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On The Gospel of St. John

Rudolf Steiner

Berlin, June 26th, 1905
GA Unknown

Rudolf Steiner Archive Document: On The Gospel of St. John A lecture delivered in Berlin, on June 26th, 1905. Authorized translation from the German of Notes unrevised by the lecturer. Translator unknown. GA Unknown.

Translator's Note: The German original of this lecture is available only in the form or notes and the text is not always complete or its full meaning clear. This should be borne in mind when reading the following attempt at an adequate translation.

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ON THE GOSPEL OF ST. JOHN

NOTES of a lecture given by Rudolf Steiner in Berlin

26th June, 1905.

As to-day is the last time we shall be together before the holidays, I want to speak, briefly, about a subject which by its very character can provide nourishment for the holiday period. We will think, to-day, of the Spirit of the John Gospel. This Gospel is regarded by many learned theologians nowadays as the Gospel which is of lesser importance for the religious development of Man.

The first three Gospels are called the Synoptic Gospels and the view is held that these three Evangelists give a more or less faithful account of what transpired in Palestine between the years 30 and 33 A.D. In contrast to this, modern theologians are of the opinion that the John Gospel is a kind of poem and does not really deal with the facts. They put it aside, regarding it as a kind of fervent avowal of faith on the part of its author, but they are not willing to be guided by it.

We shall now try to penetrate a little more deeply into the significance and the secret of the power of the John Gospel. For those whose main concern is to enter into the spirit of Christianity and into the tasks of the immediate future, the John Gospel is the most important of the four. That it is laid aside to-day is due to sheer lack of understanding.

The Mystics knew that the John Gospel is a book of Life. I have already spoken of this. From the 13th chapter onwards, the John Gospel is not merely a narration of certain facts and happenings, but every sentence is a source of occult forces. And when we read this Gospel from the 13th chapter onwards, we quicken in ourselves spiritual forces; we become different human beings. It is not a question of knowing the actual sentences or of learning them by heart, but of really experiencing their meaning, in such a way that we become one with it. The occultist says: Each single sentence, from the 13th chapter onwards, is so written that it signifies, first and foremost, an inner experience. Something happens in us when we sink ourselves into the words and let their magical content work upon us. Things light up in us which we did not know before, helping us to realise the tasks lying immediately ahead of us.

In the last lecture I said that we are standing before mighty tasks and that we can only grow to be fit for them when we grasp them spiritually, when we have received into ourselves the Spirit of our Time — which is, in essence, the spirit of Christianity.

To what has civilisation been steering, especially during the last few centuries? Towards outer possessions, towards the ordering of the external, material world in such a way that this world shall be as comfortable and pleasant as possible, shall be able to satisfy the needs of the external senses. Even the most strenuous demands made of the spiritual life have only been applied for the purpose of making the material life comfortable. Similarly, all our inventions, all our progress in technical skill, the efforts of our greatest thinkers, have only furnished us with the means for satisfying the needs of our senses. The animal goes into the fields and feeds itself. — During the last centuries man has exerted his intellect only for the ultimate purpose of satisfying the same kind of needs. For think of it. — The invention of railways, the telephone, the steam-engine, and so forth, requires the application of much spiritual power and we use this power for the purpose of satisfying our need for nourishment. When all is said and done, we employ the means provided by culture to the end that men may still their purely material wants. It is as if the animal in us were satisfying its material wants by cleverly thought-out means.

It was quite otherwise in the remote past. The primitive human beings who lived in those times procured what was essential for their material existence in the simplest way possible and the spiritual needs of man came first and foremost. To-day, everything that concerns the material life has become much more a matter of an intellectual art. Man has enmeshed himself in a net of intellect and reason, simply for the purpose of procuring sufficiency for external life. But in those past times a great spiritual power was in operation at the centre of the life of the peoples. There were institutions in which highly developed spiritual Beings, using spiritual forces of great power, inspired and brought a spiritual culture into being. A stream of spiritual life went forth from these places of the Mysteries. The ancient Druid Priests related fairy-tales which may seem very elementary to us, but which proceeded from the deepest and most profound insight. Stories of such beings as cobbolds, undines, nixies and the like, are regarded to-day as superstition and phantasy, but they originated from living intercourse with the highest spiritual beings on other planes. For in very truth, spiritual worlds are all around us. The astral world is everywhere, with colours and sounds as real as those of the physical world. All this is revealed to one who has made progress in his development. We learn to know whole ranks of new Beings who cannot become visible on the physical plane because they do not reach down as far as physical substance; their corporeality consists of astral substance.

The sagas and fairy-tales originated from actual intercourse with these Beings. In earlier times, spiritual forces brought about what the modern mind would call ‘Miracles.’ It is incorrect to speak, as do our scientists to-day, of the primitive conditions in which an ancient humanity existed. Men satisfied their material needs in those times in the simplest possible way, but, on the other hand, they shared in a very real sense in the spiritual life directed by these higher Personalities.

The ant-colony is far more wisely arranged than many a modern State. Whence is to come the Leader of a modern State — a true Leader?

Intelligence comes only from Intelligence. Formerly, all the affairs of life were ruled by Intelligence, and with their spiritual insight the Individualities of whom we are speaking dominated everything around them. The external life of men was simple and primitive, but behind it worked a spiritual life. The world is the material imprint of a higher, spiritual life. To-day, too, there are men in whom higher spiritual forces are alive, who see into the spiritual worlds and are able to hold counsel with Beings of higher worlds. But it has become their destiny to withdraw and remain for a while in the background. In the course of the last few thousand years, the wave of material life has become stronger and stronger, and the wave of spiritual life has diminished in strength. And so, to-day, the Masters of the Harmony of Feelings live in concealment and are known only to those who find access to them through special training.

For two thousand years men have been led by another Power, but the first chapter in the evolution of this Power is only to-day beginning to unfold. This Power is Christianity. The primary task of Christianity was to be the guiding principle for human beings on the physical plane, but a principle of which they must be fully conscious. In order to understand the sense in which our early forefathers were led by Spiritual beings, the comparison must always be drawn with the life of animal communities. A certain picture, however, will make the change clear to us. — A whole army of slaves worked at the building of the Pyramids of Egypt, in a way of which the modern man can have no inkling. Every slave realised: ‘This present life of mine is only one among many lives. I shall have many lives on this Earth. And just as somebody is in command where I am now a slave, so I myself shall one day be in command.’ And so life was bearable for such human beings. They understood Karma. They knew that if they suffered, they had previously laid the basis for this suffering. They knew they were visitors on the Earth and this produced in them quite a different consciousness of and attitude to culture and civilisation.

But this state of things could not remain, for human beings have quite another task. We must not be mere visitor’s on the Earth, but transform the Earth, spiritualise everything material; we must work the spirit into the Earth. Everything that we do to the Earth we do to the Godhead — no matter what we accomplish. Everything is part of one great chain. We are the messengers of the Godhead, and the Earth must one day pass into a Golden Age, must become a Paradise. In free, creative activity men must transform the Earth.

But on the Earth, man had to be prepared for this task. To begin with, this was done by directing his gaze upwards to the Heavens. It was necessary, then, for an age to come when he realised the importance of material existence, the importance of every form of manual work and labour. What seems, now, to be trifling, will one day be of importance on another plane.

Christianity was intended to be an education. The trend was that, first of all, the minds of men should be diverted from the Spiritual and such importance attached to the things of the Earth that, for two thousand years, thought should be directed away from the Spiritual. Thus there was an era during which the spiritual receded into the background. Men forgot their connection with the Spiritual, but consciousness of it had to be preserved. To that end Christ came to the Earth and in the scene of the Transfiguration He bade his disciples say nothing of Reincarnation. (Matt. chap. 17, verses 1–13). Christ said Elias has come again and men have not known him. To the Disciples, Christ here set forth the doctrine of reincarnation but charged them not to speak of it until he should come again.

For two thousand years humanity has entered more and more deeply into the material world — and Christ was their Leader. But now and henceforth man is called upon to experience the Christ within himself. The occultist knows the truth of the words: “I am with you always, until the end of the age.” This always means the end of a current age and the beginning of a new. The time will come when everyone will know in quite another light, what the Christ is, in reality. The Christ will appear on the Earth again in Glory and then the second chapter of Christianity will begin. The ‘New Gospel’ will begin — the ‘New Gospel’ being that of St. John. A true understanding of the old gospels — that is the John Gospel.

