The Need for Christ
5 January 1923, Dornach
Originally published in Anthroposophical Quarterly, Volume 15, Number 3, Autumn 1970.
In the lectures given here just before the burning of the Goetheanum I spoke to you of man’s connection with the course of the year and of other related subjects. 1English translation published by Anthroposophic Press, Inc. New York, with the title: Man and the World of Stars. The spiritual Communion of Mankind. As a continuation of those lectures I want to take your minds back again today to an epoch of history which we have often studied and which must be thoroughly understood if genuine insight into the present phase of the evolution of humanity is to be acquired.
We have heard that certain processes taking place in the human being can be recognised in the ever-repeated happenings of the course of the year. I also said that it was the aim of earlier Mystery-science, Initiation-science, to spread such knowledge among persons able to accept it. By spreading this knowledge the aim was to strengthen man’s thinking, feeling and willing, to strengthen his foothold and position in the world.
We may ask: Why was it that in earlier times human beings were able by their very nature to understand the relation of man the microcosm, to the great world, the macrocosm, as this relation is expressed in the seasonal course of the year? For there was indeed such understanding. This was because in those ancient times man’s inner life, his life of soul, was more closely linked with the etheric or formative forces body than is the case today.
You will remember from the outline which I was able to give in the lectures of the so-called French Course, 2Ten lectures given from 6 to 15 September 1922. A précis of the contents written by Dr. Steiner himself is translated into English and published with the title: Cosmology, Religion and Philosophy. that when man has passed through the supersensible life between death and a new birth, when he has sent down to Earth the spirit-seed of his physical body, while he himself, as a being of soul-and-spirit before conception, has not yet descended, he gathers together from the Cosmos the forces of the cosmic ether and with them builds his etheric body which he thus possesses before he unites with his physical body. Thus as man descends from the supersensible worlds as a being of soul-and-spirit, he first envelops himself with an etheric body. Then he unites the physical body given him through the physical stream of inheritance by the father and mother.
In earlier ages of evolution the union into which man could enter with the etheric body before his actual earthly life was far more intimate than it was in later times and is today. And it was because of this more intimate union with the etheric body that it was possible for an earlier humanity to understand what was meant when from the Mysteries it was proclaimed: the physical Sun seen by the bodily eyes is the physical expression of a spiritual reality. Men understood what was meant by the ‘Sun Spirit’. They understood it because when that intimate union between the human soul-and-spirit and the etheric body was still present it would have seemed absurd to expect man to believe that somewhere up in universal space there hovered that physical globe of gas of which modern astrophysics speaks today. To those human beings of an earlier epoch it would have seemed a matter of course that to this physical phenomenon there belongs a spiritual reality and it was this spiritual reality which in all the ancient Mysteries was recognised and revered as the Sun Spirit.
We can point to the fourth century after Christ as the epoch when human beings descending from the supersensible world were no longer united in this intimate way with the etheric body. (These details are only approximately accurate, although in essentials they are correct). There was now a looser union and for this reason the time drew nearer and nearer when in their earthly life too men could use only the physical body when gazing at the Heavens. In earlier times when they looked up to the Heavens they too beheld the Sun but an impulse arose from within them not to see this Sun as a merely physical phenomenon but to recognise soul-and-spirit in the Sun. After the fourth century A.D., however, men could use only the physical body, the physical eyes, when they gazed at the Sun, for their sight was no longer borne and sustained by the power of the etheric body. Hence as time went on they saw merely the physical Sun and to teach of a Sun Spirit was possible only because this had been known by men in earlier epochs and the tradition still survived.
Julian the Apostate was one who learnt from his teachers of the Sun Spirit. But we know that in the Mystery of Golgotha this Sun Spirit came down to the Earth. He transferred the course of His heavenly life to the Earth, changed it into a course of earthly life. For since the Mystery of Golgotha His activity has been concerned with guiding the evolution of mankind in the sphere of the Earth.
You will notice that the two points of time do not coincide. The Mystery of Golgotha tells us, when we look back at it today, that it was then that Christ, the sublime Sun Being, united Himself with Earth-existence. Popularly expressed: since that point of time, Christ has been on the Earth.
