Exoteric Christianity is to be found in the Gospels and as they have been interpreted through history; esoteric, inner Christianity is the living teaching of the Risen Christ: resurrection. Today it lies in the resurrection of thinking: how dead thoughts can be awakened to life in the form of moral impulses.
2 April 1922, Dornach
The evolution of mankind is recorded in documents that have been preserved as religious records, or as other documents relating to world-conceptions. But it must be emphasized over and over again that, in addition to these records that have influenced mankind throughout history (and there is, indeed, a deep justification for this exterior influence), there are other records, which we may term esoteric records.
When people spoke in a deeper sense of a knowledge of man and of man's conception of the world, they always made a distinction between an exoteric teaching, that gives a more exterior knowledge of things, and an esoteric teaching; only those who had trained their hearts and minds accordingly, were able to penetrate into this teaching. In Christianity, too, especially as far as its central point, the Mystery of Golgotha, is concerned, we must make a distinction between exoteric conceptions and esoteric knowledge. An exoteric contemplation of Christianity, accessible to all the world, is contained in the Gospels. Side by side with this exoteric contemplation, there has always been an esoteric Christianity for those who were willing — as I have said before — to prepare their hearts and minds in an adequate way for the reception of an esoteric Christianity.
All that could be gathered of the intercourse of the Christ who had passed through death and had risen from the dead, with those of his disciples who were able to understand him, was of the greatest importance in this esoteric Christianity. You know already that the Gospels contain very little about the intercourse of the risen Christ with his disciples. But what the Gospels tell us concerning this intercourse of the risen Christ with his disciples, can indeed give us an inkling and a foreboding of something very special, that entered the evolution of the earth through the Christ who rose from the dead. But we cannot go beyond such forebodings, without an esoteric knowledge.
These inklings of a truth acquire weight and significance if we add to them Paul's utterances. Paul's words acquire a particular meaning, for he assures us that he was able to believe in Christ only from the moment in which the Christ appeared to him through the event at Damascus. This gave him the sure knowledge that Christ had passed through death and that, after his death, he was connected with the evolution of the earth as the living Christ. The event at Damascus gave Paul a knowledge of the living Christ and we should bear in mind what this impiles, when it is said by a man like Paul. Why could Paul not be convinced of the true existence of the Christ-being before the event at Damascus? We must bear in mind what it implied for Paul, initiated to some extent in the Hebrew teachings — that the Being who lived on earth as Christ-Jesus, had been condemned to a shameful death on the cross in accordance with human laws and justice. Paul could not grasp that the old prophecies referred to a Being who had been condemned lawfully to the shameful death through crucifixion. Until the event at Damascus, Paul saw in the shameful crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth the proof that He could not be the Messiah. Only the experience at Damascus convinced Paul; the vision at Damascus convinced him of the truth of the Mystery of Golgotha. In spite of the fact that Jesus of Nazareth — or better, the Being who was incarnated in Jesus of Nazareth — had undergone the shameful death on the cross, something very deep and great is implied in this confession of Paul's conviction. The traditions that still existed in the first centuries after Christ, no longer exist. They may exist, at the most, in the form of outer historical records kept by some secret society that does not understand them. We must find again, through an anthroposophical spiritual science, that which surpasses the scanty communications concerning the Christ, after the Mystery of Golgotha. This is what we must find again: What did the risen Christ tell to the disciples that were around him, and that are not mentioned in the Gospels? For, what the Gospels say of the apostles who met Christ-Jesus on the way to Emmaeus, and other things recorded of the apostles, are steeped in tradition and refer to simple souls who were unable to advance to an esoteric knowledge. For this reason we must go beyond this and ask: What did the Christ say after his resurrection to the disciples who were really initiated?
If we want to understand this, we must begin by taking into consideration the frame of mind in which men of past ages took up the real Mystery of Golgotha and how the Mystery of Golgotha changed their disposition.
