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European Spiritual Life in the 19th Century

Schmidt Number: S-4491

On-line since: 30th May, 2009

Lecture 1

Dornach, 15th May, 1921

Lecture given at Dornach, 15th May, 1921. From a shorthand report unrevised by the lecturer. All rights reserved by the Philosophisch-Anthroposophischer Verlag, Dornach. English translation by permission of H. Collison, by whom all rights are reserved.

RECENT lectures given at the Goetheanum have laid repeated emphasis on the fact that the Spiritual Science cultivated here must work fruitfully upon the whole scientific mind of to-day and also upon the various branches of science. This is perhaps brought home to us most strongly of all when we realise the light that is shed by Spiritual Science upon the problems of history. And so far as the limits of two brief lectures allow, we will try to go into this matter.

On many sides to-day it is being said that the science of history is facing a crisis. Not so very long ago, among certain circles in the days of the historian Ranke, it was held that history must be made into an ‘exact’ science — exact in the sense in which this expression is used in connection with ordinary scientific research. We often hear it said by those to whom ‘exact research’ implies the methods current in the domain of external science, that all historical writings are inevitably coloured by the nationality, temperament and other personal propensities of the historian, by the element of imagination working in the condensation of the details, by the depth of his intuitive faculty and the like. And as a matter of fact in the most recently written histories it is abundantly evident that the presentation of objective facts and events varies considerably according to the nationality of the historian, according to his power of synthesis, his imagination and other faculties.

In a certain respect, Spiritual Science is well fitted to cultivate an objective outlook in the study of history. It is, of course, not to be denied that the measure of talent possessed by the historian himself will always play an important part. Nevertheless, in spite of what our opponents choose to say to the contrary, it is precisely in the study of history that a quality essentially characteristic of Spiritual Science comes into play.

By its very nature Spiritual Science must begin with a development of the inner, subjective faculties in the being of man. Forces otherwise latent in the soul must be awakened and transformed into real faculties of investigation. The subjective realm, therefore, is necessarily the starting-point. But in spite of this, the subjective element is gradually overcome in the course of genuine spiritual research; depths are opened up in the soul in which the voice of objective truth, not that of subjective feeling, is speaking. It is the same in mathematics, when objective truths are proclaimed, in spite of the fact that they are discovered by subjective effort.

From this point of view I want to speak to you of a chapter of history which cannot but be of the deepest interest to us in this modern age. I will choose from the wide field of history the more spiritual forms of thought which came to the fore in the nineteenth century, and speak about their origin in the light of Spiritual Science. To-day I propose to deal with the more exoteric aspect — if I may use this expression — and pass on in the next lecture more into the realm of the esoteric connections and deeper causes underlying the facts of the spiritual and mental life of humanity.

As we look back to the nineteenth century — and the character of the first twenty years of the twentieth century is really very similar — the impression usually is that thought in the nineteenth century developed along an even, regular course. But those who go more deeply into the real facts discover that this was by no means the case. About the middle of the century a very radical change came about in the development of thought. The mode of thinking and outlook of men underwent a metamorphosis. People began to ask questions about the nature of the impulses underlying social life in the past and present. It is only possible to-day to indicate these things in a few characteristic strokes, but this we shall try to do.

Leading minds in the first half of the nineteenth century were all characterised by certain spiritual and idealistic aspirations, in spite of the fact that they were the offspring of the kind of thought that had become habitual in the domain of natural science. These leading minds were still, to a certain extent, conscious of their dependence upon an inner guidance A few definite examples will show that this changes entirely in the second half of the century. In following up this particular line of development we shall not be able to concentrate upon those who were either scientists or artists in the narrower sense. We shall have to select typical representatives of scientific thought at that time who set themselves the task of clarifying the problems of the social life which had become more and more insistent in the course of the nineteenth century. More and more it was borne in upon eminent thinkers that the only way of approach to the problems of the social life was, on the one hand, to emphasise the importance of the results achieved by science and, on the other, to deal with the depression which had so obviously crept into the life and impulses of the soul.

In the first half of the nineteenth century, we find a representative personality in Saint-Simon, a son, as it were, of the French Revolution, and who had thoroughly imbibed the scientific thought of his time. Saint-Simon was one whose mind, at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries, may be taken as a typical example of the scientific thinking of the day. He was also deeply concerned with the social problem. He had experienced the aftermath of the French Revolution and had heard the cry for Liberty, Equality, Fraternity resounding from the depths of the human soul. But it had also been his lot to experience the disappointments suffered by Europe alter the Revolution. He witnessed the gradual emergence of what, later on, became the burning social question. And if we study the whole temper and outlook of Saint-Simon's mind, it is clear that he was a firm believer in the fact that knowledge can ultimately lead to ideas which will be fruitful for the social life, provided always that these ideas are in inner harmony with the demands of the times. He was convinced that study, understanding and enthusiasm for the tasks of social life would lead to the discovery of something which could be communicated to men, and that they would respond to knowledge born of enthusiasm for the betterment of social life and presented to them in a form suited to the conditions of the age. Betterment and progress — so thought Saint-Simon — will come about in the social life of Europe through the co-operation of individuals who have both understanding and strength of will. Saint-Simon was imbued with the firm belief that it is possible to convince human beings when one's own mind has grasped the truth and is capable of presenting it to others in the proper scientific form. And so he tries to base all his work upon the spiritual and mental conceptions of his day. He looks back to times which, in his opinion, had already fulfilled their mission; he thinks of the power once possessed by the nobles and the military class, and says to himself: In earlier times the nobles and the military class had their purpose and function. The nobles provided military forces for the protection of those who desired to devote their energies to the so-called arts of peace.

