Our bookstore now ships internationally. Free domestic shipping $50+ →

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

The Michael Mystery
GA 26

XXVIII. Historic Upheavals at the Dawn of the Spiritual Soul

The downfall of the Roman Empire, accompanied by the appearance on the scene of peoples moving on from the East (the so-called Migration of the Peoples,) is an historic phenomenon on which the eyes of Man must be turned again and again in enquiry. For the present time still contains much that is after-effect of those tremendous occurrences.

But it is just here that an understanding of what happened is not possible through a mere external study of history. One must look into the souls of the human beings engaged in this ‘migration’ and in the downfall of the Roman Empire.

Greece and Rome are at the flower of their civilization during the period when in mankind at large the Intellectual or Mind-Soul is developing. The Greeks and Romans are indeed the more especial bearers of this development. But the evolution of this stage of the soul amongst these peoples is not such as to have in it a living seed which could properly evolve out of itself the Spiritual Soul. Every treasure of the soul and spirit latent in the Intellectual or Mind-Soul is brought in living profusion to the light of day in the civilization of the Greeks and Romans. But to carry its life-stream by its own innate power over into the Spiritual Soul—that it cannot do. The stage of the spiritual soul naturally emerges in due course. Only it is as though this Spiritual Soul were not able to arise spontaneously out of the personality of the Greek or Roman, but rather, as though it had to be implanted in him from without.

The state of union with, and again of detachment from, the divine spiritual beings—so often spoken of in these letters—takes place in the course of the ages with varying intensity. In old days, it was a power that intervened with very forcible effect in the evolution of human affairs. As it enters into the Greek and Roman life of the first centuries of Christianity, the power is a weaker one. Nevertheless it is there. So long as he was developing to the full the Intellectual or Mind-Soul within him, the Greek or roman experienced—not consciously, but with important effects for the soul—a feeling of detachment from the divine-spiritual form of being, an emancipation of his own human being. This came to an end in the first centuries of Christianity. The first glimmering dawn of the Spiritual Soul, because the Spiritual soul itself was not yet able to be received into the human being.

And so they felt this Christian content as something that came ready-given to them from without, from the spiritual outer world, not as something with which they grew together and became identified through their own inherent powers of knowledge.

It was otherwise with the peoples now coming into history out of the North-East. They had passed through the stage of the Intellectual or Mind-Soul in a condition which, in their case, was felt as one of dependence on the spirit-world. They first began to feel something of human independence when the nascent powers of the Spiritual Soul dawned in their first Christian beginnings. Amongst these people, the Spiritual Soul made its appearance as something closely bound up with the very being of Man. They felt themselves in the full joyous expansion of inward power when the Spiritual Soul was awakening to life within them.

Into the first, fresh life of the dawning Spiritual Soul amongst these peoples fell the inner content of Christianity. They felt it as something coming to life within their souls, not as something ready-given from without.

Such was the tone of mind in which these people came to the Roman Empire and all that this involved. Such was the Arian mood as contrasted with the Athanasian. A profound contrast was here emerging in human history and evolution.

In the Spiritual Soul of the Greek and Roman, external to the man himself, the divine spirit-being began its work, not completely uniting with the earthly life but only raying in upon it. In the just dawning Spiritual Soul of the Franks, the Germanic tribes, etc., there was at work—but as yet faintly—so much of divine spirit, as was able to unite itself with the human being.

What happened next was that the form of Christian content which dwelt in the Spiritual Soul hovering over and outside of Man, spread abroad in life; whilst that which was united with men's souls remained something that abode in the inner mind as an incentive, an impulse biding the time of its full development, which can only come with the attainment of a certain stage in the Spiritual Soul's evolution

The period from the first centuries of Christianity down to the Age of the Spiritual Soul is a time when the dominant spiritual life of mankind is one which hovers above Man. It is a spiritual content with which he cannot connect himself knowingly, through the exercise of his own powers of mind. Accordingly, he establishes an external connection; he ‘explains’ this spiritual content, and examines in thought the precise limits where the soul's powers fall short of uniting with it in clear knowledge. He draws a boundary line between the province over which his knowledge reaches, and that where it does not reach. The result is a deliberate abstention from the employment of those soul-powers which rise with knowledge into the world of spirit. And so at last there comes a time, at the turn of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when with the very powers that should be directed to spiritual realities men repudiate all spiritual reality, and turn away from the spirit with their life of knowledge altogether. They begin to live in those soul-powers only, which are directed to things perceptible by the outer senses.

Dull grew men's powers of knowledge, blunted to spiritual things, in the eighteenth century more especially.

The thinkers lose the spiritual content to their Ideas. In the Idealist philosophy of the first half of the nineteenth century, they represent the spirit-void ideas themselves as the creative reality and content of the World—thus Fichte, Schelling, Hegel. Or else they refer to a Supersensible which fades away because the spirit is not in it—thus Spencer, John Stewart Mill and others. Ideas are dead when they do not seek the living Spirit.

The spiritual eye for the Spiritual is, in fact, lost.

A continuation of the old way of spirit-knowledge is not possible. The soul's powers, as the Spiritual Soul develops in them, must strive through to their own newly generated union, living and direct, with the spirit-world. This very striving is the essence and intention of Anthroposophy.

In the spiritual life of the present age it is precisely the leading people who are most at a loss to know the meaning of Anthroposophy, or what its object is. And in this way large circles, who follows these leaders, are also kept aloof. The leaders live amid a content of soul and mind which has gradually lost the habit of using man's spiritual powers. With these people, it is as though one were to try and induce a man who is paralyzed to make use of his paralyzed organ. For it was paralysis that set in during the time from the sixteenth century to the second half of the nineteenth—paralysis of the higher powers of knowledge. And men remained all-conscious of it; they regarded the one-sided application of their powers of knowledge to the sense-world as an important step in human progress.

Leading Thoughts

The Greeks and Romans are the peoples specially predisposed for the evolution of the Intellectual or Mind-Soul. They develop this stage of the soul to full completion. But they have not the living seed within themselves, through which to pass on in direct line to the Spiritual Soul. Their soul-life is completely merged in the Intellectual or Mind-Soul.

What comes instead—during the time from the rise of Christianity to the age of evolving the Spiritual Soul—is the reign above of a spirit-world which does not unite with the human soul-powers. These soul-powers ‘explain’ the spirit world, but do not experience it.

The peoples moving down upon the Roman Empire from the North-East in the so-called ‘Migration of the Peoples,’ take hold of the Intellectual or Mind-Soul more in the life of Feeling. Meanwhile, embedded in this Feeling element, the Spiritual Soul is developing its powers in their souls. The inner life of these peoples is waiting for the time when a complete union of the human soul with the spiritual world will once more be possible.