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The Principle of Spiritual Economy

Rudolf Steiner Archive & e.Lib Document

Sketch of Rudolf Steiner lecturing at the East-West Conference in Vienna.

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The Principle of Spiritual Economy

On-line since: 15th May, 2009


  1. The “original” Zarathustra (or Zoroaster) Rudolf Steiner refers to in these lectures is not the historical religious teacher and prophet of ancient Persia whose dates are ca. 628–551 B.C., but the prophet who, according to early Christian tradition and according to Plutarch was born about 6400 B.C. He gave the impulse for the founding of the second post-Atlantean epoch.
  2. The term maya in the Hindu Veda means magic power, but in Mahayana Buddhism it denotes illusion or non-reality; and this is how Steiner uses the term.
  3. Historical scholarship usually considers Hermes as a mythical figure in ancient Egypt, but Steiner thinks he was a living prophet who appeared about 4200 B.C. when the sun moved into Taurus. According to historical speculation the so-called Hermetic books—metaphysical pronouncements about the community of all beings and things—were authored by the Egyptian god Thoth (the Thrice Great), whose name was often translated into Greek as Hermes Trismegistus.
  4. The “Akasha Chronicle” is an occult “script” containing the complete story of the universe. Occultists of all ages have tried to “read” it by freeing themselves from the limitations of time and space. Rudolf Steiner had refined his spiritual faculties to such a degree that he was able to read the “Akasha Chronicle.” To understand his work, it is necessary to assume that he did possess this capacity. For a thorough description of the nature of the Akasha Chronicle, see Rudolf Steiner, Cosmic Memory, pp. 38–41.
  5. Nicholas of Cusa (1401?–1464) was a German humanist, scientist, and philosopher of the highest rank who became Bishop of Brixon in 1450. His astounding achievements in science included a theory that the Earth revolves on its axis around the sun and that the stars are different worlds.
  6. Polish-born Nicholas Copernicus (1473–1543) was the founder of modern astronomy. His main work on the orbits and revolutions of heavenly bodies, completed in 1530, but not published until 1543 when he was on his deathbed, expressed his views on the structure of the physical universe.
  7. Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) was the great Italian astronomer, mathematician, and physicist who laid the foundations of modern experimental science. The time of his death in the text (toward the end of the seventeenth century) is an error in transcription.
  8. Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz (1646–1716) was the famous German philosopher, mathematician, and statesman who invented calculus independent from Newton and is widely regarded as the founder of symbolic logic. His philosophical achievements include the Theodicy and the famous Monadology.
  9. Sir Isaac Newton (1642–1727) was the great English mathematician and physicist whose works marked a turning point in modern experimental science. Few people know that in the later years of his life Newton spent much of his time in the study of theology and alchemy.
  10. Michail Vasilyevich Lomonosov (1712–65) was perhaps the most outstanding scientist, scholar, and writer of eighteenth-century Russia.
  11. Pythagoras (c. 582–c. 507 B.C.) was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher and mathematician of whose personal life traditional science knows little. He migrated from his native Samos to Gotona and established a mystery center. The followers of Pythagoras believed, among other things, in the transmigration of souls.
  12. Melchizedek was the king of Salem and “Priest of the Most High God,” who blessed Abraham after the defeat of Chedorlaomer (Genesis 14:18-20) and who was later to typify the priesthood of the future Messiah (Psalms 110:4; Heb. 5-7).
  13. St. Irenaeus (c. 125-c. 202) was a Greek theologian, Bishop of Lyons in 177–78, and the first Father of the Catholic Church to systematize Christian doctrine.
  14. Papias was a second-century Christian theologian and Apostolic Father of the Church.
  15. St. Augustine (354–430) was the Bishop of Hippo in what is now Algiers and one of the four Latin fathers. His famous book The City of God is a justification of Christianity against pagan critics, and his Confessions is a classic of Christian mysticism.
  16. Heliand, the title of the epic (c. 825) is an Old Saxon word for German Heiland = the Savior. The poem had 5,983 lines and was written in alliterative verse.
  17. The Italian St. Francis of Assisi (1182–1226) was one of the greatest Christian saints and founder of the Franciscan Order.
  18. Elisabeth of Thüringen (1207–1231), the young widow of a German margrave who had died on a crusade in 1227, chose a life of poverty, humility, and charity and became the typical saint of the late Middle Ages.
  19. Scholasticism was the school of thought in the Middle Ages in which theology and philosophy were conjoined. The German term Scholastik normally designates this medieval school of thought, whereas Scholastizismus, the linguistic equivalent of the English term, is used exclusively to denote sophistry and casuistry.
  20. Meister (Johannes) Eckhart (c. 1260–1328), a Dominican-trained German theologian and the most profound of the German medieval mystics, was probably the first writer of speculative prose in German.
  21. Johannes Tauler (1300–1361) was a German Dominican mystic and a disciple of Meister Eckhart.
  22. The Hussites advocated communion in both kinds, i.e., both wine and bread, for laity as well as priests. Lutherans believed that a change takes place by which the body and blood of Christ join with the bread and wine. This principle of consubstantiation was rejected by the Zwinglians who saw only symbolic significance in the communion. Finally, the Calvinists believed that Christ was spiritually, but not physically, present in the Sacrament.
  23. Giordano Bruno (1548–1600) was a noted Italian philosopher and mystic who, although a member of the Dominican Order in his youth, was in constant opposition to religious orthodox schools. He was tried by the Inquisition for heresy and burned to death.
  24. Ernst Haeckel (1834–1932) was a renowned German zoologist and, like the English naturalist Charles Robert Darwin (1809–1882), developed a theory of evolution. Emil DuBois-Reymond (1818–1896) was a famous physiologist in Berlin. Thomas Henry Huxley (1825–1895) was an English biologist and writer.
  25. David Friedrich Strauss (1808–1874) was a philosopher and theologian whose writings mark a turning point in the critical study of the life of Jesus. In his main work, The Life of Jesus (2 vols, 1835–36), Strauss applied the “myth theory” to the life of Jesus and denied all supernatural elements in the Gospels.
  26. (Old) Saturn, (Old) Sun, and (Old) Moon are names for former evolutionary forms through which the Earth has passed. The reader is referred to Chapter 4 of Rudolf Steiner, An Outline of Occult Science (Anthroposophic Press, 1972), for a thorough discussion of this topic.
  27. The Vedas are the oldest scriptures of Hinduism. The Veda is the literature of the Aryans who invaded NW India about 1500 B.C. and pertains to the fire sacrifice central to their religious beliefs.
  28. The Upanishads constitute the last section of the Hindu Veda and are said to have been composed around 900 B.C. As the wellspring of Hindu speculative and religious thought, they became the basis for the later schools of Vedanta. “Vedanta” literally means “The end of the Veda” and refers to how the Upanishads are to be taught and interpreted.
  29. John Scotus Erigena (c. 810–c. 877) was an Irish scholastic philosopher.
  30. St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) was the Italian theologian and philosopher whose philosophy was declared the official philosophy of the Catholic Church. He is generally regarded to have been the most prominent mind of scholasticism.
  31. Christian Rosenkreutz is generally regarded by most scholars as the pseudonym for the German writer Johan Valentin Andrea (1586–1654). In his works Fama fraternitatis (1614) and in Confessio rosae crucis (1615), he traced the development of the Rosicrucian Society to Arab and Oriental origins.
  32. The German noun forms Atem and Atmung mean breath and breathing, respectively, whereas the verb for “to breathe” is atmen.
  33. The works of the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 B.C.) became the basis of medieval scholasticism and had a decisive influence on Catholic theology.
  34. Dionysius the Aeropagite is said to have been the first Bishop of Athens, Greece, in the first century A.D. Tradition has made him a martyr and Acts 17:34 tells of his conversion by Paul.
  35. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) was Germany's greatest poet. Early in his academic career, Steiner spent several years editing Goethe's scientific writings, and during his lifetime he did not tire of extolling Goethean perception and thinking. The main seat of the Anthroposophic movement in Dornach, Switzerland, is still called the “Goetheanum.” Steiner gave several lecture cycles on Goethe's great poem Faust. These have been published as Faust, der strebende Mensch, Vol. I, and Geisteswissenschaftliche Erläuterungen zu Goethe's “Faust” Vol. II (Rudolf Steiner Verlag: Dornach, 1974).
  36. Exodus 3:14.
  37. Bhagavad Gita is a religious Hindu poem consisting of dialogues between Prince Arjuna and Krishna, who reveals himself as the avatara (incarnation) of Vishnu. The transcription of the quotation from the “Gita” is probably a contraction of several textual citations on pp. 452, 522, and 529, among others, of Bhagavad-gita AS IT IS. Complete edition (Collier Books: New York, 1974).
  38. Faust II, lines 12104–12111:
    What is destructible
    Is but a parable;
    What fails ineluctably,
    The undeclarable,
    Here it was seen,
    Here it was action;
    The Eternal-Feminine
    Lures to perfection.
    (Translation by Walter Kaufmann)

