THE APPARENT EXTINCTION OF
SPIRIT-KNOWLEDGE IN MODERN TIMES
To gain a true appreciation of Anthroposophy in relation to the
development of the Spiritual Soul, we must turn our gaze again and
again to the particular mental condition of civilised mankind which
began with the blossoming forth of the Natural Sciences and reached
its climax in the nineteenth century.
One should place the character of this age vividly before the soul's
eye, comparing it with that of preceding ages. In all ages of the
conscious evolution of mankind, Knowledge was regarded as that which
brings man to the world of Spirit. To Knowledge, man ascribed whatever
relationship to Spirit he possessed. Art and Religion were none other
than the living life of Knowledge.
All this became different when the age of the Spiritual Soul began to
dawn. With a very great part of the life of the human soul, Knowledge
now concerned itself no more. Henceforth, it sought to investigate
that relation to existence which man unfolds when he directs his
senses and his intellectual judgement to the world of
Nature. It no longer wanted to concern itself with that
which man unfolds as a relation to the world of Spirit, when he uses
not his outer senses but his inner power of perception.
Thus there arose the necessity to connect the spiritual life of man,
not with any living present Knowledge, but with Knowledge gained in
the past with Tradition.
The life of the human soul was rent in twain. On the one hand there
stood before man the new science of Nature, striving ever onward and
unfolding in the living present. On the other side there was the
experience of a relation to the spiritual world, for which the
corresponding Knowledge had arisen in the ages past. All understanding
of how the Knowledge, corresponding to this side of human
experience, had been gained in ages past, was gradually lost. Men
possessed the Tradition, but they had lost the way by which the truths
of Tradition had been known discovered. All they could do now
was to believe in the Tradition.
A man who had consciously reflected on the spiritual situation, say
about the middle of the nineteenth century, would have been bound to
admit: mankind has come to a point where it no longer feels itself
capable of evolving any Knowledge, beyond that science which does not
concern itself with the Spirit. Whatever can be known about the
Spirit, a humanity of earlier ages was able to investigate and
discover, but the human soul has lost the faculty for such discovery.
But men did not place before themselves the full bearing of what was
taking place. They were content to say: Knowledge simply does not
reach out into the spiritual world. The spiritual world can only be an
object of Faith.
To gain some light upon these facts of modern history, let us look
back into the time when the old Grecian wisdom had to retreat before
the power of Rome, when Rome had accepted Christianity. When the last
Greek Schools of the Philosophers were closed by the Roman Emperor,
the last custodians of the ancient Knowledge too departed from the
regions in which European spiritual life was henceforth to evolve.
They found a haven in the Academy of Gondishapur in Asia, to which
they now became attached. This was one of the centres of learning in
the East where through the deeds of Alexander the tradition of the
ancient Knowledge had been preserved.
The ancient Knowledge was living on there in the form which Aristotle
had been able to give to it. But in the Academy of Gondishapur it was
also taken hold of by that Oriental spiritual stream which we may
describe as Arabism. Arabism in one aspect of its nature, is a
premature unfolding of the Spiritual Soul. Through the soul-life
working prematurely in the direction of the Spiritual Soul, the
possibility was given in Arabism for a spiritual wave to go forth,
extending over Africa to southern and western Europe, and filling
certain of the men of Europe with an intellectualism that should not
properly have come until a later stage. In the seventh and eighth
centuries, southern and western Europe received spiritual impulses
which ought to have come only in the age of the Spiritual Soul.
This spiritual wave was able to awaken the intellectual life in man,
but not the deeper founts of experience whereby the soul penetrates
into the world of Spirit.
And now, when in the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries man exercised
his faculty of Knowledge, he could but reach down to those levels of
the soul where he did not yet impinge upon the spiritual world.
Arabism, entering into the spiritual life of Europe, held back the
souls of men, in Knowledge, from the Spirit-world. Prematurely it
brought that intellect into activity which was only able to apprehend
the outer world of Nature.
This Arabism proved very powerful indeed. Whosoever was taken hold of
by it, was seized by an inward though for the most part quite
unconscious pride. He felt the power of intellectualism, but
not the impotence of intellect by itself to penetrate into Reality.
Thus he gave himself up to the externally given Reality of the senses,
which places itself before the human being of its own accord. And it
did not even occur to him to approach the spiritual Reality.
The spiritual life of the Middle Ages found itself face to face with
this position. It possessed the sublime Traditions about the spiritual
world. But the soul-life was intellectually so impregnated by the
hidden influence of Arabism, that medieval Knowledge found no access
to the sources from which the contents of the great Tradition had
after all proceeded.
Thus from the early Middle Ages onwards, that which men felt
instinctively within them as a connection with the Spirit, was
battling with Thought in the form that this had assumed under Arabism.
Man felt the world of Ideas within him; he experienced it as something
real. But he could not find the power in his soul to experience, in
the Ideas, the Spirit. Thus arose Realism, feeling the reality
in the Ideas and yet unable to discover it. In the world of the Ideas,
Realism heard the speaking of the Cosmic Word, but it could not
understand the speech. And Nominalism in opposition to it,
seeing that the speech could not be understood, denied that there was
any speech at all. For Nominalism, the world of Ideas was but a
multitude of formulae within the human soul-rooted in no Reality of
What lived and surged in these two currents, worked on into the
nineteenth century. Nominalism became the mode of thought of
Natural Science, which built up an imposing conceptual system of the
outer world of sense, but destroyed the last relics of insight into
the nature of the world of Ideas. Realism lived a dead
existence. It knew still of the reality of the world of Ideas, but had
no living Knowledge with which to reach it.
But man will reach it when Anthroposophy finds the way from the Ideas
to the living experience of Spirit in the Ideas. In Realism
truly carried forward, there will arise side by side with the
Nominalism of Natural Science a path of Knowledge which will
prove that the science of the Spiritual, far from being, extinguished
in mankind, can enter into human evolution once again, springing forth
from newly-opened sources in the soul of man.
Further Leading Thoughts issued from the Goetheanum for the Anthroposophical Society (with regard to the foregoing study: The apparent Extinction of Spirit-Knowledge in Modern Time)
177. Looking with the eye of the soul upon the evolution of mankind in
the Age of Science, a sorrowful perspective opens up before us to
begin with. Splendid grew the knowledge of mankind with respect to all
that constitutes the outer world. On the other hand there arose a
feeling as though a knowledge of the spiritual world were no longer
possible at all.
178. It seems as though such knowledge had only been possessed by men
of ancient times, and man must now rest content in all that
concerns the spiritual world simply to receive the old
traditions, making these an object of Faith.
179. From the resulting uncertainty, arising in the Middle Ages as to
man's relation to the spiritual world, Nominalism and
Realism proceeded. Nominalism is unbelief in the real
Spirit-content of man's Ideas; we have its continuation in the modern
scientific view of Nature. Realism is well aware of the reality of the
Ideas, yet it can only find its fulfilment in Anthroposophy.