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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Education as a Social Problem
GA 296

VI. The Inexpressible Name, Spirits of Space and Time, Conquering Egotism

17 August 1919, Dornach

What I said yesterday about the path of the human intellect toward the future, rests upon definite facts that can be brought to light through spiritual-scientific knowledge. Today we shall deal with some of these facts. You must be conscious in a practical way, I might say, of the following.

When a man confronts you, he is that being we speak about in spiritual science. That is to say, above everything we must always be aware that he is a four-membered being, as you know from my book Theosophy. We have before us the ego, the astral body, ether body, and physical body. The fact that every time a person stands before us we are confronted by these four members of the human entity, brings it about that ordinary human perception does not know what it faces in man. Ordinarily one thinks: “What I see before me, filling space, is the physical body.” But what is physical in it we would not see as we usually see it if it were to confront us merely as physical body. We see it as it usually is today only because it is permeated by the ether body, the astral body, and ego. Strange as it may sound, that which is the physical body proper is a corpse, even during our lifetime. When we are confronted by a human corpse we are actually confronted by the physical body. In the corpse we have physical man not permeated by ether and astral body and ego. It is forsaken by them and shows its true nature. You do not visualize yourself properly if you believe you carry what you consider to be the physical body of man with you through space. A more correct view would be if you thought of yourself as a corpse with your ego, astral and etheric bodies carrying this corpse through space.

A consciousness of the true nature of man's being becomes more and more important for our age. For the conditions existing in the present cycle of mankind's evolution were not the same in earlier periods. What I am now relating cannot be ascertained by outer physical science, but spiritual-scientific cognition does observe these facts. As you know, the fourth post Atlantean age begins in the eighth century B.C.; further back we come to the Egypto-Chaldean period. At that time human bodies had a constitution different from that of today. Those you find now in the museum as mummies had a much more delicate constitution than present-day human bodies. They were much more permeated by the plant element; they were not so completely corpse as is the modern human body. As physical bodies they were akin to plant nature, whereas the present-day physical body, since the Greco-Latin age, is akin to the mineral world. If through some cosmic miracle the bodies of that ancient population were to be bestowed upon us, we would all be ill. We would carry proliferating growths in our body. Many a disease consists in the fact that the human body atavistically returns to conditions that were the normal ones in the Egypto-Chaldean age. Today we find tumorous formations in the body which are caused by the fact that a part of this or that person's body develops the tendency to become what the whole body was for the ancient Egypto-Chaldean population.

This is closely connected with human evolution. We as modern men carry a corpse in our body. The ancient Egyptian carried as his body something of a plant-like nature. The result was that his knowledge was different from ours, his intelligence acted differently. What do we know through our science that we are so proud of? Only that which is dead. Science shows that life cannot be grasped with ordinary intelligence. To be sure, certain research scientists believe that if they continue with their chemical experiments the moment will come when they will be able, through complicated combinations of atoms, molecules, and their interactions, to know the processes of life. This moment will never come. On the chemico-physical path one will only be able to grasp the minerally dead; that is to say, one will only grasp that aspect of the living which is a corpse.

Yet, what in man is intelligent and gains knowledge is nevertheless this physical body, this corpse. What then does this corpse do as we carry it about? It achieves most in a knowledge of mathematics and geometry. Everything is transparent there. The further we move from the mathematical-geometrical the more un-transparent do matters become. The reason for this is that the human corpse is the real knower today; the dead can only recognize the dead. Today what the ether body is, the astral body, the ego, does not think in man; it remains in obscurity. If the ether body would be able to know in the same way that the physical body knows the dead, it would know the life of the plant world. This was the peculiar thing with the Egyptian, that with his plant-like, living body he had knowledge of the plant world in a way quite different from ours. Much instinctive knowledge of the plant world can be traced back to what was embodied in Egyptian culture through their instinctively knowing consciousness. Even what is known today in botany about substances for medicinal use comes often from traditions originating in ancient Egyptian wisdom. You know how a number of so-called lodges, not founded on genuine fundamentals, call themselves Egyptian lodges. That is because they refer back to Egypt if they want to impart certain knowledge — which, however, is no longer very valuable. In these circles there still live certain traditions stemming from the wisdom which could be had through the Egyptian body. One can say, as humanity gradually progresses into the Greco-Latin period the living, human plant-body gradually died out. We carry an extremely dead body in us; especially is this true for the head. The science of the initiates perceives the human head as a corpse, as something continually dying. More and more will humanity become conscious of the fact that its vehicle for knowledge is a corpse; that it therefore knows only what is dead.

