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The Coming Experience of Christ

A Lecture given
by Rudolf Steiner
Dornach, October 31st, 1920
GA 200

This is the 7th of 7 lectures given by Rudolf Steiner at Dornach, Switzerland in October of 1920. The title of this series of lectures is: The New Spirituality and the Christ Experience of the 20th Century. They were published in German as: Die Neue Geistigkeit und Das Christus-erlebnis des Zwangzigsten Jahrhunderts. This lecture first appeared in English in The Golden Blade of 1952. The translator is Dorothy Lenn. It is presented here with the kind permission of the Rudolf Steiner Nachlassverwaltung, Dornach, Switzerland. From GA# 200.

Copyright © 1952
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Rudolf Steiner

A Lecture given at Dornach on October 31st, 1920

From a shorthand report, unrevised by the lecturer. Published by kind permission of the Rudolf Steiner-Nachlassverwaltung, Dornach, Switzerland, and in agreement with the Rudolf Steiner Publishing Company.


ESTERDAY I tried to describe to you something of how European conditions are bound to develop in the near future, and we saw that the general course of modern civilisation will inevitably involve the disappearance of much that is still greatly to men's taste and considered by them to be of value. From the way in which I had to speak yesterday it will be clear to you that a very disagreeable awakening is in store for many who would have preferred to sleep comfortably through the coming times. I do not say that the prophecies of those who see the writing on the wall only in such external things as the differences between Japan and America must be fulfilled to the letter. But what must be regarded as imminent is a great spiritual battle between East and West, in which the true culture of Middle Europe, as we have come to know it in recent weeks, will be crushed.

Strange as this may sound, it is the modern world-conception, based on natural science, that will arouse the deepest need for what I have called the Christ-Experience yet to come. We learnt yesterday how little experience of the Christ there really is at the present time. The course of human evolution has brought it about that ever since the Mystery of Golgotha, and particularly in recent centuries, all that can properly be called experience of the Christ has fallen into complete decadence. We saw, too, that the impossibility of withstanding men's demand for the Gospels, their desire to be able to read the Gospels — although the ancient veto is still maintained in theory by the Catholic Church — has been a hindrance to the development of a Christ-Experience. And we have already pointed out how the peculiar frame of mind which is becoming prevalent in modern civilisation will again lead to experience of the Christ, just as at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha remnants of the old instinctive clairvoyance could lead to it. But one has to be clear that just as other incisive events in human evolution come about otherwise than is expected among the philistines, so the Christ-Experience of the first half of the twentieth century will come in an unexpected way. And it will have a clearly definable connection with the modern outlook on life, based on natural science.

Since the middle of the fifteenth century, the disposition of men's souls has become quite different from what it was before that time. History does not take this into account, because external history always keeps to the surface of things. But, especially during the period between the middle of the nineteenth century and our own day, mankind in general has undergone a fundamental change in its frame of mind. That also has been too little noticed, because people usually stick to the ideas that have once been instilled into them. But there has been a marked departure from this clinging by force of habit to what has been inculcated, and this comes out very clearly if one observes closely the outlook on life of the younger generation and compares it with the outlook which their elders had in their own youth. The poets, especially, furnish us with repeated illustrations of this difference. And if men did not box themselves up within their habitual ideas, so that nothing is able to penetrate their minds which conflicts with their habitual thinking, they would soon see what an immense gulf really exists between those who are old today and those who are young.

On the other hand there is today a terrible reactionary, conservative element in human evolution. It is the belief in the authority of popular science. And this comes about because popular science has invaded the general consciousness with giant strides. Just think how rapidly, especially in the last decades, ideas which have become familiar through nineteenth-century scientific development have taken universal hold, right down to the least educated classes. It is true that there are many who still cling to a certain piety, a piety which prefers to remain in ignorance of what is penetrating mankind through modern scientific thought. But for the most part a terrible dishonesty lurks in this piety, a reluctance to face what it is that is spreading, a reluctance to acknowledge the materialism of the modern man evoked by natural science.

The spread of this materialism will not be checked in the near future, as some misguided scientists seem to think. On the contrary, it will increase with furious speed, and in the chaos of modern civilisation we shall see this materialistic mood becoming stronger and stronger. And if sufficient preparation has been made, if the aims of spiritual science are fulfilled — so that children are given a stimulus for the right kind of development — then out of this mood, out of this chaos, individual souls will emerge who will have a very strong sense of something which I should now like to describe.

When someone acquainted with the modern scientific outlook on the world pursues it with an open mind, he cannot fail to realise that one of its distinguishing features is that it is not in a position to understand man. Actually man, as such, is entirely excluded from the conception of the world based on modern natural science. We had occasion here recently to consider the scope of the various branches of scientific learning when we held our course for scientists, and we saw that none of these has anything to say about the real nature of man.