When we speak of the great truths of the past connected with man's earthly evolution, a modern man finds it very difficult to understand that the first men who lived on the earth did not possess a knowledge of the kind termed “knowledge” by us. The first men who lived on the earth were able to receive the wisdom of gods through atavistic, clairvoyant capacities. This means nothing less than this: Divine beings who descended to the earth from higher worlds could impart their teachings to human beings — in a spiritual way, of course — and these, in their turn, taught other souls. In the ancient past of human evolution on earth, it was a well-known fact that men were taught by the divine beings themselves, who descended to the earth from spiritual worlds. This condition, transcending the earthly one, could be attained especially by those men who had passed through the initiation in the Mysteries, where for the most part, they were outside their bodies with their souls and were able to reveive the communications of the gods in a spiritual way, because they were not dependent on the outer form of speech, or spoken words. They did not receive these communications in a state of mind resembling today's dreaming state, but in a living intercourse with divine beings which took place spiritually, and where they received what these beings considered to be their own particular wisdom. This wisdom at first consisted of communications (if I may call them thus) of the gods concerning the abode of human souls in the divine world before descending into an earthly body. During that state of consciousness which I have just described, the gods taught human beings what the souls experienced before their descent into an earthly body through conception. Then men felt as if they were being reminded of something, and they found that the communications of the gods reminded them of their experiences in the world of the spirit and soul, before birth, i.e. before conception.
An echo can still be found in Plato that this was indeed so in ancient times. Today we can look back on a divine spiritual wisdom received here on earth by men who were in the frame of mind just described, a wisdom received — we may indeed say it in the real sense of the word — from the gods themselves. This wisdom was of a special kind: namely, of such a kind, that people — strange as it may seem today — knew nothing of death. It may seem strange to you today, yet it is so: the oldest inhabitants of the earth knew nothing of death, just as the child knows nothing of death. The people who were instructed in the way indicated by me and passed on this instruction to others who still possessed an atavistic clairvoyance, became conscious at once of the fact that their soul-being had come down from divine-spiritual worlds into a body, and that it would leave this body. They considered this an advance in the life of the spirit and of the soul. Birth and death appeared to them as a metamorphosis, as something which is the beginning and end of something. Were we to draw this schematically we might say that people saw the human soul in its progressive evolution and considered life on earth as an interlude. But they did not see in the points “a” and “b” a beginning and an end, they only saw the uninterrupted stream of the life of spirit and soul. They did see, of course, that the people around them died. You will not think that I am comparing these ancient men with animals; for, although their outer aspect resembled that of animals, these oldest of men had a higher soul-spiritual nature. I have already explained this before. But just as an animal knows nothing of death when it sees another animal which is dead, so did these ancient men know nothing of death, for they received only the idea of an uninterrupted stream in the life of soul and spirit. Death was something pertaining to Maya, the great illusion, and it made no great impression on men, for they knew life, only. Although they saw death, they knew nothing of death. For, their spirit-soul life was not ensnared by death. They saw human life only from within. When they looked at birth, human life extended beyond birth, into the spiritual. When they looked at death, the life of spirit and soul again extended beyond death, into the spiritual; birth and death had no meaning for life. Life alone was known — not death.
Men gradually came out of this frame of spirit. On tracing the evolution of mankind from the oldest times to the Mystery of Golgotha, one may say: more and more, human beings learnt to know death. They learnt to know death more and more as something that made an impression on them. Their souls became entangled in death, and out of man's feelings arose the question: what happens to the soul when man goes through death?
You see, in far distant ages people never contemplated death as an end. Their problem was at the most one dealing with the special nature of metamorphosis involved. They asked whether the breath leaves man and continues streaming, and whether the soul enters thereby into eternity; or else, they had some other conception of the way in which the life of spirit and soul continues. They thought about the nature of this continuation, but they did not think of death as an end. Only with the approach of the Mystery of Golgotha people really felt that death has a meaning and that life on earth is something that ends.This, of course, did not assume the form of a problem formulated in a philosophical or scientific way, but it entered the soul as a feeling. Men on earth had to come to this feeling, for it was necessary for the evolution of mankind that the understanding, or the intellect, should enter life on earth. But the intellect depends on the fact that we are able to die. I have often mentioned this. Man had therefore to become entangled in death. He had to become acquainted with death. The old ages in which man knew nothing of death were all non-intellectualistic. Men received their ideas through inspirations from the spiritual world and did not think about them. There was no intellect. But the intellect had to come. If we express it in a soul-spiritual way, the understanding could come only because man is able to die and carries within him all the time the forces of death. In a physical way, we might say that death can enter because man deposits salts, i.e. solid mineral substances, dead substances, not only in the body, but also in his brain. The brain has the constant tendency to deposit salt — I might say, toward an incomplete ossification. So that the brain contains a constant tendency toward death. This inoculation of death had to enter in mankind. And I might say, that the result of this necessary development — that death began to have a real influence in man's life — was the outward acquaintance with death. If men had remained the same as in the past, where they did not really know death, they would never have been able to develop an intellect, for the intellect is only possible in a world where death holds sway.
