I WANT to speak to-day about a certain aspect of the Mystery of Golgotha of which I have often spoken before in more intimate anthroposophical gatherings. What there is to be said about the Mystery of Golgotha is so extensive in range, so rich in content and of such significance, that new light needs constantly to be shed upon it before any real approach can be made to this greatest of all Mysteries in the evolution of the earth and of humanity.
The importance of the Mystery of Golgotha can be rightly assessed only when we envisage two streams of evolution in man's earthly existence: the stream which preceded the Mystery of Golgotha and the stream which, following it, will continue for the rest of the earth's existence.
In speaking of the very early period in earth-evolution when thinking of a certain kind dream-like, imaginative, but still, thinking was already active, we must be quite clear that in those times men possessed faculties whereby if I may so express it they were able to commune with Beings of a higher cosmic order. From the book Occult Science and other works of mine, you know something of these Beings of the higher Hierarchies. In his ordinary consciousness to-day man knows little of these Beings, for his intercourse with them has, as it were, been broken off. In earlier periods of human evolution it was different. To imagine that coming into contact with a Being of the higher Hierarchies in those ancient times in any way resembled the meeting between two men incarnate in physical bodies to-day would of course be a wrong conclusion. Such intercourse had quite a different character. What these Beings communicated to man in the original, primeval language of the earth could be apprehended only by spiritual organs. Momentous secrets of existence were communicated by these Beings, secrets which flowed into the human heart and awakened the consciousness that above and on all sides where we to-day see only clouds and stars earthly existence is connected with divine worlds. Super-earthly Beings belonging to these worlds came down in a spiritual manner to the men of earth, revealing themselves in such a way that through them men received what we may call the primal wisdom. The revelations proceeding from these Beings contained an abundance of wisdom which in their earthly life men could not have discovered themselves. For at the beginning of earth-evolution the period of which I am now speaking men could discover little through their own faculties. Whatever vision, whatever perceptive knowledge they possessed was received from their divine Teachers. These divine teachings were infinitely rich in content, but one thing they did not include a thing which it was unnecessary for men of those times to know, but which for the present-day humanity is essential. The divine Teachers imparted many aspects of knowledge, truths in profusion, but they never spoke of the two fundamental boundaries of man's earthly life; they never spoke of birth and death.
Needless to say, in this short hour I cannot attempt to speak of everything that was communicated to the human race in those ancient times by the divine Teachers. A great deal is already known to you. But I want now to stress the point that among all those teachings there were none concerning birth and death. The reason for this was that for the men of those times and for a considerable period after them it was unnecessary to have knowledge of the facts of birth and death. The whole consciousness of mankind has changed in the course of earth-evolution. The animal consciousness of to-day, even that of the higher animals, must never be compared with human consciousness, even as it was in those ages of primitive antiquity. Yet we may perhaps find a point of approach by considering the life of the animal to-day. This lies at a level below the human, whereas the earliest form of the life of primitive man lay, in a certain respect, above the present level of the human, in spite of having certain animal-like characteristics. If you think, without preconceived ideas, about the animal to-day, you will say that the animal is unconcerned with birth and death because its existence is wholly passed in the state of life between them. Disregarding birth although here too, of course, it is an obvious fact we need think only of the carefree lack of concern with which the animal lives on towards death. The animal accepts death. It is simply transformation of its existence, a transition from individual to group-soul existence. The animal does not experience any such deep incision into life as is the case with the human being.
Now as I said, the primeval man of earth in spite of his animal-like organisation was at a higher level than the animal; he possessed an instinctive clairvoyance which enabled him to commune, to have intercourse with, his divine Teachers. But, like the animal of to-day, he was unconcerned with the approach of death. It never occurred to him, if I may so express it, to pay any particular attention to death. And why? With his instinctive clairvoyance, the primeval man was clearly aware of what was still his nature even after his descent through birth from the spiritual world into the physical world. He knew that his own essential being had entered into a physical body; and because he could say with certain knowledge, ‘An immortal, eternal being lives in me,’ the transformation taking place at death was not a matter of interest or concern to him. At most the process was like that experienced by a snake when it sheds its skin and has it replaced by another. The impression of birth and death was taken much more as a matter of course; birth and death were far less drastic incisions in human existence. Men still had clear vision of the life of the soul; to-day they have no such vision.
Even in dreams the transition from the sleeping to the waking state is hardly perceptible and the dream, with its pictures, is regarded as part of the sleeping state, as itself a semi-sleep. But what came to primeval man in his dream-pictures belonged, in reality, to a waking state, not yet fully awake. He knew that what he received in these dream-pictures was reality. In this way he felt and experienced his life of soul. Therefore questions about birth and death could not seem to him as crucial as they must inevitably be to-day.
This condition was very marked in the earliest epochs of human evolution on the earth, but it faded gradually away. As men began more and more to be aware that death makes a drastic incision not only into earthly physical life, but into the life of the soul as well, their attention was inevitably drawn to the fact of birth. On account of this change in human consciousness, earthly life assumed a character of increasing importance for men; and because experience of the life of soul was also growing dim, they felt themselves more and more removed during their sojourn on earth from an existence of soul-and-spirit. This condition became more and more marked as the time of the Mystery of Golgotha approached. Even among the Greeks it had reached the point where they felt life outside the physical body to be a shadow-existence, and regarded death as an event fraught with tragedy. The knowledge received by men from their earliest, divine Teachers did not cover the facts of birth and death. Hence before the Mystery of Golgotha took place, men were exposed to the danger of having to face experiences in their earthly life that would be unknown and incomprehensible to their earthly consciousness namely, the experiences of birth and death.
Now let us imagine that those early, divine Teachers of humanity had descended to the earthly realm at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha. They might have been able, through the Mysteries, to reveal themselves to a few specially prepared pupils or men of knowledge, to communicate to priests trained in the Mysteries the wealth of the ancient, divine wisdom; but in the whole range of these teachings there would have been nothing concerning birth and death. The riddle of death would not have been presented to man through the revelations of this divine wisdom, not even within the Mysteries; and in their outer life on earth men would have observed facts of vital importance and interest to them namely the facts of birth and death of which the gods had said nothing! And why?
You must approach this matter with a certain freedom from bias, laying aside many of the conceptions that have become part of traditional religion to-day, and be clear about the following. The Beings of the higher Hierarchies who were the divine Teachers of primeval humanity had never experienced birth and death in their own realms. For birth and death, in the form in which they are experienced on the earth, are experienced only on the earth, and, again, only by human beings on the earth. The death of an animal and the dying of a plant are altogether different matters from the death of a human being. And in the divine worlds where dwelt the first great Teachers of mankind there is no birth or death, but only transformation, metamorphosis from one state of existence into another. These divine Teachers, therefore, had no inner understanding of the facts of dying and being-born.
Now to these divine Teachers belongs the host of beings connected with Jahve, with the Bodhisattvas, with the early interpreters of the world to humanity. Just think how in the Old Testament, for example, the mystery of death as it confronts men, comes to be fraught with an increasing sense of tragedy, and how, in fact, none of the teaching conveyed by the Old Testament gives any adequate or revealing illumination on the subject of death. If, therefore, at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha there had happened nothing that differed from what had already happened in the realm of the earth, and in the higher worlds connected with the earth, men would have faced a terrible situation in their earthly evolution. On the earth they would have lived through the experiences of birth and death, which now confronted them, not as simple metamorphoses but as drastic transitions in their whole human existence, and they could have learnt nothing of the significance and purpose of death and of birth in the earthly life of the human being. In order that there might gradually be imparted to mankind teaching concerning birth and death, it was necessary for the Being we call the Christ to enter the realm of earthly life, the Christ Who indeed belongs to those worlds whence the ancient Teachers too had come, but Who in accordance with a decision taken in these divine worlds, accepted for Himself a destiny different from that of the other Beings of the divine Hierarchies connected with the earth. He lent Himself to the divine decree of higher worlds that He should incarnate in an earthly body and with His own divine soul pass through birth and death on earth. (see Note 2)
You see, therefore, that what came to pass in the Mystery of Golgotha is not merely an inner affair of men or of the earth, but is equally an affair of the gods. Through the Event on Golgotha, the gods themselves for the first time acquired inner knowledge of the mystery of death and of birth on the earth, for they had previously had no part in either. Therefore we have this momentous fact before us: a divine Being resolved to pass through human destiny on the earth in order to undergo the same fate, the same experiences in earthly existence, as are the lot of man.
Many things concerning the Mystery of Golgotha have become known to mankind. A tradition exists, the Gospels exists, the whole New Testament exists, and modern humanity approaches the Mystery of Golgotha for the most part by way of the New Testament and such interpretation of it as is possible to-day. But very little real insight into the Mystery of Golgotha is to be gained from the interpretations of the New Testament current at the present time. It is inevitable that modern humanity should pass through the stage of acquiring knowledge in this external way, but knowledge so gained is itself external. There is no realisation to-day of how differently men in the first Christian centuries looked back to the Mystery of Golgotha; how differently in a way that became impossible later on it was regarded by those who understood its import. The reason is that at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha, although the change I have described was beginning to take place, vestiges of ancient, instinctive clairvoyance still survived in certain individuals. They were no more than vestiges, it is true, but they enabled men, until the fourth century A.D., to look back to the Mystery of Golgotha in a quite different way from that which was possible later on. It is not without meaning that at that time and some confirmation of this, although in very many respects wanting, can be found in the historical traditions emanating from the earliest Church Fathers and other Christian teachers those who came forward as teachers valued more highly than any written traditions the fact that they had received information concerning Christ Jesus from direct eye-witnesses, or from those who had been pupils of the Apostles themselves or again pupils of pupils of the Apostles, and so on. This continued until the fourth century A.D., so that a living connection was still claimed for those who were teaching at that time. As I have said, by far the greater part of the historical records have been destroyed, but those who study attentively what is left, can still discover by these external means what value was placed upon the testimony: I have had a teacher, he too had a teacher ... until at the end of the line was an Apostle who had seen the Saviour face to face.
Even of this tradition a great deal has been lost. But still more has been lost of the genuine esoteric wisdom surviving during the first four centuries of Christendom thanks to the remaining vestiges of the old clairvoyant insight. External tradition had lost wellnigh everything that was known in those days about the Risen Christ, the Christ Who had passed through the Mystery of Golgotha and then, in a spirit-body, like the early teachers of primeval humanity, had taught certain chosen disciples after His Resurrection. (see Note 3) In the story, for example, of Christ meeting the disciples who had gone out to seek Him there are indications in the New Testament but scanty indications even there of the significance of the teachings given by the Risen Christ to His disciples. (see Note 4) And Paul himself regards his experience at Damascus as a teaching which, given by the Risen Christ, made the man Saul into Paul.
In those early times there was full realisation that Christ Jesus, the Risen One, had secrets of a very special kind to impart to men. The fact that later on they were unable to receive these communications was due entirely to their own human evolution. For it was necessary that man should begin to unfold those forces of soul which, later, were to operate in the exercise of human freedom and of the human intellect. Evidence of this is clear from the fifteenth century onwards, but its beginnings can be traced to the fourth century.
The question naturally arises: What was the content and substance of the teachings which could be given by the Risen Christ to His chosen disciples? He had appeared to them in the same manner in which the divine Teachers had appeared to primeval humanity. But now, if I may so express it, He was able to tell them out of divine wisdom what He had experienced and other divine Beings had not. From His own divine vantage-point He was able to explain to them the mystery of birth and death. He was able to convey to them the knowledge that in the future there would arise in the men of earth a day-consciousness, unable to have direct perception of the immortal element in human life, a consciousness that is extinguished in sleep, so that in sleep too the immortal element is invisible even to the eyes of the soul.
But He was also able to make them aware that it is possible for the Mystery of Golgotha to be drawn into the field of man's understanding. He was able to make clear to them what I will try to express in the following words. They can only be feeble, stammering words because human language has no others to offer, but I will try to express it in these halting words:
The human body, He taught, has gradually become
This power of wisdom is the same as the power of faith; it is a special power of Spirit-Wisdom, a power of faith born of wisdom. Strength of soul is expressed when a man says: I believe! I know through faith what I can never know by earthly means. This is a stronger force in me than when I claim to have knowledge of what can be fathomed merely by earthly means. A man is lacking, even were he to possess all the science known on earth, if his wisdom is able to embrace only what can be grasped by earthly means. To perceive the reality of the super-earthly within the earthly, a far greater inner activity must be unfolded.
Contemplation of the Mystery of Golgotha gives a stimulus to unfold such inner activity. And in ever new variations, this teaching that a god had lived through a human destiny and had thereby united Himself with the destiny of the earth an experience hitherto unknown to the gods in their own realm was proclaimed over and over again by the Risen Christ to His disciples. And it worked with stupendous power. Try to realise the power of it by thinking of the conditions prevailing to-day. Less is demanded of a man who can grasp what his thinking has extracted from earthly concepts and also out of the generally acknowledged, traditional tenets of religion than of one who is required to attain understanding of the fact that there were some among the gods who, until the Mystery of Golgotha, possessed no wisdom concerning birth and death and then for the first time acquired this wisdom for the salvation of mankind. To penetrate into the realm of divine wisdom needs a very definite strength. No particular strength is required to repeat from some catechism, ‘God is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-divine,’ and so forth. One needs only to use the prefix ‘all’ and there is the definition of the Divine ready-made, but utterly nebulous. People do not muster the courage to-day to penetrate into the wisdom of the gods. But this must happen. The divine Beings themselves added this wisdom which the gods acquired through the fact that One from among them passed through human birth and human death.
That this secret should have been entrusted to Christ's first disciples after His Resurrection is a fact of supreme moment, and so was the sequel to it, that through this knowledge they were brought to realise clearly that man once possessed the power to behold and understand the eternal nature of his own soul. This understanding, this insight into the eternal nature of the human soul can never be acquired through brain-knowledge, that is, through the intellectual, cogitated knowledge which uses the brain as its instrument. It can never in any real sense be acquired unless, as in earlier times, nature comes to the help of man, through the kind of knowledge that may still be attained through a particular development of the human rhythmic system. Yoga achieved much while the old instinctive clairvoyance could still come to its aid, while the last possessors of instinctive clairvoyance were still practising yoga. But it is a long time since the modern Oriental, the Indian about whom many Westerners weave such fantastic ideas to-day has attained any real vision of the eternal essence of the human soul when he engages in his exercises. He lives for the most part in illusions, in that he has a fleeting experience belonging to some elemental reality of earthly life, and then reads into the experience something from his sacred books. Real and fundamental knowledge of the divine nature of the human soul has been possible for humanity only in two ways: either as primeval humanity attained it, or as man can again attain it to-day, in a much more spiritual way, through Intuitive cognition, through cognition which, rising to Imaginative knowledge, and then to knowledge through Inspiration, finally becomes Intuition.
Now during earthly life the thinking part of the soul has poured itself into the human nervous system; it has built up this plastic structure and in it no longer has a separate existence. In the rhythmic system it is only partially absorbed. We can say of this is that there remains here some possibility of independent thought-activity. But the really eternal element of the human soul is hidden in the metabolic system, in the system which, for earthly life, has the most material function of all. Outwardly it is indeed the most material, but just because of this, the spiritual remains separate from it. The spiritual is drawn into, absorbed by the other material parts of the organism, by the brain and the rhythmic system, and is no longer there independently. In the crude materiality, the spiritual is present in itself. But to use it, a man must be able to see, to perceive, by means of the crude outer materiality. This was a possibility in primeval humanity and, although it is not a condition to be striven after, it may still occur to-day in pathological states. It is known by very few, for example, that the secret of Nietzsche's style in Thus Spake Zarathustra lies in the fact that he imbibed certain poisonous substances which brought into play within him a particular rhythm, which is the distinctive style of this work. In Nietzsche, it was a definitely material substratum that was really doing the thinking. This, needless to say, is a pathological condition, although in a certain respect again there is a kind of grandeur in it. If we are to understand these things we must no longer have false ideas, either about them, or about Intuition and the like, which lie at the opposite pole. We must understand what it means that Nietzsche should have imbibed certain poisons a procedure not to be imitated which substances work in such a way that they lead to an etherisation, an etherealised mode of experience in the human organism. This irradiates the thinking and produces what we find in Thus Spake Zarathustra. Intuition, on the other hand, is able to perceive the spirit-and-soul as such, separated from matter. Nothing of a material nature is at work in Intuition as described in the books Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment or in An Outline of Occult Science. Here we have two opposite poles of spiritual knowledge.
But in the Mysteries into which Christ sent His message, it was still known that men once possessed a sublime knowledge born of the working of material substances, born of metabolism. No attempt was made to awaken the old matter-born knowledge of spirit-reality in the manner in which this had been done in primeval humanity, nor in the degenerate way subsequently pursued by hashish-eaters and others with similar habits in order to acquire, through the workings of matter, knowledge not otherwise accessible. An attempt was made in quite another way to awaken this matter-born knowledge, namely, by clothing the Mystery of Golgotha in ritual, in mantric formulae, above all in the whole structure of the Mystery as Revelation, Offering, Transubstantiation, Communion, in the administration of the sacrament of the Eucharist in bread and wine. It was not poisons, therefore, but the Lord's Supper, clothed in what arises from the mantric formulae of the Mass, and from its fourfold membering: Gospel, Offering, Transubstantiation, Communion. For the intention was that after the fourth part of the Mass, the Communion, actual communion among the faithful should take place, with the aim of giving an intimation, at least, that thereby a knowledge leading to what was once achieved instinctively by the old metabolism-born knowledge, must be re-acquired.
It is difficult for men to-day to form any conception of this metabolism-born knowledge, because they have no inkling of how much more a bird knows than a man although not in the intellectual, abstract sense how much more even a camel, an animal wholly given up to the process of metabolism, knows than a man. It is, of course, a dim knowledge, a dream-knowledge, for degeneration has entered to-day into what was contained in the metabolic process of primeval man. But on the basis of the earliest Christian teachings, the sacrament at the altar was conceived as a means of pointing to the need to re-acquire a knowledge of the eternal nature of the human soul.
At the time when the Risen Christ was teaching His initiated disciples it was beyond men's power to acquire such knowledge by themselves. It was taught them by Christ. And until the fourth century of Christendom this knowledge was in a certain sense still alive. Then it ossified in the Western Catholic Church, because, although the Mass was retained, the Church could no longer interpret it. The Mass, conceived merely as a continuation of the Lord's Supper described in the Bible, can obviously have no meaning unless meaning is imbued into it. The establishment of the Mass with its wonderful ritual, its reproduction of the four stages of the Mysteries, stems from the fact that the Risen Christ was also the Teacher of those who were able to receive these teachings in a higher, esoteric sense. In the centuries following there remained only an elementary kind of instruction about the Mystery of Golgotha. A faculty was developing in man whereby, to begin with, this knowledge concerning the Mystery of Golgotha was veiled, concealed. Men had first to become firmly rooted in what is connected with death. This is the stage of early medieval civilisation.
Traditions have been preserved. The rituals of many secret societies existing at the present time contain formulae which, for those who understand and recognise them, are unmistakably reminiscent of the teachings given by the Risen Christ to His initiated disciples. But the individuals who come together in all kinds of masonic and other secret societies do not understand what their ritual contains, have not the remotest inkling of it. It would be possible to learn a great deal from these rituals because they contain much wisdom, even if it be in dead letters, but this does not happen. Now that mankind has passed through that period in evolution which as it were shed darkness over the Mystery of Golgotha, the time has come when human longings are reaching out for a deeper knowledge of the Mystery of Golgotha. And that longing can be satisfied only through spiritual science, only through the advent of a new knowledge which works in a spiritual way. The full significance for humanity of the Mystery of Golgotha will then again be acquired. Then men will again come to realise that the most important teachings of all were given, not by the Christ Who until the Mystery of Golgotha lived in a physical body, but by the Risen Christ after the Mystery of Golgotha. Men will acquire a new understanding for words of an Initiate such as Paul: If Christ be not risen, then is your faith vain. After the event at Damascus, Paul knew that everything depended upon grasping the reality of the Risen Christ, upon the power of the Risen Christ being united with the human being in such a way that he can affirm: Not I, but Christ in me.
It is an all too characteristic contrast to this that there should have arisen in the 19th century a kind of theology which has really no desire to know anything about the reality of the Risen Christ. It is also a significant symptom of our times that a tutor of theology in Basle Overbeck, a friend of Nietzsche should have written a book about the Christianity of modern theology, in which he sets out to prove that this modern theology is no longer Christian. He concedes that there may still be a great deal in the world that is Christian, but he declares that the theology taught by Christian theologians is not Christian. That, in effect, is the view of Overbeck, himself a Christian theologian. And this view is brilliantly substantiated in his book. In respect of the understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha, mankind has come to a point where those officially appointed by their Church to tell men something of the Mystery of Golgotha are least of all capable of doing so. As a result of this there is springing up the human longing to learn something about the need for Christ that every individual may experience in his heart.
I have often made it evident that Anthroposophy has many services to render to humanity to-day. One significant service will be that rendered to the religious life. This is in no sense the founding of a new religion. With the Event of a god passing through the human destiny of birth and death, the earth received its meaning and purpose in such completeness that this Event can never be surpassed. To one who understands the nature of its founding it is quite evident that there can be no question of inaugurating a new religion after Christianity. To believe such a thing possible would be to have a false idea of Christianity. But as men themselves make strides in super-sensible knowledge, the Mystery of Golgotha, and together with it the Christ Being Himself, will be more and more deeply understood. Anthroposophy would fain contribute to this understanding what perhaps it alone, at the present time, is able to contribute. For it is hardly possible anywhere else to hear about the divine Teachers of primeval humanity who spoke of all things, save only of birth and death of which they had had no experience and about that Teacher Who appeared to His initiated disciples in the same manner as that in which the divine primeval Teachers had appeared, but Whose momentous teachings included the crucial one of how a god shared the human destiny of birth and death. This revelation was intended to give men the power to regard death which from that time must inevitably be a matter of concern to them in such a way that they would realise: Death indeed there is, but the soul is beyond its reach! The fact that men can assert this is due to the Mystery of Golgotha.
Paul knew that if the Mystery of Golgotha had not taken place, if Christ had not risen, the soul would be involved in the destiny of the body, that is to say in the dispersion of the elements of the body into the elements of the earth. Had Christ not risen, had he not united Himself with earthly forces, the human soul would unite with the body between birth and death in such a way that the soul would be united, too, with all the molecules which become part of the earth through cremation or decomposition. It would have come about that at the end of earth-evolution, human souls would go the way of earthly matter. But in that Christ has passed through the Mystery of Golgotha, He wrests this fate away from the human soul. The earth will go her way in the universe, but just as the human soul can emerge from the single human body, so will all human souls be able to free themselves from the earth and go forward to a new cosmic existence. Christ is thus intimately united with earth-existence. But the union can be understood only if the mystery is approached in the way indicated.
To one or another the thought may occur: What, then, of those who cannot believe in Christ? Here let me give you reassurance. Christ died for all men, for those, too, who to-day cannot unite with Him. The Mystery of Golgotha is an objective fact, unaffected by human knowledge. Human knowledge, however, strengthens the inner forces of the soul. All the means, therefore, at the disposal of human knowledge, human feelings, and human will, must be applied, in order that in the further course of earth-evolution the presence of Christ in this earth-evolution shall be an experienced reality, through direct knowledge.