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Necessity and Freedom

Lecture I:
The Past Shows Us a Picture of Necessity

Schmidt Number: S-3186

On-line since: 30th April, 2014

(aka: Elementary Beings Behind Physical Activities)

Berlin, January 25, 1916

Now that we can be together again, it will be my task in the coming days to speak about important but rather difficult aspects of human and world existence, and we shall certainly not be able to reach any conclusion about these in this lecture; we can only make a beginning. As we proceed we will see how tremendously important these very questions are if we are to connect ourselves inwardly with the soul-stirring events of our times. If I had to summarize in a few words what I am going to speak about, I would say “necessity in world events and in human actions” and “human freedom in these two domains.”

There is hardly anyone who is not more or less intensely concerned with these problems, and perhaps there are hardly any events on the physical plane that urge us as strongly to deal with these questions as the ones that are at present overshadowing the peoples of Europe and reverberating in their souls. If we look at world events and our own actions, feeling, willing, and thinking within these events, considering them for the moment in conjunction with what we call divine cosmic guidance, wisdom-filled cosmic guidance, we see that this divine guidance is at work everywhere. And if we look at something that has happened and that perhaps we ourselves have been involved in, we can ask afterwards “Was the reason for this event we were involved in so much a part of wise cosmic guidance that we can say it was inevitable for it to happen as it did, and we ourselves could not have acted differently in it?” Or, looking more toward the future, we could also say “At some time in the future one or another thing will happen in which we believe we may be playing a part. Ought we not assume of the wise world guidance we presupposed that what happens in the future will also come about inevitably or, as we often say, is predetermined?” Can our freedom exist under such conditions? Can we resolve to use the ideas and skills we have acquired to intervene in some way? Can we do anything to alter things through the way we intervene if we do not want them to happen in the way they would be bound to happen without our intervention?

If we look back on the past, we tend to have the impression that everything was inevitable and could not have happened differently. If we look more toward the future, we have the impression that it must be possible for us to intervene in the course of events with our own will as much as we can. In short, we will always be in a conflict between supposing an absolute and all-pervading necessity on the one hand and necessarily assuming that we are free on the other. For without this latter assumption we cannot maintain our world view and would have to accept the fact that we are like cogs in the huge machine of existence, governed by the forces ruling the machine to the point where even the duties of the cogs are predetermined.

As you know, the conflict between choosing one thing or the other runs to some extent through all our intellectual endeavors. There have always been philosophers called determinists who supposed that all the events we are involved in through our actions and our willing are strictly predetermined, and there have also always been indeterminists who supposed that, on the contrary, human beings can intervene in the course of evolution through their will and their ideas. You know too that the most extreme form of determinism is fatalism, which clings so firmly to the belief that the world is pervaded by spiritual necessity as to presuppose that not one single thing could possibly happen differently from the way it was predetermined, that human beings cannot do other than submit passively to a fate that fills the whole world just because everything is predetermined.

Perhaps some of you also know that Kant set up an antinomian chart on one side of which he wrote a particular statement and always set its opposite on the other side. [ Immanuel Kant, 1724-1804, German philosopher of the Enlightenment. For his antinomian chart see his book Critique of Pure Reason published in 1781. ] For example, on one side stood the assertion “In terms of space the world is infinite,” and on the other side “In terms of space the world is finite.” He then went on to show that with the concepts at our disposal we can prove one of these just as well as the other. We can prove with the same logical exactitude that “the world is infinite with regard to both space and time” or that “the world is finite, boarded-up, in terms of space and that it had a beginning in time.”

The questions we have introduced also belong among the ones Kant put on his antinomian chart. He drew people's attention to the fact that one can just as well prove positively, in as proper and logical a way as possible, that everything that happens in the world, including human action, is subject to rigid necessity, as one can prove that human beings are free and influence in one way or another the course of events when they bring their will to bear on it. Kant considered these questions to be outside the realm of human knowledge, to be questions that lie beyond the limits of human knowledge, because we can prove the one just as easily and conclusively as the other.

