World Downfall and Resurrection
2 April 1921, Dornach
Translated by Harry Collison, revised by Karla Kiniger
The writings of John Scotus Erigena emanate from a mode of thinking which shines over from the first centuries of Christendom into the 9th century. The mental process, the whole life of thought and idea in those first centuries of Christendom was different from what it came to be later on. A great and fundamental change occurred in the 4th century of our era. From the middle of the 4th century onwards, the thinking of men consisted to a far greater extent in an exercising of the reasoning faculty. Until that time, all knowledge and all mental life sprang far more from a kind of inspiration than later on when, with increasing consciousness, men began to work out their own thoughts for themselves. Now the kind of consciousness that was natural before the 4th century still echoes on in sayings like that of John Scotus Erigena — that man forms judgments and draws conclusions as a human being but knows as an Angel. This idea — which springs up in John Scotus Erigena as a kind of reminiscence, as a heritage from an earlier form of knowledge — was a fact acknowledged by anyone who thought at all in the days before the 4th century of our era. It never occurred to men in those days to attribute thoughts to the human being as such. Thoughts were attributed to the Angel working within the human being. An Angel indwelt the body of a man; the Angel was the knower and the human being shared in the knowledge.
Consciousness of these things died away altogether after the 4th century and in men like John Scotus Erigena it flashed up once again, was drawn forth as it were with effort from the soul. This very fact indicates that man's whole way of looking at the world had changed in the course of that century. And that is why it is so difficult for us today to understand the mode of thinking of the first centuries of Christen' dom. Indeed, this understanding can only come from Spiritual Science. It is a question of forming true and really adequate conceptions of the thought and outlook of men in those early Christian times.
The Eucharistic controversy, as it is called, had already appeared on the scene in the days of John Scotus Erigena, and discussion was rife on such subjects as predestination. This is an unmistakable indication of the fact that what was previously more of the nature of inspiration, removed altogether from the domain of controversy, had now been drawn into the sphere of discussion and debate. But as the centuries took their course, many things were no longer understood at all, as, for example, the first verses of the Gospel of St John in the form in which they are commonly rendered. If we read the first verses of this Gospel carefully, we find a statement that has been overlooked altogether by adherents of the Christian Faith throughout subsequent centuries. Think of the first verses of the Gospel of St John: ‘In the beginning was the Word’. And then: ‘All things were made by him [i.e.: by the Logos]; and without him was not anything made that was made.’
If these words are taken literally, their purport is quite clear: namely, that all things visible were made by the Logos, that the Logos, therefore, is the creator of the things of the world. In the Christian mind after the 4th century, the Logos — rightly identified with the Christ in the sense of St John's Gospel — is not regarded as the creator of things visible, but the Father God is substituted for the Logos. The Logos is known as the Son, but the Father, not the Son, is conceived as the creator. This doctrine has persisted through the centuries and completely contradicts the words of the Gospel of St John. One cannot take this Gospel literally and maintain at the same time that the creator of things visible is the Father God and not the Christ.
And now we must try to understand the kind of thinking in which such a fundamental change came about in the 4th century. In the early Christian centuries, thought was based upon the knowledge of the spiritual world that had survived from ancient paganism. We must try to understand the attitude of men living in the first centuries of Christendom to teachings such as those now living on in the form of the Eucharist. The essence of the Eucharist is, as we realise, contained in the words: ‘This is My body’ (the bread); ‘this is My blood’ (the wine). There was a real understanding of this mystery in those early centuries, even among men who were by no means learned but whom the Eucharist drew together in simple devotion to Christ. What did such a mystery really signify to these men?
Teachings of religious wisdom permeated the whole of antiquity. The further we go back in time, the more deeply was this teaching founded upon the nature of the Father God. When we study the religious beliefs of very ancient times — beliefs which then survived in decadent form — we find everywhere that veneration was paid to the element flowing down from the primal ancestor of a tribal stock. In his Germania, Tacitus speaks of the peoples who, having found their way into the Roman Empire, became the founders of the new civilisation, and of how they still harked back in remembrance to these tribal deities, although to some extent they had already adopted a different form of worship, the worship of Gods of locality. The conception, therefore, was that generation after generation had passed by since the existence of an ancient ancestor who had founded the tribal stock, and that the soul and spirit of this father of the tribe still held sway, down to the very latest generation. Men thought: the bodies of all who constitute the tribal stock are under this ancestral sway. These bodies are all related, they have one common origin. One common blood flows through the veins of them all. The body and the blood are one. And in revering the soul and spirit of the father of the tribe, men felt the sway of the Divinity behind this tribal ancestor whose soul and spirit worked upon and through them as a people. They beheld the sway of this Divinity in the bodies, in the blood flowing through the generations and they felt the presence of a mystery in the forces of the body and of the blood.
