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The Gospel of St. Mark

Gospel of Mark: Lecture 3


In the last lecture we pointed out the significance of the fact that the Gospel of St. Mark begins by introducing the grand figure of John the Baptist, who is contrasted in a marked manner with that of Christ Jesus Himself. If we allow Mark's Gospel to influence us in all its simplicity, we receive a significant impression of John the Baptist; but only when we consider the Baptist against the background of spiritual science does he appear, so to speak, in his full greatness. I have often pointed out that we must interpret the Baptist in the light of the Gospel itself, for we know that he is clearly described in it as a reincarnation of the prophet Elijah (cf. Matt. 11:14). According to spiritual science, if we wish to investigate the deeper causes of the founding of Christianity and of the Mystery of Golgotha, we must look for the figure of the Baptist against the background of the prophet Elijah. I shall only allude briefly here to the topic of the prophet Elijah since I took advantage of the opportunity provided by the last general meeting of the German section of the Theosophical Society in Berlin to speak more fully on this subject (Turning Points in Spiritual History, London, 1934, Lecture 5). All that spiritual science and occult research have to relate concerning the prophet Elijah is fully confirmed by what is contained in the Bible itself. But many passages will undoubtedly remain inexplicable if we read the chapters relating to him in the ordinary way. I will draw your attention only to one point.

We read in the Bible that Elijah challenged all the followers and peoples of King Ahab among whom he lived, and how he pitted himself against his opponents, the priests of Baal, setting up two altars and causing them to lay their sacrifice on one of them while he laid his own sacrifice on the other. He then showed the triviality of what his opponents had said about the priests of Baal because no spiritual greatness was manifested by the god Baal, whereas the greatness and significance of Yahweh or Jehovah appears at once in the case of the sacrifice of Elijah. This was a victory won by Elijah over the followers of Ahab. Then in a remarkable way we are told that Ahab had a neighbor called Naboth who was the owner of a vineyard. Ahab coveted this vineyard, but Naboth would not sell it to him because he regarded it as sacred since it was an inheritance from his father. The Bible then tells us of two facts. On the one side Jezebel, the Queen, was an enemy of Elijah and proclaims that she will have him put to death in the same way as his opponents, the priests of Baal, were put to death because of his victory at the altar. But according to the biblical account, Elijah's death was not brought about through Jezebel. Something else took place. Naboth, the king's neighbor, was summoned to a kind of penitential feast, to which other important persons of the state were also called, and on the occasion of this feast of penitence, he was murdered at the instigation of Jezebel (I Kings 21).

Now we might say that the Bible seems to relate that Naboth was murdered at the urging of Jezebel. Yet Jezebel does not announce that she intends to murder Naboth but rather Elijah. There is an evident discrepancy in the story. Now occult research begins and shows us the real facts in the case, that Elijah was a great spirit who roamed invisibly through the land of Ahab. But at times he entered into and penetrated the soul of Naboth. So Naboth is the physical personality of Elijah; when we speak of the personage of Naboth, we are speaking of the physical personage of Elijah. In the biblical sense, Elijah is the invisible figure, and Naboth his visible image in the physical world. All this I have shown in detail in my lecture entitled, “The Prophet Elijah in the Light of Spiritual Science.” footnote 1 ]

But if we wish to consider the whole spirit of Elijah's work, and the whole spirit of Elijah as it is presented in the Bible, and allow it to influence our souls, we may say that in Elijah we are confronted by the spirit of the whole ancient Hebrew people. All that lives and is interwoven in this people is encompassed within the spirit of Elijah. We may refer to him as the folk spirit of the ancient Hebrew folk. Spiritual science shows him to have been too great to dwell altogether in the soul of his earthly form, in the soul of Naboth. He hovered over him like a cloud; and he not only lived in Naboth but went around the whole country like an element of nature, active in rain and sunshine. This is revealed ever more clearly the more we go into the whole narrative, which begins by saying that drought and barrenness prevailed, but that through Elijah's relationship to the divine spiritual worlds the drought was ended and the needs of the land at that time were fulfilled. He worked as an element of nature, a law of nature itself. We could say that the best way to learn to recognize what worked in the soul of Elijah is to let the 104th Psalm influence us, with its description of how Yahweh or Jehovah works in all things as a nature-divinity. Of course Elijah is not to be identified with this divinity itself; he is the earthly image of that divinity, an earthly image which is at the same time the folk soul of the Hebrew people. Elijah was a kind of differentiation of Jehovah, an earthly Jehovah, or, as he is described in the Old Testament, the “countenance” of Jehovah.

