Apollonius of Tyana
28 March 1921, Dornach
Translated by D. S. Osmond and C. Davy
To examine the standpoints from which various seekers after the spirit in earlier epochs took their start has a certain importance at the present time. It is important not only because ill-intentioned and dilettante opponents of Spiritual Science maintain that many things have simply been taken over from ancient traditions, but above all because the knowledge of what can be discovered to-day from the original spiritual sources is clarified when we compare it with the faculties possessed by mankind in earlier times, and with the different kinds of quests for knowledge of the spirit in epochs of evolution when men's consciousness was essentially instinctive in character. In order to indicate something in this direction I want to speak to-day of how Christ-Jesus has often been brought into conjunction with one who was His contemporary — Apollonius of Tyana. 1The following passage occurs in Lecture III of the Course From Jesus to Christ, given by Rudolf Steiner in Carlsruhe, October, 1911.
"Apollonius of Tyana is an individuality who went through many incarnations, who had acquired lofty powers and who reached a certain climax in his incarnation at the beginning of our era. Note carefully. — The individuality of whom we are speaking, and who in past ages had had many incarnations, is he who lived in the body of Apollonius of Tyana, and had therein his earthly field of action . . . And be-cause we know that a human individuality takes part in the building of his human body, that the latter is not simply a duality but that the human being works upon the form his body takes, we have to say: The body of this individuality was built up by him into a certain form purposely for his own use. This we cannot say in reference to Christ-Jesus. The Christ came in the thirtieth year of the life of Jesus of Nazareth into the physical body, etheric body and astral body; the Christ therefore had not from childhood built up for Himself this body. The relationship is quite different between the Christ-Individuality and the body, and the Apollonius-individuality and his body…"
See inter alia: Emil Bock, The Three Years, chapter I "Apollonius of Tyana and Jesus of Nazareth"; and G. R. S. Mead, Apollonius of Tyana, the philosopher-reformer of the first century A.D.
The only complete Life of Apollonius of Tyana is by Philostratus, an Athenian of the third century A.D. This work is quoted by Emil Bock, and exists in English translation.
The two figures have in a certain sense been confused, and endeavours have been made to compare, in a quite unhistorical way, the life of Apollonius of Tyana with that of Christ-Jesus. Such a comparison does, admittedly, bring to light a fairly considerable number of external, biographical details where similarity is shown. We know that in the Gospel narratives of Christ-Jesus there is much that for the modern mind falls within the concept of "miracle", and the biographies of Apollonius of Tyana also tell of all kinds of miraculous deeds performed by him. The way in which such things are expounded today, however, simply shows what superficial ideas prevail about the evolution of humanity. These stories of healing of the sick and similar happenings, called "signs" in the Gospels, are connected with a stage of human evolution altogether different from the one in which we are living to-day. The psychic influence of one man upon another, even man's psychic influence upon the inorganic environment, has waned greatly in the course of time as far as ordinary life is concerned, and when we are told of such happenings at the beginning of the Christian era, one who has inner understanding knows that what men in those times were able to demonstrate was viewed altogether differently from things of a similar nature that may happen to-day. Quite different premises must be the starting-point in our times, premises that must be created through spiritual- scientific knowledge.
If we want to understand the Gospels rightly, we must not by any means place the main value upon the stories of the miracles but we must realise that stories of miracles performed by a man of outstanding moral eminence were in those times accepted as a simple matter of course. No difference whatever in this respect was assumed to exist between one such as Jesus of Nazareth, in whom dwelt the Christ, and a man such as Apollonius of Tyana.
