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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

The Christian Mystery
GA 97

XXVI. The Three Aspects of the World

4 December 1906, Cologne

We can see that the world we encounter, the world in which we live, has three aspects—firstly the way it shows itself to us outwardly, secondly the way we inwardly experience it, and thirdly the way it is inside itself.

Our sense organs convey to us the aspect in which the world shows itself to us outwardly, the world of shapes and forms in inorganic nature, the mineral world; in living nature, the plant world; in sentient nature, the animal world, and in thinking nature, the human world. It comes to us from outside as a world of sensory perceptions, and we take in this world of phenomena, of perceptions, through our sense organs. Our sense organs are the gates through which the outside world with its forms has access to us. If we did not have our sense organs, the world of forms would be forever a secret to us, something hidden; it would not exist for us. People might tell us of it, giving descriptions that we could at least partly understand. But for as long as we would lack sense organs, we would never be able to have a true idea of the outside world with its shapes and forms. All the things we now take in by seeing, hearing, touching, tasting and smelling them would not exist for us in that case. The outside world would remain shrouded in darkness for us and we could only have a dim notion of it, getting an approximate but never a true picture of it from the descriptions given by those who knew it. This world of forms would have remained forever hidden to human beings if their senses had not opened up to take it in. The senses had to open up so that human beings might have access to this outside world.

Awareness of the world perceptible to the senses is an evolutional stage humanity did not know before. There was a time when human sense organs had not yet opened up to the outside world. Human beings were then unable to perceive the world of shape and form; they were unable to perceive anything outside; they still lived entirely within themselves, closed off from the world. The inner life they knew then is something we still have as our life of inner responses today.

In this inner life we now find the second aspect of the world. Inner responses arise to anything the senses perceive of the forms in the outside world. Just as we perceive the outside world through the senses, so we respond in our souls to the impressions that world makes on us. This inner world of our own will come to conscious awareness to the degree in which the soul and its organs have developed. The more highly developed a person is, the more does he also feel this outside world to be an inner world in his soul; the more he has developed the organs of his soul, the richer will be the images of it that arise within him, and the greater will be the order and harmony in which they exist within him. To make the outside world wholly his own, a human being must have a strong soul that is differentiated and configured to be harmonious, a fully developed soul organism. The more rich and varied the inner life someone has developed, the more will the outside world appear in it in many different images, full of variety. The greater the harmony in his soul, the more beautiful will be the way the outside world is reflected in his soul. The outside world then enters wholly into the soul, to be a beautiful, harmonious whole full of life and variety.

In their waking consciousness, human beings concentrate mainly on the outside world, and the responses they feel inwardly are chaotic to begin with. They must learn to bring order into these chaotic responses and regulate them, establish a conscious relationship to the outside world and make them into a harmonious whole. They must learn to gain control of this inner world, for only then will it become their very own world in which they are able to live consciously and according to their own will. Human beings enter into this inner world of theirs in their dreams. They are then removed from the world perceived by the senses and given over to the chaotic whirl of the inner responses that arise in images before the mind's eye. Those dream images become more regular and meaningful as they are able to bring order into their inner responses.

This inner world which has arisen in their souls is the aspect of the outside world as they feel it to be. It differs from the aspect in which the outside world presents itself to their senses.

There is however yet another aspect, and that is the aspect of the world as it really is. It is the aspect of the full reality of the world, as it is inwardly. Human beings gain this aspect if they continue on the road on which they have set out. When clear sensory perceptions have met with inner responses, and these responses have been brought into harmonious order and a beautiful rhythm, these will take human beings out into the world again. They build a bridge between their souls and the world, and as the world pours into them through the senses, so do then their souls pour out into the world because they are thinking about the world. They pour their inner responses into their thoughts, and those thoughts enter into the outside world. This completes the link between world and man and between man and world.

The world is outside, the response inside the human being; the thought is in both. In their thinking, human beings become wholly at one with the world. For the world's thinking and their own thinking are a whole. Human beings thus root in outward existence perceived through the senses. They grow by receiving impressions from the world of the senses which become inner responses, images in the soul, gain rhythms and go through transformations in their inner life. They flower when they read, when they sense the world's thought in those images, and this thought lets new flowers arise in every thinking human being.

Human beings all root in one and the same soil of the physical worlds of forms perceived through the senses. It is the same world for all of them, the same soil in which they all grow. And every single human individual draws the energies he needs to develop in his own way from that soil. Individual human beings are many trunks of different kinds that grow from the one soil and take up the energies they need from that one soil to work with them in their own inner life. But up above, where the thoughts come into flower, in the world of thought, all are one great whole, a marvellous swaying, rippling sea of flowers, each flower reflecting the great world-thinking that is one and the same, and each complementing the other, taking its place as a link in the chain, a jewel in a crown of jewels, a wave in the world ocean of thought.

Below, a whole—the physical world. Above, a whole—the world of the spirit. Between them transformation of the lower into the upper in many individuals―the soul world.

The physical world out there is a reflection of the world of the spirit because it is one. The world of the human soul is a reflection of the world of the spirit because it is rich and varied. The whole great world out there becomes a special small world in every human soul, and in emerging from all human souls in thought it once again becomes a great whole. That is how the road goes from the cosmos through the microcosm, to arise as a new, perfected cosmos out of the totality of microcosms.