    These are the very last lines of Goethe's Faust, indicating that the things of this material world are but a symbolic expression of the spiritual world. Love, through its embodiment in women, remains the guiding force for the striving human being.
  39. Faust has been blinded by Care (Sorge), an allegorical figure, and exclaims:
    Deep night now seems to fall more deeply still,
    Yet inside me there shines a brilliant light;
    What I have thought, I hasten to fulfill:
    The master's word alone has real might.
    (Faust II, lines 11499–11502. Trsl. by Walter Kaufmann)
  40. Columban (545–615) was an Irish missionary.
  41. Gallus was a sixth-century Irish-Scotch missionary.
  42. Patrick (c. 384–c. 460) was an English missionary.
  43. Steiner is referring to the German courtly epic Parzival by Wolfram von Eschenbach (about 1200/10). The Frenchman Chretien de Troyes was the author of the first great artistic treatment of the theme; in his unfinished poem “Percivale” finds the Grail and heals the king. Wolfram's story is drawn from Chretien's model but is much more spiritualized in its triadic structure: innocence, fall, salvation. The Simpleton Parsifal is educated as a knight who knows proper courtly behavioral codes, one of them being not to ask too many questions. This attitude causes him to be expelled from the Grail's Castle, and only after he has undergone a second, Christian phase of education does he know how to express his charity by asking the appropriate question of the ailing king.
  44. Homer, Odyssey, Canto 489–491. These words are spoken by the soul of Achilles after Ulysses had conjured it up from the Underworld.

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