Let us understand one another clearly. — What is narrated about such men and is to-day called a "miracle" was taken as a matter of course. Nothing of special importance was meant to be conveyed by such narratives. And when modern theology is at pains to deduce the divine nature of Christ-Jesus from the fact that He performed miracles, this theology only shows that its standpoint is not truly Christian — apart altogether from the fact that such a conception runs counter to historical reality. With Christ-Jesus the essential thing is never the actual performing of the miracle, but always that which is disclosed to us through the stories of the miracles. The important point to emphasise always is that when men of earlier times strove to work wonders, they had recourse to a lower force of the Ego, whereas Christ-Jesus worked out of the force of the Ego itself. We should not rightly understand the Lord's Prayer if we were to explain its existence by saying that, the single sentences are already to be found among earlier peoples and that it is therefore ancient. Anyone who compares these earlier forms of the sentences in the Lord's Prayer with the Lord's Prayer itself, will realise that with the Lord's Prayer the essential thing was that what had formerly been expressed in a way which did not point to the Ego, should now be expressed in a way which did point to the Ego. 2See Lecture IX of the Course The Gospel of St Matthew, pp. 139-44. Dr Steiner quotes from the German translation of the book by J. M. Robertson, Christianity and Mythology, Part III, The Gospel Myths, pp. 415-21, where arguments are adduced in an attempt to show that the sentences contained in the Lord's Prayer were derived from pre-Christian Jewish sources. But these older versions do not contain the sentence: "Thy Will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven" — which implies the activity of the Ego itself. In pre-Christian times, men experienced the Father God as the ground of existence while they were in a state of suppressed consciousness. But with the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven to Earth, the experience was henceforward to take place in full consciousness. "Christ Jesus inaugurated an evolution in human nature based on the retention of the full Ego consciousness. He inaugurated the initiation of the Ego…” p. 144.
The terms used by Owen Barfield in his recent book Saving the Appearances, to depict the evolution of human consciousness, are very illuminating in this connection. — Whereas the old, pre-Christian sentences still assumed "Original Participation", the Gospel version of the Lord's Prayer points to "Final Participation".
We should not therefore go in search of the similarities with Christ-Jesus recorded in these particular biographical data. It is natural, of course, that similarities should appear in narratives concerned with the performing of miracles — that is to say, happenings that are now called miraculous. Account must be taken of something altogether different if we are to be clear as to how a figure such as Apollonius of Tyana stands in relation to Christ-Jesus. And the first thing to notice is the following: —
Of Apollonius of Tyana it is told how in his childhood and growing years he showed evidence of great gifts; how he participated in the very highest kinds of instruction available in those days, as for example the teachings that had grown out of the Pythagorean School. But then it is further narrated that in order to acquire knowledge, Apollonius of Tyana set out on long journeys; we are told of these journeys, first of those less distant and then of his far journey to the sages of India. We hear how he learnt to admire and venerate these sages, and how through them he pressed forward to certain wellsprings of knowledge. Then we are told how he returned, inspired by what he had witnessed among these Indian sages, and taught in manifold ways again in Southern Europe. It is also said that he went to Egypt, and how, having first absorbed in the North of Egypt all that was accessible there, he found it very insignificant, compared with the wonderful wisdom he had encountered among the Indians. He journeyed up the Nile towards its sources, and also to the centres of the so-called Gymnosophists — the community of wise men who, after the Brahmin sages of India, were the most deeply venerated in those times. But we are told that Apollonius was already so steeped in Indian wisdom that he could distinguish between it and the lesser wisdom possessed by the Gymnosophists of Egypt. He returned from Egypt and went on various other remarkable journeys; in Rome he was persecuted, thrown into prison, and so on.
Now the fact of paramount interest to us is that these great journeys undertaken by Apollonius of Tyana are always associated with the widening and extension of his own wisdom. His wisdom increases all the time through his contact with the wisest men in the world of his day. He travels from place to place, seeking out those who were in possession of the greatest wisdom at that time.
In this he is to be distinguished from Christ Jesus, whose sojourn on earth is spent in a comparatively small area, who utters what He has to say to mankind entirely from the inmost essence of His Being, who has to speak, not of wisdom to be found in the surrounding earthly world, but of what He has brought down to the earth from worlds beyond the earth.
Attempts have actually been made to ascribe journeys to India to Christ-Jesus as well, but that is all sheer dilettantism. The essence of the matter is that two beings stand in contrast to one another in the same epoch: on the one side, Christ-Jesus, who speaks only out of the super-earthly; and on the other, Apollonius of Tyana, who gathers what is actually to be found on the earth, although through his own great gifts he is able to absorb it into his very soul. That is the fundamental and significant difference, and those who do not perceive it fail to understand what the existence of these two personalities signifies for a later age.