Our studies of the last few years will actually have more or less given you the groundwork to get to the bottom of this strange mystery. For it certainly is a mysterious question whether human beings are bound by necessity or are free. It is a puzzling matter. Yet it is even more puzzling that both these alternatives can be conclusively proved. You will find no basis at all for overcoming doubt in this sphere if you look outside of what we call spiritual science. Only the background spiritual science can give will enable you to discover something about what is at the bottom of this mysterious question.

This time we will deal with our subject in very slow stages. I would just like to ask in anticipation, “How is such a thing possible that human beings can prove something and also prove its opposite?” When we approach a matter of this kind, we are certainly made aware of certain limits in normal human comprehension, in ordinary human logic. We meet with this limitation of human logic in regard to other things too. It always appears when human beings want to approach infinity with their concepts.

I can show you this by means of a very simple example. As soon as human beings want to approach infinity with their intellects, something occurs that can be called confusion in their concepts. I will demonstrate this in a very simple way. You must just be a little patient and follow a train of thought to which you are probably not accustomed. Suppose I write these figures on the blackboard one after the other, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and so on. I could write an infinite number of them: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, etc., couldn't I? I can also write a second column of figures; on the right of each number I can put double the number, like this:

 1 

 2 

 2 

 4 

 3 

 6 

 4 

 8 

 5 

 10 

 6 

 12 

and so on.

Again I can write an infinite number of them. Now you will agree with me that each number in the right-hand column is in the left-hand column too. I can underline 2, 4, 6, 8, and so on. Look at the left column for a moment; an infinite series of numbers is possible. This infinite series contains all the numbers included in the right column. 2, 4, 6, and so on are all there. I can continue underlining them. If you look at the figures that are underlined, you will see that they are exactly half of all the numbers together because every other one is underlined. But when I write them on the right-hand side, I can write 2, 4, 6, 8, and so on into infinity. I have an infinite number both on the left and on the right, and you cannot say that there are fewer on the right than on the left. There is no doubt that I am bound to have just as many numbers on the right as on the left.

And yet, as every other number would have to be crossed out on the left to make the left column the same as the right, the infinite number on the left is only half the infinite number on the right. Obviously I have just as many numbers on the right as on the left, namely an infinite number, for each number on the right has one corresponding to it on the left — yet the amount of numbers on the right cannot but be half that of the numbers on the left.

There is no question about it, as soon as we deal with infinity, our thinking becomes confused. The problem arising here also cannot be solved, for it is just as true that on the right there are half as many numbers as on the left as it is true that there are exactly as many numbers on the right as on the left. Here you have the problem in its simplest form.

This brings us to the realization that our concepts cannot actually be used where infinity is concerned, where we go beyond the sense world — and infinity does go beyond the sense world. And do not imagine this to apply only to unlimited infinity, for you cannot use your concepts where limited infinity is concerned either, as the same confusion arises there.

Suppose you draw a triangle, a square, a pentagon, a hexagon and so on. When you reach a construction with a hundred sides, you will have come very close to a circle. You will no longer be able to distinguish the small lines very clearly, especially if you look at them from a distance. Therefore you can say that a circle is a polygon with an infinite number of sides. If you have a small circle there are an infinite number of sides in it; if you have a circle twice the size, you still have an infinite number of sides — and yet exactly twice as many!

So you do not need to go as far as unlimited infinity, for if you take a small circle with an infinite number of sides and a circle twice the size with an infinite number of sides, then even in the realm of visible, limited infinity you can encounter something that throws your concepts into utter confusion. What I have just said is extremely important. For people completely fail to notice that there is only a certain field where our concepts apply, namely the field of the physical plane, and that there is a particular reason why this has to be so.

