The Immortality of the I
6th June, 1916
GA 169: 1 of 7
not be fitting to speak of Pentecost in our fateful time in the same
way as in earlier days. We are living in a time of severe ordeals,
and we cannot look only for the lofty feelings that warm our souls.
If we have any right and true feeling at all, we cannot possibly, even
for a moment, forget the terrible pain and suffering in our time. It
would even be selfish for us to want to forget this pain and suffering
and to give ourselves up to contemplations that warm our souls. Therefore
it will be more appropriate today to speak of what may be useful in
these times — useful insofar as we have to look for the reasons
of the great sufferings of our time in our prevailing spiritual condition.
As we have found in many of our previous talks here, we have to realize
that we must work on the development of our souls particularly in these
difficult times so that humanity as a whole can meet better days in
Nevertheless, I would like to begin with
some thoughts that can lead us to an understanding of the meaning of
Pentecost. In the course of the year there are three important festivals,
Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. Everyone will feel the great difference
between them — everyone, that is, whose feelings have not become
dulled, as in the case of most of our contemporaries, to the meaning
of these festivals in the evolution of humanity and the universe. The
difference in our feelings for these festivals is expressed in the external
symbolism of the festivities connected with them.
Christmas is pre-eminently celebrated as
a festival for the joy of children, a festival that in our times —
though not always — includes a Christmas tree, brought into our
houses from snow- and ice-clad nature. And we remember the Christmas
plays we have performed here on several occasions, plays that have for
centuries uplifted even the simplest human hearts, guiding them to the
mighty event that came to pass once in the evolution of the earth —
the birth of Jesus of Nazareth in Bethlehem. The birth of Jesus of Nazareth
is a festival connected almost by nature to a world of feelings that
was born out of the Gospel of St. Luke, particularly out of its most
popular parts that are easiest to understand. Thus, Christmas is a festival
of what is universally human. It is understood, at least to a certain
extent, by children and by people who have remained childlike in their
hearts, and it brings into these hearts something great and tremendous
that is then taken up into consciousness.
Easter, however, although celebrated at the
time of nature's awakening, leads us to the gates of death. We can characterize
the difference between the two festivals by saying that while there
is much that is lovely and speaks to all human hearts in Christmas,
there is something infinitely sublime in Easter. To celebrate Easter
rightly, our souls must be imbued with something of tremendous sublimity.
We are led to the great and sublime idea that the divine being descended
to earth, incarnated in a human body, and passed through death. The
enigma of death and of the preservation of the eternal life of the soul
in death — Easter brings all this before our souls.
We can have deep feelings for these festivals
only when we remember what we know through spiritual science. Christmas
and the ideas it evokes are closely connected with all the festivals
ever celebrated to commemorate the birth of a Savior. Christmas is connected
with the Mithras festival, which celebrates the birth of Mithras in
a cave. Thus, Christmas is a festival closely linked with nature, as
symbolized by the Christmas tree. Even the birth it celebrates is a
part of nature. At the same time, because Christmas celebrates the birth
of Jesus of Nazareth, which has great significance particularly for
us in spiritual science, it includes much that is spiritual. As we have
often said, the spirit of the earth awakens in winter and is most active
when nature appears to be asleep and frozen. Christmas leads us into
elemental nature; the lighting of the Christmas candles should be our
symbol of the awakening of the spirit in the darkness of winter, the
awakening of the spirit in nature. And if we want to understand the
relationship between Christmas and human beings, we have to think of
what connects us to nature even when we are spiritually separated from
it, as in sleep when our astral body and our I ascend as spirit into
the spiritual world. The etheric body, though also spirit, remains bound
to the outer, physical body. Elemental nature, which comes to life deep
inside the earth when it is shrouded in wintry ice, is present in us
primarily in the etheric body.
It is not just a mere analogy, but a profound
truth that Christmas also commemorates our etheric, elemental nature,
our etheric body, which connects us with what is elemental in nature.
If you consider everything that has been
said over many years about the gradual paralyzing and diminishing of
humanity's forces, you will be struck by the close relationship between
all the forces living in our astral body and the events bringing us
this diminishing and death. We have to develop our astral body during
life and take in what is spiritual by means of it, and therefore we
take into ourselves the seeds of death. It is quite wrong to believe
that death is connected with life only outwardly and superficially;
there is a most intimate connection between death and life, as I have
often pointed out. Our life is the way it is only because we are able
to die as we do, and this in turn is connected with the evolution of
our astral body.
