The Representative of Life
27 December 1915, Dornach
Originally published in Anthroposophical Quarterly, Volume 22, Number 4, Winter 1977.
Yesterday I called your attention to the fact that the birth of Jesus gradually conquered men’s hearts and souls, that the Christmas Plays which can now be performed, only developed little by little their present beautiful form, together with that atmosphere of earnest devotion which streamed into them during the times when they were at their height. It is really still possible to say of the early forms of these Christmas Plays that people tried, in an entirely secular mood, to participate in something which they had seen for centuries in a form which they could not grasp. We may say that Christ, the Child, conquered the hearts of men only gradually. Indeed, He conquered the hearts of men quite slowly. In the 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th centuries, when the people themselves gradually began to take part in the Plays which in the past could be performed only by priests, we do not find the noble form which the Christmas Plays assumed later on. We have just seen two examples of these Plays, 1A Shepherds Play from the Palatinate and a Three King’s Play from Oberufer, near Pressburg. These plays were performed at Dornach on the stage of the Schreinerei for the first time at Christmas 1915. and I have tried to explain to you their different origin, for they clearly reveal this. The first play has a simple, popular character. Its chief aim is to set forth how the Child, in whom the great Cosmic Spirit incarnated and began to work on earth, entered the world as a Child, and how He was, on the one hand, re-ceived by the publicans and on the other hand by the shepherds. This appears particularly in the first Christmas Play which was performed yesterday: the great difference in the reception given to the Child by the publicans and by the shepherds comes to expression in it.
The other Christmas Play is quite different. It immediately reveals to us that wise men — and for the people of those days wise men were at the same time Kings, Magi — had read in the stars what a significant destiny was awaiting mankind. In the action of this Play we therefore see ancient occult wisdom. And in the course of the action we see that in accordance with this occult wisdom, with these truths discovered in the stars, Herod enters the earthly events and faces us as the one by whose side we clearly recognise Evil, the Principle that remained backward, the devilish Ahrimanic-Luciferic principle. We see how the Christ Principle and the Luciferic-Ahrimanic Principle confront each other. But we also see the manifestation of forces which enter the course of events from the spiritual world. The Angels appear, as the manifestation of guidance from spiritual spheres; they lead and guide the action in order to frustrate Herod’s aims, and the events follow another course. Forces from the spiritual world pervade the will of men. — This is consequently a play containing forces which undoubtedly lead us beyond the events pertaining merely to the earth.
When we consider how these two plays face each other, one of them filled by the primitive conception of common folk, and the other by a wisdom which really indicates a primeval wisdom of the earth’s development, then we are induced to call up within ourselves thoughts concerning the events which took place in the course of time and the whole significance of the Mystery of Golgotha for the evolution of the earth.
Let us bear in mind that at the time — but this in a wider meaning — at the time when the Mystery of Golgotha took place, there existed in certain circles a profound wisdom in connect-ion with spiritual matters. This deep wisdom which existed at that time is called Gnosis.
In the external world, when considering the course of Europe’s spiritual culture, we may say: This Gnosis, this deeply spiritual science which existed in connection with the mysteries of the spiritual world, vanished from the cultural life of Europe, as far as the outer world is concerned, — and in the spiritual life of the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th centuries, etc., there existed only a very dim idea of what was contained in this science.
Those who knew something (I mean, those who knew what could be known by a Christian priest, a Christian scientist), those who had the knowledge which could be acquired in those days, were only aware of the existence of the Gnosis, because people had opposed it in the early Christian centuries, because opponents had fought against the Gnosis. Imagine the situation if to-day all the books and lecture-cycles which constitute our Anthroposophical literature were to be suppressed and burned, so that nothing remained — if the only writings on Anthroposophy available to posterity were books written by opponents! Imagine the situation that in centuries to come, people were to get hold of these books written by antagonists, acquiring from these their conception of the truths contained in our writings! This is what happened to the Gnosis.