For this reason, the further we go into the future the more intensively will we feel a longing to know what is living. But the living will not be known through ordinary intelligence bound to the corpse. Much will be needed to make it possible for man again to penetrate the world in a living way. We must know today what it is that man has lost. When he passed over from the Atlantean to the post Atlantean age there was much he could not do that he can do today. Since a certain time in your childhood you are able to say “I” in referring to yourself. You may say it without any great respect. But in former ages of mankind's evolution this “I” was not referred to with so little respect. There were times, prior to the Egyptian age, when a name for “I” was used which, when pronounced, stupefied a person. Pronouncing it, therefore, was avoided. If people right after the Atlantean epoch had experienced the pronouncing of the name for “I” — at that time it was only known to the initiates — the whole congregation would have fainted, so powerful was the effect of uttering this name for “I.” An echo of this fact lingered with the ancient Hebrews who spoke of the unutterable name of the Deity in the soul; a word which only the initiates were permitted to speak, or that was expressed before the congregation in a kind of eurythmy.

The ineffable name of God had its origin in what I have just told you. Gradually this fact was lost, and the deep effect of such practices diminished. In the first post-Atlantean epoch a deep effect in the ego; in the second epoch a deep effect in the astral body; in the third epoch a deep effect in the ether body, but the effect was bearable — an effect which, as I stated yesterday, brought men into connection with the cosmos. Today we can say “I” — we can say anything — without its having a deep effect upon us, because we grasp the world with our corpse. That is to say, we grasp what is dead, what is mineral in the world. But we must arouse ourselves to rise again to those regions in which we can take hold of the living. Whereas the Greco-Latin period created more and more dead knowledge for the corpse, in our time intelligence follows the path I mentioned yesterday. We must, therefore, resist mere intelligence; we must add something to it. It is in the nature of our time that we have to retrace the path of development, so that in the fifth post-Atlantean period we learn to know the plant, in the sixth period the animal, and in the seventh the truly human. Thus, it will be our present task to pass beyond a knowledge of the mineral and learn to know the plant element.

Now after realizing this, ask yourself who is the person who exemplifies this search for plant knowledge. It is Goethe. Contrary to the preoccupation of all outer science with what is dead, he occupied himself with the life, the growth, the metamorphosis of plants. Thus, he was the man of the fifth post-Atlantean period in its elementary beginnings. In his small treatise of the year 1790, An Attempt to Explain the Metamorphosis of Plants, you will see how Goethe tries to comprehend the plant from leaf to leaf as something developing, unfolding, not as something completed, dead. That is the beginning of the knowledge that should be sought in the fifth post-Atlantean epoch.

In Goetheanism we have the keynote for this. Science will have to wake up in the Goethean sense, will have to pass from the dead to the living. This is what is meant when I say again and again that we must acquire the ability to leave behind the dead, abstract concepts and arrive at those that are living and concrete. What I said two days ago and yesterday is basically the way to these living, concrete concepts.

It will not be possible to enter into these concepts and ideas if we are not ready to develop our general world view and concept of life as a unity. Through the special con-figuration of our culture we are forced to let the various currents of our world view run side by side in a disorganized fashion. Just think how man's religious view of the world and his scientific view often run parallel, completely disconnected. He builds no bridge between the two; in-deed, he is afraid of doing so. We must make it clear that this state of affairs cannot continue.