Again, it is not just an analogy to say that
Easter is a symbol of everything related to our astral nature, to that
part of our nature through which we leave our physical body when we
sleep and enter the spiritual world — the world from which the
divine spiritual Being descended who experienced death in the person
of Jesus of Nazareth. If I were speaking in a time when the sense for
the spiritual was more alive than it is in ours, then what I have just
said would quite likely be taken more as reality. However, nowadays
it is taken as merely symbolic. People would then realize that the celebration
of Christmas and Easter is also intended to remind us of our connection
with elemental nature and with the nature that brings spiritual and
physical death. In other words, the festivals are tokens reminding us
that we bear a spiritual element in our astral and etheric bodies. But
in our age these things have been forgotten. They will come to the fore
again when people decide to work at understanding such spiritual things.
In addition to the etheric and astral bodies,
we bear another spiritual element in us — the I. We know how complex
this I is and that it continues from incarnation to incarnation. Its
inner forces build the garment, so to speak, that we put on with each
new incarnation. We rise from the dead in the I to prepare for a new
incarnation. It is the I that makes each of us a unique individual.
We can say our etheric body represents in a sense everything birth-like,
everything connected with the elemental forces of nature. Our astral
body symbolizes what brings death and is connected with the higher spiritual
world. And the I represents our continual resurrection in the spirit,
our renewed life in the spiritual world, which is neither nature nor
the world of the stars but permeates everything.
Just as we can associate Christmas with the
etheric body and Easter with the astral body, so Pentecost can be connected
with the I. Pentecost represents the immortality of our I; it is a sign
of the immortal world of the I, reminding us that we participate not
only in the life of nature in general and pass through repeated deaths,
but that we are immortal, unique beings who continually rise again from
the dead. And how beautifully this is expressed in the elaboration of
Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost! Just think, Christmas as we celebrate
it is directly connected with earthly events; it follows immediately
upon the winter solstice, that is, at the time when the earth is shrouded
in deepest darkness.
In a way, our celebration of Christmas follows
the laws of the earth: when the nights are longest and the days shortest,
when the earth is frozen, we withdraw into ourselves and seek the spiritual
insofar as it lives in the earth. Thus Christmas is a festival bound
to the spirit of the earth. It reminds us continually that as human
beings we belong to the earth, that the spirit had to descend from the
heights of the world and take on earthly form to become one of us children
of the earth.
On the other hand, Easter is linked to the
relationship between sun and moon and is always celebrated on the first
Sunday after the first full moon in spring, that is, the first full
moon after the twenty-first day of March. We fix the date of Easter
according to the relative position of sun and moon. You see how wonderfully
Christmas is connected with the earth and Easter with the cosmos. Christmas
reminds us of what is most holy in the earth, and Easter of what is
holiest in the heavens.
Our Christian festival of Pentecost is related
in a beautiful way to what is above the stars: the universal spiritual
fire of the cosmos, individualized and descending in fiery tongues upon
the Apostles. This fire is neither of the heavens nor of the earth,
neither cosmic nor merely terrestrial, but permeates everything, yet
it is individualized and reaches every human being. Pentecost is connected
with the whole world! As Christmas belongs to the earth and Easter to
the starry heavens, so Pentecost is directly connected to every human
being when he or she receives the spark of spiritual life from all the
worlds. What all humanity received in the descent of the divine human
being to earth is given to each individual in the fiery tongues of Pentecost.
The fiery tongues represent what is in us, in the universe, and in the
stars. Thus, especially for those who seek the spirit, Pentecost has
a special, profound meaning, summoning us again and again to seek anew
for the spirit.
I think in our age we have to take these
festive thoughts a step further and consider them more deeply than we
would at other times. For how we will extricate ourselves from the sorrowful
and disheartening events of our times will largely depend on how deeply
we can grasp such thoughts. Our souls will have to work their way out
of these events. In certain circles people are already beginning to
feel that. And I would add that particularly people who are close to
spiritual science should increasingly feel this necessity of our times
to renew our spiritual life and to rise above materialism. We will overcome
materialism only if we have the good will to kindle the flames of the
spiritual world within ourselves and to truly celebrate Pentecost inwardly,
to take it with inner seriousness.
In our recent talks here we have spoken about
how difficult it is for people to find what is right in this area of
the renewal of spirituality under the conditions of the present age.