Materialistic science was responsible for the story of the “simple man of Nazareth.” The theologians set about giving a purely materialistic interpretation of the events in Palestine, from their standpoint of liberalism. Materialism was a necessary phenomenon, but it is misunderstood, and theology itself became tainted with this misunderstanding. A new understanding of Christianity will awaken and man must consciously go forward to a future full of light, to a time when power will not menace, a new civilisation, when the spirit of the Initiates will pour over the souls of men and bring a new age to birth. Not only are we led physically and spiritually towards this age, but we cannot remain in lethargy: the last moment has come.

World history is connected with the spiritual world. To-day there is a disease which is the disease of diseases. — We call it Neurasthenia. In earlier times it was unknown, in its present form. If nothing else is able to make the immature consciousness of our era realise the great dangers lying in materialism, the prevalent nervous conditions should be able to do so. Even a century ago, a person who could work his muscles well was called “nervous.” But now, something new has appeared, namely, a sensitivity which reaches as far as the outer senses. Materialism has brought us to this point. Materialism in the outer world has its counterpart in nervous conditions and to the extent to which striving after material things prevails, to that extent will human beings ruin their nerves still further. Baron Rothschild who has just died in Vienna, was a typical example or this. He left 20 millions for the endowment of an institute for those suffering from nervous diseases. A sick man himself, he accumulated this sum in the course of his life. He entered this life with ruined nerves and passed out of it in the same condition. The chasing and hurrying and thinking merely of material things is connected, irrevocably, with ruination and destruction of the nervous system. The 20 millions were to be devoted to the care of neurasthenics — the sign of the ruination of the nervous system. The occultist knows of this deep relationship between the Spiritual and outer physical life, but people in general and, above all, modern doctors, have no such knowledge. Nevertheless we know that, in time, the truth will come to light. If we do not want this materialistic mentality to ruin the physical constitution too, then we must begin again to lay hold of the spiritual life.

The fact that there are many to-day who no longer want to have anything to do with penetration into the depths of the mystical writings of Christianity, will bring its own revenge. Another dawn would light up in our age if the Christian Churches had a better understanding of what Christianity is. Our age, too, is inscribed in the book of the Bible in mighty hieroglyphs.

Who betrayed the Christ? He who had the 30 pieces of silver, he who is the representative of material possessions. At the beginning of the Christian era, the Divine Spirit descended. The Christ came to heal this vale of Earth and those who do not think that they themselves are called upon to assist in bringing a different age to birth, violate their deepest responsibility. For 2000 years man had to be educated. Judas of Kariot was destined to bring the sacrifice, to deliver up the Christ to the material forces of existence, Because humanity followed the 30 pieces of silver, Christ vanished — passed away to the astral plane. The task of Christianity through 2000 years is pictured in the betrayal by Judas. But a different task stands before Christianity to-day. We have only to place ourselves again at the portals through which resound the words spoken at that time to the Apostles.

The true form of Christianity to-day is called Theosophy and it is a false Christianity which disavows Theosophy.

Has any modern theologian ever pondered over the passage in the 13th chapter of the John Gospel, verse 16: — “The servant is not greater than his Lord; neither he that is sent, greater than he that sent him.” One could understand people giving no thought to these most significant words, if the meaning were reversed, but the passage stands: “The servant is not greater than his Lord, and the Apostle is not greater than he that sent him.”

These words follow the Deed of the Washing of the Feet. You know this most significant scene, Peter at first protests but then begs that the Lord shall wash his whole body. Then the Lord indicates that one among the disciples is not clean, namely, he who will betray Him. The whole secret of present-day mankind is contained in this chapter. Fundamentally, the object of the education of the last 2000 years was to be a washing of the feet. Judas stands there with the knowledge that Christ washes the feet of the others. ..... (sentence missing in original) .....

And now think of our astral and physical bodies. The physical body stands within the physical world; the same physical and chemical forces which work outside in Nature, work also in our physical body. The character of the astral body is determined by the natural urges and passions. What did Christ accomplish by the washing of the feet? l have often said that the physical body of man is the most perfect and the most important and that the other bodies have yet to develop to this stage of perfection. As an instance, think of the upper part of the thigh-bone. No technician could put together anything as perfect. The physical body is built “wisely and perfectly;” it is an imprint of the highest wisdom. And if the physical body only were on the Earth, then the physical world would be much more perfect. There are no inferior functions in the physical body itself; they are something which the astral body brings about. Nothing that the physical body accomplishes is sinful; the astral body alone is sinful. The astral body works as the enemy of the physical body and sinfulness, wrong-doing, are thereby evoked in the physical body. It was necessary for the astral body to descend and adapt itself to the physical body during the course of the last 2000 years. The Christ, too, had to descend and to be betrayed. He had to use the means whereby He could best render service to the physical body. The passions had to pour over physical life. Judas with the money-bag had to fulfil his function in order that harmony with the physical world might eventually be established.