In the days of ancient paganism men had a real perception of the forces of the Divinity ruling in the body and flowing through the blood. Whenever an adherent of that ancient view of the world saw blood flowing from animals or from human beings, he saw in the blood the body of the Godhead and in the bodies that were built up by this blood, the bodies of the members of the tribe, the form, the image of the Godhead. People of today have no longer any real conception of how the Divine-Spiritual in those times was worshipped in this material form.
And so, the power of the Godhead flowed through the blood of the successive generations. The Godhead shaped His image in the bodies of the generations. The soul and the spirit of the father of the tribe had been in the presence of the Godhead and as the primal ancestor he then worked with divine power upon and through his progeny. The father of the tribe was worshipped as the divine ancestor.
Now it must be remembered that the forces working in the body of man are of the nature of the forces of the Earth. This is not merely an ancient belief but an actual truth for, as you know, the origin of the human physical body lies in still more ancient times, and now, when the physical body has the mineral kingdom within it, the forces of the Earth are working in the body and in the blood of man.
In human blood there work not only the forces introduced with the foodstuffs but the forces that are active in the planetary body of the Earth as a whole. If a man lives in a region where the soil is red, or its geological constituents include certain metallic substances, his blood is influenced by the Earth. Again, the bodily form of the human being is itself affected by the Earth. In warmer zones the human body is not the same as in colder zones. The bodily nature and the forces working in the blood are fundamentally influenced by the forces of the Earth. This truth — which can only be revealed today by spiritual investigation — was a matter of course in the instinctive knowledge possessed by the men of old. They knew that the forces of the Earth pulsate in the blood. When we today connect the telegraphic apparatus in station A by means of a wire with the telegraphic apparatus in station B, this is only one part of the connection. The current of electricity must be led through the wire. But the current must be ‘circuited’, as we say. You know quite well how this is done — simply by sinking plates in the Earth. The Earth does the rest. This has been discovered today by modern science. We presuppose that the electric current works in the Earth. In olden times men knew nothing about electricity or electric currents, but on the other hand they knew something about their blood. Standing on the Earth they knew: there is something in the Earth which also lives in the blood. They did not speak of electricity but of an earthly force living in their blood. We no longer know that Earth-electricity is living in the blood. We are content to rely on mathematical formulae and the science of mechanics. But the men of old connected their picture of the Godhead with the very body of the Earth. They felt the sway of the Godhead in the blood, in the body, in the Earth. It was their picture of the Father God. This picture of the Father God was based upon the principle of the primal ancestor of the tribe, which the people conceived as the initial focus of the forces of the Godhead. But the Earth was the medium through which this Godhead manifested and the forces of the Earth in the blood, in the whole human body, were held to be workings of the Godhead.
Now another conception too was associated with this picture of the Father God in the days of antiquity. Men said to themselves: Every' thing would be well if the earthly forces only were working upon the being of man, but this is not the case. The Moon is working in the neighbourhood of the Earth. In short, the Earth is not working alone, but together with the Moon. And with this mingling of Earth and Moon forces there was associated the idea not only of one single Godhead of the Earth but of the many subordinate gods of paganism. All the forces working upon body and blood were woven into this ancient conception of the Godhead.
No wonder that all striving for knowledge in those times was directed to the forces of the Moon and of the Earth. A subtle and intricate body of knowledge grew up, a ‘science’ as it were of the Father God, and we have an echo of this in the first three sections of the great work of John Scotus Erigena, On the Division of Nature. He himself no longer possessed the knowledge in its real form, for he lived in the 9th century after Christ. None the less his books contain fragments that are a direct heritage from primeval wisdom, fragments in which we read that in all material existence there lives the Father God — creating but not created — and the other Divinities who both create and are themselves created. These other Divinities are the Beings of the Hierarchies.