I have drawn your attention to the egotistical way man forms his world view at the present time. I have described how men today are chiefly interested in the life of the soul after death. This interest springs from pure egotism. I have said we must pass on to interest in the life of the soul from birth onward, seeing it as a continuation of the life prior to birth. If we were to observe the child's growth into the world as a continuation of his pre-natal existence, with the same concern we feel for his soul after death, our thinking about the world would be much less egotistical than it is today. But this egotism in our world view is connected with many other things.

Here I come to a point where men today must become ever more clear about underlying facts. In the period of time culminating in our age the egotistic element was chiefly developed. The ego has permeated man's viewing of the world; it has also permeated his will. We must not deceive ourselves about that. The religious denominations in particular have become egotistical. This you can see even in externalities. Just consider how modern preachers have to reckon with people's egotism. The more they make promises concerning the life of the soul after death the more they reach their goal. People today have little interest in other spiritual questions; in, for instance, that creative flow of life which shows itself so wonderfully after birth in the soul that previously was in the spiritual world.

A result of this lack of interest is the way man thinks about the Divine in the various religious denominations. The fact that we visualize a God as The Highest has no special meaning. Here it is essential that we free ourselves from deception. What do most people mean today if they say “God?“ What kind of being do people refer to when they speak of God? It is an Angel; nothing else but their own Angel whom they call God. People have just a bare intimation that a protective spirit guides their life; they look up to him and call him their God. This is the egotism of the churches, that they do not pass beyond the Angel with their concept of God. A narrowing of interests is caused by egotism; and this narrowing of interests is to be clearly seen in public life.

Do people today ask about the general destiny of man-kind? Oh! it is often very sad if one wants to speak to people about human destiny. No one has any idea of the degree of change that has taken place in this respect in a comparatively short time. Today we may say to people: The military conflict that has spread over the earth during the last four or five years will be followed by the mightiest spiritual battle, which will cover the earth in a form never experienced before. Its origin lies in the fact of the Occident naming as illusion or ideology what the Orient calls reality, and the Orient feeling as reality what the Occident calls ideology. We may draw people's attention to this weighty matter and it does not even dawn on them that if something similar had been said only a hundred years ago it would have so taken hold of people's souls that they would never have gotten over it.

This change in humanity, this growing indifference to the great questions of destiny, is the most striking phenomenon. Everything bounces off mankind, so to say. The most comprehensive, incisive facts are accepted like a sensation. People are not deeply shaken by them. The reason for this is the clever, ever increasing egotism that constricts men's interests. We may have whatever fine democracies where men meet in parliaments, but concern for the fate of man-kind does not permeate them, because the people who are elected to these parliaments do not feel the urgency to know mankind's destiny. Egotistical interests hold sway. Every-one has his own egotistical interest. Similarities in outer interests such as often arise from one's profession, lead people to form groups. When the groups are large enough, majorities arise. In this way a concern not for human destinies but only for egotism, multiplied by the number of persons involved, becomes active in parliaments and men's proposals.

Because of the way egotism lives in people now, even their religious professions are under its influence. They will have their necessary renewal if people's interests broaden; that is, if men will again look beyond their personal destiny to the destiny of mankind; if they will be deeply moved when one tells them that in the West a culture develops that is different from that of the East, and that the culture of the Middle is again different from that of both East and West. Or if one tells them that in the West the great goals of mankind are sought, when they are sought, through the use of mediums who are put into a trance and are thereby consciously brought into a sub-earthly relationship to the spiritual worlds, out of which they speak of great historical aims. We could tell this repeatedly to Europeans, yet they will not believe that in English-American countries there really exist societies in which the attempt is made to find out through questions cleverly put to mediums what the great goals of mankind are. People likewise do not believe that the Oriental obtains knowledge about the destiny of mankind not through mediums but on the mystical path. In the beautiful speeches of Rabindranath Tagore, easily available today, you can read what the Oriental thinks on a grand scale about the goals of mankind. These speeches are read as one reads the feature articles of any hack journalist; because today people distinguish little between a journalistic hack and persons of great spirituality like Rabindranath Tagore. They are not aware, I might say, that different racial substances can live side by side. What is valid for Middle Europe I have put forward in public lectures for many years. It was not received as it should have been.