Vision of the Sun Spirit was possible to men until the fourth century A.D., because up to then they were still intimately united with the etheric body, as I have already said. And although Christ Himself was already on the Earth, until well into the fourth century the etheric body still enabled men to behold His after-image in the Sun. Just as in the physical world when we gaze at some object and then shut our eyes, the eyes retain an after-image, so in personalities in whom this faculty had remained, the etheric body retained an after-image of the great Sun Spirit when such men looked up into the Heavens. Hence those human beings who were still closely united with their etheric body – and there were many, especially in the regions of Southern Europe, Northern Africa and Asia Minor – realised from actual experience: The Sun Spirit is to be seen when our eyes gaze into the heavenly expanse. And they could not understand what it meant when the teachers and leaders of those other Mysteries of which I spoke during the French Course declared that Christ was on the Earth.
You must remember that nearly four centuries had elapsed since the Mystery of Golgotha, during which time, for the reason I have just given, a large number of sound human beings were unable to make anything of the declaration that Christ had appeared on Earth. What had taken place in Palestine was for them an insignificant event, just as insignificant as it was for the Roman writers who merely mentioned it as an aside. The death of an individual of no importance had taken place under unusual circumstances. The men of whom
I am speaking simply did not understand the depths of the Mystery. It can be said that these men did not need the Christ on Earth for in the old sense He was still there for them in the Heavens. For them He was still the Cosmic Spirit, the Spirit working in the light. For them He was the all-embracing illuminator of mankind. There was still no need for them to look into the human being and seek Him in the ego.
A man who could not grasp why Christ should be sought in a human being on the Earth since He was obviously to be sought in the Heavens, living in the light which from sunrise shines daily upon the Earth and ceases to shine at sunset – such a man was Julian the Apostate. For him, and others of his kind, what had taken place in Palestine was an event on a par with any other historical event, but altogether insignificant. For such men it was an ordinary, actually unimportant event, for the need for Christ was not yet alive in them.
When was it that the need for Christ began to live in men? This is what we shall be thinking about today. When could the need for Christ arise in mankind at all?
Let us now think of the successive epochs of earthly evolution after the great Atlantean catastrophe. The catastrophe took place in the eighth/ninth millennium before Christ and after it we come to the first post-Atlantean civilisation-epoch which in the book Occult Science I called the ancient Indian epoch. In that ancient time man lived paramountly in his etheric body. His union with the etheric body was so close that we can say quite simply: man lived in the etheric body. His life was such that the physical body was really more like a garment for him, something quite external. He looked out into the world far more with his etheric eyes than with his physical eyes.
The second period was the ancient Persian epoch. Man now looked into his environment mainly through the sentient body. In the third, the Egypto-Chaldean epoch, he looked into the world with the help of the Sentient Soul, and at length, in the fourth, the Graeco-Latin epoch, he looked into the world with the powers of the Intellectual or Mind-Soul.
|Ancient Indian epoch
|Ancient Persian epoch
|Intellectual or Mind-Soul
|Spiritual or Consciousness Soul
In our own fifth civilisation-epoch since the fifteenth century, which we may call the historic present, man looks into the world with the Spiritual or Consciousness Soul. This brings about the results I have described in their historic sequence in the Natural Science Course. 3A Course of nine lectures given in Dornach during December 1922 and January 1923, entitled: Natural Science in the History of the World. Its moment of origin and subsequent development. A translation by George Adams is contained in Anthroposophical Movement, vols. VI (1929) and VII (1930).
But we must now be clear about what this really signifies. The soul makes itself felt to begin with in the etheric body. In the first epoch man is still living altogether in the etheric body. Then he lives in the sentient body. But this, in reality, is still immersed in the etheric body. Only in the Egypto-Chaldean epoch does he begin to live in the soul itself, but even now the soul is still living in the etheric body. In this epoch, when man experiences himself inwardly as a being of soul, he still feels half immersed in the etheric body.
It is in the Graeco-Latin epoch that in his life of soul man grows out of and beyond the etheric body. The etheric body is still within him, of course, until about the year A.D. 333. Then he begins to grow beyond the etheric body in such a way and to such an extent that his soul is only loosely united with it; there is no longer a strong, inner union. In the outer world the soul feels deserted, being obliged to go out into the world without the support of the etheric body. And it is now that the need for Christ arises. Man’s soul is no longer united with the etheric body so he no longer sees the great Sun Spirit, does not even see His afterimage when he looks out into the Heavens.
But world-evolution is a very gradual process, lasting for long, long periods of time. From the fourth century onwards the soul was as it were inwardly emancipated from the etheric body but not yet strengthened in itself; it was still inwardly weak. And if we survey the centuries, the fifth, sixth and seventh, right on into the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, even on into our own time (but we will consider primarily the period until the fifteenth century) we find the human soul inwardly emancipated, it is true, but weak and ineffectual. It feels the need for something but is not strong enough yet to meet this need from its own inner forces, not strong enough yet to seek the Christ, not, as formerly, in the Sun, but now in the Mystery of Golgotha; to seek Him, not in cosmic space but in the course of Time. The soul of man had to grow inwardly strong enough to develop forces within itself. Through all the centuries until the fifteenth, man was not strong enough to develop inner forces whereby he could have acquired understanding of the world through his own soul. Hence he was content to gather knowledge from the writings left by the ancients, from surviving traditions.