We see nowadays a development of forces we cannot admire enough; yet
we lack adequate feelings to respond to them. When feelings become as
necessary for the spiritual, people will realize that it is important
to celebrate and not neglect the inner Pentecost in our soul. Some people
— of course, not you, my dear friends, who have after all participated
in such studies for several years—might well think our recent
talks here smack of hypochondria and carping.
I think the very opposite is true, for it seems to me absolutely
necessary to point out the things we talked about because people should
know where to intervene spiritually in the course of human evolution.
In fact, here and there other people also realize what is essential
for our times.
The grandson of Schiller,
Alexander von Gleichen-Russwurm, has written a nice little book called
As I read it, I was reminded
of many things I said to you here. For instance, I told you that spiritual
science should not remain merely a lifeless theory. Instead, it must
flow into our souls so that our thinking becomes really enlivened, truly
judicious, and flexible, for only then can it get to the heart of the
tasks of our age. In this connection, let me read you a few sentences
from this booklet
by Alexander von Gleichen-Russwurm.
If all of us bear part of the guilt
for this terrible tragedy, it is because throughout all of Europe,
in spite of culture, schools, and other educational facilities,
we have gradually forfeited our independent thinking.
O, freedom of thought, in vain have the
greatest poets called for you in the name of humanity. You languished,
faded — you sank down as if dead! Unfree, we parroted others,
our power of thinking chained, lamed, and weary.
We had time, desire, and ambition for
everything except actual thinking. Even here, in the erstwhile nation
of poets and philosophers, thought has become an illustrious stranger,
a rare, disquieting guest. Reading and writing are no longer of
any help to us; indeed, they can only be harmful if we do not know
how to think.
Recently everything has been conducive
to wean us of thinking altogether — everything, even our education,
our art, recreation, work, social life, travel, and domestic life.
But genuine culture should teach us above
all to think, for feelings and instincts alone will never suffice
to make possible a peaceful coexistence of people and nations. For
this, a sound, carefully trained, political mind is necessary.
And von Gleichen-Russwurm, this grandson
of Schiller, traces the fact that we have forgotten how to think far
back in history:
Since the Vienna Congress of 1815, all
nations have made a certain effort to get along and settle down
on this planet. Innumerable treaties, attempts of every kind, bear
witness to this. People believed that by struggling for a constitution
and suffrage they would gain real participation in government and
be able to determine their own fate.
Then von Gleichen-Russwurm says we cannot
do without thinking. He shows this by painting a strange picture of
our present time, which we must always think about and cannot forget
even for a moment.
Indeed, we have not made such wonderful
progress when everything that formerly would have been spun into
the yarns of the most harebrained poets has become reality. We are
in such an immense and frantic jumble, more fantastic than anything
that happened during the migration of peoples. Senegalese kill our
poets, artists groom horses, professors tend sheep. Theater managers
give orders of execution over the telephone, pious Indians seek
death on our battlefields in accordance with their ancient rites.
Beautiful buildings fall into ruins and shelters fit for cave-dwellers
are built. Millionaires starve and struggle with vermin, while beggars
sit at abandoned sumptuous tables in old castles. Suspicious characters
are rehabilitated and the most harmless people languish and die
This state of things compels Schiller's grandson
to consider the necessity of enlivening thinking. However, I have not
been able to find, either in this pamphlet or in his other writings,
that he is looking in the right direction for the true sources of enlivened
It is indeed not easy to celebrate Pentecost
in our soul nowadays, not at all easy. Now I have here the book of a
man who has taken great pains in the last few years to understand Goethe
— as far as he found it possible — and who has gone to great
lengths to understand our spiritual science.
3] This very man, who has really tried to understand Goethe and
is delighted that he is now beginning to do so, had earlier written
nine novels, fourteen plays, and nine volumes of essays. His case is
very characteristic of the difficulties people have nowadays in finding
their way to spiritual life. In his latest book, the tenth volume of
his essays, he says how glad he is to have found Goethe at last and
to have the opportunity to try to understand him. One can see from this
tenth volume of essays that the author is really trying very hard to
comprehend Goethe. But think what it means that a man who has written
so many novels, so many plays, and who is quite well-known, admits now
when he is perhaps fifty or fifty-one that he is just beginning to understand
Now his latest book is called
The writer is Hermann Bahr.
Hermann Bahr is the man I just described. I haven't counted all his
plays; he wrote still more, but he disavows the earlier ones. It is
not difficult for me to speak about Bahr because I have known him since
his student days; indeed I knew him quite well. You see, he wrote on
every kind of subject, and much of his writing is very good. He says
of himself that he has been an impressionist all his life, because he
was born in the age of impressionism.
