The Concept of Love
As It Relates to Mysticism
September 15, 1915
LET US continue
with the theme we have been considering for the past few days and begin
by asking the question, “How old is love?” There is no doubt
in my mind that the great majority of people with their rather superficial
way of looking at things would immediately respond that love is as old
as the human race, of course. However, anyone who recognizes cultural
history as being imbued with spiritual impulses, and who therefore tries
to deal with such issues concretely instead of in vague generalities,
would answer quite differently. Love, my friends, is seven hundred years
old at the most!
Nowhere in ancient Greek
and Roman prose or poetry will you find anything resembling our modern
idea of love. And if you read Plutarch, for instance, you will find
the two concepts of Venus and Amor very clearly differentiated.
[ Note 1 ]
Love as the subject of so much lyrical eloquence in literature,
and especially in poetry, is no more than six or seven hundred years
old. Our modern notion of love — what love means to us today and
how that is instilled in people — has played a part in the human
heart and mind only for the past six or seven centuries. Before that,
people did not have the same idea of love; they did not speak about
it in any even remotely similar way.
This should not come as
a surprise to you, not even on a theoretical or epistemological level.
The objection that human beings have always made a practice of loving
does not hold good; that would be like saying that if the Earth revolves
around the Sun as the Copernican view claims, then it must have been
doing so even during Roman, Greek, and Egyptian time — in fact,
as long as it has been in existence. Of course that's true, but the
people of those times didn't talk about the Copernican system.
Similarly, it is also not
valid to object that what is expressed in the idea of love must have
existed before the concept itself was there. Of course, the facts and
phenomena of loving have always been an identifiable facet of human
life, but people have not always talked about them. We have come a long
way in the past six or seven hundred years in that respect; in fact,
we have come so far that love occupies a central position in many people's
view of life. And not only that, we now have a scientific theory, the
theory of psychoanalysis, which is positively swimming in the most vulgar
concepts of love, as I have shown. This is an evolutionary tendency
that anthroposophists in particular are called upon to resist and to
transform by fostering a spiritual-scientific philosophy of life.
Many of you may be aware
that I described these same things quite precisely from a historical
perspective in some earlier lectures, so I would be surprised if you
were all taken aback by my statement that our idea of love is only six
or seven hundred years old.
[ Note 2 ]
In any case, the idea of love has gradually crept into all kinds of
philosophical concepts during the past few hundred years, as is revoltingly
evident in psychoanalysis. It would take a long time to get to the bottom
of all this, but I hope these more or less aphoristic remarks will give
you some clues.
As an example, let's consider
a contemporary thinker who is totally immersed in modern cultural concepts—in
other words, someone who cannot overcome his supposed insight that outer
sensory-physical reality is all we can reasonably talk about. I have
already introduced Fritz Mauthner to you as a very sincere representative
of this type of person.
[ Note 3 ]
Mauthner is a linguistic critic and the author of a philosophical dictionary.
This puts him in a very strange position in that it makes him aware
of the fact that the word “mysticism” has existed down through
the ages — as a linguistic critic, he naturally wants to know
what stands behind both the word itself and actual mystical aspirations.
My friends, just consider
how much reading material we have to struggle through to understand
that particular relationship of the human soul to super-earthly worlds
that deserves the name “mysticism.” Consider, too, how very
seriously we have to take any explanations, such as those in
Knowledge of the Higher Worlds,
if we want to understand the inner attitude
needed in order to face the spiritual world as a mystic — that
is, as a soul at one with the spiritual pulse and flow of higher worlds.
[ Note 4 ]
We can only really say what
mysticism is in the modern sense of the word when we have engaged in
serious reflection such as that in Knowledge of the Higher Worlds. In
other words, we have to at least study that book thoroughly and attentively
a couple of times.
When someone like Fritz
Mauthner gets his hands on a book like
Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment,
it is patent nonsense to him — just so
many words. Mauthner is an honest man, after all. He would be telling
the truth if, having read Swedenborg, he were to say that he doesn't
understand a thing when Swedenborg talks about inhabitants of Mars who
can conceal their innermost impulses. He might also say that he finds
nothing to relate to in a book like
Knowledge of the Higher Worlds;
perhaps angels might be able to understand it, but he cannot.
This is an utterly plausible
opinion, and I am convinced it is what Fritz Mauthner would come to
as an honest person. And in fact, if he is honest and sticks to the
truth, coming to this conclusion is inevitable because the concept of
mysticism eludes him entirely; there's nothing to it as far as he is
concerned. For him, everything in Theosophy or Knowledge of the Higher
Worlds is all just words, words, words.
[ Note 5 ]
If he himself experiences a kind of Faustian striving, he might
express it by saying, “[I will] contemplate all seminal forces
in the outer physical world and be done with peddling empty words.”
[ Note 6 ]
And in his own way, he is quite right.