This is something we must bear in mind. The soul of man had to grow strong. In the fifteenth century it had reached the point of being able to experience as its own what it was no longer able to experience through the etheric body or through the etheric body out of the physical body, namely, the mathematical domain which it could now experience as abstraction. With this experience mankind has not yet achieved a great deal. But as you will be aware, it is now a totally different kind of experience. It is the impulse, out of the innermost soul itself, to arrive at something which mankind had not been able to reach in ancient times by using the etheric body with which the soul had been so intimately united.
Men had to grow inwardly strong enough to reach the Christ, whereas in earlier times the etheric body had enabled them to behold Him s He appeared in the Sun. We may therefore say that up to the fourth century A.D. it was precisely the most highly cultured men who were unable to make anything of the tidings about the Christ and the Mystery of Golgotha.
It is interesting to be able to say that neither the Emperor Constantine’s adoption of Christ nor the Emperor Julian’s rejection of Him was based on any firm ground. The historian Zozimus even goes so far as to declare that Constantine himself went over to Christianity because he had committed so many crimes against his family that the priests of the old religion refused to pardon him. He therefore broke away from the old Paganism and its priests, the Christian priests having promised him that they would be able to forgive his iniquities. This was hardly a very valid foundation for the adoption of Christianity. Indeed one can truly say that it was by no means out of a deep or intense need for Christ that Constantine turned his allegiance to Him.
In Julian’s case it only required initiation into the Eleusinian Mysteries – an initiation which by that time was a very external matter – to fill him with enthusiasm for the Sun Spirit in the form in which that Spirit had been known. In his case too, therefore, the foundation of it was not really profound, although Julian did indeed acquire remarkable insight through his initiation into the Mysteries of Eleusis. But in regard to the Christ question, neither the pros nor the cons were at that time really powerful or profound, for men simply did not know the meaning of the statement that Christ must now be sought for in history, in the body of a man.
And again, from the fourth century onwards, when their souls were inwardly emancipated but not strong enough as yet, men could find no other way to the Christ or indeed to any explanation of the world – for this had to be entirely recast – than through historical tradition, written and oral tradition, largely oral tradition, since few were cognisant of the written traditions and interpreted them to others by word of mouth.
This state of things remained for many centuries, indeed so far as perceptive understanding of Christ is concerned it remains so to this day. But it is of great significance that the soul had become free. Although in history it is true that every change has its preliminaries and its after-effects, nevertheless the year A.D. 333 can be cited as the point of time when the emancipation of the soul became a reality in the more advanced men. But the soul was still too lacking in strength to acquire any inner knowledge by its own efforts. In those times, when a man pondered earnestly and deeply about the surviving traditions and teachings, he could say: ‘Quite a short time ago there were people who still beheld divine-spiritual reality in the Sun. But I see nothing. Those to whom this divine-spiritual reality was revealed drew from it a wealth of other knowledge – mathematical knowledge, for example. My soul does indeed feel itself independent but it cannot yet muster its own forces to acquire such knowledge.’
In the fifteenth/sixteenth century the important symptom was that people began at least to for-mulate mathematical-mechanistic knowledge by using the forces of the soul itself. And Copernicus was the first to apply to the structure of the Heavens what he experienced through an emancipated soul. All earlier cosmologies had been evolved by souls not yet emancipated from the etheric body, who were still using the faculties of the Intellectual or Mind-Soul and who were thus able to apply the powers of the etheric body to look out into the Universe. The Intellectual or Mind-Soul was still active until well into the fifteenth century, but men could make use only of the physical body, the physical eyes, when they gazed upwards to the Heavens. These are the reasons why through all the centuries to this very day, knowledge of Christ and the Mystery of Golgotha could be transmitted only by scripture or oral tradition.
And now – what have we gained as yet through the soul which has become gradually stronger since the fourth/fifth century? External mechanistic knowledge, physical knowledge, of which I spoke in the Course on Natural Science. But now the time has come when the soul must become even stronger; for whereas in earlier days, when gazing up into the Heavens with the help of the etheric body the soul beheld in the physical Sun the Spirit Sun, so now, gazing inwardly into the ego it must feel, behind the ego, the Christ. By physical eyes the physical Sun is seen and by the eyes belonging to the etheric body, the Sun Spirit, the Christ, is seen.