You know, at a place where people are attacking us rather severely — which is now happening in many places from a great many people — a pastor gave a speech opposing our spiritual science, and thinking it might be especially effective, he concluded with a quotation from Matthias Claudius. [ Matthias Claudius, 1740-1815, German poet. ] This quotation says roughly that human beings are really poor sinners who cannot know much and ought to rest content with what they do know and not chase after what they cannot know. The pastor picked this verse out of a poem by Matthias Claudius because he thought he could charge us with wanting to transcend the sense world — after all, had not Matthias Claudius already said that human beings are nothing but sinners who are unable to get beyond this world of the senses?

“By chance,” as people say, a friend of ours looked up this poem by Matthias Claudius and also read the verse preceding it. This preceding verse says that a person can go out into the open and, although the moon is always a round orb, if it does not happen to be full moon, he sees only part of the moon even though the other part is there. In the same way there are many things in the world people could become aware of if only they looked at them at the right moment. Thus Matthias Claudius wanted to draw attention to the fact that people should not confine themselves to immediate sense appearance and that anyone who allows himself to be deceived by this is a poor sinner. In fact, what the good pastor quoted from Matthias Claudius reflected on himself.

The sense world — if we happen not to be just like that pastor — at times makes us aware that wherever we look we should also look in the opposite direction and adjust our first view accordingly. However, the world of the senses cannot supply this immediate adjustment with regard to what transcends the sense world. We cannot just quote the other verse. That is why human beings philosophize away and, of course, are convinced of the truth of their speculations, for they can be logically proved. But their opposite can also be logically proved. So let us tackle the question today, “Why is it that when we transcend the sense world our thinking gets so confused?” And we will now look at the question in a way which will bring us closer to an answer. How does it happen that two contradictory statements can both be proved right? We will find this has to do with the fact that human life is in a kind of central position, a point of balance between two polar opposite forces, the ahrimanic and the luciferic.

You can of course cogitate on freedom and necessity and imagine you have compelling evidence that the world contains only necessity. But the compelling force of this argument comes from Ahriman. When we prove things in one direction, it is Ahriman who leads us astray, and if we prove their opposite, we are misled by Lucifer. For we are always exposed to these two powers, and if we do not take into account that we are placed in between them, we shall never get to the bottom of the conflicts in human nature, such as the one we have been considering.

It was actually in the course of the nineteenth century that people lost the feeling that throughout the world order there are, besides a state of equilibrium, pendulum swings to the right and the left, a swing toward Ahriman and a swing toward Lucifer. This feeling has been totally lost. After all, if you speak nowadays of Ahriman and Lucifer, you are considered not quite sane, aren't you? It was not as bad as this until the middle of the nineteenth century, for a very clever philosopher, Thrandorff, wrote a very nice article here in Berlin in the middle of the nineteenth century in an attempt to refute the argument of a certain clergyman. [ K. F. E. Thrandorff, 1782-1863. Wrote an open letter entitled “The Devil — No Dogmatic Bogy” to a preacher in Berlin in 1853. ] This clergyman let it be known — and it should be alright to say this in our circles — that there is no devil and that it is really a dreadful superstition to speak of one. We speak of Ahriman rather than of the devil. The philosopher Thrandorff spoke out against the clergyman in a very interesting article, “The Devil: No Dogmatic Bogy.” As late as the middle of the 1850s he tried as it were to prove the existence of Ahriman on a strictly philosophical basis.

In the course of the public lectures I am to give here in the near future I hope I can speak about this extinct part of human spiritual life, about an aspect of theosophy that completely disappeared in the middle of the nineteenth century. Right up to that time people had still spoken about these things, even if they called them by other names. The feeling for these things has now been lost, but basically it was there in a delicate form right into the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, until it had to recede into the background for a while in the natural course of things. We know of course, as I have often emphasized, that spiritual science does not in the slightest way deny the great value and significance of progress in the natural sciences. But this progress in science would not have been possible unless the feeling for this opposition between Ahriman and Lucifer, which can be discovered only on a spiritual level, had been lost. It now has to emerge again above the threshold of human consciousness.

I would like to give you an example of how things stood in regard to Ahriman and Lucifer in the days when people had only a feeling left that there are two different powers at work. Here is an example to illustrate this.