If we look at it in this way, the fact becomes especially clear that the same spirit that lived in Elijah-Naboth now reappears as John the Baptist. How does he work in John?

According to the Bible, and especially as is shown in the Gospel of St. Mark, he works through what is called baptism. What in reality is baptism? Why was it administered by John the Baptist to those who allowed themselves to be baptized? Here we must examine what was the actual effect of baptism on those who were baptized. The candidates were immersed in water. Then there always followed what has often been described as happening when a man receives the shock of being threatened by death, for example by falling into the water and nearly drowning, or by nearly falling over a precipice. A loosening of the etheric body takes place; it partly leaves the physical body. As a consequence, something happens that always happens immediately after death, i.e., a kind of retrospect of the past life. That is a well known fact and has often been described even by the materialistic thinkers of the present time. Something similar took place during the baptism by John in the Jordan. The people were plunged into the water. This baptism was not like the usual baptism of today. The baptism of John caused the etheric bodies of the candidates to be loosened and they saw more than they could comprehend with their ordinary powers of understanding. They saw their life in the spirit and the influence of the spirit on this life. They saw also what the Baptist taught, that the old age was fulfilled and that a new age must begin. In the clairvoyant observation that was possible for them for a few seconds during the baptismal immersion they saw that mankind had come to a turning point in evolution, and that what humanity had possessed in former times when it was in a group-soul condition was now in the process of completely dying out; quite new conditions had to come in, and they saw this while in their liberated etheric body. A new impulse, new capacities, must come to humanity. The baptism of John was therefore a question of knowledge. “Transform your minds, but don't merely turn your gaze backwards as would still be possible. Turn your gaze now to something else, to the God who manifests in the human `I.' The kingdoms of the divine have approached you.” The Baptist did not only preach that; he made it manifest to them by bestowing the baptism on them in the Jordan. Those who had been baptized knew then as a result of their own clairvoyant observation, even though it lasted but a short time, that the words of the Baptist expressed a world-historical fact.

Only when we consider this connection does the spirit of Elijah, which also worked in John the Baptist, appear to us in the right light. Then we see that Elijah was the spirit of the old Jewish people. What kind of spirit was this? In a certain respect it was already the spirit of the “I.” However, it does not appear as the spirit of the individual human being but as the collective folk spirit of the whole people. That which later was to live in each individual man was, so to speak, still in Elijah the group soul of the ancient Hebrew people. That which was to descend as the individual soul into every individual human breast was at the beginning of the Johannine age still in the super-sensible world. It was not yet in every human breast, and it could not yet live in this way in Elijah. So it entered into the individual personality of Naboth but only by hovering over it. Yet in Elijah-Naboth it manifested itself more distinctly than it did in the individual members of the ancient Hebrew people. This spirit, hovering, as it were, over man and man's history, was now about to enter more and more into every bosom. This was the great fact now proclaimed by Elijah-John himself when he said, as he baptized the people, something like the following, “What until now was in the super-sensible worlds and worked from these worlds you must now take into your souls as impulses that have come from the kingdom of heaven right into the hearts of men.” The spirit of Elijah itself shows how in multiplied form it must enter human hearts, so that in the further course of world history they may gradually take up ever more and more of the Christ Impulse. The meaning of the baptism by John was that Elijah was ready to prepare the way for the Christ. This was contained in the deed of the baptism by John in the Jordan, “I will make a place for Him; I will prepare the way for Him into the hearts of men. I will no longer merely hover over men, but will enter into human hearts, so that He also can enter in.”

If this is so, what may we then expect? If it is so, there is nothing more natural than to expect something to come to light in John the Baptist that we have already observed in Elijah. It becomes clear how in this grand figure of the Baptist there is not only his individual personality at work, but something more than a personality, which hovers over the individuality like an aura but has an efficacy that transcends it, something alive like an atmosphere among those within whom the Baptist is working. Just as Elijah was active like an atmosphere, so we may expect that as John the Baptist he would again be active like an atmosphere. Indeed, we may expect something further, that this spiritual being of Elijah, now united with John the Baptist, would continue to work on spiritually even if the Baptist were no longer there, if he were away. What does this spiritual being desire? It wishes to prepare the way for the Christ! We can also say that the physical personality of the Baptist may perhaps have left, but his spiritual being like a spiritual atmosphere may remain in the region where he was formerly active, and this spiritual atmosphere actually prepares the very ground on which the Christ could now perform His deed. This is what indeed we might expect. It could perhaps be best expressed if we were to say, “John the Baptist has gone away but what he is as the Elijah-spirit remains, and in this Christ can work best. Here He can best pour forth His words, and in that atmosphere that has remained behind, the Elijah-atmosphere, He can best perform His deeds.” That we can expect. And what does Mark's Gospel tell us?

