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Three Streams in Human Evolution

Three Streams: Lecture II: The Fifth Epoch, Semitic and Greek Cultures, the Christ Impulse

Schmidt Number: S-3569

On-line since: 31st July, 2011


From the manifold indications and details I have given concerning the Christ Mystery, you will be aware that we must differentiate between what had come to be present in the general course of human evolution at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha, and what came in through the Mystery of Golgotha. You know that in human evolution we have to do with a continuous stream of forces proceeding from the Beings of the higher Hierarchies who belong to man's original nature, and also with two side-streams, the Luciferic stream and the Ahrimanic stream.

Diagram 1

Now the point is that the Luciferic and Ahrimanic streams reached a certain climax, the climax of the usefulness of their working within human evolution, just at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha, and — if one may put it like this — mankind was threatened by the danger of this climax being overstepped, so that the necessary equilibrium between the Ahrimanic and the Luciferic forces in the whole evolution of mankind might have been lost. If we look at mankind's evolution as progressing in a straight line (see diagram), we can say: To the course of this evolution belong the Lemurian age (we will start there), the Atlantean age, and our own age, the fifth, which we always refer to as the post-Atlantean age. If I draw in the strength of the Luciferic influence as a red line, we can say: In the Lemurian age a certain strength is there which first grows, then decreases, becomes very slight, and disappears entirely in the Atlantean age — to arise again in the post-Atlantean age. So that, strictly speaking, in the Atlantean epoch (I am talking not of the evolution of individuals but of mankind as a whole) very little of the direct influence of the Luciferic is there (see red line in diagram).

But in this Atlantean age the Ahrimanic development was there instead, where I have put in a yellow line. I have to show it as particularly strong in the Atlantean age, and later, in the post-Atlantean times, becoming weaker. I am referring now to historical evolution, and when we characterise anything in this way, we must always pay heed to what I said recently: when Lucifer is working particularly strongly, he calls up Ahriman in the subconscious. Thus, if in our fifth age the Luciferic curve is specially noticeable, this does not mean that because Lucifer is active, Ahriman is somewhat outside our sphere. On the contrary, it means that, because Lucifer is working strongly among the forces of history, Ahriman sets to work particularly in the subconscious regions of man.

You see, therefore, that in man's earthly evolution a kind of waving line is there in the case of Ahriman's activity, just as in that of Lucifer. These degrees of strength of the Ahrimanic and the Luciferic both have to be balanced. But in the course of history this state of equilibrium has never come to perfection. There have been times when the Luciferic was working with great strength, and times when the Ahrimanic was doing so.

If we look at the period of human evolution when mankind was approaching the Mystery of Golgotha, we find that the state of equilibrium between the Luciferic and the Ahrimanic forces was extraordinarily fluctuating, vacillating — no real balance was there. We have on one hand the stream of mankind which is moving towards the Mystery of Golgotha and manifests historically in the evolution of the Semitic peoples. This stream is particularly susceptible to the Luciferic influence, whereby a strong Ahrimanic activity is brought about in the subconscious.

On the other hand, the Greek nature is highly susceptible to the forces of Ahriman, and this brings about great Luciferic activity in the subconscious. We can fully understand the Semitic and Greek cultures — polaric opposites of one another — only by keeping in mind this vacillation in human evolution between the Ahrimanic and the Luciferic. At the time when the Mystery of Golgotha entered Earth evolution from without, the influence of Greece was of enormous importance for the people of the West. This influence, however, was already beginning to wane, or, more exactly, it had passed its peak. Greek culture was threatened with a decline which can be characterised in the following way. Precisely through the Ahrimanic intervention experienced by the Greeks, and manifest as a Luciferic element of their art, they had developed a lofty wisdom. And — as we have often said — this wisdom took on a very individual, humanly individual, character. But fundamentally it was at its greatest where there still shone into it out of primeval times the teachings received from actual spiritual Beings.

We know that in those times the Teachers of mankind were those who were inspired, initiated, directly from the spiritual world. But through them spiritual Beings spoke; and, if we look back into those remote ages of mankind's evolution at the beginning of the fifth epoch, we can see into a wonderful primeval wisdom. Among the Greeks it was so highly clarified in its concepts and ideas that in this way it had adapted itself to the nature of man. Whereas in earlier times it was given out through the great Initiates in a more pictorial, imaginative way, with the Greeks it was grasped in ideas, in concepts, and thereby was adapted to the human nature of that time. What is so admirable among the Greeks, however, is that resounding through the philosophy of Plato is an echo of that primeval wisdom which mankind may be said to have received from the very lips of the Gods. But men were threatened with the loss of this wisdom.