I he visible world spread around the human being is created and does not create, and man is to look forward to a world wherein the Godhead rules as the Godhead at rest — neither creating nor created but receiving all things into himself. Such is the substance of the fourth section of the work of John Scotus Erigena.
This fourth section treats of soteriology and eschatology. It speaks of the history of the Christ Jesus, of the Resurrection, of the gifts of the Divine Grace, of the ending of the world and the return to the Godhead at rest. The first three sections, particularly, echo the conceptions of antiquity for, as a matter of fact, the thoughts become genuinely Christian only when we reach the fourth. The first three sections contain (Christian thoughts, but are derived, in essence, from ancient paganism. And so, it was among the Church Fathers of the first centuries of Christendom. Their conceptions were relics of the ancient era of paganism. Let me put it in these words: In Nature, in the created world around him, man gazed upon the region of the Father God. Behind Nature he saw an Ideal world. He beheld the workings of certain forces in nature; and in the succession of the generations, in the development of humanity itself in the different races and peoples he saw the ruling of the Father God.
Now in the first centuries of Christendom there was added to this conception another sphere of knowledge which has been entirely lost. The earliest Church Fathers spoke as follows, although such doctrines have been exterminated altogether by their later exponents. They said: The Father God has worked in the blood flowing through the generations and in all that has shaped itself into the bodies of men, but the Father God has been engaged in perpetual warfare with the powers who oppose him, namely the Nature Spirits. The minds of men during the first centuries of Christendom were imbued with the idea that the Father God had never succeeded in working alone but had been obliged to wage perpetual warfare against the Nature Spirits ruling in the things of the outer world. The teachings of the earliest Church Fathers were to the effect that in the pre-Christian era men believed in the Father God but could not distinguish him from the Nature Spirits. What these men of old really believed in was the whole world of the Father God combined with the kingdom of Nature. It was from this that they conceived the visible world to have proceeded. But, said the Church Fathers, this is an error. All these different Nature Gods are working in Nature but at a certain stage they insinuated themselves into the things of the Earth. The things of the Earth we perceive with our senses, the things that are outside us, that have become earthly, do not proceed from these Nature Spirits, nor from the Father God who worked creatively only in the metamorphoses of pre-earthly existence. The Earth we see proceeded not from the Father God and not from the Nature Spirits, but from the Son, from the Logos whom the Father God sent forth in order that He (the Logos) might create the Earth. And the Gospel of St John is there as a token and a memorial that the Earth is not, as the ancients believed, created by the Father God. The Father God sent forth the Son, and the Son is the creator of the Earth.
It was for the upholding of the teaching contained in the first verses of the Gospel of St John that the early Fathers of the Christian Church were fighting. So difficult was it for the growing faculty of human intellect to understand this teaching that Dionysius the Areopagite preferred to say: Whatsoever is created by the human intellect is Affirmative Theology, but Affirmative Theology does not penetrate into those regions where the real mysteries of the world are contained. These regions can only be attained by the negation of all predicates, by speaking of God not as essentia but as super-essentia, by speaking not of personality, but of super-personality. In other words, when everything is negated, then, through Negative Theology alone can the real mystery of existence be fathomed. But neither Dionysius the Areopagite nor a successor like John Scotus Erigena (who was already permeated by the forces of intellect) believed that human reason was in any way capable of explaining these mysteries of world existence.
And now try to think what is implied by the assertion that the Logos is the creator of the world. Think of what was present all through pre-Christian antiquity but had grown somewhat dim at the time of the approach of the Mystery of Golgotha. Men said to themselves: The Godhead works through the blood, through the body. And they associated with this the conception that when the blood runs in the veins of human beings or of animals, the Gods have been deprived of it. The blood, they said, is the lawful possession of the Gods. Therefore, we can draw near to the Gods if we give the blood back again to them. The Gods desire the blood for themselves. Men have taken possession of it and it must be given back again to the Gods. Hence the blood sacrifice in the days of antiquity.