Now let us define in a few words what impressionism
really is. We will not argue about matters of art, but let us try to
understand what people like Hermann Bahr mean by impressionism. Consider
the work of artists such as Goethe, Schiller, Shakespeare, Corneille,
Racine, Dante — or take whomever you want. You will find that
what they considered great about their art was that they had perceived
the external world and then worked with it spiritually. In art the perception
of the outer world unites with what lives in the spirit. Goethe would
have denied the status of “art” to all works that do not
strive for such a union of nature and spirit.
But in modern times what is called impressionism
has emerged. Hermann Bahr grew up with it and is now aware that he has
been an impressionist in all he did. When he discussed paintings —
and many of his essays are about painting — he did so from the
standpoint of impressionism. When he wrote about painting, he wanted
to be an impressionist himself, and that is what he was, and still is
in his own way. Now what does such a man mean by impressionism in art?
He means by impressionism that the artist is utterly afraid to add anything
out of his or her own soul to the external impression given by nature.
Nothing must be added by the soul.
Of course, under such conditions no music
could be created; but Bahr excluded music. Neither could there be architecture.
Music and architecture can therefore never be purely impressionist.
However, in painting and in poetry pure impressionism is quite possible.
Very well, as far as possible everything coming out of the artist's
own soul was to be excluded. Thus, the impressionist painters tried
to create a picture of an object before they had properly perceived
it, before they had in any way digested the visual impression. In other
words, looking at the object, and then right away, if possible, capturing
it before one has added anything to the picture and the impression it
evoked — that is impressionism! Of course, there are different
interpretations of impressionism, but this is its essential nature.
As I said in a public lecture in Berlin,
Hermann Bahr is a man who champions whatever he thinks to be right at
the moment with the greatest enthusiasm. When he first came to the university
in Vienna, he was heart and soul for socialism; he had a passion for
it and was the most ardent social democrat you can imagine. One of the
plays he now disavows,
The New Humanity,
is written from this
socialist standpoint. I think it is out of print now. It has many pages
of social democratic speeches that cannot be produced on stage. Then
the German National Movement developed in Vienna, and Hermann Bahr became
an ardent nationalist and wrote his
which he now also repudiates. By that time, after having been a socialist
and a nationalist, Bahr had reached the age when men in Austria are
drafted for military service, and so at nineteen he became a soldier.
He had left behind socialism and nationalism
and now became a soldier, a passionate soldier, and developed an entirely
military outlook on life. For a year he was a soldier, a one-year volunteer.
After this he went for a short time to Berlin. In Berlin he became —
well, he did not become a fervent Berliner; he couldn't stand that,
so he never became an ardent Berliner. But then he went to Paris where
he became an enthusiastic disciple of Maurice Barrès and people
of his ilk. He was also an ardent follower of Boulanger who just at
that time was playing an important role.
Well, I don't want to rake up old stories, and so I will not
tell you of the passionate Boulangist letters the enthusiastic Bahr
wrote from Paris at that time.
Then he went to Spain, where he became inflamed
with enthusiasm for Spanish culture, so much so that he wrote an article
against the Sultan of Morocco and his rotten behavior toward Spanish
politics. Bahr then returned to Berlin and worked for a while as editor
of the journal
but, as I said, he never became
an ardent Berliner. Then he went back and gradually discovered Austria.
After all, he was born in Linz. Oh, sorry, I didn't mention that before
all this he had also been to St. Petersburg where he wrote his book
on Russia and became a passionate Russian. Then he returned and discovered
Austria, its various regions and cultural history and so on.
Bahr was always brilliant and sometimes even
profound. He always tried to convey what he saw by just giving his first
impression of it, without having mentally digested it. As you can imagine,
it can work quite well to give only the first impression. A socialist
— nothing more than the first impression; German nationalist or
Boulangist — nothing more than the first impression; Russian,
Spaniard, and so on and so forth. And now to be looking at the different
aspects of the Austrian national character — doubtlessly an extraordinarily
interesting phenomenon! But just imagine: Bahr has now reached the age
of fifty, and suddenly expressionism appears on the scene, the very
opposite of impressionism.
For many years Hermann Bahr has been lecturing
in Danzig. On his way there he always passed through Berlin, but without
stopping. He is fond of the people of Danzig and claims that when he
speaks to them, they always stimulate him to profound thoughts, something
that does not happen in any other German town. Well, the people of Danzig
asked him to give a lecture there on expressionism. But just think what
that means to Hermann Bahr, who has been an impressionist all his life!