With this I only wish to point out that one may become aware of something that reaches beyond the egotistical fate of a man and is connected with the destiny of groups of men, so that we can make specific differentiations across the face of the earth. If one lifts his view toward comprehending human destiny in mankind as a whole, if one concerns himself intensely with what thus passes beyond personal destiny, then one tunes his soul to comprehending a higher reality than the Angel; actually, that of the Archangel. Thoughts concerning the significance of an Archangel do not arise in one's soul if one remains in the regions concerned with egotistical man. Preachers may talk ever so much about the Divine; if they only preach within the confines of egotistical man they speak merely of the Angel. Calling it by a different name is just an untruth; it does not put the matter straight. Only if one begins to be interested in man's destiny as a unity over the whole earth does his soul begin to elevate itself to the Archangel.

Now let us pass on to something else. Let us feel what I have indicated in these lectures about the successive impulses of mankind's evolution. You will find that most of our leading citizens were educated in the classical schools — Gymnasium — during the years when the soul is pliable and flexible. These classical schools were not born out of the culture of our age but of the Greco-Latin age. If those Greeks and Romans had done what we did, they would have established Egypto-Chaldean classical schools. They didn't do that; they took the subjects for their teaching from immediate life. We take them from the previous period and educate people accordingly. This is very significant, but we haven't recognized it. Had we done so a note would have sounded within the feminist movement that did not resound, and that is: Men, if their intelligence is to be specially trained, are sent into antiquated schools. There their brains become hardened. Women have the good fortune of not being admitted into the classical schools. We want to develop our intelligence in an original way; we want to show what can be developed in the present age if we are not made dull in our youth by Greco-Latin classical education.

These words did not resound, but in their place: Men have crept into and hidden under the Greco-Latin classical education, let us women do the same. Let us also become students of the classical schools.

So little has understanding spread for what is necessary! We must realize that in our present time we are not educated for our age but for the Greco-Latin culture. This is inserted into our lives. We must sense it. We must sense what, as Greco-Latin culture, acts in the leading people of today, in the so-called intellectuals. This is one aspect of what we carry within us in our spiritual education. We read no newspaper that does not contain Greco-Latin education; because, although writing in our national idiom, we actually write in the Greco-Latin form.

And in regard to our concept of rights we live in Romanism, again something antiquated. To be sure, the old national rights battle at times against Roman law, but they do not prevail. We must feel how a time that has passed lives in what man calls right and wrong in public life.

Only in economic life do we live in the present. This is a significant statement. Perhaps I may say in passing that many women use the concepts of the present in their cooking, in managing their households. In doing so they actually are the people of the present age; everything else that is carried into the present is antiquated. I do not present this matter of their cooking as something particularly desirable, but the other aspect is much less desirable, namely, that the souls of women also want to go back from the present to antiquated cultures. In looking upon our cultural surroundings we have not only what acts in space but also the effects of bygone eras. If we acquire a feeling for this, not only the past affects us but the future as well. It is our task to let the future work into us. Because, if there did not live in every person, however slightly aware of it, a kind of rebellion against the Hellenism of education and the Romanism of rights, if the future were not to ray in upon us, we would be pathetic creatures, really very pathetic creatures.

Besides space we must also consider time in our culture; that is to say, what as history reaches over into our present from the past and from the future. We, as people of the present, must realize that past and future play into our souls. Just as America, England, Asia, China, India — the East and the West as two opposites — have their effect upon us as Europeans, so do we carry Greece, Rome, and the future in us. If we are willing to focus our attention on the future by becoming aware of how what is past and what is coming into being live in our souls, then another attitude arises in us concerning human destiny, an attitude that transcends egotism and is different from what is aroused by a merely spatial consideration. Only if we develop this soul attitude is it possible for us to form concepts about the sphere of the Time Spirits, the Archai. That is to say, we come to the third rank of divine beings in the order of the Hierarchies.