In the old town hall in Prague there is a remarkable clock that was made in the fifteenth century. This clock is really a marvel. At first sight it looks like a sort of sundial, but it is so intricately constructed that it shows the course of the hours in a twofold way: the old Bohemian and the modern way. In the old Bohemian way the hours went from 1 or rather from 0 to 24, and the other way only to 12. At sunset the pointer or gnomon — and there was a shadow there — always pointed to 1. The clock was so arranged that the pointer literally always indicated 1 at sunset. That is to say, despite the varying times of sunset the hand always showed 1.

In addition to this, the clock also showed when sun or moon eclipses occurred. It also showed the course of the various planets through the constellations, giving the planetary orbits. It really was a wonderful construction and even showed the movable festivals, that is to say, it indicated on what day Easter fell in a particular year. It was also a calendar, giving the course of the year from January to December, including the fact that Easter is movable. A special pointer showed on what day Easter fell, despite it being movable, and it also showed Whitsun.

This clock, then, was constructed in the fifteenth century in an extraordinarily impressive way. And the story of how it was constructed has been investigated. But apart from this story — and the documents are there for you to read, with lots of descriptions — there is a legend that also aims at giving an account of the marvelous quality of this clock: first regarding its wonderful construction, and then regarding the fact that the man who was gifted enough to make such a clock always wound it up as long as he lived. After his death nobody could wind it, and they searched everywhere for people who could put it in order and get it going. As a rule they only found people who damaged it. Then someone would be found who said he could sort it out and did so, yet time and again the clock went wrong.

These facts grew into a kind of folk tale, which runs as follows: Once upon a time through a special gift from heaven a simple man acquired the ability to make this clock. He alone knew how to look after it. The legend attaches great significance to the fact that he was only a simple man who acquired this ability through special grace; that is to say, he was inspired by the spiritual world. But it came about that the governor wanted to keep this clock specially for Prague and prevent any other town from having one like it. So he had the inspired clockmaker blinded by having his eyes plucked out. Thus the man withdrew from the scene. But just before his death he begged once more to be permitted a moment in which to set the clock to rights again, and according to the legend he used this moment to make a quick manipulation and put the clock into such disorder that nobody could ever put it right again.

At first sight this seems a very unpretentious story. But in the way the story is constructed there is a sure feeling for the existence of Ahriman and Lucifer and the balance between them. Think how sensitively this story has been formed. The same sensitive construction can be found in countless such folk tales; it grows out of this same sure feeling for Lucifer and Ahriman. The story begins with the position of equilibrium, doesn't it? Through an act of grace from the spiritual world the man acquires the ability to construct an extraordinary clock. There is no trace of egotism in it, though anybody can give way to egotism. It was a gift of grace, and he really did not build the clock out of egotism. Nor was there any intellectuality in it, for it is expressly stated that he was a simple man. This whole description of the skill being an act of grace with no trace of egotism, and of his being a simple man who was free of intellectuality, was in fact given in order to indicate that there was no trace of Ahriman and Lucifer in this man's soul, but that he was entirely under the influence of divine powers that were good and progressive.

Lucifer lived in the governor. It was out of egotism that he wanted to keep the clock exclusively for his own town, and this was why he blinded the clockmaker. Lucifer is placed on the one side. But as soon as Lucifer is there, he always allies himself with his brother Ahriman. And because the man has been blinded, this other power acquires the capacity to attack from outside through skillful manipulation. That is the work of Ahriman.

Thus the power for good is placed between Lucifer and Ahriman. You can find a sensitive construction like this in many of the folk tales, even the simplest of them. But it was possible for this feeling of the intervention of Ahriman and Lucifer in life to get lost at a time when a sense had to gain ground that positive and negative electricity, positive and negative magnetism, and so on, are the basic forces of the material world. This feeling for perceiving the world spiritually had to withdraw in order for scientific investigation to flourish.