But — thought Saint-Simon — in earlier times the priesthood too was a factor of great significance. For long ages the instruction and education of the people were in the hands of the priesthood and the priests were the bearers of the spiritual life. But this state of things has long since passed away. The nobles and the military class, nay even the priesthood, have lost their raison dêtre. And on the other hand, an entirely new line of activity has established itself in civilised life. Saint-Simon was well aware of all that the development of industry and industrial science meant in the evolution of humanity. He said to himself: This industrial development will in its turn give rise to a kind of thinking that has already been adopted by natural science, is employed in physics, chemistry, biology, and will inevitably spread to the other sciences. In astronomy, chemistry, physics and physiology we find evidences of the kind of thinking that is current in the modern age.

But it is also essential to inaugurate a science of man, in other words, psychology and sociology. The principles of physics must be introduced into political science and then it will be possible to work and act effectively in the domain of social life. What is needed — so said Saint-Simon — is a kind of ‘political physics,’ and he set out to build up a science of social life and action that should be in line with the principles of chemistry, physics and physiology. Saint-Simon considered that this kind of thinking was evitable because of the overwhelming importance which industrial life was beginning to assume in his day, and he was convinced that no further progress would be possible in industry if it remained under the old conditions of subordination to the military class and to the priesthood.

At the same time Saint-Simon indicated that all these changes were to be regarded as phases. The priests and the nobility had had their function to perform in days gone by and the same significance was, he said, now vested in the scholars and the industrialists. Although in former times a spiritual conception of life was thoroughly justified, the kind of thought that is fitting in the modern age, said Saint-Simon, is of a different character. But something always remains over from earlier times. Saint-Simon's rejection of the older, sacerdotal culture was due to his intense preoccupation with the industrialist mode of thinking that had come to the fore in his day. He spoke of the old sacerdotal culture as a system of abstract metaphysics, whereas the quest of the new age, even in the sphere of politics, must be for philosophy concerned as directly with concrete facts as industrial life is concerned with the facts of the external world. The old sacerdotal culture, he said, simply remains as a system of metaphysical traditions, devoid of real life, and it is this element that is found above all in the new form of jurisprudence and in what has crept into political life through jurisprudence. To Saint-Simon, jurisprudence, and the concepts on which it was based, were remnants and shadows of the time when sacerdotalism and militarism had a real function to perform in the life of the people.

The views of a man like Saint-Simon are born of the scientific mode of thinking which had become so widespread in the eighteenth century, and even before that time. It is a mode of thinking which directs all inner activity in man to the external world of material facts. Saint-Simon's attitude, however, was influenced by yet another factor, namely, the demand for individual freedom which was at that time arising from the very depths of man's being. On the one side we find the urge to discover natural law everywhere and to admit nothing as being ‘scientific’ which does not fall into line with this natural law. — And on the other side there is the insistent demand for individual freedom: Man must be his own matter and be able in freedom to find a place in the world that is consistent with the dignity of manhood. These two demands are, as a matter of fact, in diametrical opposition to one another. And if we study the structure of the life of thought in the nineteenth century, we realise that the mind of Saint-Simon and others like him was faced continually with these great problems: How can I reconcile natural law — to which man too must, after all, be subject — with the demand for human freedom, for freedom of the individuality.

In the French Revolution a materialistic view of the universe had been mingled with the inner demand for individual freedom. And it was the voice of the French Revolution, sounding over into the nineteenth century, which led men like Saint-Simon to this bitter conflict in the realm of knowledge. — The laws established by natural science hold good and are universal in their application. They obtain also in the being of man, but he will not admit it because within this body of scientific law he cannot find his freedom as an individual.

And so at the beginning of the nineteenth century, men like Saint-Simon stood as it were without ground under their feet before two irreconcilable principles. In trying to solve the problems of social life it was a question, on the one side, of keeping faith with science and, on the other, of discovering a form of social life wherein the freedom of true manhood is preserved and maintained.

Saint-Simon tried hard in every direction to find ideas for the institutions of industrial life and of human life in general which might bring him satisfaction. But again and again he was baffled by the incompatibility of these two demands of his age. The conflict, moreover, did not only make itself manifest in individual minds. Over the whole of the thought-life and its offspring, namely, the political and economic life of the beginning, of the nineteenth century, there loomed the shadow of this conflict. On the one side men yearn for unshakable law and, on the other, demand individual freedom. The problem was to discover a form of social life in which, firstly, law should be as supreme as in the world of nature and which, secondly, should offer man the possibility of individual freedom. The shrewdest minds of the age — and Saint-Simon was certainly one — were not able to find ideas capable of practical application in social life. And so Saint-Simon prescribes a social system directed by science and in line with scientific habits of thought. — But the demand for individual freedom finds no fulfilment.