Now certain matters associated with the person of Apollonius of Tyana point to features characteristic of very early times. I am speaking now of times long before the Mysteries, times, therefore, of great antiquity in human evolution. Something of these characteristics remained in the days of a later humanity, and we shall see how Apollonius of Tyana comes across what has thus remained, both among the Indian sages, the Brahmins, and among the Gymnosophists in Egypt. But we understand the point in question quite clearly when in spiritual-scientific historical research we go back to very early times, and Apollonius of Tyana himself, according to his biographers, points to it in emphatic words. He asserts that the well-nigh immeasurable wisdom he encountered among the Indian sages is bound up with the influences from beyond the earth which stream down upon men inhabiting a particular-region of the earth. This is an indication that man is not exposed to earthly influences alone.
It is easy to study these earthly influences, although in the case of the human being they are now being thrown into the background by others. There are, however, certain lower organic creatures which take on, purely through metabolism, the colouring of what they consume. In such creatures we can perceive exactly how the products of metabolism give them their colouring and other characteristic qualities. I have spoken to you of how, in the sense of Scholastic philosophy, Vincent Knauer, my old friend from the Benedictine Order — that is to say, he, not I, was in this Order — stressed that what is contained in the spiritual substance of a concept is still a reality vis-à-vis the purely material form of existence, the material object. In line with the Schoolmen, he said: If a wolf could be segregated and fed only with lamb's flesh for a very long period, the wolf would not become a lamb, although he would then consist only of lamb's flesh. For Vincent Knauer this proves that in the wolf, in its form and configuration — that is to say, in what the concept "wolf" embraces — there is something other than matter, for in respect of matter the wolf would be a lamb if he had eaten only lambs. But the wolf does not become a lamb.
In the higher animals, then, things are somewhat different from what they are in the very low organic creatures; even in their colouring these creatures make manifest the influences of their metabolism. The influences of metabolism in man are even less marked than they are in the wolf; if it were otherwise, the people living in districts where a great deal of paprika is consumed would have yellow complexions, and it is common knowledge that, at most conditions resembling jaundice and the like set in when certain substances are eaten. To a high degree man is already independent of the influence of earthly metabolism. But today, in the age of materialism — which in truth has not only a theoretical but an absolutely real basis — he is less open to the influences of the world beyond the earth than was formerly the case. And ancient Indian wisdom has its essential source in — to put it summarily — the particular way in which the rays of the sun stream down upon the land of India. The angle at which the rays stream down is not the same there as it is in other regions. This means that the extra-earthly, the cosmic, influences upon man are different from those elsewhere. And if a man of ancient India had spoken entirely according to his own consciousness, then — if he had had any knowledge at all of what Europe is — he would have said something like this: Over there in Europe the people can never attain to any wisdom, for the sun does not stream down upon them in such a way as to make this possible; they can't help being tied down to what their metabolic processes cook up from earthly substances. Over in Europe there can be no talk of wisdom. The men there are an inferior breed, half-animal, for they have none of the sunlight that is essential if anyone desires to be a wise man. — This, in effect, is what an ancient Indian would have said if he had spoken at all about these things. Because of his special relationship to the downstreaming rays of the sun, he would have spoken about the rabble living in Europe very much as a man of to-day speaks about his domestic animals. Not that he would have had no love for these inferior human beings. A man may greatly love his domestic animals, but he will not regard them as his equal in spiritual capacity.
By this I want only to indicate that the earlier wisdom native to man was dependent upon the earthly locality. This is also connected with something else. In earlier epochs, this condition of dependence was the cause of differentiation in humanity to a far greater extent than was the case later on. Differentiation in the human race arose directly settled peoples left their place of abode, somewhere or other, and went to other regions. Then they changed psychically, even physically. The differentiation in evidence all over the earth is connected with this. And so what came to expression through a man of antiquity was essentially what he received from his earthly surroundings, when he absorbed these influences of the earth into himself. We can therefore say: In olden times man was a true sage only if he lived in a place on the earth where it was possible to become wise. For this reason the men of old were in a certain sense right to seek out such places. If, in a similar way a man were to believe nowadays that wisdom is restricted to somewhere in Asia, this would prove only that he is not living abreast of his times — that is to say, of modern times. True, there are curious people who even to-day are always talking about specially favourable localities on the surface of the earth. In the sense of genuine spiritual knowledge these things are dilettantism, but when we go back to very early times we must think of a man who was truly wise being dependent upon his place of abode.
