intensely, and thereby having become
free from the oppression of pain, no man can come to know the
During the ten days following the Ascension, the suffering of Christ's
disciples was beyond all telling, because Christ had vanished from
their sight. And out of this pain, out of this infinite sorrow, there
sprang that which we call the Mystery of Pentecost, the Whitsun
Mystery. Having lost the sight of Christ in instinctive, external
clairvoyant vision, the disciples found it again in their inmost
being, in their feelings, in inner experience found it through
sorrow, through pain.
Once again let us look back to earlier times. Before the
Mystery of Golgotha men had some remembrance of pre-earthly existence.
They knew that in this pre-earthly existence they had received from
Christ the power to attain immortality. But now, at the time of the
Mystery of Golgotha men knew that through their own human power they
were not able to look back into the spiritual world, into pre-earthly
The disciples of Christ therefore turned their thoughts to all that
their memory had preserved concerning the Event of Golgotha. And out
of this remembrance, and the suffering it evoked, the vision arose in
their souls of that which man had lost because he no longer possessed
the faculty of instinctive clairvoyance. The men of old had said:
Before we were born on earth we were together with Christ. From
Him we have the power which leads to immortality. And now, ten
days after they had lost the outer sight of Christ, the disciples
said: We beheld the Mystery of Golgotha, and this gives us the
power to feel again the reality of our immortal being.
This is expressed symbolically by the tongues of fire at Pentecost.
Thus, in the light of Spiritual Science, the Pentecost-secret reveals
to us that the Mystery of Golgotha has replaced the Sun-Myth of the
It was Paul who, through the revelation that came to him at Damascus,
realised with particular clarity that Christ was the Sun-Being. As a
pupil of the ancient Initiates in the Mysteries, Paul's first firm
conviction had been that Christ is to be found only when, by means of
clairvoyance, man reaches the spiritual world. Therefore he said:
This sect declares that the Sun-Being has lived within a man,
has passed through death. This cannot be, for only above and beyond
the earth is the Sun-Being to be seen. As long as Paul's
belief was based upon knowledge acquired by him in the Mysteries, he
was an opponent of Christianity. But through the revelation at
Damascus Paul realised that without being transported into the
spiritual world, man can behold the Christ, and therefore that He had
in very truth descended to the earth. From this moment he knew that
the disciples of Christ Jesus spoke the truth; for the sublime
Sun-Being had now come down from the heavens to the earth.
Had Christ not appeared on the earth, had He remained the Sun-God
only, humanity on the earth would have fallen into decay. Increasingly
men would have come to believe that material things alone exist, that
the sun and the stars are material bodies. For men had forgotten
altogether that they themselves had descended from a pre-earthly
existence, from the spirit-world of the stars.
Only for a time, however, can mankind hold to the conviction that
everything is material. If all human beings were to believe, let us
say for a century, that everything is material, they would lose the
strength of the spirit within them and would become decrepit and sick.
This would in fact have been the lot of mankind if Christ in His
infinite mercy had not come down from the spiritual world to the
You will say: Yes, but there are many who do not want to know anything
of Christ, who do not believe in Him. How is it that these human beings
have not become decrepit, weak and sick? The answer is that Christ
appeared on the earth at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha not
merely in order to give teaching to men but to make the fact of His
appearance effective on the earth. He died for all men. The physical
nature of every human being, including those who have not believed in
Him, has been rescued and restored through the Deed of Golgotha. Ever
since that time a man might be a Chinese, a Japanese, a Hindu, with no
desire to know anything of Christ, nevertheless Christ died
for all men.
In the future it will not be the same, inasmuch as knowledge
will become a much more decisive factor for man than hitherto. More
and more it will become a necessity in the evolution of mankind for
all human beings to acquire some knowledge of spirit-being and of
spiritual life. Such a knowledge as will lead all mankind into the
world of spirit is the goal striven for by anthroposophical Spiritual
Moreover this knowledge can give a new understanding of Christ, in the
sense that, where Anthroposophy is rightly understood. Christ can be
presented in a way that is comprehensible to all men. Christianity, as
it has hitherto been proclaimed, may have been carried to Africa or to
Asia. A few, maybe, have professed their belief in Christ, but the
great mass of the people have rejected the teaching, for they could
not understand what the missionaries were saying.