It is very characteristic that twice allusion is made in the Mark Gospel to what I have just indicated. The first time it is said that “immediately after the arrest of John, Jesus came to Galilee and there proclaimed the teaching of the kingdoms of the heavens.” (Mark 1:14.) John therefore was arrested, that is to say, his physical personality was then prevented from working actively. But the figure of Christ Jesus entered into the atmosphere created by him. And it is significant that the same thing occurs a second time in the Mark Gospel, and it is a grandiose fact that it should occur a second time. We must only read the Gospel in the right way. If we pass on to the sixth chapter we hear fully described how King Herod had John the Baptist beheaded. But it is strange how many assumptions were made, not only after the physical personality of John had been arrested, but when he had been removed through death. To some it seemed that the miraculous forces through which Christ Jesus Himself worked were due to the fact that Christ Jesus Himself was Elijah, or one of the prophets. But the tortured conscience of Herod arouses a strange foreboding in him. When he hears all that has occurred through Christ Jesus he says, “John, whom I beheaded, has been restored to life!” Herod feels that, though the physical personality of John had gone away, he is now all the more present! He feels that his atmosphere, his spirituality — which was none other than the spirituality of Elijah, is still there. His tormented conscience causes him to be aware that John the Baptist, that is, Elijah, is still there.

But then something strange happens. We are shown how, after John the Baptist had met his physical death, Christ Jesus came to the very neighborhood where John had worked. I want you to take particular notice of a remarkable passage and not to skim over it lightly, for the words of the Gospels are not written for rhetorical effect, nor journalistically. Something very significant is said here. Jesus Christ appears among the throng of followers and disciples of John the Baptist, and this fact is expressed in a sentence to which we must give careful attention: “And as Jesus came out He saw a great crowd,” by which could be meant only the disciples of John, “and He had compassion on them ...” (Mark 6:34.) Why compassion? Because they had lost their master, they were there without John, whose headless corpse we are told had been carried to his grave. But even more precisely is it said, “for they were like sheep who had lost their shepherd. And He began to teach them many things.” It cannot be indicated any more clearly how He teaches John's disciples. He teaches them because the spirit of Elijah, which is at the same time the spirit of John the Baptist, is still active among them. Thus it is again indicated with dramatic power in these significant passages of the Mark Gospel how the spirit of Christ Jesus entered into what had been prepared by the spirit of Elijah-John. Even so this is only one of the main points, around which many other significant things are grouped.

I will now call your attention to one thing more. I have several times pointed out how this spirit of Elijah or John continued to act in such a way as to impress its impulses into world history. And since we are all anthroposophists assembled together here, and able to enter into occult facts, it is permissible to discuss this subject here. I have often mentioned that the soul of Elijah-John appeared again in the painter Raphael. Note 7 ] This is one of those facts that call attention to the metamorphoses of souls that take place under the impetus given by the Mystery of Golgotha. Because it was also necessary that in the post-Christian era such a soul should work in Raphael through the medium of a single personality; what in ancient times was so comprehensive and world encompassing now appears in such a different personality as that of Raphael. Can we not feel that the aura that hovered round Elijah-John is also present in Raphael? That in Raphael there were such similarities to these two others that we could even say that this element was too great to be able to enter into a single personality but hovered round it, so that the revelations received by this personality seemed like an illumination? Such was indeed the case with Raphael!

I could also say that there exists a proof of this fact, though it is a somewhat personal one, to which I already alluded in Munich. Note 8 ] I should like to refer to it again here, not for the purpose of bringing out the personality of John the Baptist, but the full being of Elijah-John. For this purpose I will venture to speak of the further progress of the soul of Elijah-John in Raphael. Anyone who wishes honestly and sincerely to investigate what Raphael really was is likely to have his feelings aroused in a very remarkable way.