But now came the Christ Who taught that the things of the Earth have not proceeded from the Gods who desire the blood for themselves. Christ directed the minds of men to all that works in their being before the forces of the Earth work upon them. Think of the bread — the substance wherewith man is nourished. He takes bread into his body. It is a means of nourishment and passing through the organism reaches a certain point before it is transformed into the forces of the blood. But it is not changed into blood until it has passed through the whole digestive tract. Only then do the forces of the Earth begin to work. As long as the foodstuff has not passed over into the blood, the earthly forces have not begun to work. Christ, therefore, taught men to see God not in the blood but in the bread before the bread becomes flesh, and to see God in the wine before the wine passes into the blood. There is the Divine, there is the incarnate Logos. Look not upon what flows in the blood, for what flows in the blood is a heritage of man from the Moon period, from pre- earthly time. Away, therefore, with the conceptions of the blood, of the body, of flesh. Turn your minds to what is not yet blood and not yet flesh, to what is prepared on the Earth around you without the influence of the Moon; turn your minds to what comes from the Sun! For we see things through the light of the Sun and when we eat the bread and drink the wine we receive in them the powers and forces of the Sun. Things visible exist not through the Father but through the Logos — the Son. Such was the message of Christ.
Here, you see, the mind of man is turned not to the kind of knowledge derived by the ancients from Nature, but in the direction of the Sun, to the forces poured down by the Sun to the Earth. Instead of deriving his conceptions of the Divine from physical, earthly things, man must behold the Divine in the Spiritual, in the Logos. The Logos superseded those ancient conceptions of the Father God. In other words, the mind of man was directed to the Spiritual. In pre-Christian times man had perceived the Divine with forces generated in his own organic being and these forces then arose within him in the form of vision. A vision of the Divine also proceeded from the blood. But now man must seek for the Divine in acts of purely spiritual contemplation. He must regard the things visible around him as having proceeded from the Logos, not from those beings who subsequently had insinuated themselves into the Earth as a result of the activity of a God who had created in pre-earthly existence.
Only in the light of this knowledge can we begin to understand the ideas and mental outlook of those who lived in the first centuries of Christendom. All that I have been describing was an indication to men that their conceptions of the Divine must be drawn from the forces of their consciousness alone, and from no other source. Men were directed to the Spiritual and the time had now come when it was possible to say to them: In the days of the old dispensation the Earth was so powerful that it was the source of your conception of the Divine. But those days have passed away. The Earth can no longer give you anything. Your own forces and your own forces alone must lead you to the Logos, the creative principle. Hitherto you have worshipped only the Godhead who created in pre-earthly existence; now you are to revere the principle that is creative in earthly existence. And this must be done through the power of your Ego, of your Spirit.
The early Christians, therefore, were wont to say: The end of the world is at hand. They meant the downfall of that Earth from which man drew his knowledge without conscious effort. To speak of this ‘world ending’ was to voice a profound truth, because hitherto the human being had been a son of the Earth, had relinquished himself to the forces of the Earth, relying upon his blood to give him knowledge. But this era had passed away. The kingdom of Heaven had drawn near, the kingdom of Earth had come to an end. Man was not, nor could he be henceforth, a son of the Earth. He must make himself a companion of I he Spiritual Being Who had come down to the Earth — of the Logos, of the Christ. And so, this downfall of the world was prophesied for the 4th century of Christendom. It signified the downfall of the Earth and the dawn of that kingdom in which man would feel himself dwelling as a Spirit among Spirits — it is our own time. The modern mind will find it exceedingly difficult to realise that in the first centuries of Christendom men did not look upon their existence as earthly, but as an existence within the kingdom of the Spirit after the Earth, as it had been when men drew their powers from its sources, had come to an end. Nobody who has ever really understood the thought-life of the earliest Christians will say that their belief concerning the end of the world was superstition because it did not come to pass. In the form in which the early Christians held this belief it did actually come to pass. The early Christians would have regarded the condition in which man lives as a Spirit among Spirits as the ‘new Jerusalem’. Only they would have said: We hold that man has entered already into the kingdom of Heaven, but he is so sinful that he knows it not; he imagines that Heaven flows with milk and honey, that there are no evil spirits in Heaven against which he must protect himself. The early Christians would have said: Hitherto these evil spirits were within the things of Nature; now they have been released and are whirling in their hosts invisibly around the human being who must guard against them.