A cardinal demand had thus obtruded itself in the life of the times, and is reflected in many a mental conflict. Men like Goethe, not knowing where to turn and yet seeking for a reconciliation of these two opposing principles, find themselves condemned to a life of inner loneliness. At the beginning of the nineteenth century there is a feeling of despair in face of the fact that human thinking, in spite of every effort, is incapable along these lines of discovering a practicable form of the social organism. And the consequence of this is that minds of another character altogether begin to make a stir — minds not fundamentally under the influence of scientific thought nor desirous of applying the abstract demands of the French Revolution but who aim at establishing some permanent principle in the social life of a Europe shaken by the Revolution and the deeds of Napoleon. And support is forthcoming for a man like de Maistre who points back to conditions as they were in the early centuries of Christendom in Europe.

De Maistre, born in the South of France, issued his call to the French Nation in the nineties of the eighteenth century, wrote his striking work on the Pope and also his Soirées de St. Petersbourg. He is the most universal mind among the reactionaries in the first half of the nineteenth century — a shrewd and ingenious thinker. He calls the attention of those who are willing to listen to the chaos that must gradually ensue if men prove incapable of evolving ideas upon which a social order may be built up. From this point of view he criticises with considerable acrimony those whom he considers responsible for the chaos in modern thought, among them, Locke, and he lays it down as an irrefutable principle that no social order worthy of the name can arise unless the civilisation of Europe is imbued once again with the old Catholic spirit of the early centuries of Christendom.

We must be absolutely objective in our study here and try to put ourselves in the place of a man like de Maistre and of those who even to-day still think more or less as he did. We must be able to see with the eyes of one who is convinced that no true social science can be born of modern scientific thought and that if no spiritual impulse can find its way into the social organism, chaos must become more and more widespread. It is, of course, true that neither de Maistre himself nor those who listened to his impassioned words perceived the reality of a new spiritual impulse. De Maistre pointed back to olden times, when the building of social order had actually been within the capacity of men. In the world of scientific thought to-day his voice has to all intents and purposes died away, but on the surface only.

Those who perceive what is really happening below the surface of civilised life, who realise how traditional religions are stretching out their tentacles once again and trying desperately to ‘modernise’ know how strongly the attitude of men like de Maistre is influencing ever-widening circles of reactionary thought. And if no counterbalance is created this influence will play a more and more decisive Part in our declining civilisation.

An objective study of de Maistre makes it abundantly evident that there is in him no single trace of a new spirit but that he is simply an ingenious and shrewd interpreter of the ideas of Roman Catholicism. He has worked out the principles of a social system which would, in his opinion, be capable of calling forth from chaos a possible (although for the modern age not desirable) social order, directed by ecclesiasticism. A strange situation has arisen at this point in the life of modern thought.

In a certain sense, another man who is also a typical representative of modern thinking came strongly under the influence of de Maistre. He gave an entirely different turn to the ideas of de Maistre but we must not forget that the actual content of a thought is one thing and the mode of thinking another, and it may be said with truth that the reactionary principles of de Maistre appear, like an illegitimate child of modern culture, in an unexpected place. Not from the point of view of content but from that of the whole configuration of thought, Auguste Comte, sometimes called the ‘father of modern society,’ is a true disciple of de Maistre for whom, moreover, he had considerable admiration. On the one side, Comte is a disciple of Saint-Simon, on the other, of de Maistre. This will not readily be perceived by those who concentrate on the actual content of the thoughts instead of upon the whole trend and bent of the mental life. Comte speaks of three phases in the evolution of humanity. — There is, firstly, the ancient, mythological period — the theological stage — when supremacy was vested in the priesthood. This, in his view, was superseded by the metaphysical phase, when men elaborated systematic thoughts relating to things super-physical. This stage too has passed away. The transition must now be made to a kind of political physics, in line with the idea of Saint-Simon. Science of given facts — this alone is worthy of the name of science. But there must be an ascent from physics, chemistry, biology, to sociology, and thus, following the same methods, to a kind of political physics.

Comte outlines a form of society directed by positive thinking, that is to say, by thought based entirely upon the material facts of the external world. In this social structure there is, naturally, not a single trace of Catholic credulity to be found. But in the way in which Comte builds up his system, the way in which he substitutes the authority of the senses for the super-sensible authority of the Church, putting humanity in the place of God, declaring that it is the individual who acts but humanity who guides — all this is simply another way of saying: Man thinks and God guides.

All this goes to show that the essentially Catholic, reactionary thought of de Maistre is working in the positive philosophy of Auguste Comte which is directed entirely to the things of the material world. Catholic thought is being promulgated in this sociology. And yet we must admit that there was an idealistic tendency too in the thought of Auguste Comte. He believes, provided always that his thought is in conformity with the spirit of the age, that he can discover in the social structure something that will be a blessing to man; he believes, furthermore, that this can be brought home to men and that a beneficial and desirable form of social life may thus be achieved. Implicit in every thinker during the first half of the nineteenth century there is a certain confidence in ideas that can be born in the mind of man and then communicated to others. There is a certain confident belief that if only men can be convinced of the truth of an idea, deeds of benefit to human life will spring from a will that is guided by intelligence. This attitude of confidence expresses itself in many different ways and is apparent in all the thinkers of the first half of the nineteenth century. Their individual views are, of course, partly influenced by nationality and partly by other factors, but this attitude is none the less universal.

Consider for a moment how men like Saint-Simon, Comte or Quételet conceive of the social order. They work entirely with the intellect and reasoning faculty, systematising, never departing from the principles of mathematical calculation, building up statistics and orderly systems with a certain elegance and grace. And then think of a man like Herbert Spencer in England during the first half of the nineteenth century. Herbert Spencer is absolutely typical of the English outlook. He does not systematise like Saint-Simon and Comte, nor does he work with statistics. Economic and industrial thinking, the way in which the problems of industrial life are interlinked — all these things which he has learnt from the others, he then proceeds to build up into a social science. On the basis of scientific and economic thinking Herbert Spencer evolves a kind of ‘super-organism’. He himself does not use this expression but many other thinkers adopted it, and indeed it became a habit in the nineteenth century to place the prefix ‘super’ before anything of which they were unable to form a concrete idea. This may be quite harmless in the realm of lyrical thought, but when it becomes a question of raising the concrete to a higher level simply by using the prefix ‘super’ — as was usual at one time — then one is stumbling about in a realm of confused thoughts and ideas. In spite of this habit, however, eminent minds in the first half of the nineteenth century were all possessed of a certain confidence that the power of the spirit would ultimately lead them to the right path.

In the second half of the nineteenth century there is a complete change. From many points of view, Karl Marx may be regarded as an outstanding figure of this period. He too, in his own way, tries to give to the social life a lead based upon modern scientific thought. But the attitude of Karl Marx is very different from that of Saint-Simon, of Auguste Comte, of Herbert Spencer. Karl Marx has really given up the belief that it is possible to convince others of something that is true and capable of being put into practice, once the conviction has been aroused. Saint-Simon, Comte, Herbert Spencer, Buckle and many others in the first half of the nineteenth century had this inner belief, but in the second half of the century it was not, could not be there. Marx is the most radical example, but speaking quite generally this trust in the spirit was simply non-existent. So far as Karl Marx is concerned, he does not believe that it is possible to convince men by teaching. He thinks of the masses of the proletariat and says to himself: These men have instincts which express themselves as class instincts. If I gather together those in whom these class instincts are living, if I organise them and work with what is expressing itself in these class instincts, then I can do something with them, I can lead them in such a way that the inauguration of a new age is possible.

Saint-Simon and Comte are like priests who have been transported into the conditions of the modern age. They at least believe that conviction can be aroused in the hearts of men, and this was actually the case in the first fifty years of the nineteenth century. Karl Marx, however, sets to work like a strategist, or a General who never gives a thought to the factor of conviction but simply sets out to organise the masses. And there is really no difference between drilling soldiers and then the masses in order to prepare them for the field of battle, and marshalling the class instincts that already exist in human beings. And so we find the old sacerdotal methods in men like Saint-Simon, Auguste Comte, Herbert Spencer, and militaristic methods in men like Karl Marx who being out-and-out strategists have given up the belief that men can be convinced and through their conviction bring about a desirable state of affairs. Such thinkers say to themselves: I must take those whom I can organise just as they are, for it is not possible to convince human beings. I will organise their class instincts and that will achieve the desired result.

A very radical change had come about in the course of the nineteenth century and anyone who studies this change deeply enough will realise that it takes place with considerable rapidity and is, moreover, apparent in another sphere as well.

The natural scientific mode of thinking came to the fore in the modern age, during the first half of the nineteenth century. We have only to think of men like Fichte, Schelling, Hegel. In their days, men still had faith in the spirit and believed that the spirit would help them to fathom the world of nature; they believed that nature was in some way directed by the spirit. But later on, just as faith in the creative spirit was lost in the domain of sociological thinking, so too was faith lost in the sphere of the knowledge of nature. Men placed reliance alone upon observation and experiment, and confidence in the creative spirit died away entirely. The spirit, they said, is capable only of recording the results of observation and experiment. And then, when this attitude creeps into the realm of social science, the scientific mode of observation is applied, as in Darwinism, in the study of the evolution of man. Benjamin Kidd, Huxley, Russell, Wallace and others in the second half of the nineteenth century are typical representatives of this kind of thinking The spirit is materialised and identified with external things both in the realm of social life and in the realm of knowledge.

It is strange how in the nineteenth century the human mind is beset by a kind of inner agnosticism, how it gradually loses faith even in itself. There was a radical increase of this agnosticism in the middle of the nineteenth century. Those who observe the way in which thoughts are expressed — and when it is a matter of discovering historical connections this is far more important than the actual content of the thoughts — will realise that these voices of the nineteenth century were the offspring of a tendency that was already beginning to make itself felt in the eighteenth century. It is possible, too, to follow the line of development back into the seventeenth, sixteenth and fifteenth centuries. We shall not there find direct evidence of the urge that became so insistent in the nineteenth century to unfold a new conception of the social order, in spite of a realisation that the goal was impossible of achievement, but we shall find nevertheless that the change which took place in men's thinking in the middle of the nineteenth century had been gradually working up to a climax since the fifteenth century. We find too, as we follow the development of thought back to the time of the fifteenth century, that concepts and ideas are invariably intelligible to us as thinkers living in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

But this is no longer the case as soon as we get back to the time preceding the fifteenth century and towards the Middle Ages.

I could tell you of many ideas and views which would prove to you the difference of outlook in these earlier centuries, but I will give one example only. — Anyone who genuinely tries to understand writings which deal with the world of nature, dating from the time preceding the fifteenth century, will find that he must approach them with an attitude of mind quite different from that which he will naturally bring to bear upon literature of the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries. Before the fifteenth century, all the writings on the subject of nature indicate quite clearly that anyone who experiments with processes of nature must be filled with a certain inner reverence. Experiments with mineral substances, for instance, must only be carried out in a mood that finds favour in the eyes of certain Divine Beings. Experiments with the processes of nature must be accompanied by a moral attitude of soul — so it was said.

But just think of what would happen to-day if it were demanded of someone working to produce a chemical reaction in a laboratory, that his soul must first be suffused with a mood of piety! The idea would be ridiculed. Nevertheless, before the fifteenth century, and more strongly so in earlier times, it was quite natural that this demand should be made of those who were in any way working with the processes of nature. It was the aim of a man like de Maistre to bring to life again in the modern age, concepts that had really lost the vital meaning once attaching to them, and above all he tried to bring home the difference between the concepts of sin and of crime.

According to de Maistre, the men of his day — he is speaking of the beginning of the nineteenth century — had no insight into the difference between sin and crime. The two concepts had become practically synonymous. And above all there was no understanding of the meaning of ‘original sin.’

Let me now try to describe the idea men had of original sin before the days of the fifteenth century. Modern thought is altogether unfitted to grasp the real meaning of original sin, but some measure of understanding at least must be present in studying the development of thought through the centuries. We must here turn to fundamental conceptions resulting from spiritual investigation. For it is only by independent research that we can understand the character of a mental outlook quite different from our own. When we peruse books on the subject we are simply reading so many words and we are dishonest with ourselves if we imagine that the words convey any real meaning. Enlightened minds before the fifteenth century would have set no store by such definitions of original sin as are given by modern theology. In those days — and I repeat that these things can only be discovered nowadays by Spiritual Science — it was said: The human being, from the time of his birth, from the time he draws his first breath, until his death, passes through certain processes and phases in his inner life. These inner processes are not the same as those at work in the world of nature outside the human being. It is, as a matter of fact, a form of modern superstition to believe that all the processes at work in the being of man can also be found in the animal. This is mere superstition, because the laws of the animal organisation are different from those of the human organism. From birth until death the organism of the human being is permeated by forces of soul. And when we understand the nature of the laws and forces at work in the human organism, we know that they are not to be found in outer nature. In outer nature, however, there is something that corresponds in a certain sense with the laws at work during the period of embryonic development, from the time of conception until birth. The processes at work in the being of man between birth and death are not to be explained in the light of the processes of outer nature. Nevertheless, if it is rightly applied, the knowledge gleaned from a study of external nature enables us to understand the processes at work during the embryonic period of the life of a human being. It is not easy for the modern mind to grasp this idea, but my object in speaking of it is to give an example of how Spiritual Science can throw light upon conceptions of earlier times. Not of course with clear consciousness, but out of dim feeling, a man engaged in the investigation of nature before the fifteenth century said to himself: Outer nature lies there before me, but the laws of this outer nature work only in the processes of my physical body as it was before birth. In this sense there is something in the inner being of man that is openly manifest in outer nature. But the evolution of the human being must not be subject to the laws and processes of external nature. Man would be an evil being if he grew as the plant grows, unfolding its blossom in the outer world of space.

Such were the views of an earlier time. It was said that man falls into sin when he gives himself over to the forces by which his development in the mother's womb was promoted, for these forces work as do the forces of nature outside the human being. In nature outside the human being, these forces are working in their proper sphere. But if, after birth, man gives himself over to the forces of nature, if he does not make his being fit to become part of a world of super-sensible law — then he falls into sin. This thought leads one to the concept of original sin, to the idea of the mingling of the natural with the moral world order. Processes which belong to outer nature are woven, as it were, into the moral world order and the outcome is the birth of a concept like that of ‘original sin’ which was an altogether scientific concept before the days of the fifteenth century. De Maistre wanted to bring this concept of original sin again to the fore, to make a connecting link between natural science and the moral world. In the nineteenth century, however, the only possible way of preserving this concept of original sin was to bring about an even more radical separation of religion and scientific knowledge. And so we find great emphasis being laid upon the cleft between faith and knowledge. In earlier times no such cleft existed. It begins to appear a few hundreds of years before the fifteenth century but becomes more and more decisive as the centuries pass, until, in the nineteenth century, religion says: Let science carry out its own methods of exact research. We on our side have no desire to use these methods. We will ensure for ourselves a realm where we need simply faith and personal conviction — not scientific knowledge. Knowledge was relegated to science and religion set out to secure the realm of faith because the powers of the human soul were not strong enough to combine the two. And so, in the opinion of de Maistre, the concept of crime alone, no longer that of sin in its original meaning, conveyed any meaning to the modern mind, for the concept of sin could only have meaning when men understood the interplay between the natural and moral worlds.

