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The Risen Christ and the Etheric Christ

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

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The Risen Christ and the Etheric Christ

Risen Christ: Lecture II: The Vision of Christ in the Etheric World

Lecture II.


A week ago we attempted something very daring, and you may remember that we traveled a fairly long distance in our effort to understand what we describe as the Resurrection Body of Christ: also, that we aimed not only at a theoretical yet reverent study of this Being but led up to the conviction that it has something to do with us, with the whole evolution of humanity. What was described as the Resurrection Body of Christ can gradually, in a process extending over the rest of evolution, be absorbed by at least that part of the human species which does its share in the process. Strictly speaking this is really what the term Chymical Marriage suggests.

You remember that Rudolf Steiner occasionally refers to that Mystical Marriage which some of the earlier mystics mentioned — that kind of union which opened the soul to the spiritual world. But in certain circumstances he uses the term Chymical Marriage precisely for this gradual absorption of the resurrection forces of Christ into the human organism, by which that harmony is gradually re-established which through the Fall was lost. We saw how this loss of harmony between the physical and etheric bodies affected the senses; between the etheric and astral bodies affected the glandular system; between the astral and etheric reversed, affected the digestive system; and finally how the disharmony between the ego and soul forces affected thought, feeling, and willing. We saw how all can gradually be balanced so that in the fullness of time humanity can read the stage where death as we know it ceases to be. Then, the ability to use the power of materialization and dematerialization at will can be shared by that part of humanity which has been truly developed. This part will then pass on from the Earth to Jupiter.

But now tonight we are trying to tackle an entirely different aspect of the problem. Perhaps it is important to realize first that if we speak of that renewed Presence of Christ in the etheric world of which Rudolf Steiner speaks, we are dealing with something quite different from what we considered last week. I will take my start from one sentence in the lecture published in English under the title The Event of the Appearance of Christ in the Etheric World, given in Carlsruhe on January 25th, 1910. The sentence reads: “The greatest mystery of our time is this one concerning the second coming of Christ.” January 25th, 1910, however, was not the first time he mentioned this fact. It is interesting to know that he first spoke of the Etheric Christ in our time in Stockholm in December, 1909. Unfortunately there are no notes of this lecture, but there is an interesting anecdote connected with it. It was in the time of Steiner's connection with the old Theosophical Society. The group leader in Stockholm, in addition to his Theosophical interests, had a special interest in astrology and cast a horoscope for the date on which Steiner was expected to give an important members' lecture there. To his great horror he found that the constellation was truly awful, so he approached Rudolf Steiner about a week before, warned him about it, in fact did his best to persuade him to postpone this lecture, saying he could not possibly give it under such an awful constellation. Needless to say, Steiner took no notice of that fact, and it is perhaps worth remembering that the actual first statement to members about this great mystery — the greatest of the twentieth century — was made on a day which, according to traditional astrological calculations, was really a black day if ever there was one. You can hardly have a better example of Rudolf Steiner's tremendously positive attitude, his great faith in these matters.

After speaking on this subject a month or so later for the first time in Germany, he gave that cycle of lectures now published under the title The Christ Impulse and the Development of the Ego-Consciousness and then on March 6th the first lecture in Stuttgart on The Re-appearance of Christ in the Etheric. In the following years he continued to refer to this event time and time again. Right away, in the first lecture of the cycle given in Carlsruhe, he speaks of those first important years of this century during which he anticipated that the first experiences of the Christ would take place. He says, “The first indications of these new soul faculties will begin to appear relatively soon now among isolated individuals. They will become more apparent in the middle of the fourth decade of the century, somewhere between 1930 and 1940. The years 1933, 1935, and 1937 will be especially significant. Faculties which are quite unusual for human beings will then manifest themselves as wholly natural abilities.”