This is how matters stand, seen from a human aspect. But they can also be contemplated from the aspect of the higher hierarchies, and then they will appear as follows: The higher hierarchies contain in their being the forces that have formed Saturn, the Sun, the Moon and finally the Earth. If the higher hierarchies had expressed their teachings amongst themselves, as it were, up to the Mystery of Golgotha, they would have said: We can form the Earth out of Saturn, Sun and Moon. But if the Earth were to contain only what we have placed into Saturn, Sun and Moon it would never have been able to develop beings who know something about death, and can therefore develop the intellect within them. We, the higher hierarchies, are able to let an Earth proceed out of the Moon, on which there are men who know nothing of death, and on which they cannot develop the intellect. It is not possible for us, higher hierarchies, to form the Earth in such a way that it is able to supply the forces which lead man towards the intellect. We must rely, for this, on an entirely different being, on a being who comes from another direction than our own — The Ahrimanic Being. Ahriman is a being who does not belong to our hierarchy. Ahriman comes into the stream of evolution from another direction. If we tolerate Ahriman in the evolution of the Earth, if we allow him a share in it, he brings us death, and with it, the intellect, and we can take up in the human being death and intellect. Ahriman knows death, because he is at one with the Earth and has trodden paths which have brought him into connection with the evolution of the Earth. He is an initiate, a sage of death, and for this reason he is the ruler of the intellect. The gods had to reckon with Ahriman — if I may express it in this way. They had to say: the evolution cannot proceed without Ahriman. It is only a question of admitting Ahriman into the evolution. But if Ahriman is admitted and becomes the lord of death and, consequently, of the intellect too, we forfeit the Earth, and Ahriman, whose sole interest lies in permeating the Earth with intellect, will claim the Earth for himself. The gods faced the great problem of losing to a certain extent their rule over the Earth in favour of Ahriman. There was only one possibility — that the gods themselves should learn to know something which they could not learn in their godly abodes which were not permeated by Ahriman — namely, that the gods should learn to know death itself, on the Earth, through one of their emissaries — the Christ. A god had to die on earth, and he had to die in such a way that this was not grounded in the wisdom of the gods, but in the human error which would hold sway if Ahriman alone were to rule. A god had to pass through death and he had to overcome death.
Thus the Mystery of Golgotha meant this for the gods: a greater wealth of knowledge through the wisdom of death. If a god had not passed through death, the whole Earth would have become entirely intellectual, without ever reaching the evolution which the gods had planned for it from the very beginning.
In past ages, people had no knowledge of death. But they learnt to know death. They had to face the feeling that through death, i.e. through the intellect, we enter a stream of evolution which is quite different from the one from which we come.
Now the Christ taught his initiates that he came from a world where death was unknown; he learnt to know death, here on earth, and conquered death. If one understands this connection between the earthly world and the divine world, it will be possible to lead the intellect back gain into spirituality. We might express approximately in this way the content of the esoteric teachings given by the Christ to his initiated disciples: it was the teaching of death, as seen from the scene of the divine world. If one wishes to penetrate into the real depths of this esoteric teaching, one must realize that he who understands the entire evolution of mankind knows that the gods have overcome Ahriman by using his forces for the benefit of the Earth, but his power has been broken because the gods themselves learnt to know death in the being of Christ. Indeed, the gods have placed Ahriman into the evolution of the earth, but, in making use of him, they have forced him to come down into the evolution of the earth without completing his own rulership. He who learns to know Ahriman since the Mystery of Golgotha and he who knew him before, knows that Ahriman has waited for the world-historic moment in which he will not only invade the unconscious and subconscious in man, as in the case since the days of Atlantis (you know this through myOccult Science), but will invade also man's consciousness. If we apply human expressions to the willing of gods, we might say that Ahriman has waited with longing for the moment in which to invade human consciousness with his power. His purpose was thwarted because he knew nothing of the divine plan whereby a being — the Christ — was to be sent to the Earth, a being who underwent death. Thus the intervention of Ahriman was possible, but the sharp edge was taken off his rule. Since then, Ahriman uses every opportunity to encourage men in the exclusive use of the intellect. Ahriman has not lost all hope today that he will succeed in inducing men to use only their intellect. What would this imply? If Ahriman would succeed in convincing men against all other convictions that man can live only in his body and that, as a spirit-soul being, he cannot be separated from his body, the idea of death would seize the souls so strongly that Ahriman would be able to realize his plans quite easily. Ahriman hopes for this always. One might say, for instance, that special joy fills the heart of Ahriman — if one can speak of a heart in Ahriman's case, but this is a comparison, for I must always use human expressions in cases where other expressions should really be found — that special joy lives in Ahriman's soul since the period stretching from the forties of the 19th century until about the end of the 19th century; in the predominant sway of materialism Ahriman could cherish new hopes for his rule over the earth. In this time even theology becomes materialistic. I have mentioned already that theology has become unchristian and that the theologian from Basle, Overbeck, wrote a book in which he tried to prove that modern theology is no longer Christian. This gave new hopes to Ahriman.