I have drawn attention to the modern art historian Hermann Grimm, Note 9 ] and have mentioned that he was able to produce a biography of Michelangelo with comparative facility, but that on three separate occasions he tried to prepare a kind of life of Raphael. And because Hermann Grimm was not a so-called “learned man” — such a man of course can do anything he sets out to do — but a universal man who threw his whole heart sincerely into whatever he wanted to investigate and understand, he was forced to admit that when he had finished what he had intended to be a life of Raphael it did not turn out to be a life of Raphael at all. So he had to begin to do it again and again, but he was never satisfied with his work. Shortly before his death he made one more attempt, which is included in his posthumous works. In this he tried to approach Raphael and understand him in the way his heart wished to understand him, and the title his new work was to bear was indeed characteristic of him. He proposed to call the book Raphael as World-Power. For it seemed to him that if one approaches Raphael honestly, he cannot be described in any way other than as a world-power, unless one fails to see through to what is actively at work in world history. It is very natural that a modern author should experience some discomfort in choosing his words if he is to write as freely and frankly as did the evangelists. Even the best writers of modern times are embarrassed if they set to work in this way, but the figures that have to be described often force them to use the appropriate words. So it is very remarkable how Hermann Grimm wrote about Raphael shortly before his death in the first chapters of his book. It is really as if one can sense in the heart of Hermann Grimm something of the circumstances surrounding such a figure as that of Elijah-John, when he said, “If by some miracle Michelangelo were called back from the dead to live among us, and I were to meet him, I would respectfully stand aside to let him pass by. But if Raphael were to come my way I would go up behind him to see if by chance I might hear a few words from his lips. In the case of Leonardo and Michelangelo we can confine ourselves to relating what they once were in their own time; but with Raphael one must begin with what he is to us today. A slight veil has been cast over the others, but not over Raphael. He belongs among those whose growth will continue for a long time yet. We may imagine that Raphael will present ever new riddles to future generations of humanity.” (Fragments, Vol. II, page 170.)

Hermann Grimm describes Raphael as a world-power, as a spirit striding on through centuries and millennia, as a spirit who could not be encompassed within one individual man. And we may read yet other words by Hermann Grimm, wrung from the honesty and sincerity of his soul. It seems as if he wanted to express that there is something about Raphael like a great aura enveloping him, just as the spirit of Elijah enveloped Naboth. Could this be expressed in any other way than in these words of Hermann Grimm, “Raphael is a citizen of world-history; he is like one of the four rivers which, according to the belief of the ancient world, flowed out of Paradise.” (Fragments, Vol. II, page 153.)

That might also have been written by an evangelist, and it might almost have been written of Elijah! Thus even a modern historian of art, if his feelings are honest and sincere, is able to feel something of the great cosmic impulses that live through the ages. Truly nothing further is required to understand spiritual science than to come close to the soul and spiritual needs of those men who strive longingly to discover the truth about the evolution of humanity.

So does John the Baptist stand before us, and it is good if we can feel him in this way when we read the opening words of the Mark Gospel, and again later in the sixth chapter. The Bible is unlike a book of modern scholarship in which it is clearly emphasized what people ought to read. The Bible conceals beneath the grandiose artistic and occult style many of the mysterious facts it wishes to proclaim. And it is precisely in relation to the facts in the story of John the Baptist that the artistic and occult style does indeed conceal such things. Here I want to draw your attention to something that you can perhaps experience as truth only through your life of feeling. If you admit that there can be truths other than rational ones you may be able to see that the Bible tells us how the spirit or soul of Elijah is related to the spirit or soul of John the Baptist. Let us as briefly as we can see how far this is the case by allowing ourselves to be affected by the description of Elijah as it appears in the Old Testament:

So Elijah arose and went toward Zaraphta. And when he came to the gate of the city, there was a widow woman gathering wood. And he called to her and said “Bring me, I pray thee, a little water in a pitcher that I may drink.” And as she was going to fetch it, he called out to her and said “Bring me also a mouthful of bread.”

And the woman said, “As sure as the Lord your God liveth I have no bread, only a handful of flour in a bin and a little oil in a cruse. And see, I have gathered a few pieces of wood, and I am about to go inside and I want to make them ready for me and my son that we may eat and then die.”

Elijah said to her, “Fear not, go in and do as you have said. But first make a small cake and bring it out for me. Then afterwards you can make something for you and your son. For thus says the Lord, ‘The flour in the bin shall not be consumed nor the oil cruse run dry until the day when the Lord makes it rain upon the earth.’ ”

So she went in and did as Elijah had said. And he ate, and so did her household for a time. The flour in the bin was not eaten up, and the oil cruse did not run dry, according to the word he had spoken through Elijah. (I Kings 17:10-16.)

What do we read in the story of Elijah? We read of the coming of Elijah to a widow, and of a marvellous increase of bread. Because the spirit of Elijah was there it came about that there was no want in spite of the shortage of bread. The bread increased — so we read — the moment Elijah came into the presence of the widow. What is described here as an increase in bread, as the giving of bread as a gift, comes about through the spirit of Elijah. We can say therefore that the fact shines out from the Old Testament that the increase of bread is effected through the appearance of Elijah.