An outstanding writer of the early Church was Irenaeus, the pupil of Bishop Polycarp of Asia Minor, who had been a disciple of the Apostles. But Irenaeus wrote as an opponent of the Gnosis. In the course of the centuries, the teachings of the Gnostics were gathered by reading what Irenaeus had written as a refutation of the Gnosis. In regard to this ancient wisdom, we must reckon with everything brought about by the circumstance that these teachings were trans-mitted by an opponent.
This shows you that the whole development of the Occident is really based on the fact that something handed down from past ages was blotted out, stamped out completely. Outwardly we see how new was the beginning brought by the Mystery of Golgotha, what an entirely new impulse it brought to the culture of the West. In reality it began everywhere with an entirely new impulse. Indeed, I might use the following comparison: The ancient writings lay deeply buried underground, like some ancient-city covered by the earth; deeply buried, when we consider the writings of Ambrose and Augustine, old Fathers of the Church, to Scotus, and so forth. A new beginning, a new element arose like a new city over apparently new ground, under which an ancient city lies buried, whose aspect is unknown. This is what took place in the course of the development of European culture.
If there is to be a spiritual deepening in the present age, it is therefore evident that this must be drawn out of man’s own forces and that human beings themselves must discover truths which cannot be handed on to them traditionally from outside, at least not in the course of the spiritual development of Europe. And it is out of the question (I cannot deal with this to-day, for it would lead us too far away from our subject), it is out of the question to draw in Oriental documents as a substitute for the external documents which have been lost in the spiritual life of the Occident. This is impossible for the simple reason that the Oriental documents convey something which is far more primitive than that which developed in the world by spreading from Asia Minor to North Africa, Southern Europe, and even as far as Central Europe. Spiritual knowledge was blotted out completely in the early Christian centuries; it reached posterity only through the writings of opponents.
The Gnostic writings which have been destroyed, do not only contain a knowledge of the spiritual worlds, the spiritual knowledge of these worlds — apart from the truths relating to Christ — but also the whole encompassing spiritual wisdom of ancient times in connection with the Mystery of Christ Jesus. The loss of these documents implies the loss of all this knowledge. The Gnostics (— if we wish to give them this name —) tried to grasp in their own way the course of the earth’s development and the true nature of Christ. In those days it was not yet possible to grasp these things as they can be grasped now, by drawing down from the spiritual worlds truths which need not be recorded in writing, because they exist in an immediately living form in the spiritual world. In those days the truths relating to the real being of Christ-Jesus could not be drawn down in this way. But certain truths relating to Christ-Jesus were known in an older form of wisdom which has been lost.
Quite recently, a few scant remains of a book entitled "Pistis-Sophia" were discovered, and of another one entitled "The Mystery of Jeû". Also in an external way, they draw, as it were, attention to the fact that the truths relating to Christ, which we should now strive to attain with the aid of anthroposophical methods, are not as foolish as the opponents of our Movement wish to make them appear. Only a small fragment, in Coptic writing, has been preserved of the "Book of Jeû"; nevertheless it calls attention to the fact that what we read in the Gospels is not the only wisdom which lived in the thoughts of men during the first centuries of Christian development.
The "Book of Jeû" describes how, after His Resurrection, Christ spoke to those who were at that time able to understand Him, to those who had become His disciples. The strange thing about this "Book of Jeû" (I mean, the small existing fragment of this book) is that it clearly speaks of Christ and of His true being in a way which differs completely from the Gospel of St. John. There is one thing which recurs again and again in this book, which clearly shows that it seeks to attract our attention to something quite definitive. This thing to which it draws attention over and over again, may, in other words, be explained as follows:
Suppose that in those days someone had wished to explain why Christ Jesus had entered the evolution of the earth; he would have had to do it in the following way — To those who were able to understand him, he would have said: "Behold, a new age is dawning, in which man will enter the future epoch of the development of the Consciousness-Soul. An age is approaching when the world will have to be grasped through man’s external physical organs, through organs which are essentially connected with the physical body. This age is approaching. The age in which revelations could be obtained through an originally primitive clairvoyance has gone by. Past is the age when knowledge could be gathered, not only by using the physical body with its instruments, but by using the etheric body independently of the physical body. This age has gone by — henceforth people will have to use as their only instrument the physical body. But also in future it will be possible to know things which in the past could only be known through the etheric body. In the external world, there will only exist a knowledge connected with the physical body, which is subjected to death. But a knowledge of the spiritual world cannot be gained through the instruments linked with the physical body. A Helper must come who kindles the etheric element in man, a Helper connected with the living essence, with everything in man’s earthly life which does not pertain to the earth. A Helper must come, Who tears out of the indolent, lifeless, physical body an understanding which is able to grasp the spiritual world, an understanding which lives in man and is connected with heaven; that understanding which cannot be crucified by the world, because it belongs to heaven, the understanding which cruci-fies the world, that is to say, which overcomes the world."