We shall now look at how Ahriman and Lucifer intervene in what human beings call knowledge, in what people call their relation to the world in general, in a way that leads to the very confusion we were speaking about. This confusion is especially evident in the questions we have introduced. Let us take a simple hypothetical example. I could just as well have taken this from great world events as from everyday occurrences. Let us suppose that three or four people are preparing to go out for a drive. They plan to travel, let us say, through a mountain pass. This pass has overhanging rocks. The people are ready for the drive and intend setting out at an arranged time. But the chauffeur has just ordered another mug of beer which is served a bit too late. He therefore delays the departure by five minutes. Then he sets out with the party. They drive through the ravine. Just as they come to the overhanging rock it breaks loose, falls on top of the vehicle, and crushes the whole party. They all perish, or perhaps it was only the passengers who were killed and the chauffeur was spared.

Here we have a case in point. You could ask whether it was the chauffeur's fault, or whether the whole thing was governed by absolute necessity. Was it absolutely inevitable that these people should meet with this disaster at that precise moment? And was the chauffeur's tardiness just part of this necessity? Or could we imagine that if only the chauffeur had been punctual, he would have driven them through the mountain pass a long time before the rock fell, and they would never have been hit by it?

Here in the midst of everyday life you have this question of freedom and necessity which is intimately connected with “guilty” or “innocent.” Obviously, if everything is subject to absolute necessity, we cannot say that the chauffeur was guilty at all from a higher point of view, as it was entirely inevitable that these people met their death.

We meet this problem in life all the time. It is, as we have said, one of the most difficult of questions, the kind of question in which Ahriman and Lucifer interfere most easily when we try to find a solution. Ahriman is the one who appears first when this question is being tackled, as we shall see.

We will have to approach this question from a different angle if we want to get at an answer. You see, if we set about solving a question like this by starting with the thought “I can easily follow the course of events: the boulder fell — that happened,” and then ask “Is this actually based on necessity or freedom? Could things have happened differently?” we are only looking at the external events. We are looking at the events as they happen on the physical plane. Now people follow this approach out of the same impulse that leads them, if they have a materialistic outlook, to stop short at the physical body when contemplating the human being. Anyone who knows nothing about spiritual science will stop short at the physical body nowadays, won't he? He will say “The human being you see and feel is what exists.” He does not go beyond the physical body to the etheric body. And if he is a thoroughly pig-headed materialist, he will jeer and scoff when he hears people saying there is a finer, etheric body underlying the dense physical body. Yet you know how well-founded the view is that among the members of the human being the etheric body is the one most closely associated with the physical body, and in the course of time we have become accustomed to knowing that we must not just speak of the human physical body but also of the human etheric body, and so on.

Some of you, however, may not yet have asked yourselves “What kind of world is that other world outside the human being, the world in which the ordinary world events occur?” We have of course spoken of a number of things in this connection. We have said that to begin with when we perceive the external events of the physical plane with our senses, we have no idea that wherever we look there are elemental beings; it is exactly the same when we first look at the human being.

Human beings have an etheric body, which we have often also called an elemental body. Outside in nature, in external physical happenings in general, we have a succession of physical events and also the world of elemental existence. This runs absolutely parallel: the human being with a physical and an etheric body, and physical processes with events of the elemental world flowing into them. It would be just as one-sided to say that external processes are merely physical as to say that a human being has a physical body only, when we ought to be saying that he also has an etheric body. What we perceive with our physical senses and physical intellect is one thing. But there is something behind it that is analogous to the human etheric body. Behind every external physical occurrence there is a higher, more subtle one.

There are people who have a certain awareness of such things. This awareness can come to them in two different ways. You may have noticed something like the following either in yourself or in other people. A person has had some experience. But afterwards he comes to you and says — or it may be something you experienced and you may say, “Actually I had the feeling that while this experience was taking place externally, something quite different was happening to me as well, in a higher part of my being.” This is to say, deeper natures may feel that events not taking place on the physical plane at all can yet have an important effect on the course of their life. First, such people know something has happened to them. Others go even further and see things of this kind symbolically in a dream. Someone dreams he experiences this or that. He dreams, for instance, that he is killed by a boulder. He wakes up and is able to say, “That was a symbolic dream; something has taken place in my soul life.” It can often be proved true in life that something took place in the soul that was of far greater significance than what happened to the person on the physical plane. He may have progressed a stage higher in knowledge, purified part of his will nature, or made his feelings more sensitive or something of that kind.