And only now does expressionism make its appearance! When he was young
and began to be an impressionist, people were far from delighted with
impressionist pictures. On the contrary, all the philistines, the petty
bourgeois — and of course other people too — considered
them mere daubing. This may often have been true, but we will not argue
about that now. Hermann Bahr, however, was all aglow and whosoever said
anything against an impressionist painting was of course a narrow-minded,
reactionary blockhead of the first order who would have nothing unless
it was hoary with age and who was completely unable to keep pace with
the progress of mankind. That is the sort of thing you could often hear
from Hermann Bahr. Many people were blockheads in those days.
There was a certain coffee-house in Vienna,
the Café Griensteidl , where such matters were usually settled.
It used to be opposite the old Burgtheater on the Michaeler Platz but
is now defunct. Karl Kraus, the writer who is also known as “cocky
Kraus” and who publishes small books, wrote a pamphlet about this
coffee-house, which back in 1848 had Lenau and Anastasius Grün
among its illustrious guests.
When the building was torn down, Kraus wrote a booklet entitled
The emergence of impressionism was often
the topic of discussion in this coffee-house. As we have seen, Hermann
Bahr had been speaking for years about impressionism, which runs like
a red thread through all the rest of his metamorphoses. But now he has
become older; expressionists, cubists, and futurists have come along,
and they in turn call impressionists like Hermann Bahr dull blockheads
who are only warming over the past. To Hermann Bahr's surprise the rest
of the world was not greatly affected by their comments. However, he
was annoyed, for he had to admit that this is exactly what he had done
when he was young. He had called all the others blockheads and now they
said he was one himself. And why should those who called him a blockhead
be less right than he had been in saying it of others?
A bad business, you see! So there was nothing
else for Hermann Bahr but to leam about expressionism, particularly
as he had been asked by the people of Danzig, whom he loved so much,
to speak about it. And then it was a question of finding a correct formula
for expressionism. I assure you I am not making fun of Hermann Bahr.
In fact, I like him very much and would like to make every possible
excuse for him — I mean, that is, I like him as a cultural phenomenon.
Hermann Bahr now had to come to terms with
expressionism. As you will no doubt agree, a man with a keen and active
mind will surely not be satisfied to have reached the ripe age of fifty
only to be called a blockhead by the next generation — especially
not when he is asked to speak about expressionism to the people of Danzig
who inspire him with such good thoughts. Perhaps you have seen some
expressionist, cubist, or futurist paintings. Most people when they
see them say, We have put up with a great deal, but this really goes
too far! You have a canvas, then dashes, white ones running from the
top to the bottom, red lines across them, and then perhaps something
else, suggesting neither a leaf nor a house, a tree nor a bird, but
rather all these together and none in particular.
But, of course, Hermann Bahr could not speak
about it like this. So what did he do? It dawned upon him what expressionism
is after much brooding on it. In fact, through all his metamorphoses
he gradually became a brooding person. Now he realized (under the influence
of the Danzig inspiration, of course!) that the impressionists take
nature and quickly set it down, without any inner work on the visual
impression. Expressionists do the opposite. That is true; Hermann Bahr
understood that. Expressionists do not look at nature at all —
I am quite serious about this. They do not look at anything in nature,
they only look within. This means what is out there in nature —
houses, rivers, elephants, lions — is of no interest to the expressionist,
for he looks within. Bahr then went on to say that if we want to look
within, such looking within must be possible for us. And what does Bahr
do? He turns to Goethe, reads his works, for example, the following
I had the gift that when I closed my
eyes, and with bowed head imagined a flower in the center of my
eye, it did not stay for even a moment in its first form, but unfolded
itself and new flowers with colored as well as green leaves grew
out of it. They were not natural flowers, but imaginary ones, yet
regular as the roses of a sculptor.
Goethe could close his eyes, think of a flower,
and it would appear before him as a spiritual form and then of itself
take on various forms.
It was impossible to fix this creation
welling forth in me, but it lasted as long as I wished, and neither
faded nor grew stronger. I could produce the same thing by imagining
an ornamental, many-colored disc, which also continually changed
from the center to the periphery, exactly like the recently discovered
Here afterimage, memory, creative
imagination, concept and idea are all at work at once, manifesting
with complete freedom in the inherent living nature of the organ,
without design or guidance.