Now let us turn to the sixth chapter of the Mark Gospel. Here we are told how Herod caused John to be beheaded, and how Christ Jesus then came to the group of John's followers.

And when He came out He saw a great crowd, and had compassion on them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd. And He began to teach them many things. And as it had become quite late His disciples came to Him and said, “This is a desolate place and it is already late. Let them go so that they may go to the farms and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But He answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to Him, “Should we go there and buy bread for two hundred denarii and give them something to eat?” He answered them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and look.” And after they had obtained the information they said, “Five loaves and two fishes.”

And he ordered them all to sit down on the green grass as if it had been a table. And they lay down as if for bed, by hundreds and by fifties. And he took the five loaves and the two fishes, looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before them; in the same way he divided the two fishes among them. And they all ate and were satisfied. (Mark 6:34-42.)

You know the story; again there was an increase in bread brought about by the spirit of Elijah-John. The Bible does not actually speak “clearly” as we understand the word today, but it expresses what it has to say through its composition. Whoever understands how to value the truths of feeling will wish to let his feeling dwell on the passage where it is related how Elijah came to the widow and increased the bread, and where the reincarnated Elijah leaves his physical body and Christ Jesus brings about in a new form what is described as an increase of bread. Such are the inner developments, the inner correspondences in the Bible. They demonstrate how fundamentally empty the scholarship is that talks about a “compilation of biblical fragments,” but also how it is possible for us to recognize the one single spirit composing it throughout, irrespective of who this single spirit is. That is how the Baptist is presented to us.

Now it is very remarkable how the Baptist himself is again introduced into the work of Christ Jesus. On two occasions it is indicated to us that Christ Jesus really entered the aura of the Baptist just when the physical personage was withdrawing more and more into the background, finally leaving the physical plane altogether. But it is shown in very clear words precisely through the very simplicity of the Mark Gospel how through the entry of Christ Jesus into the element of Elijah-John a wholly new impulse enters the world. In order to understand this we must envisage the whole description given in the Gospel from the moment when Christ Jesus appears after the arrest of John the Baptist and speaks of the divine kingdom, to the passage where the murder of John by Herod is related, and continue on with the subsequent chapters. If we take all these stories down to the story of Herod and consider them in their true character we find that the intention of all of them is to reveal in a correct manner the qualities that are characteristic of Christ Jesus. Yesterday we spoke of His characteristic way of acting so that He is recognized also by the spirits which live in those possessed by demons. In other words, He is recognized by super-sensible beings and this is presented to us in a sharply accentuated manner. And then we are faced with the fact that that which lives in Christ Jesus is something in reality quite different from what dwelt in ElijahNaboth for the reason that the spirit of Elijah could not wholly enter into Naboth.

The purpose of the Gospel of St. Mark is to show us that the being of Christ entered fully into Jesus of Nazareth and entirely filled his earthly personality. What we recognize as the universal human ego was working in Him. What then is so terrible to the demons who were in possession of human beings when they were confronted by Christ Jesus? The devils are compelled to say to Him, “You are He who bears the God within You.” They recognize Him as a divine power in the human personality, thus compelling the demons to allow themselves to be recognized and to come forth from the human beings who were possessed through the power of what lives in the individual personality of man (Mark 1:24; 3:11; 5:7). This is why in the early chapters of the Mark Gospel the figure of Christ is worked out so carefully, making Him in a certain way a contrast to ElijahNaboth, and also to Elijah-John. For whereas that which was active in them could not wholly live in them, this activating quality was wholly contained within Christ Jesus. For this reason, although a cosmic principle lives in Him, Christ Jesus as an individual personality confronts other human beings quite individually, including those whom He heals.

It is true that at the present time people generally take descriptions that come from the past in a peculiar way. In particular many of the modern learned students of nature — monists, as they also call themselves — take these descriptions in a very peculiar way when they wish to present their conceptions of the world. We could characterize this attitude by saying that these learned savants and excellent natural philosophers are secretly of the opinion, though they might be too embarrassed to say so, that it would have been better if the Lord God had left the organizing of the world to them, for they would really have established it better.