What kind of religion had these people? They had religions which had
originated among themselves and were understood only by the particular
people to whom some particular place or personality was sacred. As
long as the god of the ancient Egyptians was worshipped at Thebes, the
people had perforce to journey to Thebes in order to worship in the
sanctuary of this god. While Zeus was worshipped at Olympia, the
people had perforce to journey to Olympia in order to worship him. In
like manner the Mohammedan must journey to Mecca. Even in Christendom
itself an element of this has remained.
But if Christianity is rightly understood, men know that the sun
shines upon all men, it shines upon Thebes, upon Olympia, upon Mecca;
physically, the sun can be seen in the same way everywhere. So too,
the sublime Sun-Being, the Christ, can be worshipped spiritually
everywhere. Anthroposophy will reveal to men that the Being who before
the Mystery of Golgotha could be reached only by instinctive,
super-earthly faculties, can be reached since the Mystery of Golgotha
through a power of knowledge acquired on the earth itself.
Men will again understand the meaning of the words: The kingdoms
of heaven have come down to the earth and they will no
longer speak in vague, mystical terms of the kingdom of a
thousand years. They will understand that the Being who was
formerly to be found on the sun is now to be found on the earth. They
will say: Christ came down to the earth and since the Mystery of
Golgotha He dwells among men in the sphere of the earth. They
will be able to feel ever and again what the disciples experienced as
the Whitsun Mystery: Christ Himself has come down to the earth.
A power that guarantees immortality for men is dawning in our hearts,
but words of Christ, such for example as: I am with you always,
even unto the end of earthly days must be taken in true
earnestness and their deep truth understood. If words such as these
are understood in all their spiritual depths, man will also wrestle
through to the knowledge that Christ was not only present at the
beginning of our era. He is forever present. He speaks to us provided
only that we are willing to listen to Him.
But this means that through Spiritual Science we must again learn to
perceive a spiritual reality in everything that is of a material
nature a spiritual reality behind stones, plants, animals,
human beings, behind clouds, stars, behind the sun. When through what
is material we again find the Spirit in all its reality, we also open
our soul to the voice of Christ who will speak to us if we are willing
to hear Him.
Anthroposophy is able to affirm the reality of the Spirit behind the
whole of nature. It may therefore also affirm that the Spirit is at
work throughout the earthly history of mankind, that the earth itself
first acquired meaning through the Mystery of Golgotha.
Before the Mystery of Golgotha the meaning of the earth was contained
in the realm of the Sun; but since the Mystery of Golgotha it inheres
in the Earth itself.
This is what Anthroposophy would fain bring to mankind as a perpetual
Whitsun Mystery. And when, prepared by Anthroposophy, men are ready to
seek again for the spiritual world, they will find Christ as an
ever-present reality, in the way that is needful and right for our
age. If in this age men do not turn to spiritual knowledge, they will
lose Christ. Until now, Christianity did not depend upon knowledge.
Christ died for all men. Verily He has not belied them. But if in our
day men reject knowledge of Christ, then they belie Him.
As it has been possible for us to be together this year at the time of
the Whitsun Festival, I wanted to speak to you of the Christ Mystery
in relation to Pentecost. People often speak of Anthroposophy as if it
were at variance with Christianity. But if you truly receive into
yourselves the spirit of Anthroposophy, you will find that it will
again open the ears, the hearts and the souls of men to the Mystery of
Anthroposophy would wish its destiny to be one with the destiny of
Christianity. This requires that men to-day shall turn, not merely to
dead words which speak to them of Christ, but to knowledge which leads
them to the light wherein is contained the living Christ not
the historical figure who centuries ago dwelt on the earth the
Christ who lives now and will live through all future time among men,
because He who was once their God has become their divine Brother.
And so among our thoughts at Whitsun, let this too be included: that
through Anthroposophy we will seek the way to the living Christ,
realising that the first Whitsun Mystery can thereby be renewed in
every Anthroposophist, and that with knowledge of Christ Himself
dawning in his heart, he will feel inwardly warmed and enlightened
through the fiery tongues of a Christian understanding of the world.
May our way to the Spiritual through Anthroposophy be at one and the
same time the way to Christ through the Spirit.
If, even in small numbers, men make solemn avowal of this, the Whitsun
Mystery will take firmer and firmer root in many human beings living
at the present time and particularly in the future. Then there will
come that which humanity so sorely needs for its redemption and
salvation; then the healing Spirit will speak to a new faculty of
understanding in men the Spirit by whom the sickness of human
souls is healed, the Spirit sent by Christ. And then will come that
which is a need of all mankind: WORLD-PENTECOST!
Last Modified: 17-Feb-2018
The Rudolf Steiner Archive is maintained by: