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The Supersensible Being of Man and the Evolution of Mankind

Observations and Results of Spiritual Science

By Rudolf Steiner

GA 330

In this lecture, Rudolf Steiner indicates the magnitude of the questions at stake and suggests that a mechanisation of the spirit, vegetation of the soul, and animalisation of the body will take place unless humanity is able to find a new relationship to the spirit.

A public lecture delivered in Stuttgart, Germany, on July 11th, 1919. Authorized translation from the German of Notes unrevised by the lecturer. Published by kind permission of Rudolf Steiner Nachlassverwaltung, Dornach, Switzerland.

Lecture 13 of 14 from the lecture series: Reorganization of the Social Organism. Published in German as: Neuegestaltung des Sozialen Organismus. Published in The Anthroposophical Review, Vol. 2 No. 3 (1980). GA# 330.

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The Supersensible Being of Man
And the Evolution of Mankind

Observations and Results of Spiritual Science

A Lecture by Rudolf Steiner

This lecture was given in Stuttgart on 11th July, 1919. It was translated by Pauline Wehrle and is published in agreement with the Rudolf Steiner Nachlassverwaltung.


Every individual has the feeling that part of his being is super-sensible, whatever function it has within his soul. And anthroposophical spiritual science — the name applying to what I have been presenting for many years — has something it wants to say about this feeling becoming an inner scientific certainty in the consciousness of present-day mankind. However, there are still all manner of prejudices against the anthroposophical approach to knowledge of man's super-sensible being and to knowledge of the super-sensible world altogether. But anthroposophy cannot speak about the super-sensible being of man in the kind of way people would still like to hear it spoken of in many circles today. For we should imagine, in fact, we should be certain that speaking about it in that way would not satisfy people's present-day aspirations for knowledge, which are none the less intense although they may still be unconscious. Nowadays when people pass judgment on one or another aspect of anthroposophy you constantly hear the remark that anthroposophy is difficult to understand. They say that anthroposophy obtains its knowledge from regions one does not need to go to in order to reach the super-sensible. They emphasise the difference between anthroposophy's search for knowledge and ‘simple faith’ based on the creed and the Bible, and they keep on stressing that anyone who has found the inner strength of this ‘simple faith’ does not need anthroposophical spiritual science.

If anthroposophy were to speak along the lines that people nowadays call ‘simple faith,’ it would certainly consider it was failing to do justice to the deepest aspirations of the times. It would have to admit, in that case, that although it was presenting a point of view still popular with many people who find it less difficult to understand than anthroposophy, this point of view is nevertheless no longer appropriate for the real soul needs of present-day mankind. I wanted this to be said because it is just from this direction that objections are continually being raised against the views which arise from a valid consideration of man's present-day needs, views which are held by the kind of spiritual science that will be spoken of here. This kind of spiritual science is convinced that certain inter-relationships exist about which many people nowadays have the most detrimental illusions. Today, however, we are living in an age that has a long way to go before confusion and chaos are over. We are entering a difficult period of human evolution. Anyone able to look more deeply into the evolution of mankind and seeing the amount of elemental unrest felt today throughout the whole of the civilised world, of which everything of the nature of inner tensions is only the ripples on the surface, knows that this has a mysterious connection with that obstinate attitude of ‘simple faith’ that wants to rely solely on the creed and the Bible. The parts of man's being that are attracted by this so-called ‘faith’ shut him off from those very forces that could bring order into chaos and confusion at the present stage of human evolution. If those people who speak in the way I have indicated would now deepen their knowledge somewhat, they would have to see all that is bringing mankind into such terrible conflict and chaos. Then they would have to admit that they now lack certain forces that they failed to develop because of their determination not to go beyond their so-called ‘simple faith,’ which they and others find so convenient. They would also have to admit that there is an inner relationship between the unrest of today and this harping on ‘simple faith.’ A causal connection there certainly is, today's elemental restlessness being the result of this obdurate harping.

I am not speaking out of subjective feelings but out of the very kind of knowledge I would like to tell you more about today, namely an inner scientific perception. It is this that has moved anthroposophy to bring knowledge of the super-sensible down from spirit heights. Insofar as the so-called believers in a simple faith point to the super-sensible, their knowledge has also come to them from spirit heights. But they have no wish at all to ascend to these heights.

This had to be said first of all, because today, in particular, what I will have to say concerning the super-sensible being of man will need to be brought into connection with a number of those spiritual scientific facts that people on the one hand find really incomprehensible — though if they were to go into them more thoroughly they would find they absolutely accorded with common sense; and that people on the other hand consider unnecessary, because they do not find they accord with the ‘simple faith’ they think they ought to advocate. I attempted the day before yesterday to characterise the paths by which the kind of spiritual science we mean attains to knowledge. On that occasion I began by saying that on the whole men of present times have very little desire to know about what is taking place unconsciously in the depths of their being. On the one hand people think the body is something external to themselves, and that they can gain knowledge of it either by observing it with sense perception or by considering it according to the outlook laid down by natural science. On the other hand they think that their thinking, sense perception, feeling and willing comprise the whole of their inner being. However, the path of knowledge I indicated the day before yesterday shows that the life of the external body, on the one hand, and the soul experiences of thinking, feeling and willing we have in ordinary consciousness, on the other, do not comprise the whole of man's being. The essential point is that man as spiritual investigator does not stop at the level of ordinary consciousness but takes the development of his soul into his own hands, as it were. In the realm of thought, in particular, he raises thinking consciously onto a higher level than in ordinary life, and in the other direction makes his will nature consciously into an object of self-education. Thus the development of soul forces beyond the level of ordinary life is the only thing that can lead in an anthroposophical sense to knowledge of the super-sensible world.

Now what is this development of thinking? It consists of making human thinking or human visualising stronger than it is in ordinary life, and doing so in a completely systematic way based on the experiences of man's inner soul nature. In ordinary life our thinking or visualising is merely a spectator. And man is conscious of the fact that he actually thinks best in ordinary life when he allows his experiences of life or of external nature to work on him in such a way that he forms his mental pictures as a passive spectator. With the methods described in my book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds you can bring activity into the world of thought. You will bring such activity into the world of thought that you will be conscious that you are not passive whilst you think, but are as active as you are when you use your limbs, even though this is an inner activity. Will must be brought into thinking, the kind of will, however, that does not make the thinking arbitrary, but adapts it to the phenomena of the world. So it is a particularly good preparation for the spiritual investigator if he precedes his spiritual scientific endeavours with a thoroughly disciplined study in the natural scientific method, thus training himself not to think arbitrarily but according to the phenomena of nature itself. But he also has to free himself from this mere looking at nature. His newly acquired capacity of systematic thinking and of observing natural phenomena must now be developed as a thought activity independent of physical phenomena. A spiritual scientific training of thinking is an activating of thinking. This is a fact that many people still disbelieve today — we are only at the beginning of spiritual scientific knowledge — namely the fact that man's thinking and whole activity of mental picturing really takes on quite a different character than it has in everyday life.

If we think back to the dreamlike mental images of early childhood and compare these with the clear thinking of adulthood, we find that man's inner life of soul has undergone a change. A similar change takes place in anyone who develops his thinking in the way we have described and progresses from ordinary thinking to active thinking. He feels as though he has awakened from the normal condition of existence, and, provided we do not use the word in a dubious mystical sense, we can certainly say that this activated thinking ‘awakens’ man.

By learning to use this active thinking man acquires an entirely new way of ‘seeing’ things, a new way of seeing the qualities of the human body, to begin with. Active thinking ascends to the kind of seeing in which the human body appears in quite a new way. Above all, a tremendous difference is to be seen between the form of man's head organisation and the organisation that comes to expression in man's mobile limbs and everything that is connected with these. By means of the kind of seeing that active thinking opens up we come to realise that the human head is of an entirely different character, even in its bodily nature, from the rest of the body, particularly the limb organisation. Inner perception shows us how thinking, especially this activated thinking, is related to the whole nature of the human head. We learn to know in a new way what the human body really is. For as our soul development progresses by means of this active thinking there enters consciously into this active thinking the kind of life experience that is not solely of the type that enters ordinary thinking or visualising.

Life experiences that enter ordinary thinking or visualising have a certain peculiarity. We experience the world within this ordinary visualising. We experience it through our sense perceptions and the thoughts that come to meet them. But we keep a bit of this experience back for ourselves, too. We would not have our whole human nature within ourselves if each external impression did not leave behind it the possibility of our remembering it. It is just this memory that keeps our whole human personality intact, and we only have to think of the devastation wrought in the human personality by any kind of loss of memory to realise what the power of memory means for the cohesion of the human personality in ordinary life. But the force that enables us to keep memories alive, those memories acquired by opening ourselves to the outer world and forming mental images of it via our sense perception, this force remains unconscious. This is something that man carries out unconsciously. But when it comes to the experiences of active, super-sensible thinking, it is different. It would be quite impossible to bring what is acquired in a really super-sensible way, through active thinking, into any sort of connection with the human personality if we were dependent on the activity that works unconsciously within us. Something we have to learn about the acquisition of super-sensible knowledge is that we are not taking something unconsciously into the body by means of which we can later on awake a memory, on the contrary the imprinting of something in the physical body, the taking in of it, that normally takes place as an unconscious activity and works on as memory, has to be carried out consciously by the spiritual investigator. The higher, super-sensible experience gained by activated thinking would never come in place of an absolutely dreamy experience if we could not acquire the capacity to introduce this super-sensible experience to the body consciously.

We can only introduce it, however, to the head organisation. But then this head organisation teaches us something that eludes ordinary science, but which sheds great light on the mystery of man's being. We discover that when we make a conscious imprint of what we experience in active thinking we are constantly bringing about a process in the human head that is not an intensification of life but a breaking down of life, a partial dying. This is a significant and moving experience acquired through spiritual science: In order to remember super-sensible knowledge, we have to imprint it into our head organisation, and it is immediately evident that this imprinting does not bring about an enlivening process but a process of partial dying, a breaking down of the head organisation's life processes. This teaches us how the bodily head organisation actually functions in man. We discover something that is normally not known because it remains unconscious, namely that our whole thinking activity or mental imagery is not something that comes from forces of life, as materialists believe, but something that comes from the damping down of the life of the head. It arises because whilst our soul is active our head is constantly in a state of partial dying. We also discover a fact that strikes a man of today as being absurd: if the thinking activity of the head were to spread into the rest of man's body, he would immediately die.

Thus spiritual science teaches us that the death-bringing principle is constantly at work in part of man's bodily nature. We learn that because our head is organised that way, death is at work in us throughout our life. You see, this approach, that people in many circles today imagine has nothing useful to offer, leads to the kind of conceptions that completely contradict the usual views. We find that this imprinting that I have just described as a conscious process which must be carried out by active thinking, cannot actually directly imprint into man's physical organisation the super-sensible world where the experiences have been undergone. We find out the real fact that eludes external sense observation. We discover that incorporated into the ordinary life of the senses is what I took the liberty, in my books on spiritual science, to call the etheric body or body of formative forces. We discover a delicate body of light between the activity of active thinking and man's physical body, particularly in the head organisation. This finer body is the formative force — a thing that modern natural science makes fun of — underlying the physical body, and it is discovered in this way by super-sensible sight, which at this stage we can call an Imagination. We discover a higher, super-sensible member of man's being. At this point we experience an extraordinarily shattering phenomenon. When we imprint our super-sensible experiences into our etheric body and on into our physical body, we feel as though we were no longer master of our ego. We thought our ego filled our soul being through and through, but now it feels as though it were being sucked into the body.

The way to overcome this phenomenon is to have other soul exercises going parallel with the activating of thinking. These outer exercises are to do with disciplining the will. Although I characterised them the day before yesterday, I want to refer to them again briefly. I described how man changes from one week to the next, from one hour to the next, from one year to the next. We know we are becoming a different person. Our experiences are not the kind of thing we have, but the kind of thing that is perpetually making us into a different person. But nowadays an unconscious activity is also at work here. Present-day man gives himself up to external experiences. If he goes so far as to observe his inner being to any extent, he may notice that on the whole he is becoming a different person from week to week, year to year, and decade to decade; that his soul constitution is changing. But he does not take this development of his soul constitution in hand. This, however, the spiritual investigator has to do. He has to work on himself in such a way that his own will controls the progress he makes from one year to the next and from one decade to the next, and this also has to be systematic. He has to practise self-discipline and self-education systematically and fully consciously, not merely arbitrarily or according to the pattern of ordinary more or less unconscious existence. He has to bring under the control of his own will what otherwise takes place in us involuntarily.

This calls forth another experience of a kind that is very far removed from present-day consciousness; we realise that we have to put aside a scientific prejudice that prevails nowadays in a particular realm of science and has taken general hold of people's minds. This scientific view — which I want to mention because it could be the very thing that might make my present argument intelligible — is that man has two kinds of nerves: the so-called sensory nerves and the motor nerves. The sensory nerves run from our sense organs (so people believe) or from the surface of the skin to the nerve centre and convey perceptions in the same way as telegraph wires. The so-called motor nerves, the will nerves, go out from the nerve centre. A kind of demonic being is imagined as residing in the central nervous system, although of course present-day science will not admit this, and he is supposed to change what comes in through the telegraph wire nerves from the senses to the telegraph exchange into will through the motor nerves, the will nerves. People have thought out such beautiful theories that are really extremely clever, especially those derived from the terrible illness tabes, to explain this theory of the two kinds of nerves. Nevertheless this theory is nothing else than the result of a lack of knowledge of super-sensible man. It would lead too far for me to go into it now — although tabes proves it if we observe it correctly — but there is no difference between the sensory and the motor nerves. The same as with the so-called sensory nerves, the function of which is to convey external perceptions, the only function of the so-called motor nerves is to convey internal perceptions when we walk or move our arms. The motor nerves are sensory nerves too, only their function is to perceive our movements.

The reason why people believe the motor nerves to be the bearer of the will is only because they have no idea what is the real bearer of the will. We only discover what this is when we really practise the kind of self-discipline of the will I was speaking about: become actively engaged in self-education and become at the same time independent of what the body does with us, so to speak. Then we discover that it is not the motor nerves that create will, for they only perceive its movements, but that it is created by a third member of man's being, a super-sensible member that we could actually call the soul. I have called it the astral body in my books, though people do not like the term yet. Again it is by means of direct vision, acquired through this self-disciplining of the will, that we get to know this super-sensible member of man's being; and we discover that it is this ‘soul body,’ if I may call it that, that is the soul and spirit entity underlying all the bodily movements arising out of will. Nerves are there only to convey the perception of movement. If we take this disciplining of the will to further stages, however, we must then ascend from the level of imaginative knowledge, to which I have just referred, to those of Inspiration and Intuition, as I call them in the book just mentioned. We then discover this soul body to be a higher member of man's being than the etheric body or body of formative forces. We find, however, that we cannot experience this soul body in ourselves but only when we are outwardly active and when we become conscious of our will impulses.

When we have reached the point where we discover this actual soul body in ourselves, this second super-sensible part of man's being, the will, grows stronger and stronger, and we recognise it as our sentient body, as the force that works into our limbs and sets our body in motion, as an organisation totally different from our head organisation. In contrast to this head organisation, which I characterised as being constantly in the state of partial dying, we discover that this organisation is constantly in the process of spiritual birth, in which life is increasing and developing all the time. Thus through the head organisation on the one hand, we experience a perpetual dying, and in the will organisation, the second super-sensible member of man's being, we experience a perpetual continuation of the birth process. Out of this continuation of the birth process, out of this increase of life which has to come out of our whole being, there then rays back to us the true, super-sensible nature of our ego, and enters into what we have imprinted into our body. Our ego arises again and again out of the grave of our partially dying head. This perpetual interplay of dying and being born is what we experience within ourselves when we develop our soul life in this way. So we discover that birth and death take place not only at the beginning and end of our lives but that dying and becoming are the expression of forces working in our organisation throughout our lives.

Only when we have thus encountered man's super-sensible forces through Intuition and Inspiration are we in a position to recognise the evolutionary path of mankind; for in developing this kind of vision, the forces we acquire from our head organisation and the organisation of the rest of our body combine to illuminate for us the inner forces at work in the historical development of mankind. How does historical development appear, as a rule, to the ordinary consciousness of present times? If we ignore what men believed in early stages of human evolution out of a primitive conception of mankind and which is now considered childish, namely that there is spirit working in history; if we ignore this, we can say that people nowadays regard history, or rather the evolution of mankind, as a collection of facts gleaned from documents, archives and tradition which, at the most, they link together with the intellect. Not until we perceive the super-sensible being of man, as I have just described it, does the ability to see the progression of higher super-sensible beings through the course of history associate itself with the historical facts which even a spiritual investigator has to take from external history. He gets to know human evolution from the inside, whereas it is usually only looked at from the outside.

So as not just to talk round the subject in the abstract, I will speak of one fact in particular, to show you the evolution of human history from the point of view of symptoms. As man's outlook is restricted solely to the material world, what is presented as history today is just an external picture, and is largely a fable convenue. Anyone who is able to look with inner vision at the connecting link between the facts, discovers that the first thing he sees on looking backwards into our historical evolution is, strange to say, a nodal point in the evolution of modern humanity around the middle of the fifteenth century. We see in a number of spheres something like a forward leap taking place in human development. We know of course that leaps like this take place in nature, too. If we look at the evolving plant, and see first the green leaves developing, then the calyx, and then the transformation into petals, we see a leap from the green leaf to the coloured petal, even though there is a steady development. There is a similar leap in the evolution of humanity in the middle of the fifteenth century, only it passes unnoticed when historical facts are looked at solely from the outside. Something then begins to make itself felt in human evolution that lifts men's souls onto quite a different level of development from the one preceding it. Earlier epochs of human evolution, it is true, also attained considerable heights from time to time, but human souls were quite differently constituted before and after the middle of the fifteenth century. Looking at history from the inside, the middle of the fifteenth century was the end of an epoch of human evolution that actually began in the eighth century B.C., roughly with the founding of the Roman Empire.

Anyone observing history from a spiritual scientific point of view sees a continuous line of development running through the centuries from 800 B.C. until the middle of the fifteenth century A.D. And anyone looking from inside at the Greek or the Roman era will find what is said here thoroughly substantiated. The kind of soul constitution that was developing in man during that epoch was of a kind that nurtured feeling (Gemüt) and intelligence. The surprising thing is that when observing history from the inside, we find that prior to the eighth century B.C. the power of feeling and intelligence was not yet actively at work in the human soul. In those days man was still to a great extent united with nature; he did not step back and reflect on the things he had seen, for his life of feeling was still a part of nature. Not until the eighth century did he free himself from nature and develop forces of intelligence and feeling independently within himself. By and large the whole of historical development from the eighth century B.C. to the fourteenth century A.D. is a gradual unfolding of those particular forces of soul in mankind that produce a flowering of the qualities of feeling and intelligence from out of man's inner being.

This development of the forces of feeling and intelligence, however, still had an instinctive quality about it during this epoch, intelligence and feeling still working in an instinctive way. In the middle of the fifteenth century, however, these forces previously working instinctively in the intelligence and feeling took on a fully conscious quality. Men felt more strongly isolated from outer nature than they had felt before, because in order to think about things consciously and experience their instinctive feelings of sympathy and antipathy consciously, they had to draw back from external nature, so to speak. Everything became conscious. Therefore we can say, from a spiritual scientific point of view, that whilst in earlier epochs the instinctive life of thought and feeling was being developed, from the middle of the fifteenth century onwards what we can call the consciousness soul has been developing, and this stage of development is something that will continue for a very long period of human evolution. Relatively speaking, we human beings are still at the beginning of this evolution of the consciousness soul, which is already responsible for the great progress made in natural scientific thinking. However great Plato and Aristotle were, they did not possess natural scientific thinking, which requires the kind of withdrawal of man's inner being from nature that did not take place until the consciousness soul appeared in human evolution. Thus our development of natural science is part and parcel of one epoch of human evolution. Lessing described this very beautifully, whichever way you interpret his words, by saying that the whole of human evolution is “a kind of Education of Mankind.” Since the middle of the fifteenth century the education of mankind consists of the education of the consciousness soul, and this it is that has actually brought with it the natural scientific outlook. Looked at from inside this is a section of human evolution.

We only understand fully what belongs to the era from the eighth century B.C. till the middle of the fifteenth century A.D. when we look at it from the inside, from the point of view of man's soul development. For the founding of Christianity falls in the first third of this era, and the spiritual scientist sees this as the greatest event that has ever occurred in earthly evolution. With his ability to look down the centuries from inside at man's soul development, the spiritual scientist recognises better than anyone else that in the first third of the epoch I described as the era of the evolution of intelligence and feeling, something was still present that had existed in the highest degree in the days of early humanity, namely something that made man feel a part of the natural world around him; but in those times this feeling arose out of the subconscious depths of the soul. Then there broke upon human evolution the Event of Golgotha, the nature of which can never be understood if people try to understand it merely out of a material conglomeration of historical facts. There broke in upon human evolution a fructification of man's evolution, in that a super-sensible element united with this evolution from out of cosmic heights, preparing the way for man's being to become conscious and inwardly strong to an ever greater and greater degree.

Initially the Event of Golgotha, the Incarnation of Christ as Man, met with a way of thinking and feeling that was still of an instinctive nature. It took the next two-thirds of this epoch for these forces emanating from the Event of Golgotha to flow into man's more or less unconscious instinctive forces of intelligence and feeling. Then from the middle of the fifteenth century onwards came the conscious soul evolution of man and, with it, the epoch of natural science, when men turned their attention to external processes of natural phenomena. The beginning of this epoch was the time in which the earlier connection with the spirit, with the super-sensible element in the world, tended to withdraw in favour of conscious existence. This spiritual element, which in earlier times man perceived as though by instinct in the very phenomena of the world, now sprang to life in his inner being by virtue of the fact that the Being of Christ had united Himself with human evolution. But this new life within man came at the point in his evolution when, as I said, man was becoming increasingly conscious and therefore increasingly external. Thus it happened that just at the beginning of the age of the consciousness soul, the age of the conscious development of intelligence and feeling, although the Christ Impulse was at work in human souls, men's consciousness was of a kind that made them lose sight of their spiritual and super-sensible being. Therefore it also happened that people had less and less understanding for the Event that had united itself with human evolution in a super-sensible way — the Event of Golgotha. In the nineteenth century there was a climax in this respect. Now the point had been reached when the Event of Golgotha was divested of its super-sensible character even in the eyes of most of the faithful. Even for these the Event of Golgotha was, in the nineteenth century, relegated to the world of external facts, so to speak. Jesus the Christ Bearer became the ‘simple man of Nazareth,’ a person no greater than a somewhat more highly developed human being. And this happened solely because, while they were developing the consciousness soul, men also lost the understanding for the super-sensible element in history. The conception of Jesus as the simple man of Nazareth brought materialism into Christianity. And nowadays there is not only a materialistic science, there is also a widespread materialistic faith.

Now, however, we have come to the time — in this epoch of human evolution that began in the middle of the fifteenth century — when we face the necessity of ascending once more to the spirit. And the path I described to you today and the day before yesterday is the path that coming humanity will have to tread to ascend to the spirit again and to find its way once more to super-sensible knowledge and to the super-sensible phenomena lying behind the sense world and behind external historical facts. It is this which will also lead it to the super-sensible nature of the Event of Golgotha. Then this unique Event will appear as the kind of turning point in the whole evolution of mankind that everybody can understand and accept. With the coming of this new super-sensible knowledge the Event of Golgotha will be divested of all its sectarianism, and, rising above separate denominations, even above the religious differences existing in different parts of the world, an understanding of it will become the general possession of mankind. Then the Mystery of Golgotha will be seen to be the most important super-sensible fact of all human evolution. The narrow view of Christ that prevents people from seeing the true mystery — and which still inhibits a number of denominations, because materialism has even found its way into faith — this narrow point of view will be superseded; people will find a new understanding of this Impulse, which is the greatest and most powerful Impulse in the whole of mankind's evolution.

This should show you that spiritual science does not deprive people of what they believe to be the results of ‘simple faith.’ On the contrary, spiritual science reaches up to the highest level of knowledge in order to show mankind the greatest Event of human evolution. This is something modern man longs for if he is honest enough with himself and admits that he is more and more disenchanted with ‘simple faith.’ It had to be stated here as belonging to spiritual science. And as we are in the age of consciousness, in which mankind is dividing and becoming disharmonious to an ever greater degree — because the individual is thrown back on his own personality and his personal loneliness — it is essential to point to what men, the whole world over, need to re-unite them once again.

What is needed today is a new understanding of the central Event of human evolution. Spiritual science does not take anything away from man. On the contrary it gives him just what his present-day consciousness needs. And if people, out of their healthy human understanding, want to complain of the views and teachings of anthroposophical spiritual science, we shall have to tell them that their thinking is not healthy enough and that they must throw off the illusions with which the purely external, material theories of natural science have befogged them; they should think about their own thinking, and then they will make a remarkable discovery about the particular nature of man's present-day life of soul. They will hear what natural science tells them from reliable, strictly methodical sources about the evolution of the physical body. But, when their minds are healthy, they will not be able to agree that there is no more to life as they know it than natural science tells them. They will find that when they listen to spiritual science in a really healthy way, and draw comparisons with life, the contradictions arising out of the illusions produced by materialism are enough to make them ill, and that they will only rediscover life if they refer, with the help of spiritual science, to the super-sensible nature of man and the super-sensible world in which the evolution of man and mankind are embedded.

If you have acquired the possibility in this way of seeing historical life supersensibly, the present world epoch, or epoch of human evolution, will appear before you — it is not the right occasion today to include a description of the whole of earthly evolution; you can read that up in my Occult Science — and you will be far enough advanced to aspire to the kind of perception Lessing spoke of in his Education of the Human Race, which he had attained out of his much admired healthy human understanding within the German spiritual stream of development. Then you will be capable of perceiving that in the course of spiritual evolution human life runs its course in repeated earth lives. For the whole span of man's life consists of an alteration between the kind of lives he spends in a physical body and another form of existence between death and a new birth, spent in the super-sensible worlds which are connected with our world through the spirit that is also at work in historical evolution. We discover then, as Lessing also did, that in coming back for repeated lives on earth, man himself carries evolution forward from one epoch to the next. This knowledge of repeated earth lives cannot become a theory in the accepted sense, for when you are capable of penetrating into the spirit of human evolution in the way I have described, you can find this knowledge for yourself, but you have then acquired it as a fact of man's higher super-sensible nature.

A new perception of spiritual life, a perception which will help us find the spirit again in our materialistic world, is about to enter present civilisation. The materialistic outlook prevailing today is largely responsible for estranging man's inner life from a real perception of the spirit, and depriving him of the courage to plunge into this spiritual perception, making him believe that the only way to the spirit is the way of ‘simple creed’ based on a literal acceptance of the Bible. This ‘simple creed’ and the materialism of our time are closely related, for before such a thing as materialism existed, there was not this perpetual harping on a simple creed. After all, at the time when Christianity arose, the teachings about Christ Jesus came out of highly developed spiritual vision, though of course it was atavistic. This old spiritual vision cannot be the way of modern man. Modern man must work for spiritual vision in the way I have tried to describe. If you become aware of what is living deep down in people's souls nowadays and colouring their whole outlook, although they are not fully conscious of it — this mood that unconsciously flashes into consciousness, sometimes in a pathological way, so that people feel it as inner unrest, as a psychopathic tendency, even though they cannot explain it — this mood is the striving for a new spirituality. I certainly do not wish to be so immodest as to suggest or maintain that the spiritual science or anthroposophy I give lectures on is the only thing that has to happen on the path to the spirit. What I have given here is just a humble attempt. And anyone who makes a humble attempt like this, yet is aware that it comes out of the deepest longings of the present time, is also aware that there will be more and more people coming along and attempting to tread the paths to spiritual vision and to proclaim the possibility of ascending to life on a super-sensible level.

But you can see too, that when I lecture on anthroposophy I cannot spare anybody's feelings, at the first encounter, that these things are rather difficult to understand. You will also see that what leads to these spiritual worlds is neither a damping down of clear thinking nor a damping down of the will that works in practical life, but is an intensification of both thought and will. Many people of the present day cannot muster sufficient inner courage for this as yet. So they look at anthroposophy and say: They mean well, these people, but with their anthroposophy they tell us all kinds of things about mankind's evolution, even about cosmic facts of a spiritual nature. Looking at anthroposophy from a safe distance, people like this call it ‘crazy stuff’, etc., terms used here recently in Stuttgart, to apply to the world of physical facts. Yet, ladies and gentlemen, people will never get beyond a nonsensical, merely hazy presentiment of the spiritual world if clear, mathematical thinking and a light-irradiated, self-disciplined will are not applied to bring down real facts from the super-sensible world to replace mere phrases. Modern man needs these facts.

I have spoken to you about what mankind is longing for. And it was this very longing that caused such a caricature of super-sensible striving to arise in the nineteenth century. People only know how to strive in a materialistic way. But alongside this materialistic striving they acquired a yearning for the spirit. So they investigated the spirit on the pattern of their research in the material world and carried out a caricature of spiritual research, namely spiritualism, which is nothing else but a material search for something that can never be matter, namely spirit. What comes out in a pathological way in spiritualism as a caricature of spiritual striving, is the same thing that is being sought for by anthroposophical spiritual science, but in the latter case it is healthy and is based on a further development in clear consciousness of forces already inherent in man.

Anthroposophical spiritual science therefore appears, in the best sense of the word, as an attempt (we mean this modestly) to bring perceptions of the spiritual world, super-sensible man and his evolution into the age of great and outstanding perceptions of an external, scientific nature. Not until these scientific perceptions have been supplemented by the perceptions of spiritual vision will modern man understand his being in the way he longs to. Therefore spiritual science as we pursue it must shake off all the reproaches it encounters, even those from well-meaning people.

To conclude I should like to draw your attention to the fact that even the kind of people who have no intention of rejecting spiritual science are offended when we speak to large audiences about ‘spiritual secrets’, as they call them, instead of keeping these in intimate sectarian circles. Oh, they know very well that it is a sacred duty of the times to stand up and speak to large audiences. Therefore I must not pay attention to the kind of reproach that was made recently: — That it is just not done to speak about cosmic things to a large city audience, like Dr. Steiner does. What is needed is a master of the art of divine gesture who can inexorably drive everyone from his presence who does not know when to be silent. What we need is an approach that can distinguish in more than mere words between what is profane and what is holy. — In answer to this reproach we have to say that we have also entered the age of democracy in the spiritual sphere, and that it is a sin against mankind to wish to distinguish between what is profane and what is holy. Anyone whose destiny allows him to penetrate into the spiritual worlds has the obligation to speak as widely as possible to people's healthy human understanding, so that this healthy human understanding can find the way to the spiritual worlds again.

Although this is an absolutely general task of the times — an obligation to the whole of mankind — we have a special obligation to the middle European region in which we live. If anyone has been deeply interested for decades, as I have, in the beginning made in German spiritual life in the direction of a new spiritual perception by Lessing (who I have mentioned today), Herder, Goethe, Schiller and the German philosophers, then he knows — through the interest he takes in this spiritual life, if he does so in such a way that he makes those forces his own which motivated Goethe, Schiller and the rest — that this spiritual life leads straight into what I have been speaking about today and the day before yesterday. In order to overcome the terrible materialistic development of recent times, we in middle Europe can begin by bringing to mind again that which had its beginnings in the Great Age of Germany. Then what is called anthroposophical spiritual science will follow on naturally. That is why, just at this time when the German spirit is so little appreciated anywhere, we chose to call the building conceived as a High School for Spiritual Science the ‘Goetheanum.’ ‘Goetheanum’ as a sign that from the spiritual point of view, the Goetheanistic German spirit has the courage to face the world.

I know, too, that we are not sinning against Goethe if, in order to link on to something historical, we use the term Goetheanism for the new way of thought and vision we have spoken of today and the day before yesterday. However much is taken away from us in external ways, and however much power the world has today to make things as difficult as possible for us in external matters, it can never take away from us our connection with the best of German qualities, if we ourselves intend having this connection. If we have this intention, however, then even in these dark and sad times we shall not lose hope — the hope of a re-awakening, in a new form, of the spiritual life of mankind, that we are perhaps destined to have just in this time of greatest need.

If we continue with the kind of thing the materialistic age has brought into human evolution in recent times, we shall get further and further removed from the spirit and more and more attached to matter. But if we turn our minds to our super-sensible nature and develop this in ourselves, we shall add the results of spirit vision to the dazzling achievements of the materialistic natural scientific outlook. This spirit vision will then be like the soul of the world conception of outer nature. These two ways are open to human evolution today: either to keep to a perception of the material world and drag mankind further into chaos and distress, or to give birth to our higher inner being from out of our super-sensible nature and the super-sensible world. One of these directions, the materialistic way, can already be seen in the ripples it sends to the surface.

With its external logic of the intellect and its inability to find its way to the inner logic of facts, external science actually sees things very inexactly. I will give you one example of what I mean: There is a philosophical view prevalent at the present time that is a genuine product of materialistic thought. It was advocated by Avenarius and Mach, and it is to the effect that man's field of experience is limited to what he takes in through ordinary sense perception and ordinary consciousness. These two particular men expressed the materialistic outlook by means of some very clever philosophy, and if we inquire into what they expressed with such dedication we shall acquire great respect for their intellectual achievements. If we remain within the ordinary outlook, we shall accept philosophers like Avenarius and Mach as individual philosophical phenomena. But if we go beyond the ordinary outlook, and recognise the inner impulses behind world conceptions such as these, our eyes will be opened, and we shall see the mysterious way these world conceptions work in life. We shall then hit upon the remarkable connection existing between these world conceptions and the decline that threatens European civilisation today, and comes from the East, from Russia, from bolshevism. We shall realise that the practice of bolshevism is the end result of world conceptions like these. This is further confirmed by the fact that the philosophy of Avenarius and Mach is the state philosophy of bolshevism. This connection is known today only to those who penetrate into the spirit of things and who can rise above the noise of party opinion. Party opinion rides roughshod over everything that has to be said right now for the salvation of mankind. This kind of factual logic I have shown you is more important for the man of today than all the logic of sophistry, which would certainly never lead over from Avenarius and Mach to bolshevism. But the facts do. If you want to understand the origins of the things happening today to destroy civilisation within the civilised world, look at the philosophies of the past few decades, the second half of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, and you will find further confirmation of the fact that two ways are open to us today: One way continues with the materialistic approach, despite the fact that its logic is as subtle as that of Avenarius and Mach; and the other, that has been characterised here, wants to participate in the spirit. If we carry on in the first direction, the effect on European spiritual life will be that man's spirit will become mechanised, man's soul vegetative and man's body animalised. This is the fate that actually threatens us today. If men become addicted to this western mechanisation of the spirit, this state of being will combine with eastern animalisation, which means that social demands will be on a level of animal instinct and blind impulse. Western mechanisation and eastern animalisation are connected one with another. In between these is the vegetative or drowsy nature of soul that does not want to be woken up by a treading of the path to the spirit. This is the one perspective. Mankind will have to choose between becoming mechanised in spirit, vegetative in soul and animalised in body or going the other way. Hardship and distress will no doubt eventually drive us into going the other way. And although it will be the other people who have the power, they will not be able to bar us from going this other way, the way leading to the spirit. We shall have to want to go this way. We shall have to want to keep our spirit free, even if our bodies are in bondage. Out of the feelings and experience which can come to us out of a consciousness of super-sensible man and the super-sensible world, we shall have to resolve to have inner self-reliance. Then the others will not be able to harm us. And I should like to describe in the following words what might then come about after all:

In the course of the nineteenth century we middle Europeans were foolish enough to copy the western nations, even though there were no grounds for this in western civilisation. Through hardship and distress, through the very power these have over us, we shall perhaps find the way to stop imitating all that we were foolish enough to imitate when we chose them for a model.

Now, when they want to use their power to give us the lead in the mechanisation of the spirit, may we find the strength, in this old middle Europe of ours that has such a great heritage, to tread the path to the spirit from out of ourselves. We shall then avoid the materialistic mechanisation of the spirit and attain the freedom I attempted to characterise as early as the beginning of the 1890s in my Philosophy of Freedom. The liberated spirit will bring us to a real vision of the spiritual world. The spirit will also help us find the way to the equality of man. For human equality can never exist in the external economic order only. As soon as man understands the super-sensible nature of his own ensouled spirit being, however, he will be able to find the law that makes him an equal among equals. He will also deepen science; for with spiritual vision, as I have indicated here today, medicine, law, and the art of education will find their real source. Science will then lead neither to the mechanisation of the spirit as it has hitherto, nor to the inequality of man, for complete freedom of the spirit will come to man when the spirit seeks it on spirit paths; human equality will come to human souls when the spirit seeks it on paths of the soul; and finally, when the human being who knows himself to be a super-sensible spirit being approaches another person lovingly, then — because human beings will be associating with one another as conscious spirit beings in a loving way — in addition to having a liberated spirit and a soul that is equal with its neighbours, man will have, both in his human nature and in social life, a true, spiritualised, ensouled, thoroughly human brotherliness!




Last Modified: 15-Nov-2017
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