We need only give one characteristic example take the usual theory of evolution expounded under the influence of Darwin or Weismann or others. It demonstrates the evolution of the living creature from the simplest to the most perfect, and lays down the view that man also derives his origin from this line of evolution. But actually it takes into consideration only so much of man as is animal. It considers man only so far as to be able to say that any organ, any structure in man, derives from the corresponding organ or structure in the animal line. Science ignores how far the form in which the animal appears in man is modified; the extent to which the animal nature of man differs from that of the animal world. The ability to keep man himself in view has been completely lost by science; man is left out.

Science has developed certain methods. It has established a certain discipline, a discipline which is necessary if one is to enter into discussions of world-conceptions. But this science has not been able to raise man's power of understanding to the point where man himself becomes comprehensible. There is no place for man in the scientific thought of today, so that he presents an ever greater riddle to himself. Only a very few people are aware of this, and these few are probably clear about it theoretically, but as yet there is no general feeling for it. Properly conducted elementary education will bring such a feeling to life. If education up to the age of fourteen is what it should be, children on leaving school will already have the feeling: “We have a science which is born out of modern intellectuality, but the further we enter into this science, the more we learn of nature, the less we understand of ourselves, the less we understand of man.”

This intellect, the development of which has been and still is of course the dominant impulse of recent centuries, completely hollows man out, so to speak, as regards his perception of self. And yet we hear the demand that man should take his place in the world solely on the basis of what he is in himself. This stands out clearly as a fundamental social demand. Side by side with the impotence of science to account for the human being, we have claims of all kinds coming not from any scientific impulse but from the depths of human instinct — demands that man should be able to raise himself to an existence worthy of a human being, that he should be able to feel what his real nature is. While on the one hand we have more and more claims of a practical kind, on the other we have the increasing inability of science to give man any light upon his own nature. Such a lack of harmony in human experience would have been quite impossible in earlier times.

If we turn once more to the old oriental outlook, we find that man knew then that he descended from spiritual heights, that before he entered into physical existence through conception and birth he lived in a spiritual world; he knew that he brought with him from the spiritual world something that came out in childhood as disposition, as aspiration, and remained with him throughout his life on earth. To be aware theoretically that one has passed through such a spiritual life before one's life on earth has no very great value, but a lively feeling for it is worth a great deal; it is something of the greatest value to feel that what is in one as an adult has been developing in one's soul since childhood, and comes from the spiritual world.

To-day, both in the individual and more especially in social life, this feeling has actually given way to another. More and more man is weighed down, half unconsciously, by the feeling of his inherited characteristics. To a dispassionate view this is quite clear; men feel that they are what they are through their parents, their grandparents and so on. Unlike men of old, they no longer feel that the spark which kindles in them from childhood onwards comes from those depths in which are anchored spiritual experiences brought from their life before birth, On the contrary, they feel in themselves characteristics inherited from parents and grandparents. The first thing anyone asks about a child to-day is from whom he has got this or that characteristic. And the reply seldom is that the child has it as a result of experiences in the spiritual world; inquiries are conducted as to whether it comes from the grandmother or grandfather, and so on.

The more this emerges, not merely as a theory but as a feeling, a feeling of dependence on purely earthly inherited characteristics, the more oppressive and dreadful will it gradually become. And the strength of this feeling will increase very fast. In the decades ahead, it will become unbearable, for it is associated with another feeling, a certain feeling of the worthlessness of human existence. We shall see more and more that if man is unable to feel his existence as anything beyond the comprehensive expression of what has been implanted in his blood and in his other organs by his physically inherited characteristics, he will feel his existence to be worthless. To-day that is to a certain extent mere theory, although there are poets already who have expressed it as experience. But it will emerge as something directly felt, and then it will become an oppressive quality in the life of civilised humanity. This experiencing of oneself in the purely inherited characteristics will lie like a weight on the soul. It is here that the inability of natural science to give man an understanding of himself shows itself in all its poverty man no longer feels himself to be a child of the spiritual world, but merely a child of characteristics inherited in the course of earthly physical existence.

All this is very forcibly manifest in social life. You have only to think of the claims that have arisen as the outcome of a gigantic piece of political stupidity which has spread through the world in recent years! This folly has been slowly gathering strength during recent centuries; it has come to a climax in our own day. Those who are supposed to lead the several nations, those who at any rate hold positions which imply leadership, and yet understand nothing of the situation mankind is in, have brought about the great crisis of the second decade of the twentieth century by talking about the membering of mankind according to the will of its individual nations. National chauvinism in its worst sense has been aroused. And to-day national chauvinism rings through the whole civilised world.