In lectures given here recently I drew attention to the fact that what a person knows with his I is actually only a part of all that happens to him, and that the astral body knows a very great deal more, though not consciously. You will remember my telling you this. The astral body certainly knows of a great deal that happens to us in the supersensible realm and not in the realm of the senses. Now we have arrived from another direction at the fact that something is continually happening to us in the supersensible realm. Just as in the case of my moving my hand, the physical movement is only part of the whole process and behind it there is an etheric process, a process of my etheric body, so every physical process outside me is permeated by a subtle elementary process that runs parallel with it and takes place in the supersensible realm. Not only beings are permeated by a supersensible element, but so is the whole of existence.

Remember something I have repeatedly referred to and which even seems somewhat paradoxical. I have pointed out that in the spiritual realm we often have the opposite of what exists on the physical plane, not always, but often. Thus if something is true here for the physical plane, the truth with regard to the spiritual aspect can look quite different. Not always, as I say. But I have counted many cases over the years where one would have to say that on the spiritual level there is exactly the opposite result from what one would expect to happen on the physical plane.

With regard to supersensible occurrences running parallel with those of the sense world, this is occasionally, in fact very often, the case. So let us examine it. If we see a party of people setting off by coach and taking a drive, and a piece of rock falls and crushes them, that is the physical occurrence. Parallel with this physical event, that is to say, within it in the same way as our etheric body is within us, there is a supersensible occurrence. And we have to recognize that this may be the exact opposite of what is happening here on the physical plane. In fact it is very frequently the exact opposite.

This can also create great confusion if we do not watch out. For instance, the following may happen. If someone has acquired atavistic clairvoyance and has a kind of second sight, he or she may have the following experience: Supposing a party of people is setting out on a journey, but at the last moment one of the party decides to stay behind, the person who has second sight, let us say. Instead of going with the others, that person stays behind and after a while has a vision. In this vision any event can appear to that person. He or she could of course just as well see the party being hit by boulders as see, for instance — and this can be a matter of disposition — that some especially good fortune happens to them. He or she could very well see the party having a very joyful experience, and might subsequently hear that the party had perished in the way I described.

This could happen if the clairvoyant were not to see what was happening on the physical plane — which he might very well have seen — but had seen what was happening as a parallel event on the astral plane: for the moment these people left the physical plane they may well have been called to something special in the spiritual world, something that filled them with an abundance of new life in the spiritual world. In short, the clairvoyant person may have seen an event of the supersensible worlds going on in exactly the opposite direction, and this absolutely contradictory event could be true. It might really be the case that here on the physical plane a misfortune exists that corresponds in the supersensible world to some great good fortune for those same souls.

Now someone who thinks he is smarter than the wise guidance of the world (and there are such people) might say, “If I ruled the world, I would not do it in such a way that I call souls to happiness in the spiritual world and at the same time shower them with misfortune here on the physical plane. I would do it better than that!” Well, all one can say to people like that is, “Surely one can understand that here on the physical plane people can easily be misled by Ahriman. But cosmic wisdom always knows better.” It could be a matter of the following: The task awaiting the souls in the spiritual world requires their having this experience here on the physical plane, so that they can look back, so to speak, to this physical event of their earthly lives and gain a certain strength they need. That is to say, for the souls who experience them these two occurrences, the physical and the spiritual one, may necessarily belong together.

We could quote hypothetical examples of all kinds, showing that when something takes place here on the physical plane there exists, as it were, an etheric body of this event, an elemental, supersensible event belonging to it. We must not merely generalize like pantheists do and stop short at the general statement that there is a spiritual world underlying the physical, but we must give concrete examples. We must be aware that behind every physical occurrence there is a spiritual occurrence, a real spiritual occurrence, and both together form a whole.