What kind of man, then, is Apollonius of Tyana? Apollonius of Tyana has the urge to become a wise man on earth, in spite of the fact that his home is not in such places as the region near the sources of the Nile where the Gymnosophists lived; for this was also a place where wisdom could be acquired in great abundance. He had within him the urge to become wise, and therefore he set out on travels — as once upon a time Pythagoras had done, in the same situation.
So we see how Apollonius of Tyana is, in a certain sense, a man who seeks over the earth's expanse for that which satisfies the inner needs of the human being and leads him to the attainment of spirituality. For the times to which what I have just said about man's dependence on an earthly locality very specially applies — these times continued on, more or less in echoes only, into the days of Apollonius of Tyana. Something of what ancient India had once been still survived there, and of this Apollonius of Tyana acquired knowledge. But to men representative of a more modern age he was already an example of one who is obliged to seek in particular localities for what in the highest sense can be human wisdom; he is prompted, however, to seek it by distant journeyings.
The Mystery of Golgotha stands before us here, pointing the way to the new phase in the evolution of humanity. And we can say: Because in Jesus of Nazareth there dwelt the Christ, Jesus of Nazareth was that Being of the earth who has set the standard for this quest — a quest that is no longer dependent upon locality. On this account, Apollonius of Tyana and Christ-Jesus are in utter contrast. Apollonius, as a contemporary of Christ-Jesus, is someone who, in respect of his human makeup, no longer lives in the age of antiquity, but already in a new era. But in this new era human life cannot do without the Christ Impulse. The Christ Impulse comes from Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus of Nazareth and Apollonius of Tyana stand at the two poles of humanity at the beginning of our era.
Here we have an indication, of what it is that has come into humanity through Christ-Jesus. It is important above all for us to grasp what I referred to in the lecture yesterday, 3This lecture, entitled Spirit Triumphant, is included in the Easter volume of the series The Festivals and their Meaning, p.62. that what has entered into humanity comes to expression in the Resurrection-thought. The Resurrection-thought affirms that what binds man to the earth need not lead to his perishing, but that when he takes the Christ Impulse into himself he can find something within his being that raises itself out of and above the earthbound. What rends and agonises the heart in the picture of the Man of Sorrows on the Cross is in reality the forces that are inculcated by earth-existence into the human body, and therewith into man's being as a whole. In contemplating the Crucified One, the face drenched in suffering and the body wracked with agony, we find the very deepest expression of what earthly existence can stamp into the human being. But if we look upwards to what should be seen above the Cross, to the Resurrected One, then we become aware of that which can perpetually be resurrected in man, can rise above that which contains the earth-forces only, thus revealing to us that man's nature is cosmic, that the earth impregnates its forces only into one part of his being, but that out of these forces there can rise what is in truth the cosmic element in him.
These are the things that must be realised in connection with the Resurrection-thought, especially in our day when we are striving for the resurrection of spirit-knowledge. The Resurrection-thought must above all help us to grasp that in earlier times there existed an instinctive wisdom, truly great and essentially linked with man's eternal being. But the wisdom in these olden times had always an element of suggestion in it, an influence that came over a man, in which he did not live with the freedom inherent in his real being. In all the ages of antiquity there was relatively little expression of man's own will. But it is paramountly the will that must be developed in the epoch of earth-evolution following the Mystery of Golgotha. In respect of his will, the man of ancient time lived in a state of dullness. But the will must be permeated with wisdom, with the force contained in ideas, with spirituality. Upon this, everything depends. Hence above all things it is necessary that the Christ Impulse shall draw into man's will — only this must be understood in the true sense. From the present time onwards into the future, the unfolding of the will is particularly essential. Man must become more and more conscious in respect of his will. In the general life of civilisation to-day we experience merely the reaction that is generated by convenient adherence to old conceptions, the reaction against the development of the will. At the present time men would do anything rather than develop the will; they have a downright hatred of it.