It is good if man by such means places before himself these three Hierarchies in concepts and ideas, because the Spirits of Form who come next are much harder to comprehend. But it suffices for modern man if he attempts to penetrate beyond egotism into the sphere of the unegotistic, doing this repeatedly, and occupying himself with what I have just explained. I must emphasize again, that especially the training of teachers should make use of these facts. A teacher should not be permitted to instruct and educate without having acquired an idea of the egotism that strives toward the closest God, the Angel; without also having acquired a concept of the unegotistic, destiny-determining powers who are side by side in space above the earth, the Archangel beings; and without having acquired a concept of how past and future reach over into our culture, the Roman life of rights, the Greek spiritual substance, and the undefined rebel of the future, which saves us.

Mankind at present has little inclination to enter into these matters. Some time ago I repeatedly emphasized that it is one of our social tasks to derive from the present our educational subjects to be used during the time spent today in classical schools. To do as the Greeks themselves did, namely, take the subjects for education from present-day life.

Shortly after the time, and in the same place where I had spoken about the social importance of this problem (I do not wish to imply a causal connection, but the matter has symptomatic meaning) there appeared in all the news-papers in that place a number of advertisements propagandizing the modern classical schools. I had delivered lectures characterizing classical education in the way I have done here. The advertisements declared what the German nation owes to the classical education of its youth, for “strengthening the national consciousness,” “the national power,” and so on. This was a few weeks before the Treaty of Versailles. These advertisements were signed by a variety of local figures from the schools and the department of education. What has to be brought out today as to the factual basis of mankind's evolution, is rejected. People let it bounce off; it does not touch the depths of the soul. For this reason, it is so difficult to be active in the social sphere. One will never be able to take hold of the social question with the superficialities employed today. It is a deeply significant question that cannot be grasped if one will not look deeply into the nature of man and the world. Because this is so it should be evident how important are certain proposals offered by the threefold social order.

We must acquire an organ for what is necessary for our age, and it is difficult to acquire this organ in the spiritual sphere. For an education that has gradually been taken over by the State has deprived man of active striving; it has made him into a devoted member of the State structure. How do the majority of people live? Up to the sixth year of age man may live unhindered because the State does not yet consider him sanitary enough. The State would not like to devote itself to the tasks that have to be carried out in the first childhood years. Man is still left to the powers outside the State. But then it lays claim to him and he is trained to fit the pattern of the State; he ceases to be a person and bears the stamp of the State. He strives to fit this pattern because it is instilled in him. He not only gets his keep from the State while he works but beyond the working age up to his death, in the form of a pension. It is the ideal of many people today to have a position that entitles them to a pension. The soul too becomes entitled to a pension, even beyond death, without any effort on its part, because it receives eternal bliss through the activity of the church. The church sees to that. Now it is very uncomfortable to hear that salvation lies in free spiritual striving which must be independent of the State. The State must only serve civil rights, where there will be no claim to a pension. This is reason enough for many to reject it, as we have occasion to notice again and again.

Concerning the most intimate spiritual life, the religious life, the world of the future will demand of man that he work for his immortality; that he let his soul be active so that it may receive into itself, through activity, the Divine, the Christ-impulse.

In the course of my life I have received many letters from church people who state that anthroposophy is fundamentally a fine thing, but it contradicts the simple Christian faith; that Christ has redeemed the soul, that one can attain salvation in Christ without any effort on one's part. People cannot let go of the “simple belief in the attainment of salvation through Christ.” They believe themselves to be especially pious if they say or write something like that. But they are egotistical, extremely egotistical. They want to be passive in their souls and let it be the concern of the Divine to transport the soul, nicely pensioned, through the portal of death.

Matters are not so easy in that world conception in which, in future, the religious element must be created. Here one must understand that the presence of the Divine in the soul must be worked for. One will no longer be able just to surrender passively to the churches, which promise to carry the souls into the beyond. (The involvement of money for such service, a scandal in the past, has now fallen into disuse, but secretly it still plays a role in this process, also in obtaining special blessings.) But the transition to inner activity is what is needed for mankind, something it doesn't yet cherish very much.

