When the Mystery of Golgotha took place, the Gnosis was
the mode of thought of those among humanity who were able, already at
that time, to understand this event the most momentous in the
earthly evolution of mankind with an understanding not only of
deep feeling but of clear knowledge.
To comprehend the mood of soul whereby the Gnosis lived in man, we
must bear in mind that its age was the age of unfolding of the
Intellectual or Mind-Soul. In this same fact we can discover the cause
of the disappearance well-nigh complete of the Gnosis
from human history. Till we can thus understand it, the disappearance
of the Gnosis is, after all, one of the most astonishing occurrences
in human evolution.
The unfolding of the Intellectual or Mind-Soul was preceded by that of
the Sentient Soul, and this in turn by that of the Sentient Body. When
the facts of the world are perceived through the Sentient Body, the
whole of man's knowledge lives in his senses. He perceives the world
coloured, resonant, and so forth; but within the colours and sounds,
within the states of warmth, he knows the presence of a world of
Spiritual Beings. He does not speak of substances, of
matter to which the phenomena of colour, warmth, etc., are
supposed to adhere, but of Spiritual Beings who manifest themselves
through the perceptions of the senses.
In this age, there is as yet no special development of an
intellect there is no intellect in man beside the
faculty of sense-perception. Man either gives himself up with his own
being to the outer world, in which case the Gods reveal themselves to
him through the senses; or else in his soul-life he withdraws from the
outer world and is then aware of a dim sense of life within.
But a far-reaching change takes place with the unfolding of the
Sentient Soul. The manifestation of the Divine through the senses
grows dim and fades away. In place of it man begins to perceive the
mere sense-impressions colours, states of warmth, etc.
empty, as it were, of the Divine. And within him the Divine now
manifests itself in a spiritual form, in pictorial ideas. He now
perceives the world from two sides: through sense-impressions from
without, and through Spirit impressions of an ideal kind from within.
Man at this stage must come to perceive the Spirit impressions in as
definite a shape and clear a form as he hitherto perceived the
divinely permeated sense-impressions. And indeed, while the age of the
Sentient Soul holds sway he is still able to do this. For from his
inner being the idea pictures rise before him in a fully concrete
shape. He is filled from within with a sense-free Spirit-content
itself an image of the contents of the World. The Gods, who
hitherto revealed themselves to him in a garment of sense, reveal
themselves now in the garment of the Spirit.
This was the age when the Gnosis really originated and had its life.
It was a wonderful and living knowledge, in which man knew that he
could share if he unfolded his inner being in purity and thus enabled
the Divine content to manifest itself through him. From the fourth to
the first millennium before the Mystery of Golgotha, this Gnosis lived
in those portions of humanity which were most advanced in knowledge.
Then begins the age of the Intellectual or Mind-Soul. Of their own
accord the World-pictures of the Gods no longer rise out of the inner
being of man. Man himself must apply an inner force to draw them forth
from his own soul. The outer world with all its sense-impressions
becomes a question a question to which he obtains the answers
by kindling the inner force to draw forth the World-pictures of the
Gods from within him. But these pictures are pale now, beside their
former shape and character.
Such was the soul-condition of the portion of humanity that evolved so
wonderfully in ancient Greece. The Greek felt himself intensely in the
outer world of the senses, wherein he also felt the presence of a
magic power summoning his own inner force to unfold the
World-pictures. In the field of Philosophy, this mood of soul came
forth in Platonism.
But behind all this there stood the world of the Mysteries. In the
Mysteries, such Gnosis as still remained from the age of the Sentient
Soul was faithfully preserved. Human souls were definitely trained for
this task of preservation. In the time when the Intellectual or
Mind-Soul arose by way of ordinary evolution, the Sentient Soul was
kindled into life by special training. Most especially in the age of
the Intellectual or Mind-Soul, behind the ordinary life of culture
there was a richly developed life of the Mysteries.
In the Mysteries the World-pictures of the Gods lived also in this
way, that they were made the inner content of a cult or ritual. We
gaze into the centres of those Mysteries and behold the Universe,
portrayed in the most wonderful acts of ritual.
The human beings who experienced these things were also those who,
when the Mystery of Golgotha took place, perceived and penetrated it
in its deep, cosmic significance. But this life of the Mysteries was
kept entirely apart from the turmoil of the outer world, in order to
unfold in purity the world of Spirit-pictures. And it became
increasingly difficult for the souls of men to unfold the pictures.