Now these dates have a remarkable connection with the early dates of the founding of Christianity. In a members' meeting it may be permissible to pass on a contribution towards understanding this tremendous mystery; it was made by one of our English friends [Willi Sucher – e.Ed]. You may remember that in a lecture given by Dr. Steiner on September 2nd, 1923 in London, following the courses in Ilkley and Penmaenmawr, he speaks of the various planetary spheres and their relationships to human life on Earth. He speaks of the Moon as the residuum of the forces of procreation, and of the Saturn sphere as that in which the great cosmic memory rests, where in particular all the great moral deeds of human history are, so to say, received and recorded; in due course their karmic consequences enter into the evolution of humanity. Not just there, but also in other contexts, Rudolf Steiner often refers to the rhythm in which this cosmic memory works and which is indicated to earthly observation in the actual time the planet Saturn requires to go around the Sun once, which is not quite thirty years. The English friend noted the time required for the first appearance of Christ, its preparation through the birth of the two children and the building up of the earthly vehicle of the Jesus individuality — that masterpiece of creation which then became the body of Christ, the whole extending over approximately thirty-three years. Looking at that one Christmas lecture where Steiner speaks of these rhythms, our English friend suggested that you think of this first period of Christ's appearance on Earth as being received into the Saturn Sphere; multiply the period of His life by the Saturn period around the Sun and you get the time when that great earthly event reached the utmost circumference of the planetary sphere of Saturn, the utmost depths of cosmic consciousness, and then began to travel back to Earth. With more detailed calculation, taking the Mystery of Golgotha as the starting point (which Dr. Steiner fixed as April 3rd, AD 33), you come to the year 1935 as the year when that double rhythm is completed.

I remember vividly the picture our friend gave, saying, “Think of a pond, a quiet bit of water, and a stone thrown into its center; then the ripples travel out until they reach the shore when they are thrown back again to the center. The Incarnation of Christ is like a stone thrown into the ocean of humanity. The effects of it spread from the Earth into the cosmos in the Saturn rhythm until they reached the furthest point in the Saturn sphere, traveled back, and began striking onto the shore of human history in 1935.”

But be this as it may, we have Steiner's indication which I quote again: “Faculties which are quite unusual for human beings will then manifest themselves as wholly natural abilities.” And further: “At this time great changes will take place and biblical prophecies will be fulfilled. Everything will be transformed for the souls who are sojourning on Earth and also for those who are no longer within a physical body. Regardless of where they are, they are approaching entirely new faculties. Everything is changing; but the most significant event is a decisive transformation of the soul faculties of MAN.

Now those times have passed, and we may well wonder whether they have had a measure of fulfillment. Even if we doubt a little, it seems to me this is perhaps partly owing to the fact that we have never quite fully understood what Steiner meant by saying that biblical prophecies will be fulfilled. I think even in our own circles there is often a great deal of — almost prejudice, shall I say, about this; because certain biblical passages dealing obviously with the so-called Second Coming are themselves misunderstood. A misinterpreted biblical prophecy often hangs like a cloud before our free understanding of these events. I will therefore cite a few passages and try to interpret them in the way I think they should be interpreted. Then, instead of clouding, they should illuminate our view.

To begin we must say that there is no such expression in the whole Bible, in the New Testament at any rate, as “Second Coming.” It just does not exist. It has gradually crept into the popular use of religious language, but otherwise does not exist. There is one term in the so-called apocalyptic passages of the New Testament which can, among other things, mean “coming.” But nowhere do you find the adjective “second.” Because this matter is so important I will write the Greek word on the blackboard. Written in our alphabet and pronounced in ordinary English, it is parousia. Now we have to consider something important in translating from an ancient language to a modern, or for that matter from an Eastern to a Western. Modern, Western languages are analytical; they are split up. The comprehensive meaning of words which we find in ancient languages, or in Eastern languages today, presents a problem, in Russian even more so. When we look up this word in a dictionary we find our different meanings. What generally happens in such a case is that one picks out the meaning one thinks most suitable; but then obviously something arbitrary comes in. A choice and a judgment made from a particular point of view play a large part in interpreting the meaning. That is what happens in translating this keyword into the English Bible.