When we look back to the period of Greek spiritual development that Nietzsche has called the “tragic age,” we are looking back at the great figures of Greek philosophy, at Anaxagoras, at Heraclitus, and in them we can see the final bearers of a divine wisdom which, however, is already converted into ideas and concepts. Thales is to a certain extent the first to take his stand solely upon natural concepts; he is already at some distance from the directly living impression of the primeval wisdom of mankind which we can still discern in Anaxagoras. Mankind was threatened with the gradual loss of this wisdom. But out of this primeval wisdom there had flowed something which in ancient days gave men the capacity to gain some knowledge about man. Knowledge of man was indeed something in which the Greek and all primeval wisdom were destined to be steeped. The Mysteries were meant to give knowledge of man; from them came the aphorism, “Know thyself!” This ancient knowledge of man, however, was mediated by way of Lucifer, and men worked upon it with the aid of Ahrimanic forces. It was bound up with a state of equilibrium between the Ahrimanic and Luciferic powers.

Now at the time when the ancient world was passing away and from the other side came the Mystery of Golgotha, the Ahrimanic forces began to gain a slight ascendancy; they were then particularly strong. And since the sixteenth century something similar is happening again — a kind of renaissance of the Ahrimanic forces. But at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha the Ahrimanic forces were specially strong. And through them man's life of soul was driven in the direction of the abstract — towards that abstraction which meets us in the thoroughly abstract nature of the Romans. We have now to ask: What would have happened to mankind if the course of evolution had continued on these lines and there had been no Mystery of Golgotha? The result would have been that men would have no longer been able to have any concept, any idea, any perception, of the human personality itself.

This is a fact of extraordinary significance. Because it would no longer have been possible for anything to be said to man by way of the Gods, because even the tradition of this divine source of wisdom concerning human personality was being lost, man was threatened with finding himself ever more and more of a riddle. We must feel the full implications of this truth — without the Mystery of Golgotha, man would have been faced by the threat of becoming an ever-increasing riddle to himself. He would indeed have been able to wring forth wisdom, but only about nature, not about himself. And he would gradually have forgotten his divine origin; he would have had to lose all knowledge of it.

Then came the Mystery of Golgotha. And among all the diverse points of view from which the Mystery of Golgotha can be characterised, this one must be specially considered — that through the incursion of the Mystery of Golgotha men were given from spiritual heights, which were no longer within their reach on earth, a renewed capacity for grasping themselves as persons. The Christ Impulse brought men the possibility of once more grasping their personalities, but now of doing so through inner forces.

To-day it is extraordinarily difficult for human beings to conceive how men of old arrived at their consciousness of personality, because one thing people refuse to believe is how entirely different for men of old was their conception of the external world. It is impossible to understand such a figure as Julian the deserter, the apostate, in all his world-historic significance. if it is not known that he was one of the last who still saw the sun differently from the way in which it is seen to-day. [See Planetary Spheres and Their Influence on Mans Life on Earth and in Spiritual Worlds, Lecture I, “The Threefold Sun and the Risen Christ.” This lecture was given in London, April 24th, 1922. See also Karmic Relationships: Esoteric Studies - Volume IV, Lecture VI, given in Dornach, September 16th, 1924.] The man of to-day sees the sun as a physical body. The influence of the moon through its natural effects has stayed with him longer. In the moonlight lovers still stroll and sentimentally dream; in the moonlight imagination grows and flourishes; moonlight is like twilight — and poetry written in that key, both true and false, is still widespread. The same feelings that people still have in moonlight, the men of old had, but much more intensely, when on waking they first caught sight of the sun. They did not talk merely of the sunlight; they said something like this: “Out of this heavenly being there streams into us a radiance which permeates us with warmth and light, making of each one of us a personality.”

This was still felt by Julian the Apostate, and he believed it could be preserved. That was his mistake, and also his great tragedy, for man no longer experienced his personality through the physical rays of the sun. This knowledge of the personality was brought to man by a spiritual path. That which the sun out there in space could no longer give him, the experience that could no longer come to him from outside, now had to rise up from his own inner depths. Christ Himself had to unite His cosmic destiny with mankind, so that in the continual fluctuation of the balance between Ahriman and Lucifer men should not fall away from their onward path.

We must take fully and deeply in earnest that Christ had descended from spiritual heights and has united His destiny with that of men. What does this mean? When before the Mystery of Golgotha men looked into the world of the senses, they saw at the same time a spiritual element there; this I made clear when speaking to you about the perception of the sun. All this was lost to men. They had to receive something in place of it; they had to receive something of a spiritual nature, and at the same time gain from this spirituality an impression of reality in the sense-perceptible world. That is a salient point in the Mystery of Golgotha and its relation to human knowledge.