This is merely the social counterpart of the utterly reactionary outlook on the world which would trace everything back to inherited characteristics. When we no longer strive to fathom man's nature as man, and to fashion the social structure in such a way that this human nature will thrive in it, and when, instead we try to bring it about that the social structure corresponds only with what men are as Czechs, Slovaks, Magyars, Frenchmen, Englishmen, Poles and so on, then we are forgetting all spirituality, we are excluding all spirituality. This is because we are trying to order the world solely in accordance with characteristics inherited through the blood; because we have got to the pitch of having no content at all in our ideas; because this twentieth century has had to give us an example of a man, hailed by vast numbers as a world-leader whose utterances have absolutely no meaning — Woodrow Wilson, who only utters phrases which have completely lost their content.

We have had to fall back upon something entirely devoid of spirit, on blood relationship; consequently all that has happened is the making of peace treaties in which people who know absolutely nothing about the conditions of life in the civilised world of to-day have taken decisions as to the shape of the maps of the countries in that world. Nothing, perhaps, shows more clearly the materialism of modern times, its denial of everything spiritual, than the emergence of the principle of nationalism.

I need scarcely say that to many men to-day this truth is unacceptable. And that is why so many lies have to find a camping-ground in the depths of the soul. For if one does not face honestly the fact that by establishing an order of the world based only on blood-relationship one is denying the spirit, then one is lying. To say in such circumstances that one is inclined towards any kind of spiritual conception of the world is to lie.

And now let us look at the way the evolution of the world is going to-day. All this that wells up out of the chaotic instincts of mankind belies the spirit utterly. ... We see on all sides that the conception of the human being has become lost to man. Let us now consider the spiritual-scientific counterpart of what I have so far described simply as a feeling that is surging up.

You know that spiritual science shows how our earth-planet, upon which man has to experience his present destiny, is the re-embodiment of three preceding conditions, and how we have to look forward to three subsequent embodiments, so that our earth is in a midway state. Now we know from the descriptions in my “Outline of Occult Science.” that what man has to-day as his physical body is in essentials an inheritance from the first, second, third and fourth conditions what he has as his ether body is a result of the second, third and fourth conditions; what we call his astral body is the result of the third and fourth conditions; and now in Our present earth-evolution comes his ego. When the earth enters into its future states there will appear spirit-self, life-spirit and the true spirit-man; today these are indicated in man only in germ. They will have to be worked out just as physical body, ether body and astral body have been elaborated, and as the ego is being fashioned at the present time.

If you reflect on it, you will know how much of this cosmic-earthly evolution can come about in you: during earth-evolution only the germs of spirit-self, life-spirit and spirit-man can unfold. We shall have to wait for the transformation of the earth into its three following conditions for them to appear fully. And from the descriptions I gave in the “Outline of Occult Science.” you will see that spirit-self is the transmutation of the astral body to a higher stage, that life-spirit is the transmutation of the ether body to a higher stage, and spirit-man the transmutation of the physical body to a higher stage. But this transmutation of the physical body will not take place until the seventh condition, and correspondingly in the case of the other members.

Today, however, man can already understand that this has to happen; he can embrace the thought that it will happen. Indeed, he can grasp still more, if without prejudice he gets beyond the limitations of natural science and directs his soul's gaze upon his own nature. He will have to say to himself: “It is true that I cannot during earth-existence attain spirit-self in my astral body, nor can I attain life-spirit in my ether body or spirit-man in my physical body, but what I have to do is to prefigure them in my soul. And by developing the consciousness-soul now, I am preparing myself to take spirit-self into it in the next, the sixth, culture-epoch. I know that I cannot yet bring spirit-self into my entire astral body, but I have to bring it into my consciousness-soul. As man, I must learn so to live inwardly as I shall one day live actually, when the earth has passed over, through a certain cosmic development, into its next condition. I must prepare myself in germ inwardly, so that in the future I shall be able to shape my outer form in the way which it is my task, even now, to understand.”

Now I want you to be quite clear as to what is involved. Man is already growing into spirit-self, as I have often explained he is growing into states of consciousness which are really of such a nature that during the period of earth-existence they cannot fully emerge. These states of consciousness tend to transform him even as regards his external sheaths, his astral body, ether body and physical body; but, as earthly man, he cannot achieve this. He has to say to himself that he must pass through the rest of earth evolution in such a way as always to be aware that he is preparing himself inwardly for conditions of being that he cannot yet develop. In future it will have to be the normal thing for a man to say: “I see the human being growing in his inner nature beyond what he can be as earthly man. As earthly man I cannot but feel myself a dwarf, compared with what man really is.” And this feeling will be the outcome of the sense of dissatisfaction that properly educated children will now very soon have. The children will feel that no amount of intellectual culture enables them to solve the riddle of man. Man is missing from what can be acquired intellectually; man is missing from the social structure.