An antagonism to Ahriman exists today only in the teachings like those that stream through Anthroposophy. If Anthroposophy can again make clear to men the independence of the spirit-soul being which is not dependent on the bodily being, Ahriman will have to give up his hopes for the time. The battle of the Christ against Ahriman is again possible. And we can have a foreboding of this in the Temptation described in the Gospel. But a full understanding can be gained only by penetrating into what I have often set forth, namely, that Lucifer plays a greater part in the older evolution of mankind, and that Ahriman began to have an influence on human consciousness since the Mystery of Golgotha. He had an influence also before that time, but not on the consciousness of man.
If we look at the human mind and soul we must say that the most important point in mankind's evolution lies where man learns to know that the Christ-impulse contains a living force which enables him to overcome death in himself, when he unites himself with it.
Seen from the spiritual world this implies that Ahriman was drawn into the evolution of the earth by the hierarchies belonging to Saturn, Sun, Moon, Earth, etc. But his claims of rulership were hedged in because they were placed at the service of the evolution of the earth. Ahriman has, as it were, been forced to enter the evolution of the earth. Without him, the gods could not have placed intellectualism into mankind and if they had not succeeded in taking off the sharp edge to Ahriman's rule through the Christ event, Ahriman would have rendered the whole earth intellectual from within and material from without. The Mystery of Golgotha is not only an inner mystical event; we must look upon it entirely as an outer event which cannot, however, be set forth according to an outer materialistic, historical investigation. It must be set forth in such a way as to show the entrance of Ahriman into the evolution of the earth, and, at the same time, the overcoming of Ahrimanism, to a certain extent. Thus we have a battle of the gods which was enacted through the Mystery of Golgotha. That a battle of the gods took place on that occasion, is contained also in the esoteric teachings imparted by the Christ to his initiated disciples, after his resurrection. If we are to designate that which existed in the form of an esoteric Christianity, we might say that in past ages of the evolution of the earth people knew of the existence of these worlds through the manifestations that I have characterized a short while ago. But these divine worlds could not tell them anything concerning death, for death did not exist in the worlds of the gods, and it did not exist for man, because he gained knowledge only of the steady uninterrupted progress of the spirit and soul through the spheres of the gods. Man came nearer and nearer to the understanding of death. By yielding himself up to the Christ, he could gain for himself a sure power which enabled him to overcome death. This is man's inner evolution.
But the esoteric element which Christ gave to his initiated disciples consisted therein, that He told them: What took place on Golgotha, is the reflection of superterrestial events and of the relationship between the worlds of the gods connected with Saturn, Sun, Moon and the present Earth, and Ahriman. The cross of Golgotha cannot be looked upon as something earthly, but as something having a meaning for the entire universe — this was the content of esoteric Christianity.