And this Mystery of Golgotha, which gave lo earth-evolution its real meaning, actually took place in a little corner of the earth, unnoticed by the Romans; and even Tacitus knew practically nothing of the Mystery of Golgotha, although he wrote his excellent work on Roman history a hundred years later. History says really nothing about the Mystery of Golgotha, for the Gospels are not to be reckoned as history. They were written in the way I have shown in my book Christianity as Mystical Fact; they are really Mystery-books applied to life. However much trouble the theologians may give themselves, the Mystery of Golgotha will never be part of the history that applies to other events. For this is exactly what is meant to be characteristic of the Mystery of Golgotha: that historically, by way of history founded on external facts, nothing about it is to be known. Those who wish to know anything about the Mystery of Golgotha must have faith in the supersensible. The Mystery of Golgotha does not admit of historical proof by the senses.

In the same way that men of old looked into the world of the senses and apprehended at the same time the supersensible, so must modern man, if he does not wish to lose his knowledge of the personality, look upon the Mystery of Golgotha as upon the supersensible; that is how he must come to the conviction that this historical event, for which there is no historical evidence, did indeed take place. Whoever does not keep in mind that there is no history concerning the most important historical event in the course of man's evolution, that no external account of this event can be called historical — whoever does not grasp this has no understanding of the whole relation to modern man of the Mystery of Golgotha. For concerning the Mystery of Golgotha modern man is meant to turn to an actuality of which history can tell him nothing. And this actuality is to have an operative effect. For what did we speak of yesterday as coming from Ahriman and Lucifer? We said that Lucifer turns men's hearts from interest in other men. Were only the Luciferic to work in mankind, we should increasingly lose interest in our fellow men. What one or other person was thinking would concern us very little. We can very well take the measure of the Luciferic in a man by asking: Is he interested objectively, tolerantly, in others, or is he interested only in himself? Luciferic natures take very little interest in their fellows; they grow stiff and hard, considering as right only what they themselves think and feel, and they are not accessible to the opinions of others. Had the Luciferic gone on working in human evolution in the same way that it worked up to the Mystery of Golgotha, mankind would have gradually entered on a way that we might characterise as follows: People would have become hard and detached in their souls, each thinking only of his own affairs, each holding his own ideas as conclusive, and having no inclination to look into the hearts of his fellows.

This, however, is merely the reverse side of the loss of personality. For by losing the possibility of recognising man as a personality, we lose also our understanding of the personality of those around us. Just at the time when the Mystery of Golgotha was approaching, there were very many people — more than is generally thought — in the Greek and Roman worlds, in Africa, in the West of Asia, who were in a certain sense spiritually proud, people who went through the world as — one cannot say peculiar people — but as proud, lonely men who hugged their loneliness. There were many such, and also those who made it a philosophy not to trouble about other people, but merely to follow the way of their own choice. This was brought about by the Luciferic falling out of balance.

And indeed the Ahrimanic was present in excess. This is best shown in the outlook of the first Roman Emperors, the Julians, of whom the very first, Augustus, was the only one to be initiated, though in a rather questionable way. Among the other Emperors there were some who at best obtained initiation by force, but they all regarded themselves as sons of God; that is, they considered themselves initiates by claiming divine descent. [See the lecture cycle: Building Stones for an Understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha (notably lectures 5–8) given in Berlin, March 27th to April 24th, 1917.] For the Ahrimanic is particularly revealed by a man not being willing to live among other men as a personality among other personalities, but wanting to develop power in the way I referred to yesterday — wanting to rule by exploiting the weaknesses of others. The two great dangers threatening the world at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha, dangers to which men would have succumbed if the Mystery of Golgotha had not come, were lack of interest in other men, and the lust for domination in every individual. The Christ, by uniting His destiny with that of mankind, implanted into humanity something of extraordinary depth. You may perhaps understand me best if I give you an outline of what this really was. As I have shown you, we men possess forces that we develop through our original being. You know that in a certain sense we become clever, through our original being, only in the second half of our life. I have spoken of this fully and repeatedly. But that is not quite all; what I was then referring to as the growth of cleverness in man between birth and death is, strictly speaking, valid only for earthly evolution; we are intended to become still cleverer during the evolutionary stages of Jupiter, Venus and Vulcan. And the forces we are to develop in the course of the Jupiter and Venus stages are already latent in us.