All that will develop out of the foolish Wilsonian prescription, and out of any other form of Chauvinism that spreads over the world, will be quite unworkable. All such things bring modern civilisation up against a dead-end. However many more national states are set up, they will provide only so many more seeds of destruction, and it is just out of what matures in human souls as a result of modern civilisation that the feeling I have just described from another point of view will proceed. Man will say to himself: “The being of man that lights up in me inwardly is far higher than anything I can realise externally under these conditions. I must introduce into the social structure something quite different, something of which the spiritual heights can take cognizance. I cannot entrust myself to the social science derived from natural science.”

The essential thing is for man to sense the inner discord between his dwarf-like existence on earth and the experience of himself as a cosmic being that can light up within him. Out of all that men can absorb from modern culture — that culture which today is lauded to the skies — a twofold feeling will develop. On the one hand man will be aware of himself as belonging to the earth; on the other he will say, “But man is more than an earthly being.” For the earth can by no means satisfy man; it will have to be transformed into other conditions before it can do that.

These feelings will ripen, and when they are no longer mere theory, but are experienced by those whose karma enables them to grow beyond the trivial feelings of today — when humanity comes to feel disgust at the thought of purely inherited characteristics and at the emotions engendered by chauvinism and turns against all this — only then will a reaction set in. Man will feel himself to be a cosmic being. With outstretched arms he will implore the solution of the riddle of his cosmic being. This is what will come about in the next decades eagerly man will ask, “Who will decipher for me my nature as a cosmic being? All that I can establish on earth, all that the earth can give me, all that I can get from natural science, accounts for me only as an earth-being and leaves my real being an unsolved riddle. I know that I am a cosmic, super-earthly being. Who will disentangle this super-earthly being for me?”

The experiencing of this question will be the dominant note in men's souls. In the next decades, even before we reach the middle of the century, this question will be more important than anything else which may happen or any other feelings men may have. And from the expectation, the feeling that there must be some solution to this riddle, that man is despite all a cosmic being; from this conviction that one day the cosmos will unveil something that cannot come from the earth, the mood will arise to which the cosmos makes reply: “Just as the physical Christ appeared at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha, so the spiritual Christ will appear to mankind. He alone can give the answer, for He is not in some indefinite place; He must be recognised as a Being from beyond the earth Who has united Himself with earthly humanity.” People will have to understand that the question of cosmic man can be answered only if He Who unites Himself with the earth from out of the cosmos comes to their aid. This will be the solution of the most significant disharmony that has ever arisen in earth existence, the disharmony between man's feeling as an earthly being and his knowledge that he is a super-earthly being, a cosmic being. The fulfilment of this longing will prepare man to recognise how the Christ-Being will reveal Himself out of remote spiritual depths; He will speak to men spiritually, as at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha He spoke to them in the physical body.

The Christ will not come in the spiritual sense if men are not prepared for Him. But a man can be prepared only in the way I have just stated, by sensing the incongruity I have described, by feeling the discordance weigh heavily upon him: “Of course I must regard myself as an earth-being. It is the intellectual development of recent centuries that has created the conditions which make me appear an earth being. Yet I am no earth-being. I cannot but feel myself united with a Being Who is not of this earth; a Being Who, not untruthfully as the theologians do, but verily in truth can say: — ‘My kingdom is not of this world.’” For man will have to say to himself: — “My Kingdom is not of this world.” And to do it he will have to be united with a Being Who is not of this world.

It is directly out of the sciences which, as I have said, will take possession of the popular consciousness with devastating speed that something must be developed which will direct mankind towards the new manifestation of the Christ in the first half of the twentieth century.

Naturally this could not happen in the state of mind in which the civilised world was before 1914, when all talk of ideals, all talk of spirituality, was grounded in falsehood. Men will have to be driven by necessity to make their search for spirituality a true one. And the Christ will appear only to those who renounce all that spreads falsehood over earthly life. And no social question will be solved unless it is thought out in conjunction with this spiritual-scientific endeavour that enables man once again to appear in truth as a super-earthly being. The solution to our social problems will be found to the degree in which men are able to feel the Christ-Impulse in their souls. All other solutions will lead only to destruction, to chaos. For all other solutions are based on the conception of man as an earthly being. But in our own day man is outgrowing the state of mind which permits him to think of himself as a purely earthly, physical being. The new experience of the Christ will arise out of the harmony of men's souls, and out of their need.

Translated by Dorothy Lenn.

Last Modified: 29-Aug-2017
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