In the sense of early Christian thought, then, there had been a world ending. But it was not realised that in place of the God indwelling the Earth, the God who proclaimed his being in the events of Earth, there had come the supersensible Logos Who must be known in the Supersensible and to Whom men must aspire with supersensible forces. If we recognise this we shall find that over the 9th, 10th and 11th centuries too, there hovered another mood, another feeling of a world ending. Once again men were expecting the downfall of the world. They did not yet understand the thoughts of the early Christians but out of this mood which spread over the whole of civilised Europe in the 9th, 10th and 11th centuries there came the urge to seek the path to Christ in a more material form than that in which it should properly have been sought. Men ought to have recognised that the Logos must be found in the Spirit and not in the phenomena of the natural world. This finding of the Logos in the Spirit was not understood by men who once again were imbued with the feeling of world ending, and they sought to find the Logos by a more material path.
Out of this feeling grew the mood which gave rise to the Crusades. Men set out to find the Christ in His grave in the East, and to hold fast to him in the throes of this misinterpreted feeling that the downfall of the world was at hand. But the Christ was not to be found away yonder in the East. Those who had sought to find Him visibly in the tomb were told: He Whom thou seekest is not here. Seek for Him in the Spirit.
And now, in the 20th century — and it will be so increasingly in the days to come — there is again the same mood of world downfall, albeit in their lethargy and indifference men no longer give heed to it. Nevertheless, the writer of The Decline of the West [Oswald Spengler] has made a deep and perceptible impression upon his time. This mood of world downfall will become more and more widespread.
Yet in truth one need not speak of the downfall of the world. World ending there has been, in the sense that the Spiritual can no longer be derived from the source of Nature. The question now is for man to realise that in very truth he is living in a spiritual world. An error is responsible for the loss of the direct knowledge that he is living and moving in a spiritual world. This is the error that has brought calamity upon us and that will make the bloodshed of wars more and more terrible. Human beings are as if possessed — possessed by the evil powers who cast their minds into confusion; and they no longer speak as if they were voicing what lives in the Ego. They are possessed as by a psychosis — a psychosis much talked about, but little understood.
The downfall of the world conceived by the first Christians has come about and the new era is upon us. But the new era must be recognised and understood. It must be realised that in very truth when the human being ‘knows’, he knows as an Angel; when he becomes conscious in his own true being, he is conscious as an Archangel. The spiritual world has come down to us and it is only a question of being conscious of it. That is the all-important thing. Many people imagine that they take the words of the Gospel literally and in all earnestness. Yet in spite of the unequivocal statement in the Gospel of St John that all created things are not to be explained on the basis of their sub-earthly forces but as having been created by the Logos, in spite of this, men have adhered to the Father God who is, indeed, to be recognised as one with the Christ but as that Person of the Trinity who was creative until the Earth took shape. The true Regent of the Earth is Christ — the Logos.
Understanding these things was hardly possible any longer in the days of John Scotus Erigena in the 9th century of our era. And that explains why his book On the Division of Nature is on the one hand so grand and significant but on the other so chaotic that Spiritual Science alone can help us to make anything of it.
As I have said, in the fourth section John the Scot speaks of the Being who is not created and does not create. If we really understand John Scotus Erigena when he speaks of the Godhead at rest, of the Godhead to whom all things return and in whom they are united, then we have the further stage. The world that is described in the first three sections of the work has come to an end. The world of the Godhead at rest — the Being who is not created and does not create — is upon us. The Earth is going towards its end — in so far, that is to say, as the Earth is Nature. I have reminded you many times that even our geologists today are saying that nothing more is really coming into being on the Earth. It is, of course, quite true that plant life continues; animals and human beings continue to come into existence through propagation. But the Earth, taken as one great whole, is not the same as it once was. It is breaking up, falling to pieces. In its mineral sphere the Earth is already disintegrating. The eminent geologist Suess makes this statement in his book Decline of the Earth. He says that we are moving about on the disintegrating ashes of the Earth. He speaks of a certain region where this is clearly evident and shows that it was not so in earlier epochs. Such was the view of the world and of life in the first centuries of Christendom — derived, of course, not from the natural but from the moral facts of human evolution.
We have been living since the beginning of the 15th century more within the ‘Godhead at rest’ than did John Scotus Erigena. The Godhead at rest is waiting until we are active enough to attain to Imagination and Inspiration wherewith we may see the world around us as a spiritual world, knowing that we are verily within that spiritual world from which the earthly world has been cast off, that we are living after the world ending has come to pass and that the new Jerusalem is with us.