Take, for example, the case of such a learned student of natural philosophy of our time who maintains that wisdom has come to mankind only in the last twenty years, while others believe it has only been during the last five years, and regard earlier ideas as mere superstition. Such a man would profoundly regret that at the time of Christ there was no modern school of scientific medicine with its various remedies. According to their notions it would have been much more clever if all these people, for example Simon Peter's mother-in-law and others, had been cured with the aid of modern medical remedies. To their minds he would have been a really perfect God if he had created the world in accordance with the conceptions of a modern knowledge of nature. He would not have allowed humanity to have been deprived so long of the knowledge of nature possessed by modern savants. The world as established by God is indeed bungled by comparison with what a modern natural scientist would have created. They are embarrassed to say it so openly, but it is possible to read between the lines. These things that whirr around in the minds of materialistic natural scientists should be called by their right names. If we could for once talk confidentially with one of these gentlemen we might hear him voice the opinion that it is hard to avoid being an atheist when one sees how little success God had at the time of Christ in curing human beings by the methods of modern natural science.

But one thing is not considered: that the word “evolution,” about which people speak so often, ought to be taken seriously and honestly. Everything about evolution must be understood if the world is to reach its goal, and it is pointless to go looking for a plan such as modern natural scientists would produce if they were able to create a world. Because they think in this way, men do not correctly realize that the whole constitution of man, the unity of the finer bodies of man, were formerly quite different. In earlier times nothing at all could have been achieved with the human personality through the methods of natural science. For then the etheric body was much more active, much stronger than it is today; hence the physical body could be worked on indirectly through the etheric body in a very different manner. To express it quite dryly, at that time there was quite a different effect when one healed by means of “feeling” from what it would be today. At that time feeling was poured out from one person into another. When the etheric body was really much stronger and still governed the physical body, psychospiritual methods of healing acted quite differently. Human beings were constitutionally different, so there had to be a different method for healing. If a natural scientist does not know this he will say, “We no longer believe in miracles, and what is said here about healing is really a question of miracles, and these we must leave out of consideration.” And if one is a modern enlightened theologian one is faced by a very special dilemma. He would like to be able to retain these ideas, but at the same time he is filled with the modern prejudice that there is no such thing as healing of this kind, and that such cures are necessarily miracles. Which leads on to the effort to make all kinds of explanations as to the possibility or impossibility of miracles. But one thing he does not know. Nothing described up to the sixth chapter of the Mark Gospel was at that time regarded as a miracle, any more than when today some function of the human organization is affected by one medicament or another. No one at that time would have thought of it as a miracle if someone stretched out his hand and said to a leper, “I will it, become clean.” The whole natural being of Christ Jesus that was poured forth here, was in itself the cure. It would no longer work today because the union between the physical and etheric body is quite different. In those days physicians usually healed in that way, so it was not something that should be particularly emphasized that Christ Jesus cured lepers through compassion and the laying on of hands. Such a thing was then a matter of course. What is worthy of note in this chapter is something quite different, and this we must picture to ourselves correctly.

Let us then first glance at the manner in which the great physicians and even the lesser ones were trained. They were trained in schools that were part of the mystery schools, and they were able to attain to powers that worked down through them from the super-sensible world. Such physicians were thus in a sense mediums for the transmission of super-sensible powers. Through their own mediumship these men transmitted super-sensible powers, and they had been trained for this in the medical mystery schools. When in this way a physician laid his hands on a person it was not his own powers that streamed down but powers from the super-sensible world. It was through his initiation in the mystery schools that he could become a channel for the working of super-sensible powers. It would not have seemed especially remarkable to a person of that time if he heard that a leper or someone suffering from a fever had been cured through such psychical processes. The significant aspect was not that someone appeared capable of curing in this way but that someone who had not been trained in a mystery school could heal in this manner, and that in the heart and soul of this man the power which earlier flowed from the higher worlds was present, and such powers had now become personal individual powers. The truth was to be made clear that the time was fulfilled, and that from now onward men were no longer to be channels for super-sensible forces, that this had come to an end. This had also become clear to those who had been baptized by John in the Jordan, that the old time was coming to an end and everything in the future must be done through the human “I,” through that which is to enter into the divine inner center of the human being. They recognized that now among the people there stands one who does out of His own self what others before had done with the help of beings who live in the super-sensible world and whose powers worked down on them.