Now if you are not familiar with Goethe and
with the world view of modern idealism and spiritualism, you will find
it impossible to make something of this right away. Therefore, Hermann
Bahr continued reading the literature on the subject. He lighted on
the Englishman Galton who had studied people with the kind of inner
sight Goethe had according to his own description.
As is customary in England, Galton had collected all kinds of
statistics about such people. One of his special examples was a certain
clergyman who was able to call forth an image in his imagination that
then changed of itself, and he could also return it to its first form
through willing it. The clergyman described this beautifully. Hermann
Bahr followed up these matters and gradually came to the conclusion
that there was indeed such a thing as inner sight. You see, what Goethe
described — Goethe indeed knew other things too — is only
the very first stage of being moved in the etheric body. Hermann Bahr
began to study such fundamental matters to understand expressionism,
because it dawned on him that expressionism is based on this kind of
elementary inner sight. And then he went further. He read the works
of the old physiologist Johannes Müller, who described this inner
sight so beautifully at a time when natural science had not yet begun
to laugh at these things.
So, Bahr gradually worked his way through
Goethe, finding it very stimulating to read Goethe, to begin to understand
him, and in the process to realize that there is such a thing as inner
sight. On that basis he arrived at the following insight: in expressionism
nature is not needed because the artist captures on canvas what he or
she sees in this elementary inner vision. Later on, this will develop
into something else, as I have said here before. If we do not view expressionism
as a stroke of genius, but as the first beginnings of something still
to mature, we will probably do these artists more justice than they
do themselves in overestimating their achievements. But Hermann Bahr
considers them artists of genius and indeed was led to admit with tremendous
enthusiasm that we have not only external sight through our eyes, but
also inner sight. His chapter on inner sight is really very fine, and
he is immensely delighted to discover in Goethe's writings the words
“eye of the spirit.”
Just think for how many years we have already
been using this expression. As I said, Bahr has even tried to master
our spiritual science! From Bahr's book we know that so far he has read
Eugene Levy's description of my world view.
Apparently, Bahr has not yet advanced to my books, but that
day may still come. In any case, you can see that here a man is working
his way through the difficulties of the present time and then takes
a position on what is most elementary. I have to mention this because
it proves what I have so often said: it is terribly difficult for people
in our age to come to anything spiritual. Just think of it: a man who
has written ten novels, fourteen plays, and many books of essays, finally
arrives at reading Goethe. Working his way through Goethe's writings,
he comes to understand him — though rather late in his life. Bahr's
book is written with wonderful freshness and bears witness to the joy
he experienced in understanding Goethe. Indeed, in years past I often
sat and talked with Hermann Bahr, but then it was not possible to speak
with him about Goethe. At that time he naturally still considered Goethe
a blockhead, one of the ancient, not-yet-impressionist sort of people.
We have to keep in mind, I think, how difficult
it is for people who are educated in our time to find the way to the
most elementary things leading to spiritual science. And yet, these
are the very people who shape public opinion. For example, when Hermann
Bahr came to Vienna, he edited a very influential weekly called
No one would believe us if we said that many people in the
western world whose opinions are valued do not understand a thing about
Goethe, and therefore cannot come to spiritual science on the basis
of their education — of course, it is possible to come to spiritual
science without education. Yet Bahr is living proof of this because
he himself admits at the age of fifty how happy he is finally to understand
Goethe. It is very sad to see how happy he is to have found what others
were looking for all around him when he was still young. By the same token,
to see this is also most instructive and significant for understanding
our age. That somebody like Hermann Bahr needs expressionism to realize
that one can form ideas and paint them without looking at nature shows
us that the trend-setting, so-called cultural world nowadays lives in
ideas that are completely removed from anything spiritual. It takes
expressionism for him to understand that there is an inner seeing, an
inner spiritual eye. You see, all this is closely connected with the
way our writers, artists, and critics grow up and develop.
Hermann Bahr's latest novel is characteristic
of this. It is called
The end of the book indicates
that Bahr is beginning to develop yet another burning enthusiasm on
the side — all his other passions run like a red thread through
the novel — namely, a new enthusiasm for Catholicism. Anyone who
knows Bahr will have no doubt that there is something of him in the
character of Franz, the protagonist of his latest novel. The book is
not an autobiography, nor a biographical novel; yet a good deal of Hermann
Bahr is to be found in this Franz. A writer — not one who writes
for the newspapers; let's not talk about how journalists develop because
we don't want the word “develop” to lose its original meaning
— but a writer who is serious about writing, who is a true seeker,
such as Hermann Bahr, cannot help but reveal his own development in the
character of his protagonist. Bahr describes Franz's gradual development
and his quest. Franz tries to experience everything the age has to offer,
to learn everything, to look for the truth everywhere. Thus, he searches
in the sciences, first studying botany under Wiessner, the famous Viennese
botanist, then chemistry under Ostwald, then political economy and so on.