Its first meaning is presence and that is the original meaning. Then comes the second which may mean advent or coming. Thirdly it means indwelling, and then also aid or help. In the original text of the New Testament this word is used for those prophecies which speak of a future, new Presence of Christ in human evolution. Nothing less than the comprehensive fullness of the four-fold meaning is adequate for translating those passages. You can almost take the four meanings as the points of a meditation. You know Rudolf Steiner sometimes gave meditations in that way, giving just points and leaving it to his pupils to work them out into meditative lines. If we did so in this case we would find that there is implied in his concept of the Presence of Christ the fundamental idea that His Being is an abiding Presence in human evolution. Then our meditative progress from the presence to coming or advent might be made in the following way. We have learned from Rudolf Steiner not only to think of, but really to understand, the Being of Christ as a Living Presence. We know that one of the basic manifestations of every living being is rhythm; life essentially manifests itself in rhythmical form: in expansion and contraction, in ebb and flow, in coming and going. This is the fundamental concept in Anthroposophy regarding the Presence of Christ in humanity: there is not a static Presence, having the same place and the same pressure all the time, but a coming and going, an ebb and flow. You may recall those relevant two lines of the Christmas Foundation Meditation which refer to Christ: “In den Weltenrhythmen Seelenbegnadend.” (In world-wide rhythms bestowing grace on human souls.) There, in one of the fundamental things Rudolf Steiner gave at what may have been the biggest landmark in the history of the Anthroposophical Movement, you have that concept of the Christ bestowing grace on human souls through cosmic rhythms. There are times when He presses upon human souls, others when He withdraws — as does the great ebb and flow of the cosmic ocean of the spiritual world in which He lives and Moves and has His rhythmical Being.

This so-called Second Coming, then, simply suggests that we are now reaching a period of history when in a different, transformed way a renewed Presence, a renewed full pressure is to be expected. And we may bear in mind that Steiner suggests that under certain circumstances there will be an astral coming, and finally a coming of Christ in the ego. These suggestions give more light, more content to this fundamental concept of the rhythmical Presence of Christ in human evolution. Then, in connection with this parousia of which the New Testament speaks, we add a further concept which you find, developed of course, in Rudolf Steiner's writings: that this new Coming is not one visible in the flesh but which can be described as an indwelling in that inward sphere of the etheric into which we may penetrate. He does indeed come in order to help humanity.

This leads us on immediately to the second biblical prophecy which requires elucidation. If we read these biblical passages in the language we normally use, we very much doubt whether this Coming, this renewed coming of Christ, is a help. In fact, in traditional teachings Christ usually appears as a judge. He comes “to judge the quick and the dead,” and so on. In other words, popular opinion connects that renewed Presence of Christ with what is generally referred to as the Last Judgment, or the Eternal Judgment. And here we perhaps come up against the bias of the reformers who have translated the Greek Bible into English. They simply have the prevalent idea of the early seventeenth century about Christ as the Judge, a kind of early Puritanism affecting the translation from Greek. I often quote a striking phrase of H. D. Morton in The Steps of the Master. He says, “The Bible you have is written in the heavily embroidered draperies of Jacobean English — very beautiful, completely out of date, and tremendously misleading.” This is an adequate description, and no passages are more misleading than those dealing with the renewed Coming of Christ. In this translation, you can almost disregard the Book of Revelations, and also the apocalyptic chapters in the Gospels.

When we consider the phrase “Last Judgment” we need not give the Greek word for it as we have adopted that in modern English. We know it very well, this word for judgment. It is “Crisis,” which is just the old Greek word spelled in English letters. You need only put that word into the context of the New Testament and you get at once a different feeling: that parousia will produce a crisis. Of course you may say a crisis is a judgment. The economic crisis of 1929 which this country remembers so well was without doubt a judgment on the prevailing economic system. In that sense, international crises are judgments upon our international dealings. Yet this is an entirely different concept of a judgment; not a legalistic one, of a being sitting up in judgment and passing sentence on others, but a judgment inherent in the progress of human destiny. That is the significance of the Coming of the Etheric Christ being the cause of a crisis.

Now the Greek word for eternal is aeon; again a word which has been taken into modern English. It is a kind of poetic expression borrowed from Ancient Greek to denote a period of history; in fact, a period of history defined by a cosmic background. That is the old concept of an aeon — a period in human development which is fundamentally part of a cosmic rhythm. This is suggested in the biblical prophecies to which Steiner refers; because of the Etheric Presence of Christ a crisis of the age, an historic crisis, will be brought about.