When man looks into himself today he finds the ego. He is aware of the ego, has a feeling of the ego, but it is very shadowy. This feeling of the ego was an experience which first arose in the emancipated soul. Formerly man had looked out into the world; now he must look into his own inner being. Gazing out into the world brought him into touch with the Sun and with the Christ, the Sun Spirit; gazing inward has brought him, so far, into touch only with the ego. He must now reach the stage of finding behind the ego the reality of being which in ancient times the Sun revealed to him. The Christ he once experienced in the light from sunrise to sunset, the illuminator of his life, he must now feel radiating as a light from within himself, from his own ego. In Christ he must find the strong support of his ego.
And so we may say: Formerly man gazed outwards to the Sun and found the Christ-filled light. Now he feels his way into his own being and must learn to recognise and experience the Christ-filled ego. True, we are at the very beginning of this development and we must remember what Anthroposophy tells mankind, namely that the centuries since the fourth century A.D. have been an intermediate period. In the previous centuries men were able to look out into the Heavens and find the Christ as the Sun Spirit in outer space. Now that these intermediate centuries are past a new humanity must arise. Men must find the way into their own inmost being and along this path find the inner Sun, the Christ; for He now appears when the ego is experienced as in former ages He was revealed in the Sun. He who was once the Sun Spirit is now the pillar and support of the ego.
With the fourth century, in that humanity which was gradually evolving out of the Graeco-Latin races, there began the need for Christ which at first could find satisfaction only through written or oral tradition. But today, especially for the more advanced members of humanity, this written and oral tradition has lost its power of conviction. Today, therefore, men must learn to find the Christ inwardly, even as a humanity of olden times found Him outwardly through the Sun and its light. It is important to understand the intermediate centuries during which the soul of man was independent but in a certain sense empty of content. When the soul looked out into the Universe while endowed with the power of the etheric body, it could not possibly perceive in the phenomena of the Heavens that mechanistic-mathematical system which subse-quently became the Copernican system. Everything was perceived in far closer union with the human being. And the result was not some arbitrary cosmic system abstracted entirely from the human being, but the system which then, already decadent, became known as the Ptolemaic.
But when the soul began no longer to be rooted in the cosmic ether with its own etheric body, a new mental attitude in man was gradually being prepared. And this mentality subsequently pro-duced a science of the stars in which it was a matter of indifference whether man is related or is not related to the Heavens. The one and only tribute paid by this transformed mentality to ancient times was that men placed the starting-point of the new system in the Sun. Through Copernicus, the Sun was made the centre of the Universe – not of the spiritual but of the physical Universe. This indicates the existence of a dim feeling that once upon a time the Sun, with the Christ, was felt to be the centre of the Universe. We must not, as has gradually become the custom nowadays, study the external aspect of history only; we must also pay attention to the development of inner feelings, inner perceptiveness, in human beings.
If we really understand how to read Copernicus, in whom this element of feeling was obviously present, we realise that he did not merely calculate. He was aware of an urge to restore to the Sun something of the old glory. This inner impulse led him to the discovery of three laws, the third of which actually makes everything that is said in the first and second, questionable and uncertain. For Copernicus had formulated a third law, which subsequent astronomy, reducing everything to a mechanistic system, simply omitted. This was a law according to which the movement of the Earth around the Sun was by no means described in such absolute terms as it is today. For today, as I have often said, the whole matter is regarded as a simple fact of observation, as if one were to place a gigantic chair far out in cosmic space, view the Sun from there with the Earth circling around it. But the chair would have to be far out in cosmic space and sitting on it the pedant, observing the system from outside. This could not, of course, be regarded as a result of observation at all. Copernicus himself, if I may put it so, had a conscience in these matters not quite as stubborn or hardened as those who later on mechanised the whole structure of the Universe. Moreover he cited phenomena which indicate that this movement of the Earth around the Sun is not, after all, absolute and unconditional. But as I said, this third law was simply ignored and suppressed by later science. The scientists confined themselves to the first two laws – the rotation of the Earth on its own axis and around the Sun – thus obtaining a very simple system which in this form was gradually introduced into the schools. Needless to say, there is no question here of raising opposition to the Copernician system. Its advent was a necessity in the course of evolution. But today the time has come when we must speak of these matters as I tried to do in the Course of lectures on Natural Science and Astronomy, given in Stuttgart. 4Eighteen lectures, January 1921, entitled: The Relation of the different Sciences to Astronomy. When the German text is published by the Nachlassverwaltung, the bibliographical number will be 323. A provisional translation is available in typescript only. I showed that we must think about these things quite differently from what is possible in the field of materialistic science today.