So we by no means grasp the meaning of the Bible if we picture to ourselves the curative process as being something special. In the fading light of the era that was passing away, when such cures were possible, it is said that Christ performed cures during this era of the fading light, but that He healed with new forces which would be present from that time onward. Thus it is very clearly shown, with a clarity that cannot be obscured, that Christ Jesus works entirely from man to man. This is everywhere emphasized. It could scarcely be more clearly expressed than when Jesus comes in contact with a woman described in the fifth chapter of the Mark Gospel. He heals her because she approaches Him and touches His garment, and He feels that a current of force has gone out from Him. The whole story is related in such a way as to show that the woman draws near to Christ Jesus and takes hold of His garment. At first He does nothing else Himself, but she does something; she takes hold of His garment, whereupon a current of force leaves Him. How? Not in this instance because He has released it, but because she draws it forth, and He notices it only later. This is very clearly shown. And when He does notice it what does He say? “Daughter, your faith has aided you. Go in peace and be healed from your plague.”

He only then became aware Himself, as He stood there, how the divine kingdom was streaming into Him, and streamed out from Him again. He does not stand there before those who are to be cured as the healers of earlier times stood before those from whom they were to drive out their demons. Whether the sick person believed or did not believe, the power that streamed from the super-sensible worlds through the medium of the healer streamed into him. But now, when it depended on the ego, this ego had to participate in the process; everything now became individualized. The main point of this description was not that one could influence the body through the soul — in that epoch that would have been a matter of course — but that insofar as the new age was just beginning, one ego must henceforth be in direct relationship with another ego. In earlier times the spiritual lived in the higher worlds, and it hovered over the human being. Now the kingdoms of heaven came near and were to enter into the hearts of men, were to live within the hearts of men as in a center. That is the point. In a world view such as this the outer physical and the inner moral flowed together in a new way, in such a way that from the time of the founding of Christianity until today there could only be faith, which from now onward can become knowledge.

Let us take the case of a sick person in ancient times as he stood facing his physician who was to heal him in the way I have just described. Magical forces were brought down from the spiritual worlds through the medium of the physician who had been prepared for this in the mystery schools, and these forces streamed through the body of the physician into that of the patient. There was at that time no link with the moral element, for the whole process did not affect the ego. Morality had nothing to do with it, for the forces flowed down magically from the higher worlds. Now a new era begins, and the moral and the physical aspects of the healing worked together in a new way. Knowledge of this fact will enable us to understand another story.

Some days had passed when He came again to Capernaum. When it was reported that He was in the house many people gathered there, so that there was no longer any room for them, even in front of the door, and He preached the word to them. Then they came to Him with a paralytic carried by four men. And when they were unable to come close to Him because of the crowd, they removed the roof of the house where He was and let down the litter on which the paralytic was lying through the gap. And when Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven you.” (Mark 2:1-5.)

What would a physician have said in earlier times? What would the scribes and Pharisees have expected when a healing was to take place? They would have expected such a healer to have said, “The forces now pouring into you and into your paralyzed limbs will enable you to move.” But what did Christ say? “Your sins are forgiven you.” That is the moral element in which the ego participates. It was a language the Pharisees were incapable of understanding. They could not understand it; for someone to speak like this was a blasphemy to the Pharisees. Why? Because to their minds God could be spoken of only as living in the super-sensible worlds, and He works down from there; and sins could be forgiven only from the super-sensible worlds. They could not understand that forgiveness of sins had something to do with the person who healed. Therefore Christ went on further to say: “Which is it easier to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up, take up your litter and walk?’ But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth” (turning to the paralytic) “I tell you to stand up, take up your litter and go home.” And at once he stood up, took his litter and went out in full view of everyone. (Mark 2:9-12.)

Christ combines the moral and magical elements in His healing, and in this way made the transition from the ego-less to the ego-filled condition, and this can be found in every single description. This is how these matters must be understood, for this is the way they are told. Now compare what spiritual science has to say with all that biblical commentaries have to say about the “forgiveness of sins.” You will find there the strangest explanations, but nowhere anything satisfying because it was not known what the Mystery of Golgotha actually was.

I said that it had to be taken on faith. Why on faith? Because the expression of the moral in the physical element is not developed in one incarnation. When we meet someone today we must not look upon a physical defect as the bringing together of the physical and moral elements within one incarnation. Only when we go beyond one individual incarnation do we find the connection between the moral and physical elements in his karma. Because karma was very little emphasized up to the present time or not at all we can now say, “Until now the connection between the moral and physical elements could be discerned only through faith.” But now, when we are approaching the Gospels in a spiritual scientific way, faith is replaced by knowledge. Christ Jesus stands here beside us as an enlightened one, telling us about karma, when He makes known, “This person I may cure, for I perceived from his personality that his karma is such that he may stand up and walk.”