It is hardly necessary to remind ourselves that we live in critical days, but we will not dwell on this. We may recall that Rudolf Steiner speaks in quite specific terms about this age. He gives us the picture of the sequence of post-Atlantean history, proceeding in seven great epochs, the present being the fifth epoch. The beginning of it is marked by an astronomical event, the movement of the vernal point of the Sun, where it rises in the spring equinox, from Aries (the Ram) into Pisces (Fishes). This took place in the year 1413. But this fifth epoch is not just another one like the preceding, as five follows four. It means a fundamental turning-point of Earth evolution as far as human consciousness is concerned. Steiner describes how right to the end of the fourth epoch, although it contained the Mystery of Golgotha, human consciousness still lived in a kind of dreamy, cosmic, inherited instinct; in a sense, the last remnants of what we generally describe as clairvoyance survived, legitimately, if only in rudimentary form. Only with the beginning of the fifth epoch have we entered fully into earthly circumstances. From then on it had to be that all the cosmic legacy is spent, and for a time we are as poor as can be, spiritually. Therefore this age, this fifth epoch, is the crucial one.

It has struck me that it may not be accidental that not long after that cosmic moment this continent was discovered, or opened up, and gradually the foundations were laid for the American Nation. Somehow this seems to me an historic creation more symbolic of the fifth post-Atlantean epoch than anything else. The European continent has to catch up now. If you go to Germany you see how it catches up: how to some extent what was the beautiful, visible embodiment of some of the ancient legacies — the cathedrals, the works of art, the whole surviving culture which was still inspired by the sunset of cosmic spirituality — is now all in ruins. There, what thrived in the beginning of the fourth epoch has been brought to a finish. Here in America, the fifth epoch started right away from scratch, so to speak. It was built up by the displaced people from Europe, the throw-offs, even some criminal elements. But all were pioneers in building the new American Nation, significantly at the beginning of this fifth epoch. The more I move about on this continent the more I feel that it has some strange relationship, some beautiful, promising, challenging relationship to the very character of this epoch. These succeeding crises in which we find ourselves are not only immediate problems of our own making. They have come upon us because we live in this vital turning-point of Earth evolution. And how fast are we moving towards the end of the century when Rudolf Steiner said the final fate of the planet Earth will be decided! It is not the Last Judgment, but that evolutionary crisis which the Advent of the Etheric Christ will bring.

And now one last remark in connection with these elementary facts. In the New Testament there occurs that phrase “The Last Day,” and here the translation is adequate. I often remind people in this connection of a European custom referring, in business jargon, to the Last Day, or “the ultimo:” the day the accounts have to be made up. You have to prepare your balance, send in your income tax return, and all that sort of thing — the end of the financial year. That is the concept of “The Last Day” in the New Testament, which is to say business does not stop after the book-balancing. There may be Last Days in human history whose characteristics are that accounts have to be made up, debts paid, balance sheets issued, income tax paid — all those things which in some measure we have begun to experience in this century. We are paying debts, cultural debts, either voluntarily or under compulsion, on a big scale. We are moving rapidly towards such a Last Day. But the great thing is that human history goes on afterwards. We may see the coming of the Etheric Christ as, if I may put it so, the opening up of new credit to humanity, but only on condition that a balance sheet has been made, debts paid, and the past wound up. So we come to realize how true is Rudolf Steiner's sentence: “Biblical prophecies will be fulfilled.” And he goes on: “Everything will be changed for the souls who are sojourning on Earth, and also for those who are no longer in the physical body.” It is then that he speaks of the new faculties developing.