Then it was that in the highest places of the Mysteries, Spirit-beings
descended from the spiritual Cosmos, coming to help the human beings
in their intense strivings after knowledge. Thus under the influence
of the Gods themselves the impulses of the age of the
Sentient Soul continued to unfold. There arose a Gnosis of the
Mysteries of which only the very few had any notion. And that
which human beings were able to receive with the Intellectual or
Mind-Soul was present alongside of this. It was the exoteric Gnosis
whose fragments have come down to posterity.
In the esoteric Gnosis of the Mysteries, human beings grew less and
less able to rise to the unfolding of the Sentient Soul. The esoteric
Wisdom passed over more and more into the keeping of the Gods alone.
It is a great secret of the historic evolution of humanity,
that Divine Mysteries for as such we may indeed
describe them were at work in it from the first Christian
centuries on into medieval times.
In these Divine Mysteries, Angel-beings preserved in
Earth-existence what human beings were no longer able to preserve.
Thus did the Gnosis of the Mysteries hold sway, while men were
diligently wiping out the exoteric Gnosis.
The World-picture-content, guarded in the Gnosis of the
Mysteries by Spirit-beings in a spiritual way, while its influence was
still required in the progress of mankind, could not, however, be
preserved for the conscious understanding of man's soul. But its deep
feeling-content had to be preserved. For in the right cosmic moment
this was to be given to a humanity duly prepared to receive it, so
that at a later stage the Spiritual Soul fired by the inner
warmth of it might newly penetrate into the Spirit-realm. Thus,
Spirit beings built the bridge from the old World-content to the new.
Indications of this secret of human evolution do indeed exist. The sacred jasper cup of the Holy Grail which Christ made use of when He broke the bread and in which Joseph of Arimathea gathered the blood from the wound of Jesus which contained therefore the secret of Golgotha was received into safe keeping, according to the legend, by Angels until Titurel should build the Castle of the Grail, when they could allow it to descend upon the human beings who were prepared to receive it.
Spiritual Beings protected the World-pictures in which the secrets of
Golgotha were living. And when the time was come, they let down
not the picture-content, for this was not possible but the full
Feeling-content, into the hearts and minds of men.
This implanting of the Feeling-content of an ancient knowledge can
only serve to kindle, but it can indeed kindle most powerfully the
unfolding in our age out of the Spiritual Soul and in the light
of Michael's activity of a new and full understanding of the
Mystery of Golgotha.
Anthroposophy strives for this new understanding, which as we
may see from the above description cannot be a renewal of the
Gnosis. For the content of the Gnosis was the way of knowledge of the
Sentient Soul, while Anthroposophy in a completely new way
must draw forth a content no less rich from the Spiritual Soul.
Further Leading Thoughts issued from the Goetheanum for the Anthroposophical Society (in connection with the above Study on Gnosis and Anthroposophy)
159. The Gnosis in its proper form evolved in the age of the Sentient
Soul (from the fourth to the first millennium before the Mystery of
Golgotha). It was an age when the Divine was made manifest to man as a
spiritual content in his inner being; whereas in the preceding age
(the age of the Sentient Body) it had revealed itself directly in his
sense-impressions of the outer world.
160. In the age of the Intellectual or Mind-Soul, man could only
experience in paler cast the spiritual content of the Divine. The
Gnosis was strictly guarded in hidden Mysteries. And when human beings
could no longer preserve it, because they could no longer kindle the
Sentient Soul to life, spiritual Beings carried over not indeed
the Knowledge-content but the Feeling-content of the Gnosis
into the Middle Ages. (The Legend of the Holy Grail contains an
indication of this fact.) Meanwhile the exoteric Gnosis, which
penetrated into the Intellectual or Mind-Soul, was ruthlessly
161. Anthroposophy cannot be a revival of the Gnosis. For the latter
depended on the development of the Sentient Soul; while Anthroposophy
must evolve out of the Spiritual Soul, in the light of Michael's
activity, a new understanding of Christ and of the World. Gnosis was
the way of Knowledge preserved from ancient time which, at the
time when the Mystery of Golgotha took place, was best able to bring
home this Mystery to human understanding.