Perhaps we can awaken a particular feeling in connection with esoteric Christianity: Imagine two esoteric disciples of the Christ, who progress more and more in the acquisition of an esoteric Christianity, and imagine them speaking together while they are still battling with their doubts: One of them would say more or less the following words to the other one: The Christ who is teaching us, has descended from worlds which are known from the past. Gods were known in past ages, but they were gods who could not speak of death. If we had remained with these gods, we would never have learnt anything concerning the nature of death. The gods themselves had first to send down to the earth a divine being, in order to learn something concerning death though one of their own ranks. After His resurrection, Christ teaches us what the gods had to fulfill in order to guide the evolution of the earth to a right end. If we keep to him, we will learn something that men could not learn until then. We learn what the gods did behind the scenes of the worlds's existence in order to further the evolution of the earth in the right way. We learn how they brought in the forces of Ahriman, without allowing them to be of harm to man, but to be of use to him. What the initiated disciples received as the esoteric teaching of the risen Christ was something deeply moving. A disciple, such as the one described above, could only have continued by saying: Today we would know nothing at all concerning the gods, for we would be in the meshes of death had Christ not died and risen, and had He not taught us, after His resurrection, the experiences of the gods concerning death. As human beings, we must immerse ourselves into a period of time in which we can no longer know anything of the gods. The gods found a new way of speaking to us. This way went through the Mystery of Golgotha. The essential knowledge conveyed to the disciples through the Mystery of Golgotha, was that men could again approach the divine worlds which they had left. In the first period of the Christian evolution, the disciples were permeated by this stirring teaching. Many a one, whom history barely mentions, bore within him the knowledge which he could have gained only because in the early times he had enjoyed the teaching of the risen Christ himself, or else because he was connected in some way with the teachers who had been taught by the Christ.
Later on, all these things were exteriorized. They were exteriorized to such an extent that the first heralds of Christianity attached great value to the fact of being able to say that they were the disciples of one who had been taught by a disciple of the apostles. It was a continuous development, for he who imparted the teaching, had known one who had seen an apostle, i.e. one who had known the Lord himself, after his resurrection. In the past, some value was still attached to this living development, but the form in which it reached a later mankind was already exteriorized. It had assumed the aspect of an outer historical description. But, essentially, it goes back to what I have just set forth. The incorporation of the intellect, which began already, and particularly, during the fourth and fifth centuries after the Mystery of Golgotha, and underwent a special change in the fifteenth century — the beginning of the fifth post-atlantean epoch — this development of the intellect brought about the loss of the ancient wisdom which enabled man to grasp something of the spiritual truths, whereas the new wisdom was not there. To a certain extent, men forgot for a whole age everything that had an esoteric significance in Christianity.
As stated, some records dealing with this esoteric knowledge remained in the keeping of secret societies, the members of which no longer understood the content of these records — in our age, certainly not. These records really refer to the teachings that were imparted by the risen Christ to some of his initiated disciples.
Suppose that the ancient Hebrew teaching had not received new life through Christianity — then, Paul's conviction before the event at Damascus would have been justified. For, Paul more or less accepted the view that there is an old traditional teaching, which existed originally as a divine-spiritual revelation given to men in a distant past, in the spiritual form which I have described. Then, this was preserved in written records. Amongst the Hebrews, there were scribes who knew what was contained in the records from out of the ancient wisdom of the gods. The sentence that condemned Christ-Jesus to death came from such scribes. While he was still Saul, Paul looked up to this original divine wisdom of the past and thought that this ancient wisdom was the source of the knowledge which came streaming down even to the scribes of his time. The fact that prominent men took up the calling of a scribe, could, however, bring this divine wisdom only as far as the pronouncing of righteous sentences. Impossible — quite impossible — for an innocent man to be condemned to death through crucifixion! Especially if things took the course they did take during the trial of Christ Jesus. This was the course of Paul's thoughts. Only the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, was already entangled instinctively in quite another world-conception and could utter the pregnant sentence: What is Truth? Paul, as Saul, could not possibly imagine that what had taken place according to a righteous judgement, might not be truth. What a conviction had to be gained by Paul? The conviction that there can be error in the truth which used to come streaming down to men from the gods, for men have changed it into error — into an error so strong, that the most innocent of all had to pass through death. The original divine wisdom streams down as far as the wisdom of the scribes, who were the Hebrew contemporaries of the Mystery of Golgotha. This wisdom can only contain truth — thought Saul. But he had to think otherwise. When Paul was still Saul, he used to say: If he, who died on the cross, is indeed the Christ and the Messiah, this current of wisdom must contain error in its truth, and error brought Christ to the cross. That is, man must have turned the old divine wisdom into error. Naturally, only the actual fact that this is so, indeed, could convince Saul. Only Christ himself could convince him, by appearing to him in the event at Damascus. What did this mean for Saul? It meant that a divine wisdom no longer existed, for the Ahrimanic element had entered into it.