In order to gain a feeling for what is necessary in this regard we must keep in mind, first, the metamorphosis of humanity since the time of ancient Egypt when the body was more of a plant-like nature. Should there be a relapse into that state in the present age, man would become sick and develop tumors and such things. Secondly, the fact that we carry our body as a corpse which can think, can under-stand. In this way we gain a feeling for what mankind needs, which is, to advance in the solving of social problems in the way this has to be done in the present time. We must no longer allow ourselves to consider such a matter as the social question as being utterly simple.

You see, this is what is so difficult at present: That people would like to be enlightened on the most important aspects of life by a few abstract statements. If a book like The Threefold Social Order contains more than a few abstract statements, if it contains the results of an observation of life, then people say they do not understand it. They consider it confusing. But this is the misfortune at present, that people do not wish to enter into what precisely they ought to enter into. For abstract sentences, completely lucid, refer to what is dead; the social element, however, ought to be alive. Here we must employ flexible ideas, flexible sentences, flexible forms. Therefore, it is necessary that we not only reflect upon the transformation of single institutions, but that we really adjust ourselves to a genuine transformation in our thinking and learning, down to their innermost structure.

This is what I would like to leave with you today when I have to leave again for a few weeks. We must feel ourselves influenced by the working together of our anthroposophical and our social movement. I should like you to comprehend more and more why it is that the anthroposophically oriented science of the spirit must flow into the souls of men if anything is to be achieved in the social field. And I would bring close to your hearts what I have said repeatedly in various ways: It is of utmost importance to acknowledge that what we can acquire of anthroposophical knowledge is the true guide-line now for all action and striving; that we must have the courage to will to prevail with anthroposophy. The worst thing is that people in these days have so little courage for willing to prevail with what is needed. They permit their best will-forces to break down; though it is so necessary they do not will to carry through.

Learn to represent anthroposophy with courage. Receive graciously the people who show an interest in looking at this building which represents our spiritual striving. Rejoice in every single individual who shows even a little understanding. Meet with him. But do not take it to heart if your efforts are fruitless, and people meet our activities with evil intention, or, what is more frequent, with lack of understanding. Just resist it suitably. It is courage that is needed to bring our efforts through to good results. Let us think of ourselves as the handful of people whose destiny it is to know and to communicate to the world what it so sorely needs today. Let the people ridicule us and say that it is presumption to believe all this. It is true nevertheless. Saying to oneself, “It is true nevertheless,” — saying it so earnestly that it fills one's whole soul, this needs the inner courage we must have. May it permeate us as anthroposophical substance. Then we shall do what we have to do, everyone at the place where he is. This I wanted to say to you today.

We are longing for the day when our activity through this building brings us closer to the outside world; our activity which in any case is very difficult. This building is the only one that takes into account the great destinies of mankind even in its forms, and it is very gratifying to see that attention is being paid to it. Something else, however, is necessary for favorable progress in social problems, and that is, that this building through its very forms, which are stronger than other modern architectural forms, should aid in the strengthening of humanity's spiritual powers; making men more amenable to what one wishes them to know, so that they may rise not only to the nature of the Angel, but to the Archangel, and to the Spirit of the Time.

With these words I take leave of you for a few weeks. I hope to be able then to continue these considerations, and that during this time we shall come into an intensive activity for our building itself. Because, my dear friends, we are justified in emphasizing on every hand that readiness for work, that joy in work is needed for all men. This will not come if people are not moved by great purposes. I believe that if people can be convinced that through the three-folding of the social organism they can attain an existence worthy of man, they will begin to work again. Otherwise they will continue to strike. For in the field of physical labor people need an impulse that takes hold of them in their inmost souls.

But we must show that our work has been fruitful in attaining at least one objective, and this radiates into the world. Only then can we give the impulse to mankind to overcome spiritually what is dead in our time. Let us think this over, my dear friends, until the time when we are together again and can speak further about these questions.