However, Mauthner is not
only honest, he is also thorough, and so he wonders if it is actually
true that human souls have never experienced anything like mysticism.
After all, people have always talked about it. What was it, then, that
induced them to speak about mysticism?
When I was a very young
man, I knew an outstanding theologian, now dead, who was also very well
educated in philosophy.
[ Note 7 ]
He always said, and rightly so, that behind every error there is something
true and real we must look for. No idea is so crazy that we need not
look for the reality behind it. This is also Mauthner's rationale in
conceding that there must be something to mysticism after all. Obviously,
there are still strange characters around who write books like
Knowledge of the Higher Worlds
and talk about our mystical relationship to
spiritual worlds, but to him it is all nonsense. However, there has
to be something in human nature that produces the emotions these crazy,
mixed-up people call mysticism. There must be something behind it.
If you try to find how Mauthner
discovers what underlies mysticism, the most you can say after having
read the entry on mysticism in his dictionary is that he keeps going
around in circles.
[ Note 8 ]
Everything in this article revolves around words and definitions of words.
But since I was interested in finding out how Mauthner, in his own way,
attempts to get at what is behind mysticism, I looked it up in his dictionary
to see what could be found there ...
[gap in the stenographic record]
So I looked up not only
his entry on mysticism but also the one on love. I found the article
on love to be one of his best, and very well written. It's actually
very nice. Mauthner first mentions Spinoza's definition of love and
Schopenhauer's brief and heavy-handed definition, and then he explains
that it is necessary to distinguish between mere eroticism, which is
strictly physical and confined to sexuality, and real love on a soul
level. Mauthner admits all that, and even goes on to say something as
elevated as this:
[ Note 9 ]
I believe that people who are one-sided geniuses
in thinking have seldom, if ever, had any understanding of love in
its highest degree, of feelings of love taken to pathological extremes.
They have not experienced it personally and have only tried to categorize
the descriptions of poets.
That is, the philosophers
did not know much about love except what they looked up in books of
I believe that love in its ultimate degree has been
experienced and described only by artists (approximately since the
time of Petrarch), and that it entered common parlance through the
power of imitation or fashion and captured the imagination of readers
for six hundred years, and is now in the process of being replaced
by another fashion. Although the ultimate degree of love is as rare
as a great artistic creation or the kind of religious union with God
that St. Francis may have experienced, still the whole world babbles
on about religion, art, and love. What they mean by all this are mere
substitutes for emotions that perhaps one person in a million has
The ultimate degree of love, whose existence I do
not deny, is really something of a miracle — and people have
also tried to explain miracles as pathological phenomena. In the most
unlikely event that both sexual partners experience the highest degree
of love, a miracle takes place in defiance of all the laws of nature:
each one lifts the other and both float above the earth. Archimedes'
principle is, or appears to be, superseded. Whether in happiness or
in death, the longing of mysticism is fulfilled.
There you have it. For someone
like Mauthner, steeped in modern materialistic philosophy, the emotion
of love is the only way human beings can experience the feelings “deranged”
mystics experience in their relationship to spiritual things. “Whether
in happiness or in death, the longing of mysticism is fulfilled”
is a remarkably honest sentence coming from someone who has lost all
connection to the spiritual world. Mauthner continues:
For the purposes of this little investigation, I
have deliberately overlooked many other meanings of the word “love.”
At this juncture, however, I must still point out that union with
God is experienced by mysticism as the pleasure of love at its most
passionate and most spiritual, and that Spinoza made use of his first
definition of love (in Book III and Book V of his Ethics)
to proclaim the love for God, the amor erga Deum, as the
highest bliss known to human beings. The longing to give expression
to the inexpressible is intrinsic to mysticism, and this has led to
considerable misuse of the concept of love. There is something of
this vivid mysticism not only in Spinoza's pantheistic extravagance,
but also in Schopenhauer's metaphysical cynicism. It is also what
Cousin meant when he said that we love the infinite and imagine we
love finite things.
The well-known feeling that leads us to call our
sexual partners “lovers” runs through so-called love in
all its various degrees. And we describe our very subjective experience
through the unwarranted use of the corresponding verb “to love.”
The attempt to find an objective noun, namely, the word “love”
to describe this experience met with such success that people have
persuaded themselves that the experience itself is as common as the
word “love” has become.
As you can see, when the
modern materialistic world tries to formulate a concept of mysticism
out of its own fundamental impulses, it is forced to conclude that what
mystics dream of can only be found in the emotion of love in the real
world; that is, everything spiritual is dragged down into a refined
version of eroticism.
It is typical, for instance,
that Mauthner brings up the particular way in which a woman friend of
Nietzsche's, the author Lou Andreas-Salomé,
[ Note 10 ]
describes Nietzsche's intellect as a type of refined eroticism.
[ Note 11 ]
It is interesting, too, how Mauthner reacts to her portrayal of Nietzsche.