In such a passage as this you can see how the Bible is to be understood only if it is provided with the means given by modern spiritual science. It is our task to show that in this book, this cosmic book, the profoundest wisdom concerning the evolution of man is truly embodied. Once we are able to grasp what cosmic processes unfold on the earth — and this we shall emphasize increasingly in the course of these particular lectures since the Mark Gospel especially points to them — then we shall discover that what can be said in connection with this Gospel in the future can in no way be offensive to any other of the world's creeds. True knowledge of the Bible will, because of its own inner strength, stand firmly on the ground of spiritual science, attaching equal value to all the religious creeds of the world. This is because true knowledge of the Bible, for the reasons given at the end of our last lecture, cannot be truthfully confined within one denomination or another, but must be universal. In this way the religions will be reconciled. What I was able to tell you in my first lecture about the Indian who gave the lecture, “Christ and Christianity,” seems like the beginning of such a reconciliation. This Indian, no doubt subject to all the prejudices of his nation, nevertheless looked up to Christ in an interdenominational sense. It will be the task of spiritual scientific activity within the different religious confessions to try to understand this figure of Christ. For it seems to me that the task of our spiritual movement must be to deepen the religious creeds so that the inner nature of the different religions can be understood and deepened.

I should like in this connection to indicate something I have often pictured for you in the past, e.g., how a Buddhist who is an anthroposophist would conduct himself in relation to an anthroposophist who is a Christian. The Buddhist would say, “Gautama Buddha, who after first being a Boddhisattva then became a Buddha, after his death reached such a height that he no longer needs to return to earth.” The Christian who is an anthroposophist would reply, “I understand, for if I find my way into your heart and believe what you believe, I myself believe that about your Buddha.” This is what it means to understand the religion of the other person, to bring oneself to the other's religion. The Christian who has become an anthroposophist can understand everything that the other man says.

And what would the Buddhist who has become an anthroposophist say in reply? He would say, “I am trying to grasp what the innermost core of Christianity is. That with Christ we do not have to do with a founder of religion but with something different. In the case of the Mystery of Golgotha we have to do with an impersonal fact. Jesus of Nazareth did not stand there as the founder of a new religion, but the Christ entered into him, and He died on the Cross, thus accomplishing the Mystery of Golgotha. What is really the issue is that the Mystery of Golgotha is a cosmic fact.” And the Buddhist will say, “In future I shall no longer misunderstand, now that I have grasped the essence of your religion, as you have grasped mine, which was the issue between us. I will never picture the Christ as someone who will be reincarnated. For you the central question is what happened there. And I should be speaking in a very odd manner if I were to say that Christianity could be improved upon in any respect — that if Christ Jesus had been better understood He would not have been crucified after three years, that a religious founder should have been treated differently, and the like. The point is precisely that Christ was crucified, and the crucial consequences of that death on the Cross. There is no point in thinking that an injustice occurred at that time and that Christianity today could be improved upon.” No Buddhist who is an anthroposophist could say anything else than, “As you truly strive to understand the essence of my religion, so will I truly strive to understand the essence of yours.”

And what would be the result if people of different religions were to understand each other in such a way that the Christian were to say to the Buddhist, “I believe in your Buddha just as you do,” and if the Buddhist were to say to the Christian, “I understand the Mystery of Golgotha in the same way you do?” If something like this were to become general among human beings, what would be the consequence? There would be peace, and mutual acceptance of all religions among men. And this must come. The anthroposophical movement must consist of a true mutual understanding of all religions. It would be contrary to the spirit of anthroposophy if a Christian who became an anthroposophist were to say to a Buddhist, “It is untrue that Gautama after he became a Buddha will no longer reincarnate. He must appear in the twentieth century again as a physical human being.” Whereupon the Buddhist would say, “Can your anthroposophy lead you only to deride my religion?” And as a result instead of peace discord would arise among the religions. In the same way a Christian would have to tell a Buddhist who insisted on speaking about the possible improvements in Christianity, “If you can maintain that the Mystery of Golgotha was a mistake, and that Christ could return in a physical body so that He could succeed better than before, then you are making no effort to understand my religion, you are deriding it.” It is no task of anthroposophy to deride any religion, old or new, that is worthy of respect. If this were the task of anthroposophy it would be founding a society on mutual derision, not on the understanding of the equality of all religions!

In order to understand the spirit and the occult core of anthroposophy we must write this in our souls. And we can do this in no better way than by extending the strength and love that are working in the Gospels to the understanding of all religions. The later lectures in this cycle will show us how this can be achieved most particularly in connection with the Gospel of St. Mark.



1.  Berlin, December 14th, 1911. English translation in Turning Points in Spiritual History (London: Rudolf Steiner Publishing Co., 1934).

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