Now let me start again from another biblical expression, moving from the Gospels into the Epistles of St. Paul. Paul is the first one who ever spoke of the Etheric Christ, in what is generally regarded by historians as the oldest part of the New Testament, that is, the two Epistles to the Thessalonians. They speak not of Jesus, not even of Christ; they speak primarily of the Etheric Coming of Christ. In those passages he elaborates to some extent a phrase which occurs also in the Gospels, that He will come “in the clouds.” Now there is a key word to that whole sphere, the Greek word nephele from which nebulous is derived, and Nifelheim, and such like. One wonders just what this means. As I have sometimes spoken to public audiences on this subject I will tell you how I introduce it because I think it may interest you to see how you can speak today, quite openly, about these things. I say (and this is taken from Rudolf Steiner's How To Attain Knowledge of the Higher Worlds) take a grain of wheat, a living one, and put it on your left hand; then put a perfect imitation of it — in plaster of paris, or plastic of any kind — on your right hand. Show them to people in an ordinary city audience and, if the imitation is perfect, they will not notice the difference. If you give the imitation to a farmer he is bound to sense it. You need not go far back in history to find that people generally would have seen the difference, because the last remnants of clairvoyance were still operating and could see the aura of a living grain. The Greek word for cloud, nephele, does include that concept of the great realm of the clouds which permeates, but also surrounds in a subtle way, all living things. In Anthroposophical terms we would say it was the etheric aura of organic matter, of living things. That is part of the cloud.

But that is not all. Here we proceed to certain considerations which I think belong essentially to our attempt to remove some of the blinds our souls now have against the vision of the Etheric Christ. We have plenty of material from Anthroposophy for doing so, for learning better to understand the visible clouds in the sky, which at least reflect — but you will see it is more than that — that part of the sphere in which the Etheric Presence will be observed. As you may know, ordinary clouds are a great scientific mystery. They are colder and heavier than the surrounding air, and yet they float. There are plenty of theories for this, but none very satisfactory. Recently I flew one day from Louisville to Chicago, and on the plane we were given a little booklet as an introduction to the meteorological phenomena which we could see. There it was stated that “the clouds are suspended by an uprush of cold air.” But as everybody knows, cold air does not rush up. It may do so in front of a mountain, but there is nothing flatter than the country between Louisville and Chicago. There is nothing to induce an uprush of cold air. How, then, are those clouds suspended? It is by the action of the etheric forces. This also explains that other great mystery in nature, the rise of the sap in spring. Scientific theory says it is due to capillary action, osmosis, etcetera. But you can answer, then why does that action work in the spring and not in the fall? Physical laws operate all the year round; water boils at 100° centigrade both in spring and fall. There is no seasonal exception to physical law. But this rising of the sap is due to the anti-gravitational forces of the etheric world, of which the Sun is the great center. Those forces modern science has completely failed to understand. In a famous quotation from Ruskin is a beautiful summing-up of the difficulty. He spoke of Newton — who could easily explain how the apple fell from the tree on his head, creating the legend of how he came to study the law of gravitation. But Ruskin said: “Newton has never explained how the apple got up there,” which is the problem in a nutshell — the question of the reality and the nature of the etheric forces.

For the Anthroposophist the etheric forces are not complicated chemical or physical forces but have their own character. The Greeks were far in advance of modern science in these matters. They had three words for “life:” zoe, the life of the spirit; psyche, the life of the soul; and bios (from which biology is derived), denoting organic life, the life of the etheric world. To use a strange phrase of Rudolf Steiner's, “the etheric world is essentially negative space;” it has spatial qualities. If we take gravitational space as positive — that with which we normally operate — we would have to ascribe, not in moral terms but in mathematical terms, the quality of “negative” to etheric space. It works in an opposite direction.

The visible clouds are suspended by etheric activity. And I can tell you a little detail from Rudolf Steiner which throws still more light on the subject. It is a fact that near Stuttgart you sometimes see in the spring that the clouds assume most peculiar shapes. They look like primeval monsters, like dragons really. We asked Rudolf Steiner whether that had any significance, and he said, “Yes! Remember that around here, a little to the east of the city, there is the greatest deposit of fossils in Central Europe, fossils of primeval animals, of the saurian type. And the forces which in the old days worked on those animals, giving shape to the dragons and saurians, operate up above in their kind of cosmic laboratory. They use the clouds as their plastic material. There you can still study the etheric formative forces which were special in this part of the world.” And you may remember how in certain lectures he speaks even of the glow of the sky as a visible reflection of the etheric. He says that we see blue because we see the air illumined by light against a dark background — that cosmic darkness is really the ether.