We should imagine that in earlier epochs, when people could not yet see Christ in His true Being, as He passed through the Mystery of Golgotha, they still felt connected with the spiritual world through the etheric body. When the physical body hardened more and more, thus becoming the instrument it is now, it was necessary that One should come, Christ, in order to draw a living essence out of the indolent instrument of the physical body. This is what we should imagine.
But let us now consider this "Book of Jeû". After having passed through the Mystery of Golgotha, Christ spoke to those who had learned to lean on Him and on the wisdom contained in His words: He said,
"I loved you, and I wished to give you Life."
In the words, "and I wished to give you Life", we hear that He wished to draw the indolent physical body out of its indolence, by giving it something which only the etheric body can give.
"Jesus, the Living One, is the Knowledge of Truth."
The Living One — that is, He who passed through the Mystery of Golgotha — speaks in such a way as to appear as the Representative of Life. The text then continues:
"This is the Book dealing with the Knowledge of the Invisible God through the hidden Mysteries" — , that is to say, of Mysteries which lie concealed in man — "which indicate the path to man’s chosen Being, leading in silence to the life of the Father of the World, in the arrival of the Redeemer, the Saviour of the souls who receive within them the Word of Life, higher than every other life — , in the knowledge of Jesus, the Living One, Who through the Father came out of the Aeon of Light into the All-ness of the Pleroma" — (i.e. of the other Aeons, of all the Spiritual Beings) — "in the teaching, which cannot be matched by any other, the teaching given by Jesus, the Living One, to His Apostles, when He said: This is the Teaching in which the whole Knowledge reposes."
We should thus imagine the Risen One Who passed through the Mystery of Golgotha speaking to His Disciples, who had learned to listen to Him.
Jesus, the Living One, began to speak to His Apostles as follows:
"Blessed is he who crucified the world and who did not let the world crucify him" (he who can grasp that part in man which cannot be conquered by matter, by external physical matter).
The Apostles replied unanimously by saying: "Teach us, O Lord, this way of crucifying the world, that the world may not crucify us, and we may not perish and lose our life."
Jesus, the Living One, answered and spoke: "He who has crucified the world is one who has found my Word and fulfils it in accordance with the will of Him who sent me."
And the Apostles replied by saying: "Speak to us, O Lord, that we may hear you! We followed you with all our heart, we left father and mother, vineyards and fields, we left estates and the glory of the external king and we followed you, that you might teach us the Life of your Father, who sent you." And Christ, the Living One, met this appeal of His apostles by revealing to them what He had to say.
Christ, the Living One answered and spoke: "The Life of my Father is this: that out of the human essence of that understanding you receive your soul, which is not of this earth …"
What the Living One expects, is this: That those who are His disciples should grasp that in man lives an understanding of spiritual things which may tear itself away from the physical body, an understanding that is not of this earth. If they call to life within them this understanding, they will in truth have grasped His Word.
… "this essence of every soul, may be grasped through what I reveal to you in the progress of my Word. And that you may fulfil it, and this before the Archon" (— i.e. before the essence of this Aeon, this age —), "his snares" (the Ahrimanic-Lucifer Being) "and his traps, which have no end, — that you may be saved from these. But you, my disciples, hasten to receive my Word with greatest care, so that you may recognise it, and that the Archon of this Aeon" (i.e. the Ahrimanic-Luciferic) "may not be at strife with you, because he cannot find any of his commands in me" (— he therefore finds his commands outside the One who passed through the Mystery of Golgotha): "that you yourselves, O! my Apostles, may fulfil it in regard to myself, and that I myself may free you, and you be hallowed by that freedom which has no blemish. Even as the Spirit of the Holy Ghost is holy, so will you become holy through the freedom of the Spirit, of the Holy Spirit."