Now the following has come about. You know that during the first half of life a man is unable to acquire self-knowledge through his original being; he has to acquire it through Lucifer, while his original being goes on developing further. The Luciferic infuses him with self-knowledge during the first half of life; in the second half of life this brilliant self-knowledge is clouded over by Ahriman. With the Christ Impulse, another stream enters man's evolution; it speaks to the very depths of the human being. And if man had to rely on his original forces for developing the faculty that would of itself lead him to those cosmic insights which come into Earth-evolution through Christ, then he would not acquire this faculty until the Venus stage of evolution. Thus, however clever a man might become during his life on earth, up to the time of his death he would never be able to reach the point that can be reached through the Christ Impulse having united its destiny with Earth-evolution.

We live through our earthly life, therefore, without being able to understand the Christ Impulse with the help of our original evolution. From this you can gather the following. There were contemporaries of Christ, His disciples; they went about with Him; through the traditional primeval wisdom they could acquire so much wisdom about Him that later they were able to produce the Gospels — but they could not really understand Him. Right up to their deaths they certainly never reached an understanding of the Christ Impulse. When was it, then, that they could achieve this? After their death, in the time after death. Given that Peter or James, let us say, were contemporaries of Christ, when were they ready to understand Christ? Only in the third century after the Mystery of Golgotha — for up to their deaths they were not sufficiently mature; they became mature only in the third century.

We are touching here on a very important secret which we must bring with all exactitude before our souls. The contemporaries of Christ had first to go through death, had to live in the spiritual world until the second or third century; and then, in the life after death, knowledge of Christ could dawn upon them, and they could inspire those who, towards the end of the second century, or from the third century on, wrote about the Christ Impulse. Hence the writings about the Christ Impulse from the third century onwards take on a special character, for through the Church Fathers they received inspiration, more or less clear or more or less clouded. Thus Augustine, whose authority prevailed throughout the Middle Ages, falls into this period. Hence we can see how the only way in which people could be given an understanding of the Christ Impulse was to be inspired on earth by the Venus wisdom, if I may so call it, which at present man can experience only after death and in subsequent centuries. And it was a piece of good fortune — a foolish expression but there is no better one — that in the second and third centuries this inspiration could begin. For had men been obliged to wait longer, beyond the year 333, they would have become increasingly hardened towards the spiritual world and would have been incapable of receiving any kind of inspiration.

You see, the working of the Christ Impulse into mankind during the centuries of Christian development was bound up with numerous mysteries. And anyone wishing to seek for it again to-day finds the most important elements in knowledge about the Christ Impulse only by achieving supersensible cognition. For the first actual teachers of mankind concerning the Christ Impulse were really the dead, as you have been able to see from what I have now been saying — persons who were contemporaries of Christ, and only in the third century became mature enough to gain a full understanding. This understanding was able to grow during the fourth century, but at the same time the difficulty of inspiring men increased. In the sixth century this difficulty went on increasing, until finally the time came when the inspiring of men through spiritual mysteries concerning the Christ Mystery, and the opposition to it caused by the hardening of mankind, were brought under regulation by Rome. This was done by Rome in the ninth century, in 869, at the Council of Constantinople, where the spirit was finally done away with. This whole matter of inspiration became too far-fetched for Rome, and the dogma was laid down that man possesses in his soul something of the nature of spirit, but that to believe in the spirit is heresy. Men had to be enticed away from the spirit. This in essentials is what is connected with the Eighth (Ecumenical Council held in Constantinople in 869, to which I have often referred. It is merely a consequence of this abolition of the spirit when Jesuits to-day — I have mentioned this recently — say: “In earlier times there was indeed such a thing as inspiration, but to-day inspiration is devilish; we may not venture to strive for supersensible knowledge, for then the devil comes in.”

These things, however, are connected with the deepest matters which must interest us if we wish truly to enter into Spiritual Science. They are connected particularly with a certain recognition of the character of wisdom which many so-called spiritual scientists, especially those who foregather in so-called secret societies, do not recognise. A certain deception, one might say, is constantly spread abroad among men — spread abroad by those who know spiritual secrets. This deception is veiled by a false contrast, a false polarity. Have you not heard people saying: “There is Lucifer and his opponent is Christ?” and setting up Christ-Lucifer as polaric opposites? I have shown you that even Goethe's Faust-concept suffers from a confusion between Ahriman and Lucifer; from Goethe's inability to distinguish between the Ahrimanic and the Luciferic. The second part of my little book, Goethes Geistesart, treats of this.

But behind this there is something extraordinarily significant. The real contrast, imparted by those who wish to speak the truth out of the spiritual world, is between Ahriman and Lucifer, and the Christ Impulse brings in something different. It has nothing to do with the Ahriman-Lucifer polarity, for it works in equilibrium. Something of tremendous importance rests on a recognition of this fact; we will speak of it further to-morrow.

Last Modified: 08-Sep-2018
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