If we follow the course of events on the physical plane, we can say that we get to the point where we link together the events of the physical plane by means of thoughts. And as we watch things happen on the physical plane we actually reach the point of finding a “cause” for each “effect.” That is how things are. People everywhere look for the cause belonging to each effect. Whenever anything has happened, people always have to find the cause of it. But this means finding the inevitability. If you look with sufficient pedantry at the simple example I chose, you could say, “Well now, this party had gathered and had fixed their departure for a definite time. But if I follow up why the chauffeur was tardy, I will go in several directions. First of all, I may look at the chauffeur himself and consider how he was brought up and how he became tardy. Then I will look at the various circumstances leading to his getting his mug of beer too late. All I will be able to find in this way is merely a chain of causes. I will be able to show how one event fits in with the others in such a way that the affair could not possibly have happened otherwise. I will gradually come to the point where I completely eliminate the chauffeur's free will, for if we have a cause for every effect, this includes everything the chauffeur does as well.” The chauffeur only wanted another mug of beer, didn't he, because he had probably not been thrashed sufficiently when he was young. If he had been thrashed more often — and it is not his fault that he was not — things would not have turned out as they did. Looking at it this way we can base the whole thing on a chain of cause and effect.

This has to do with the fact that it is only on the physical plane that we can use concepts. For just consider: if you want to understand something, one thought must be able to follow from another, that is to say, you depend on being able to develop one thought out of another. It lies in the nature of concepts that one follows from the other. That must be so.

Yet, what can be clearly and necessarily linked together through concepts on the physical plane immediately changes as soon as we enter the neighboring supersensible world. There we have to do not with cause and effect but with beings. This is where beings are active. At every moment one or another being is working on or withdrawing from a task. There it is not at all a matter of what can be grasped by concepts in the usual sense.

If you tried using concepts for what is happening in the spiritual world, the following could happen. You might think, “Well, here I am. Certainly I am far enough advanced to perceive that something spiritual is happening. At one moment a gnome approaches, then a sylph, and soon afterwards another being. Now all the beings are together. I will do my best to fathom what the effects will have to be.” On the physical plane this is sometimes easy to do, of course. If we hit a billiard ball in a certain direction, we know which way the other one will go, because we can calculate it. Yet on the spiritual plane it may happen that when you have seen a being and now know “Ah, that is a gnome, he is setting out to do something and will do such and such; he is joining forces with another being, thus the following is bound to happen,” you think you have figured it all out. But the next moment another being appears and changes the whole thing, or a being you were counting on drops out and disappears and no longer participates. There, everything is based on beings. You cannot link everything together with your concepts in the same way as you can on the physical plane. That is quite impossible. There, you cannot explain one thing following from the other on the basis of concepts. Things work together in an entirely different manner in the spiritual world, in the series or stream of spiritual happenings running parallel with physical happenings.

We must become familiar with the fact that underlying our world there is a world we must not only assume to be spiritual in comparison to ours, but we must also assume its events to be connected with each other in a totally different way than those in our world. For we can do nothing at all in the spiritual world, in the actual reality of this spiritual world, with the way we are used to explaining things in the world of our concepts.

Thus we see that two worlds interpenetrate; one of them can be grasped with concepts and the other cannot, but can only be perceived. I am pointing to something that goes very deep, but people are not aware how deep it goes. Just consider for a moment that if someone were to believe he could prove everything, and that only what has been proved is true, the following could happen. That person could say, “As a matter of fact, everything has to be proved, and what has not been proved is unacceptable. Therefore everything that happens in the course of the history of the world must be capable of being proved. So I only need to think hard and I am bound to be able to prove, for instance, whether the Mystery of Golgotha took place or not.” Indeed, people are so very inclined nowadays to say that if the Mystery of Golgotha cannot be proved, the whole thing is nonsense and there never was such an event.