This example shows us that the concepts and ideas of men in the time immediately preceding the fifteenth century were quite different from ours. Going backwards from the fifteenth century, we come to a lengthy period generally referred to as the dark Middle Ages, during which we find no such progress in the realm of thought as is apparent from the fifteenth century onwards. The development of thought that has taken place since the days of Galileo and Copernicus, leading up to the achievements of the nineteenth century, bear witness to unbroken progress, but in the time preceding the fifteenth century we cannot speak of progress in this sense at all. We can go back century alter century, through the twelfth, eleventh, tenth, ninth, eighth, seventh and sixth centuries, and we find quite a different state of things. We see the gradual spread of Christianity, but no trace of progressive evolution in the world of thought such as begins in the fifteenth century and in the middle of the nineteenth century undergoes the radical change of which we have spoken. We come finally to a most significant point in the spiritual life of Europe, namely, the fourth century A.D. Gradually it dawns upon us that it is possible to follow stage by stage the progressive development beginning in the middle of the fifteenth century with Nicolas Cusanus, expressing itself in the thought of men like Galileo and Copernicus and ultimately leading on to the radical turning-point in the nineteenth century, but that things are not at all the same in earlier centuries. We find there a more stationary condition of the world of thought and then, suddenly, in the fourth century of our era, everything changes.

This century is a period of the greatest significance in European thought and civilisation. Its significance will be brought home to us all the more when we realise that events after the turning-point in the fifteenth century, for example, the movements known as the Renaissance and the Reformation, denote a kind of return to conditions as they were in the fourth century of the Christian era. This is the decisive time in the process of the decline of the Roman Empire. The headway made by Christianity was such that Constantine had been obliged to proclaim religious freedom for the Christians and to place Christianity on an equal footing with the old pagan forms of religion. We see, too, a final attempt being made by Julian the Apostate to reinculcate into the civilised humanity of Europe the views and conceptions of ancient Paganism. The death of Julian the Apostate, in the year 363, marks the passing of one who strove with might and main to restore to the civilised peoples of Europe impulses that had reigned supreme for centuries, had been absorbed by Christianity but in the fourth century were approaching their final phase of decline. In this century too we find the onslaught of those forces by which the Roman Empire was ultimately superseded. Europe begins to be astir with the activities of the Goths and the Vandals. In the year A.D. 378 there takes place the momentous battle of Hadrianople. The Goths make their way into the Eastern Roman Empire. The blood of the so-called barbarians is set up in opposition to the dying culture of antiquity in the South of Europe. The history of this fourth century of our era is truly remarkable. We see how the culture of Greece, with its belief in the Gods and its philosophy, is little by little lift ed away from its hinges and disappears as an influence, and how the remnants of its thought pass over to the Roman Catholic Church. Direction of the whole of the spiritual and mental life falls into the hands of the priests; spirituality in its universal, cosmic aspect vanishes, until, brought to light once again by the Renaissance, it works an so strongly that when Goethe had completed his early training and produced his first works, he yearned with all his heart and soul for ancient European-Asiatic culture.

What, then, is the state of things in the age immediately following the fourth century A.D.? Education and culture had vanished into the cities, and the peasantry, together with the landowning population in Southern Europe, fused with the peoples who were pressing downward from the North. The next stage is the gradual fading away of that spiritual life which, originating in the ancient East, had appeared in another garb in the culture of Greece and Rome. These impulses die down and vanish, and there remain the peasantry, the landowning populace and the element with which they have now fused, living in the peoples who were coming down from the North into the Graeco-Roman world. Then, in the following centuries, we find the Roman priesthood spreading Christianity among this peasant people who practically constituted the whole population. The work of the priesthood is carried on quite independently of the Greek elements which gradually fade out, having no possibilities for the future. The old communal life is superseded by a system of commerce akin to that prevailing among the barbarians of the North. Spiritual life in the real sense makes no headway. The impulses of an earlier spirituality which had been taken over and remoulded by the priesthood, are inculcated into the uneducated peasant population of Europe; and not until these impulses have been inculcated does the blood now flowing in the veins of the people of Europe work in the direction of awakening the spirit which becomes manifest for the first time in the fifteenth century.

In the fourth century A.D. we find many typical representatives of the forces and impulses working at such a momentous point of time in the evolution of humanity. The significance of this century is at once apparent when we think of the following dates. — In the year 333, religious tolerance is proclaimed by the Emperor Constantine; in the year 363, with the murder of Julian the Apostate, the last hope of a restoration of ancient thought and outlook falls to the ground; Hadrianople is conquered by the Goths in the year 378. In the year 400, Augustine writes his Confessions, bringing as it were to a kind of culmination the inner struggles in the life of soul through which it was the destiny of European civilisation to pass.