But the astral body has not united itself with the material world without being punished; it has sunk in the physical world. Just as human beings with their astral bodies live in the physical body, so do higher beings live with their higher spirit-bodies, in an astral body, and they can put this astral body to perverted use, just as man is able to do in the physical body. Diabolus — the Demons — took possession of Judas. This is a real fact. Judas fulfilled the function whereby the astral body was led downwards, but now we must liberate ourselves from Judas.

Perfection and wisdom are imprinted in the physical body. Therefore the occultist says: The Gods have created the physical body in perfection, and the astral body has yet to grow to this perfection. It must itself become divine, must be purified, just as the physical has been purified, by coming down to the physical Earth. When we descend to the Earth, we must purify our feet, and when the etheric body descends to the Earth, then the feet must be especially pure; the etheric body must be able to come right down into the material world, must be able to experience everything, but still remain pure. If those who seek to ennoble their astral body are to fulfill their task, then they must take this principle as their model. In our age, the astral body is the servant of the physical body. For the God, the Divine Godhead indwells the physical body and it would be evil for man if he were to put his physical body under the domination of his astral body. The Lord is the Principle which works in the physical body, and the servant is the astral body. The Lord himself has made the physical body perfect; He has sent out the astral body and has placed it forever under the influence of spiritual forces whereby it should be made ever more perfect. We are servants, and it would be presumption to place ourselves above the higher forces working in Nature. We must let ourselves be strengthened and uplifted by the Divine and not place ourselves above it — otherwise we sin against this precept.

To-day this profound passage becomes comprehensible to us in the light of theosophical teaching. “The Apostle is not greater than the Lord.” — such words work as the Devas once worked. Our ancestors let the voice of the Masters speak in folk-stories and sagas. The Lord was therein. Our material wisdom has become obtuse and slave-like. In this passage it is said that the servant should not set himself above the Lord ....... (Lavater?) said: A time will come when everything which constitutes our material science will be regarded as child’s play and we shall stand humbly, like children, before the ancient sages, seeking there for the primeval wisdom.

Knowing that we are Christians, let us not misunderstand our task — which is that we shall be active spiritually. Then we shall be all the better Christians and all the better theosophists. There is no better introduction for this task than the Gospel of St. John. If we live with this Gospel we shall find the way into a new future of Christianity, remaining true to the precept that the servant should not put himself above the Lord. If, however, materialistic wisdom and criticism is brought to bear upon such words before the wisdom of the Book is known, it is sacrilege and presumption. The Masters have once again revealed to us the harmony of the primeval truths, have taught us to know, to be silent, and to give ourselves up in humility to what is rooted in these writings, in order that the task of the age may be fulfilled — for that and for nothing else. The Masters have themselves worked at the building and shaping of our world. Those who have gazed into the workings of the world from the theosophical standpoint, speak not as from theory, but from knowledge that has been drawn from the very source itself. Whoever has stood on the steps of Wisdom, before our elder, more perfect brothers — whoever has kissed their feet and heard their voice, draws his words from out of the future which lights up apocalyptically before him; he can again speak as the prophets were once able to speak, and he will have the power to speak about those things that will one day come to pass. This power is given us by the Great Masters who are the Keepers of the Seal, in whose service we place ourselves. Because we believe that we can feel the pulse of the future, and because we know what the words of the future are saying to us, therefore we are theosophists. When we let the breath of the Spirit stream through our souls, then, in reverence and humility, we are true theosophists. Christ is born of the spirit; and if the Spirit again bears and sustains us, we shall become true Christians.

Let us work together as brothers, wherever we may be. No one is too weak for this; every single one of us is able to work in the sense of this Light which comes to us from Christ Jesus, the greatest of our Masters.

And so we shall meet again in the Autumn and endeavour to penetrate further into the Halls of spiritual life.




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