Thus Paul reached the point of seeing that mankind's evolution had been seized by an enemy and that this enemy is the source of error on earth. In bringing the intellect, he brings also the possibility of error, and, in its greatest aspect, this error is responsible for the death on the cross of the most innocent of all. First, this conviction must be gained — that He who has no stain upon him, died on the cross. This enabled men to see how Ahriman crept into the evolution of humanity and how a super-sensible, superterrestial event existed in the evolution of the Ego, through the enactment of the Mystery of Golgotha. An esoteric fact can never be merely mystical. It is always an enormous mistake to explain mere mysticism as esotericism. The esoteric knowledge is always a knowledge of facts which take place, as such, in the spiritual world, and remain hidden behind the veil of the physical world. For, behind this veil, the adjustment between the divine world and Ahriman takes place, as enacted in the death on the cross of Christ-Jesus. Paul felt that error, leading to the death on the cross, can only enter a world wherein man is seized by the Ahrimanic powers. And when he had understood this, he learnt the truth of esoteric Christianity.
Paul was undoubtedly one of those who belonged, in this sense, to the initiates. But initiation gradually died out, through the growing influence of intellectualism. Today we must return to a knowledge of esoteric Christianity: we must know again that Christianity does not only contain what is exoteric, but goes beyond the forebodings that can be awakened through the Gospels. Today very little is said concerning an esoteric Christianity, but humanity must return to this knowledge, which is not based on outer documents. We must learn to fathom what the Christ himself taught to his initiated disciples after his resurrection, and we must take for granted that he could impart such teachings only after having passed through an experience, here on earth, which he could not have had in the divine world — for until the Mystery of Golgotha death did not exist in the divine worlds. No being of the divine worlds had passed through death — Christ is the first-born who passed through death from the world of the hierarchies, connected with the evolution of the Earth that went through Saturn, Sun and Moon.
The secret of Golgotha is the inclusion of death into life. Before Golgotha, the knowledge of life did not include death. Now death became known as an essential part of life, as an experience which strengthens life. Humanity went through a weaker form of life when nothing was known of death; humanity must live more forcefully if it wants to pass through death and yet remain alive. Death, in this connection, is also the intellect. Men possessed a comparatively weaker sense of life when they had no need of the intellect. The older people who obtained their knowledge of the divine worlds in the form of images and inner manifestations, did not die inwardly. They always remained alive. They could laugh at death because they remained alive inwardly. The Greeks still relate how happy the ancients were because, when death approached them, they became so dazed within, that they hardly noticed it. This was the last remnant of a world-conception that knew nothing of death. Modern man experiences the intellect. Intellect renders us cold and dead within. It paralyses us. When our intellect is active, we do not really live. We must feel that when we are thinking, we are not really alive, that our life is poured into the empty pictures of our understanding. A strong life is needed in order to experience the living activity contained in the lifeless images formed by our intellect, a creative, living activity inspite of all. A strong life is needed to reach the sphere where moral impulses flow out of the force of pure thinking, and where we learn to understand the freedom in man, through the impulses of pure thinking.
This is what I tried to set forth in my Philosophy of Freedom, which is really an ethical conception, and tries to show how dead thoughts can be awakened into life in the form of moral impulses, and thus be led to resurrection. An inner Christianity is undoubtedly contained in this Philosophy of Freedom.
With these explanations I wished to place before your souls, from a particular aspect, something concerning an esoteric Christianity. This age, which is so full of disputes concerning the nature of Christianity in an exoteric, historical sense, needs an esoteric Christianity — it is necessary to point out the esoteric teachings of Christianity. I hope that they will not be taken lightly, but with the needed earnestness and responsibility. When speaking of such things, one feels how difficult it is to clothe these experiences in the words of modern speech, which has already become abstract. For this reason, I have tried to attune your souls by describing the inner processes of man in the form of images, in order to form a thread leading from the single human being to that which constitutes, in an esoteric sense, the historical evolution of humanity, which is contained, as something essential, in the Mystery of Golgotha.