Living in the midst of the fading culture of antiquity, a man like Augustine experienced the death of the Eastern view of the world. He experienced it in Manichæism, of which, as a young man, he had been an ardent adherent; he experienced it too in Neoplatonism. And it was only after inner struggles of unspeakable bitterness, having wrestled with the teachings of Mani, of Neoplatonism and even with Greek scepticism, that he finally found his way to the thought and outlook of Roman Catholic Christianity. Augustine writes these Confessions in the year A.D. 400, as it were on tables of stone.

Augustine is a typical representative of the life of thought as it was in the fourth century A.D. He was imbued with Manichæan conceptions but in an age when the ancient Eastern wisdom had been romanised and dogmatised to such an extent that no fundamental under standing of Manichæan teaching was possible. What, then, is the essence of Manichæism? The teachings that have come down to us in the form of tradition do not, nor can they ever make it really intelligible to us.

The only hope of understanding Manichæism is to bring the light of Spiritual Science to bear upon it. Oriental thought had already fallen into decadence but in the teachings of Mani we find a note that is both familiar and full of significance. The Manichæans strove to attain a living knowledge of the interplay between the spiritual and the material worlds. The aim of those who adhered to the teachings of Mani was to perceive the Spiritual in all things material. In the light itself they sought to find both wisdom and goodness. No cleft must divide Spirit from nature. The two must be realised as one. Later on, this conception came to be known by the name of dualism. Spirit and nature — once experienced as a living unity — were separated, nor could they be reunited. This attitude of mind made a deep impression upon the young Augustine, but it led him out of his depth; the mind of his time was no longer capable of rising to ideas which had been accessible to an older, more instinctive form of cognition, but which humanity had now outgrown. An inner, tragic struggle is waged in the soul of Augustine. With might and main he struggles to find truth, to discover the immediate reality of divine forces in cloud and mountain, in plant and animal, in all existence. But he finally takes refuge in the Neoplatonic philosophy which plainly shows that it has no insight into the interpenetration of Spirit and matter and, in spite of its greatness and inspiration, does no more than reach out towards abstract, nebulous Spirit.

While Augustine is gradually resigning hope of understanding a spirit-filled world of nature, while he is even passing through the phase of despising the world of sense and idolising the abstract spirituality of Neoplatonism, he is led, by a profoundly significant occurrence, to his Catholic view of life.

We must realise the importance of this world-historic event. Ancient culture is still alive in Augustine's environment, but it is already decadent, has passed into its period of decline. He struggles bitterly, but to no purpose, with the last remnants of this culture surviving in Manichæism and Neoplatonism. His mind is steeped in what this wisdom, even in its decadence, has to offer, and, to begin with, he cannot accept Christianity. He stands there, an eminent rhetorician and Neoplatonist, but torn with gnawing doubt. And what happens? Just when he has reached the point of doubting truth itself, of losing his bearings altogether along the tortuous paths of the decadent learning of antiquity in the fourth century of our era, when innumerable questions are hurtling through his mind, he thinks he hears the voice of a child calling to him from the next garden: ‘Take and read! Take and read!’ And he turns to the New Testament, to the Epistles of St. Paul, and is led through the voice of the child to Roman Catholicism.

The mind of Augustine is laden with the oriental wisdom which had now become decadent in the West. He is a typical representative of this learning and then, suddenly, through the voice of a child, he becomes the paramount influence in subsequent centuries. No actual break occurs until the fifteenth century and it may truly be said that the ultimate outcome of this break appears as the change that took place in the life of thought in the middle of the nineteenth century.

And so, in this fourth century of our era, we find the human mind involved in the complicated network of Western culture but also in an element which constitutes the starting-point of a new impulse. It is an impulse that mingles with what has come over from the East and from the seemingly barbarian peoples by whom Roman civilisation was gradually superseded, but whose instructors, after they had mingled with the peasantry and the landowning classes, were the priests of the Roman Church. In the depths, however, there is something else at work. Out of the raw, unpolished soul of these peoples there emerges an element of lofty, archaic spirituality. There could be no more striking example of this than the bock that has remained as a memorial of the ancient Goths — Wulfila's translation of the Bible. We must try to unfold a sensitive understanding of the language used in this translation of the Bible. The Lord's Prayer, to take one example, is built up, fragment by fragment, out of the confusion of thought of which Augustine was so typical a representative. Wulfila's translation of the Bible is the offspring of an archaic form of thought, of Arian Christianity as opposed to the Athanasian Christianity of Augustine.

Perhaps more strongly than anywhere else, we can feel in Wulfila's translation of the Bible how deeply the pagan thought of antiquity is permeated with Arian Christianity. Something that is pregnant with inner life echoes down to us from these barbarian peoples and their culture, to which the civilisation of ancient Rome was giving place. The Lord's Prayer rendered by Wulfila, is as follows:

Atta unsar thu in himinam,
Veihnai namo thein;
Quimai thiudinassus theins.
Vairthai vilja theins, sve in himina, jah ana aerthai.
Hlaif unsarana thana sinteinan, gif uns himma daga.
Jah aflet uns, thatei skulans sijaima, svasve jah veis afletam thaim skulam unsaraim.
Jah ni briggais uns in fraistubnjai, ak lausei uns af thamma ubilin.
Unte theina ist thiu dangardi, jah mahts, jah vulthus in aivius. Amen.