So the etheric world is not as hidden as we often think it is when we begin to read about it and study it. There are certain aspects of the etheric world which touch even our senses. Steiner said once that Stifter's grandmother (Stifter was an Austrian writer Steiner was very fond of) was far wiser than the most modern meteorologist, because she said that the clouds are the washing of the Mother of God, hung up in the sky by the angels. This is a kind of primitive, imaginative expression of the fact that clouds are not only material; they are the visible manifestation of the astral sphere. Therefore, all those references in biblical passages to the clouds are simply, well, speaking in a different language. But they speak essentially of the etheric sphere mentioned by Steiner as that in which the new Presence of Christ can be found. He then goes on to speak of changing faculties, both here and in the life after death; and in those very chapters in Thessalonians you find a reference to this, again camouflaged in the old translations. St. Paul says, “We shall be lifted up — caught up to meet the Lord in the air — and those alive shall have no advantage over those who sleep.” That is the old way of putting it.

Remember that Rudolf Steiner speaks in those lectures about a movement of humanity into that sphere of the clouds. Actually, the manifestation, the advent of Christ in the etheric world is a meeting; the Christ, in his rhythmical Presence, presses forward into the etheric sphere, into the sphere of life, but humanity — and it is vital that Steiner says “on its natural path of development” — touches on that sphere in its soul region. It is the first glimmering of an awakening of new senses which can see the etheric. One might think it is a first awakening of our etheric eyes. “You see, we think we see with our eyes,” he says, “but we don't literally see with the eyes we have in here” — and he pointed to his eyes. “They are a kind of microscope, or telescope, or camera, a fairly dead body in us. We see by means of it, with etheric activity.”

He explains the physiologically perceived colors as the result of etheric activity. If you look at green and afterwards at a white sheet of paper you see red (literally, not in anger!). This seeing red is due to the continuation of the etheric activity of the eye, which answers to the impressions of colors. We see a balance. We never see an actual color as it is, but always a balance. We produce complementary colors through the etheric activity of our eye; and what we see, the final physical effect, is a balance. Balance is so deeply built into MAN that all our relationships are balanced, or ought to be. (If you are sick, of course, your balance is disturbed.)

I have often wondered — and I say this with some caution because it is more an idea of my own — whether that very intensification of the natural etheric activity, to which we owe even our ordinary sense perceptions, becomes more and more subtle, and more and more active. Some people, I realize, can experience that; for instance, the activity of the etheric eye before it enters fully into a physical instrument is one of the first things you can experience in the process of waking up. It is just here that the etheric body begins to awake, naturally, and it is the etheric forces which see. In his lectures From Jesus to Christ, Steiner suggests that it is our own etheric activity which lightens up that sphere in which the Etheric Christ is present. In one sentence only he says this, but he does say it — that through our own activity we can shed some light. It is an activity which in its clarity, and beauty, can be strengthened through moral development; not necessarily only through the specific spiritual discipline of the meditative path, but really through moral development as a whole. Moral progress improves the etheric light we can shed from our own eyes, from our own heads, into the etheric world to lighten up the Christ.

But Rudolf Steiner goes further than that, and makes perhaps the most puzzling, the strangest of his remarks: that there will be times as the century progresses when the etheric Christ assumes such a visible form that He can be seen with physical eyes. It will be only the initiate, he says, who can really see that it is an etheric body; he would feel that it was the Christ form Who appeared in a room. But, Steiner said once, no one would ever see Him go down the stairs. There we come near to what we were speaking about a week ago, that ultimate consummation of the resurrection body. I quoted one sentence from the cycle The World of the Senses and the World of the Spirit which indicated that there is some kind of etheric materiality, what Steiner called “etheric matter.” It seems that under certain circumstances it can be so condensed that it assumes the appearance of a physical presence, and the picture we try to describe would not be complete if we did not mention this. Rudolf Steiner went so far as to say that a figure like this might even appear in an assembly of people and throw an illuminating remark into the discussion. Then it would depart, and nobody would know that it was the Etheric Christ Who had spoken. Steiner spoke very definitely about this.