And what do people think of proofs? They think that one starts with one definite concept and proceeds from this to the next one, and if it is possible to do this right through, the matter is proved. But no world other than the physical functions according to this kind of proof. This reasoning does not apply to any other world. For if we were able to prove that the Mystery of Golgotha had to take place of necessity, and this could be concluded from our concepts, it would not have been a free deed at all! Christ would then have been compelled to come down to the earth from the cosmos simply because human concepts prove and therefore dictate it. However, the Mystery of Golgotha has to be a free deed, that is to say, it has to be just the kind of deed that cannot be proved. It is important that people come to realize this.

It is the same thing, after all, when people want to prove either that God created the world or that he did not. There, too, they proceed from one thought to another. But “creating the world,” at any rate will have been a free deed of a divine being! From this it follows that we cannot prove the Creation as following of necessity from our series of concepts; rather, we have to perceive it to arrive at it.

So we are saying something of tremendous importance when we state that the very next world to ours — which, as a supersensible world, permeates ours — is not organized in a way we can penetrate by means of our concepts and their conclusiveness, but that there a kind of vision comes into its own in which events are arranged in a totally different way.

Today I would just like to add a few words about the following. When I was here at Christmas, I drew your attention to the fact that in our time especially, such contradictory things are emerging, that they are quite confusing for human thinking. Just imagine, a book has just been published by the great scientist Ernst Haeckel called Thoughts about Eternity, [ Ernst Haeckel, 1834-1919, German scientist and philosopher. Adherent of Monism. ] I have already mentioned it earlier. These Thoughts about Eternity contain exactly the opposite of what many other people have concluded as a result of living through recent world events. Just think, there are many people today (we shall come to speak of this fact in its particular connection with our present studies, but today I just wanted to give an introduction) who have experienced a deepening of their religious feelings just because world events are having such a terribly overwhelming effect on their souls; for they say, “Unless there is a supersensible world underlying our physical world, how can we explain what is happening in our time?” Many people have rediscovered their feeling for religion. I do not need to describe their train of thought; it is obvious and can be discerned in so many people.

Haeckel arrives at a different train of thought. He explains in his recently published book that people believe in immortality of the soul. However, he says, current events prove clearly enough that any such belief is ridiculous, for we witness thousands of people perishing every day for no reason at all. With these events in mind, how can any sensible person imagine that there can be any talk about the immortality of the soul? How is it possible for a higher world order to stand behind things of this sort?

These shocking events seem to Haeckel to prove his dogma that one cannot speak of immortality of the soul. Here we have antinomy again: A large proportion of humanity is experiencing a deepening of religious feeling, while the very same events are making Haeckel tremendously superficial where religion is concerned.

All this is connected with the fact that nowadays people are unable to understand the relationship between the world accessible to their senses and their brain-bound intellect and the supersensible world underlying it. No sooner do they approach these things than their thinking gets confused. Yet despite all the disillusionment it brings, our time will certainly in one way also bring about a deepening of people's souls, a turning away from materialism. It will be necessary that knowledge of the way supersensible events complement happenings in the world of the senses arise from a pure activity of the soul devoting itself to an impartial exploration of the world. It is necessary that there should be at least a small number of people who are able to realize that all the pain and suffering being experienced at present on the physical plane are, from the point of view of the whole of human evolution, only one side and that there is also another side, a supersensible side.

We have drawn your attention to this supersensible aspect from various points of view, and we will speak of still further ones. But when peace returns to Europe's blood-stained soil, we will again and again experience the need for a group of people capable of hearing and sensing spiritually what the spiritual worlds will then be saying to humanity in times of peace. And we must never tire of impressing the following lines upon our hearts and souls, for it will be proved over and over again how deeply true they are:

Out of the courage of the fighters,
Out of the blood of battles,
Out of the grief of the bereaved,
Out of the peoples' deeds of sacrifice
There shall arise spirit fruit
If only souls, in spirit-mindfulness,
Will reach out to the spirits' realm.




Last Modified: 16-Oct-2017
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