He looks into everything
the age has to offer. He might also have become a student of ancient
Greek under Wilamowitz, or have learned about philosophy from Eucken
After that, he studies political economy under Schmoller; it might
just as well have been in somebody else's course, possibly Brentano's.
After that, Franz studies with Richet how to unravel the mysteries
of the soul; again it might just as well have been with another teacher.
He then tries a different method and studies psychoanalysis under Freud.
However, none of this satisfies him, and so he continues his
quest for the truth by going to the theosophists in London. Then he
allows someone who has so far remained in the background of the story
to give him esoteric exercises. But Franz soon tires of them and stops
doing them. Nevertheless, he feels compelled to continue his quest.
Then Franz happens upon a medium. This psychic
has performed the most remarkable manifestations of all sorts for years.
And then the medium is exposed after Franz, the hero of the book, has
already fallen in love with her. He goes off on a journey, leaving in
a hurry as he always does. Well, he departs again all of a sudden, leaving
the medium to her fate. Of course, the woman is exposed as a spy —
naturally, because this novel was written only just recently.
There are many people like Franz, especially
among the current critics of spiritual life. Indeed, this is how we
must picture the people who pronounce their judgments before they have
penetrated to even the most elementary first stages. They have not gone as
far as Hermann Bahr, who after all, by studying expressionism, discovered
that there is an inner seeing. Of course, Hermann Bahr's current opinions
on many things will be different from those he had in the past. For
example, if he had read my book
back then, he would
have judged it to be — well, never mind, it is not necessary to
put it into Bahr's words.
Today he would probably say there is an inner eye, an inner seeing,
which is really a kind of expressionism. After all, now he has advanced
as far as the inner seeing that lives today in expressionism. Well,
never mind. These are the ideas Hermann Bahr arrived at inspired by
the people of Danzig, and out of these ideas he then wrote this book.
I mention this merely as an example of how
difficult it is nowadays for people to find their way to spiritual science.
This example also shows that anyone with a clear idea of what spiritual
science intends has the responsibility, as far as possible and necessary,
to do everything to break down prejudices. We know the foundations of
these prejudices. And we know that even the best minds of our age —
those who have written countless essays and plays — even if they
are sincerely seeking, reach the most elementary level only after their
fiftieth year. So we have to admit that it is difficult for spiritual
science to gain ground. Even though the simplest souls would readily
accept spiritual science, they are held back by people who judge on
the basis of motivations and reasons such as the ones I have described.
Well, much is going on in our time, and,
as I have often said, materialistic thinking has now become second nature
with people. People are not aware that they are thinking up fantastic
nonsense when they build their lofty theories. I have often entertained
you with describing how the Kant- Laplace theory is taught to children
in school. They are carefully taught that the earth at one time was
like a solar nebula and rotated and that the planets eventually split
off from it. And what could make this clearer than the example of a
drop: all you need is a little drop of oil, a bit of cardboard with
a cut in the middle for the equatorial plane, and a needle to stick
through it. Then you rotate the cardboard with the needle, and you'll
see the “planets” splitting off just beautifully. Then the
students are told that what they see there in miniature happened long
ago on a much larger scale in the universe. How could you possibly refute
a proof like this? Of course, there must have been a big teacher out
there in the universe to do the rotating. Most people forget this. But
it should not be forgotten; all factors must be taken into account.
What if there was no big teacher or learned professor standing in the
universe to do the rotating? This question is usually not asked because
it is so obvious — too obvious. In fact, it is really a great
achievement to find thinking people in what is left of idealism and
spiritualism who understand the full significance of this matter. Therefore
I have to refer again and again to the following fine passage about
Goethe by Herman Grimm, which I am also quoting in my next book.