Now whether these things have happened — whether they are happening, whether they are becoming more frequent — is a great question. One meets people — particularly in Central Europe — who speak of experiences which sound authentic. Naturally one keeps an open mind for such things and is very careful. But I should like to make one general observation. It seems to me very doubtful whether those first experiences, which Steiner foreshadows and promises, would take place among Anthroposophists. I am inclined to think the very opposite is the case. It may rather be with people on the fringe of the movement, somewhat connected with us, not those who are within and are its responsible leaders. You might find — it is open to question, but I will put it before you — a hint of this in Steiner's first Mystery Play. Remember Theodora who has the vision. She moves in the circle of Benedictus but she obviously is not one of his disciples. She is a striking character right at the beginning of that play, the one who sees the Etheric Christ there. She is a visitor, a welcome visitor in the house of Maria, but she is not one of the intimate disciples of Benedictus. Not wishing to overstress the fact, I nevertheless think it suggests to us that we should never think that we as Anthroposophists have a monopoly of such experiences.

Rudolf Steiner suggests that it may be that this vital experience comes to somebody as it did to Paul in his experience at Damascus — a biblical scene to which he often refers. I think one must take that statement with some qualification because the Damascus experience as described in the Bible shows a certain violence. Paul is thrown from his horse; he cannot speak; he is blind for three days, goes without food, and so on. Steiner never suggests that the modern experience of the Etheric Christ is accompanied by any such violence. The main point of comparison, I think, is that Paul saw — out of due time, which may explain the violence — he saw into the etheric sphere. The time had not come for humanity to do so. Possibly, however, there are other points of comparison. He was a seeker but one who looked first entirely in the wrong direction. Then, even the setting in Damascus seems to be suggestive, since all Eastern geography is symbolic. Damascus is situated in the desert, inhabited even in those days by Arab tribes. We know what kind of associations the Arabic spirit calls up in those of us who have read and lived for some time with the last lectures which Rudolf Steiner gave in the summer of 1924; those karma lectures where Arabism has become almost a symbol not only for people who lived in the desert but who cultivated the desert of intellectualism. Within the desert is Damascus, one of the most beautiful oases in the world, a beautiful city with palms and natural springs like a symbol of the etheric region in the center of a great, dry, sandy desert. And there comes the man who has persecuted the visible adherents of the historic Jesus. There, turning his back on Palestine, marching North, his eyes open and he sees, characteristically, not Christ — “Who art thou?” — “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.” In a sense it is the Christ incarnated not in the flesh but in the etheric body of Jesus.

If we have said that it is only our own light, our own moral qualities which may lighten up that sphere, let us remember that Steiner also says that the etheric body of Christ is in need of strengthening in substance, that the awe and wonder of our thought, the mercy and love of our hearts, the conscientiousness of our deeds, are material that strengthens His etheric body. Thus, we can do something about it ourselves. Although he stresses the fact that it is a natural event which takes place, he also suggests that this event comes today to a humanity which has grown beyond the childhood of early Christianity and is reaching manhood, showing its responsibility in cooperation, and which adds both to the light and to the substance of that experience. Even in this, dear friends, I feel we have no monopoly. That can be done outside our ranks. But, as I said last week, we do have a heavy responsibility in that we are the only people who will understand. And it will be vital that these events should find understanding. Our society is the cosmic organ of understanding for these events.

This is perhaps the thought with which I may conclude. For a moment we may reflect on the fact that today a society entrusted with such an enormous responsibility has no longer the shelter which such societies had in ancient times. Then the organs for cosmic understanding were confined to the sacred precincts of the mystery temples, and only those were allowed to share in their knowledge whom the priests and initiates selected, whom they recognized in their karmic background and in their aura as potential candidates for the mysteries. This is no longer the case. Today the cosmic organ for understanding the mysteries in human history is a society open to everybody who cares to walk in and become a member. That is a tremendous change. Perhaps this will also help us to understand some of the tragic events which have moved in upon us in recent years, from which our movement has suffered and with which we are still battling.

The very fact that we are not a selected body, selected by the superior wisdom of an initiate, but that we have come together through our free choice, with all our imperfections, will explain the shortcomings of this cosmic organ of cognition we are supposed to be. At the same time we cannot forget that this is what we are supposed to be.

So let me conclude, as we did last time, with the suggestion that whatever we may be, to be a cosmic vehicle for understanding is our greatest responsibility. However these profound events may take place, anywhere, we have no right to judge. But we know that in our Society is the only place where they will be really understood. This is our responsibility.

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