Truly it is a strange destiny of men that living in the spiritual world they know it not, nor are willing to know it. All interpretations which present true Christianity as if it were bristling with inadequate ideas, such as that of a world ending which has not come to pass and is merely a figure of speech, all such interpretations are empty and futile. It is only a question of understanding the real meaning of the Christian writings. We must realise that the conceptions of men during the first centuries of Christendom related to a world that was altogether different after the 4th century.
The Church fathers of the early Christian centuries tried to bring the teachings of the old pagan wisdom into connection with the Mystery of Golgotha, but they did not believe that, to begin with, men would be capable of understanding them. Therefore, they preserved the mysteries of olden times in the form of dogmas which were to be matters of belief, but which men were not supposed to understand. These dogmas are not superstitions or untruths. They are, after all, quite true in themselves, only they must be understood in the right way, namely, by the application of those faculties and forces which have been developing in man since the time of the 15th century.
Since the middle of the 15th century the Consciousness Soul has been developing. When a man is evolving his thoughts and concepts today he is altogether lacking in any realisation that in his acts of knowledge he is an Angel. He will say: But I am simply thinking about the things I have experienced. And most certainly he will not say that in his ‘knowing’ he is a spiritual being, nor that in self-consciousness he is a yet higher spiritual being. Men seek for knowledge today with the shadow of that kind of intellect which lived among the Greeks, in Plato and in Aristotle, nay even among the Romans, and was still alive, to some extent, in a man like John Scotus Erigena in the 9th century.
The very fact that we need no longer allow ourselves to be led astray by the intellect can be a help to us. Today men are running after a shadow — after the shadow that is their intellect. They allow themselves to be misled by this intellect instead of striving to attain Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition which will lead them into the spiritual world. The fact that the intellect has faded into shadow is good in itself. But with shadowy intellect we have evolved our natural science and this sphere of knowledge must now be worked upon further. The Godhead has come to rest in order that we ourselves may labour. The fourth condition is upon us. It only remains for men to become conscious of it. And if they do not, then nothing new can come into being on the Earth, for what the Earth once received as a heritage has passed away. The new has to be created.
A man like Spengler saw the ruins which still remain of bygone civilisation. They lie before us clearly enough. The frame of mind in the 9th, 10th and 11th centuries was that of a world doomed. Then came the Crusades — achieving nothing because men were seeking in the material world for what ought to have been sought in the Spirit. And when the Crusades failed, the Renaissance came as a kind of makeshift. Greek culture was brought to light once again and is still being offered to human beings in the form of education. Greek culture is there, but it did not come to light in the Renaissance as a new thing. The only new thing that has come into being since the beginning of the 15th century consists of the mathematical and mechanical conceptions we apply to outer Nature. But the ruins of antiquity are forever with us. They are inculcated into the minds of the young in the form of their academic training and so constitute the basis of civilisation. Oswald Spengler gazed at these ruins of the Renaissance. Like great erratic blocks they float across the ocean of life that is travailing to give birth to something new. If we have eyes only for these floating blocks, then we see nothing but downfall. Nobody can galvanise our civilisation in the form in which it exists today. It is going to pieces, falling into ruin. A new civilisation must be brought into being from out of the Spiritual by a primal power of creation, for the fourth condition is upon us. This is the sense in which we must interpret the writings of John Scotus Erigena, whose wisdom — which he himself found difficult to under' stand — was drawn from the Mysteries still cultivated in Ireland.
What I have told you here is not only the result of Spiritual Science. Ancient documents tell us exactly the same, that is, if we really understand them and shake off Alexandrian influences in the form of science that goes by the name of philology. One cannot help saying that in their modern form these things show few traces either of real philology or real philosophy. In our methods of ‘cramming’ and in our examination schedules today there is exceedingly little room left for the ‘philo’. That must be brought from somewhere else, but we stand in dire need of it.
In this lecture I wanted first of all to speak of John Scotus Erigena and, secondly, to show you the paths along which we can come to an understanding of the now faded wisdom of antiquity. The Gospel of St John states quite clearly: The Logos, not the Father God, is the creative principle. But facts like this pass by unheeded in our time.