Long ago, in the time of his [Goethe's]
youth, the famous Kant-Laplace fantasy [you see, Grimm calls it
a fantasy!] about the origin and future destruction of the earth
had taken root. Out of the rotating cosmic nebula our children leam
about in school, a central nucleus of gas forms, which later becomes
the earth. During unfathomable periods of time, this congealing
globe goes through all its developmental phases, including that
of human habitation, until it finally falls back into the sun as
a piece of burnt-out slag. This long, but to the public fully comprehensible,
process would need no outside intervention to run its course, except
the exertion of some exterior force to keep the sun at an equal
temperature. It is impossible to conceive of a more barren prospect
for the future than this, urged upon us as scientifically logical
and necessary. A carrion bone that a hungry dog would not go near
would be a refreshing, appetizing morsel compared to this final
excrement of creation our earth is supposed to be when it finally
falls back into the sun. The eagerness for knowledge that makes
our generation accept and believe theories of this kind is a sign
of a sick imagination, a historical phenomenon it will take future
scholars a lot of ingenuity to explain.
Indeed, later generations will wonder how
we could ever have taken such nonsense for the truth — nonsense
that is now taught as truth in all our schools! Herman Grimm goes on
Goethe never entertained such comfortless
theories ... Goethe would have taken care not to derive the Darwinists'
conclusions from what he had first learnt in this respect from nature
and has expressed in his works.
As you know, a more spiritual understanding
of Darwinism would have led to quite different results. What Grimm meant
here and what I myself have to say is not directed against Darwinism
as such, but rather against the materialistic interpretation of it,
which Grimm characterized in one of his talks as violating all human
dignity by insisting that we have evolved in a straight line from lower
animals. As you know, Huxley was widely acclaimed for his answer to
all kinds of objections against the evolution of human beings from the
apes — I think the objections were raised by a bishop, no less.
People applauded Huxley's reply that he would rather have descended from
an ape and have gradually worked his way up to his current world view
from there, than have descended in the way the bishop claimed and then
have worked his way down to the bishop's world view. Such anecdotes are
often very witty, but they remind me of the story of the little boy who
came home from school and explained to his father that he'd just learnt
that humans are descended from apes. “What do you mean, you silly
boy?” asked the father. “Yes, it's true, father, we do all
come from the apes,” said the boy, to which the father replied,
“Perhaps that may be the case with you, but definitely not with
me!” I have often called your attention to many such logical
blunders perpetrated against true thinking and leading to a materialistic
interpretation of Darwinism.
But these days, people always have to outdo
themselves. We have not yet reached the point where people would say
they have gone far enough; no, they want to go still further and outdo
themselves grandiosely. For example, there is a man who is furious about
the very existence of philosophy and the many philosophers in the world
who created philosophies. He rails at all philosophy. Now this man recently
published a volley of abuse against philosophy and wanted to find an
especially pithy phrase to vent his rage. I will read you his pronouncement
so you can see what is thought in our time of philosophy, by which people
hope to find the truth and which has achieved a great deal, as you will
see from my forthcoming book: “We have no more philosophy than
In other words, he not only claims we are
descended from animals, but goes on to demonstrate that even in our
loftiest strivings, namely in philosophy, we have not yet advanced beyond
the animals because we cannot know more than the animals know. He is
very serious about this: “We have no more philosophy than animals,
and only our frantic attempts to attain a philosophy and the final resignation
to our ignorance distinguish us from the animals.” That is to
say, knowing that we know as little as cattle is the only difference
between us and the animals. This man makes short work of the whole history
of philosophy by trying to prove that it is nothing but a series of
desperate attempts by philosophers to rise above the simple truth that
we know no more of the world than the animals.
Now you will probably ask who could possibly
have such a distorted view of philosophy? I think it may interest you
to know who is able to come up with such an incredible view of philosophy.
As a matter of fact, the person in question is a professor of philosophy
at the university in Czernowitz! Many years ago he wrote a book called
The End of Philosophy
and another one called
The End of Thinking,
and he just recently wrote
The Tragicomedy of Wisdom,
where you can find the sentences I quoted. This man fulfills the duties
of his office as professor of philosophy at a university by convincing
his attentive audience that human beings know no more than animals!
His name is Richard Wahle, and he is a full professor of philosophy
at the university in Czemowitz.
We have to look at things like this, for
they bear witness to how “wonderfully far” we have advanced.
It is important to look a bit more closely at what is necessary in life,
namely, that the time has come when humanity has to resolve to take
the inner Pentecost seriously, to kindle the light in the soul, and
to take in the spiritual. Much will depend on whether there are at least
some people in the world who understand how the Pentecost of the soul
can and must be celebrated in our time.
I do not know how long it will be before
my book is ready, but I have to stay here until it is finished, and
so we may be able to meet again next week for another lecture.