Atta unsar thu in himinam, veihnai namo thein; Quimai thiudinassus theins. Vairthai vilja theins, sve in himina, jah ana aerthai. — The words of this wonderful prayer cannot really be translated literally into our modern language, but they may be rendered thus:

We feel Thee above in the Spirit-Heights, All Father of men.
May Thy Name be hallowed.
May Thy Kingdom come to us.
May Thy Will be supreme, an the Earth even as it is in Heaven.

— We must be able to feel what these words express. Men were aware of the existence of a primordial Being, of the All-sustaining Father of humanity in the heights of spiritual existence. They pictured Hirn with their faculties of ancient clairvoyance as the invisible, super-sensible King who rules His Kingdom as no earthly King. Among the Goths this Being was venerated as King and their veneration was proclaimed in the words : Atta unsar thu in himinam.

This primordial Being was venerated in His three aspects: May Thy Name be hallowed. ‘Name’ — as a study of Sanscrit will show — implied the outer manifestation or revelation of the Being, as a man reveals himself in his body. ‘Kingdom’ was the supreme Power: Veihnai namo thein; Quimai thiudinassus theins, Vairthai vilja theins, sve in himina, jah ana aerthai.

‘Will’ indicated the Spirit shining through the Power and the Name. — Thus as they gazed upwards, men beheld the Spirit of the super-sensible worlds in His three-fold aspect. To this Spirit they paid veneration in the words :

Jah ana aerthai.
Hlaif unsarana thana sinteinan, gif uns himma daga.

— So may it be on Earth. Even as Thy Name, the form in which Thou art outwardly manifest, shall be holy, so may that which in us becomes outwardly manifest and must daily be renewed, be radiant with spiritual light. We must try to understand the meaning of the Gothic word Hlaif, from which Leib (Leib=body) is derived. In saying the words, ‘Give us this day our daily bread,’ we have no feeling for what the word Hlaif denoted here: — Even as Thy ‘Name’ denotes thy body, so too may our body be spiritualised, subsisting as it does through the food which it receives and transmutes.

The prayer speaks then of the ‘Kingdom’ that is to reign supreme from the super-sensible worlds, and so leads on to the social order among men. In this super-sensible ‘Kingdom’ men are not debtors one of another. The word debt among the Goths means debt in the moral as well as in the physical, social life.

And so the prayer passes from the ‘Name’ to the ‘Kingdom’, from the bodily manifestation in the Spirit, to the ‘Kingdom’. And then from the outer, physical nature of the body to the element of soul in the social life and thence to the Spiritual.—

Jah aflet uns, thatei skulans sijaima, svasve jah
veis afletam thaim skulam unsaraim.

— May we not succumb to those forces which, proceeding from the body, lead the Spirit into darkness; deliver us from the evils by which the Spirit is cast into darkness. Jah ni briggais uns in fraistubnjai, ak lausei uns af thamma ubilin. — Deliver us from the evils arising when the Spirit sinks too deeply into the bodily nature.

Thus the second part of the prayer declares that the order reigning in the spiritual heights must be implicit in the social life upon Earth. And this is confirmed in the words : We will recognise this spiritual Order upon Earth.

Unte theina ist thiu dangardi, jah mahts, jah vulthus in aivius. Amen.

— All-Father, whose Name betokens the out er manifestation of the Spirit, whose Kingdom we will recognise, whose Will shall reign: May earthly nature too be full of Thee, and our body daily renewed through earthly nourishment. In our social life may we not be debtors one of another, but live as equals. May we stand firm in spirit and in body, and may the trinity in the social life of Earth be linked with the super-earthly Trinity. For the Supersensible shall reign, shall be Emperor and King. The Supersensible — not the material, not the personal — shall reign.

Unte theina ist thiu dangardi, jah mahts, jah vulthus in avius. Amen.

— For on Earth there is no thing, no being over which the rulership is not Thine. — Thine is the Power and the Light and the Glory, and the all-supreme Love between men in the social life.

The Trinity in the super-sensible world is thus to penetrate into and find expression in the social order of the Material world. And again, at the end, there is the confirmation: Yea, verily, we desire that this threefold order shall reign in the social life as it reigns with Thee in the heights: For Thine is the Kingdom, the Power and the revealed Glory. — Theina ist thiu dangardi, jah mahts, jah vulthus in aivius. Amen.

Such was the impulse living among the Goths. It mingled with those peasant peoples whose mental life is regarded by history as being almost negligible. But this impulse unfolded with increasing rapidity as we reach the time of the nineteenth century. It finally came to a climax and led on then to the fundamental change in thought and outlook of which we have heard in this lecture.

Such are the connections. — I have given only one example of how, without in any way distorting the facts, but rather drawing the real threads that bind them together, we can realise in history the existence of law higher than natural law can ever be. I wanted, in the first place, to describe the facts from the exoteric point of view. Later on we will consider their esoteric connections, for this will show us how events have shaped themselves in this period which stretches from the fourth century A.D. to our own age, and how the impulses of this epoch live within us still. We shall realise then that an understanding of these connections is essential to the attainment of true insight for our work and thought at the present time.




Last Modified: 04-Jul-2018
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