In Copernicus himself, in the whole conception of his system, there is still an element of feeling. After all, he did not wish to apply a purely mathematical system of co-ordinates to our solar system with the Sun at the centre. He wanted to give back to the Sun what had been taken away from it because men were no longer able to behold the Christ in the Sun.
Such things as these should show you how necessary it is to observe not only the external facts and the change in men’s thinking in the course of history, but also the change in their feelings. This was especially striking when the mechanistic principle came decisively to the fore. In Copernicus, and notably in Kepler, these elements of feeling are still perceptible and in Newton very emphatically so. A few days ago in the lectures on science I explained how Newton subsequently became rather ill at ease with his mathematical natural philosophy. To begin with he had conceived of space as being permeated with purely mathematical-mechanistic forces, but later on, after reading through what he had written he became uneasy about such an abstract conception, and he thereupon declared that what he had thus posited as abstract space with the three abstract dimensions, was in reality the Sensorium Dei – the Sensorium of God. Newton had grown a little older. These ultra-mathematical ideas pricked his conscience and he now declared space to be the most important realm in the brain of God: the Sensorium.
It was not until later that men of knowledge were judged entirely as thinkers, the element of feeling being ignored altogether. But this ought not to have happened in the case of Newton, above all not in that of Leibnitz and the natural scientists of that time. And anyone who reads a life of Galileo will find on every page how human nature in its fullness was at all times active. Man as a thinking apparatus, feeding himself as such with the results of experiment and observation as any steam-engine is fed with coal, man as a thinking apparatus does not appear on the scene until a later time, and only then becomes the authoritative leader in science which is said to be free of a priori premises. And it is indeed free of a priori premises of true knowledge.
The soul is no longer the empty soul which it became in the fourth century of the Christian era. It is no longer empty for it has filled itself with a multitude of mathematical-mechanistic ideas. But to all this, something must be added: the inner light must be found within the ego, which in order to avoid speaking merely in a figurative or symbolic sense, we should call the Being who is the pillar and support of the soul.
And here we come to something that became more and more apparent in the course of the cen-turies and is strong today but is cast by men who have dulled their senses to sleep into the sub-conscious foundations of their souls. It is: the need for Christ. Only a spiritual knowledge, a knowledge of the spiritual Universe, can satisfy this need for Christ. A characteristic of our own age, the twentieth century, is the need for Christ and with it the inner effort of the soul to muster the power to find the Christ in the ego, or behind the ego, even as in past times He was found in the Sun.
The relation of men to the Sun Spirit in the Graeco-Latin epoch was in the state of evening twilight. For it was in the ancient Indian epoch that men beheld the Sun Spirit with full clarity of vision. We ourselves are living in an age when we should be aware of a dawn – the dawn of the true knowledge of Christ won by man’s own forces. The ancient knowledge of the Sun Spirit which Julian the Apostate still wished to galvanise into new life, can no longer afford any satisfaction to mankind. Even the endeavours of Julian were in vain because of the march of evolution. But the epoch of the first four centuries of our era, when men did not know what to make of Christ and the following epoch when they already felt the need for Him but could satisfy this need only through written or oral tradition – these epochs must be followed by the new age in which there is understanding for words in the Gospel such as these: ‘I have yet many things to say unto you but ye cannot bear them now.’
An age must come which understands what Christ meant when He said: ‘I am with you always, even unto the end of earthly time.’ For verily Christ is not dead; He is alive and He speaks not through the Gospels only. He speaks for the eye of Spirit, when the eye of Spirit opens again to the mysteries of man’s existence. Then He is present at all times, speaks and reveals Himself. Truly it is a feeble humanity that will not strive for the time when men can be told what they could not be told two thousand years ago because they were not then able to bear it. As souls they were still in a condition which made it impossible for them to understand what Christ was offering to humanity. Certainly, those immediately around Him could understand something of it. But the Gospel was given for all beings and the saying just quoted resounds through the whole world.
We must strive to promote a humanity which puts the living Christ in the place of mere tradition. But even without discrediting tradition, nothing could be more unchristian than repeatedly to declare that only what has actually been written down has validity, thus ignoring the revelation of Christ that comes from the spiritual world today, speaking to our thinking as it strives for illumination, to our feeling heart, and to the fullness of manhood in our will.