Unanimously the Apostles — Matthew and John, Philip, Bartholomew and James — replied by saying:
"O! Jesus, Living One, whose goodness is spread out over those who have found your wisdom and your form in the Illumination, O! Light, burning in the Light you have kindled in our hearts, when we received the Light of Life, O veritable Logos, that through the Gnosis, has become for us true knowledge of what the Living One has taught!"
Jesus, the Living One, answered and spoke: "Blessed is he who recognises this and leads heaven down to the earth." (i.e. who is conscious of the fact that there is something in him which is not dependent on his earthly body, but on the Beings of Heaven, and who leads into the earthly events that part in him which is connected with heaven.)
"Blessed is he who recognises this and leads heaven downwards, who carries the earth and sends it up to heaven" (— who connects the earthly part in him with the heavenly, so that when he passes through the portal of death with the fruits of his earthly life, he may lead the earth back to heaven).
The Apostles replied by saying: "Jesus, Living One, explain to us how we may bring down heaven to earth. For we have followed you, in order that you might teach us the true Light."
And Jesus, the Living One, answered and spoke: "The Word that lives in heaven" — (He means, the wisdom or knowledge which may be gained independently of man’s physical being) … the Word lived in heaven before the earth, which is called world, came into being. But if you know my Word, you will lead heaven down to earth and the Word will dwell in you. Heaven is the invisible Word of the Father. If you know this, you will lead heaven down to the earth. I will teach you how the earth may be sent up to heaven, that you may know: To send the earth up to heaven, is to listen to the Word of Knowledge, that is no longer mere knowledge of an earthly human being, but knowledge of a heavenly human being …" (— one who has severed his understanding from the external physical body, who has ceased to be an earthly human being and has become a heavenly human being. His understanding has ceased to be earthly: it has become heavenly).
"You will instead be saved from the Archon of this Aeon" (from the Ahrimanic-Luciferic Being).
Here, therefore, is a fragment which has been preserved and has been found again, a fragment which calls attention to the infinitely profound knowledge which once — during the first centuries of the Christian era — connected man with the secret of the Mystery of Golgotha.
The two independent discoveries in the forties of this century of the Coptic manuscripts in Upper Egypt in 1945 and the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 have both proved of very great importance for the study of primitive Christianity. In particular, the Scrolls have led the way to a new understanding of the Messianic prophecies while the Coptic manuscripts, apparently the library of a Gnostic sect, have given unexpected opportunity to learn at first hand the teachings and beliefs of various sects, or groups, belonging to a widespread spiritual movement active in the first and second centuries of our era.
Of the few discoveries of Gnostic writings made earlier it is invaluable to have Dr. Steiner’s interpretation of the concepts that appear in the fragments from the Books of Jeû, with his interpretation of the phraseology which may be almost incomprehensible to the reader of today. Now that some of the new discoveries are available in English translation they can be approached in the light of this lecture, and much that seems incomprehensible — even bizarre — reveals itself as having a meaning based on a profound spiritual knowledge. Of the new discoveries, perhaps the books that comprise what is called The Jung Codex have excited the most interest. They were sent to Dr. Carl Jung at Zurich on account of the fact that he was known to be deeply interested in Gnosticism. These writings were first made known to the public in a newspaper report of November 1953, just on thirty three years after Rudolf Steiner gave his lecture.
In one of his Letters to the Members (No. 22 in The Michael Mystery) Dr. Steiner wrote of the Gnosis and its relation to Anthroposophy, pointing out that the Gnosis was properly connected with the development of the Sentient Soul while Anthroposophy is, "by the light of Michael’s agency, to evolve out of the Spiritual Soul a new form of understanding of Christ and the World."