Recently, after so many attempts by men, a woman,
Friedrich Nietzsche's friend Lou Andreas-Salome, has also tried to
formulate a philosophy of love in her excellent book on Nietzsche,
which won her the hatred of the entire Nietzsche clan. She is very
subtle in her expositions, but bold enough to refuse to accept fidelity
as an attribute of love, and she forges a link between the artist's
fantasy and that of lovers (“Eroticism,” p. 25). She too,
however, intellectualizes the act to such an extent that there seems
to be no conceptual distinction between sensuality and the intellectual
phenomena accompanying it.
In other words, then, from
the way men and women express themselves, we see that nowadays, even
in our thinking, we have to replace our relationship to the spiritual
world with the eroticism throbbing in our souls — a more or less
refined eroticism, depending on the character of the individual in question.
This all has to do with
the fundamental materialistic tendency of our times, which also leads
to untruthfulness when people are not honest enough to admit that all
they know about mysticism is the aspect that is identical to eroticism.
Untruthfulness emerges when these people talk about eroticism but conceal
it behind a veil of mystical concepts. Materialists who freely admit
that they see nothing but eroticism in all of mysticism are actually
much more honest than people who take eroticism as their starting point
but hide it behind mystical formulas as they clamber up to the very
highest worlds. Sometimes you can almost see the ladders they are using
to scramble up to the very highest planes of existence in order to have
a mystical cover-up for something that is actually nothing more than
eroticism. On the one hand, then, we have the theoretical linking of
mysticism to eroticism, and on the other hand the tendency of our modern
times to sink down into eroticism and drag all kinds of murky, misunderstood
mysticism into it.
Some time ago I challenged
you to work on eradicating the mystical eccentricities that come about
through the kind of mingling of spheres I described, so that people
who are well able to recognize the noble character of spirituality will
once again be able to rise to the perspective needed to speak about
spirituality where spirituality is actually present, without clothing
subjective emotions in spiritual forms. In making this appeal, I hoped
to create some degree of clarity in these matters within the Anthroposophical
Society, so that clear thinking might prevail.
[ Note 12 ]
Time alone will tell whether we will actually be able to accomplish
In former times (and in
fact until quite recently, as I pointed out yesterday), a much more
radical means was used to safeguard the basic requirements of any kind
of spiritual scientific society. It was a simple matter of excluding
one entire sex, half of humanity, so that the other half would be spared
the dangers inherent in mixing elevated spiritual concepts with thoughts
of natural human activity on the physical plane. Thinking about spiritual
matters belongs to the spiritual world. We must come to the healthy
realization that it is much worse to talk about certain aspects of natural
human interaction in mystical formulas that do not belong to this natural
level than it is to call these things honestly by name and admit that
this aspect belongs to the physical plane and must remain there.
Schopenhauer, in his singularly
heavy-handed fashion, characterized love as follows: “The sum
total of the current generation's love affairs are thus the human race's
‘earnest meditatio composition is generationis fu fume, e
qua iterum pendent innumerae generationes’ ” —
the earnest meditation of the human race as a whole on the composition
of generations to come, on which in turn countless generations depend.
[ Note 13 ]
Well, that's Schopenhauer's
opinion, not mine! It is a terrible thing to see people deny the rightful
place of such urges and disguise them by saying, for example, that they
are obliged to do what they do so that an extremely important individuality
can incarnate. That is really an abomination in the eyes of someone
trying to practice mysticism in all earnestness and dignity.
We must also take into account
the fact that mysticism is not intended as an excuse for laziness on
our part. That is what it becomes, however, when healthy concepts are
replaced by unhealthy ones in the name of mysticism. Here on the physical
plane, people are supposed to make their mark through good will and
work — real hard work. If they prefer to gain recognition under
false pretenses rather than on the merits of their work, and demand
special treatment by virtue of being the reincarnation of somebody or
other, then they are using mysticism as an excuse. They want to be recognized
as someone special without doing a thing. This is a very trivial and
vulgarized way of looking at the matter.
If we are making every effort,
as indeed we must nowadays, to foster spiritual science openly in the
presence of both sexes, the old compulsory bans must be replaced by
a serious and dignified attitude on the part of both men and women as
they seek to acquire knowledge of the higher worlds. We must succeed
in eliminating from this search all the fantasies bound up with our
lower human drives. Only then will we be able to prevent the proliferation
of errors originating in the illusions of individuals prone to mystical
laziness. Mysticism, my friends, does not ask us to become lazier than
the people out there who care nothing about it. If anything, it requires
us to be more diligent than they are. And mystical morality cannot mean
sinking below the moral level of other human beings; rather we must
advance beyond it. If we do not make a serious effort to eradicate anything
resembling “Sprengelism,” as I would like to call it, from
our Society, we will make no progress.
How I will continue with
this series of lectures depends on the course of your meeting today.
[ Note 14 ]
Let us first see how far
you get in this meeting, and then I will announce when we will continue.