Body, Soul and Spirit in Waldorf Education
XVI. Religious & Moral Education
7 January 1922, Stuttgart
In this final lecture of our conference on education based on anthroposophic insight into the human being, I would like to speak about the moral and religious aspect in teaching, two related subjects that naturally belong together. Again, there is time for only a few characteristic observations.
There is hardly any other subject that pervades every aspect and branch of education with such an all-embracing and unifying spirit, born from a real knowledge of the human being. Yesterday I spoke to you about physical education, whereas today’s theme must be considered truly spiritual — very much so when we look at it from the spirit of our civilization. I want to emphasize immediately that these two subjects — both physical and spiritual in nature — must flow together and form a unity in the kind of education we are considering here, even though they tend to be treated as two very separate branches in traditional education. It may take time for this to happen in general. But in our Waldorf school, we have tried to make a small beginning in this intimate intermingling of spiritual and physical activities by introducing eurythmy as a required subject in all classes that could be seen as a kind of soul and spiritual form of gymnastics. Eurythmy uses the human physical body as a medium to express whatever it brings. Yet, right down to the smallest detail, every movement is also meaningfully permeated by soul and spirit. Eurythmy depends on the physical organs, as speech depends on the human speech organs, without which there could be no vocal communication. The physical speech organs carry soul and spiritual content.
The spiritual element in language can lead directly into the moral and even religious sphere if we are perceptive enough; there is a reason that the Gospel of St. John begins with “In the beginning was the Word.” Thus we can say, This flowing together of body, soul, and spirit is cultivated by teaching eurythmy in every class of the Waldorf school, though it is not a well known subject and, as yet, employs a somewhat instinctive way. Although directly linked to physical movements, eurythmy is one of the subjects that can show, perhaps more clearly than any other, how the unification of body, soul, and spirit can be practiced methodically within class lessons. In the future, many other activities will have to stand alongside eurythmy, offering possibilities as yet undreamed of by people today, and working even more directly into the soul and spiritual realm. Such possibilities are inherent in what has already been given, and waiting to be realized; the way is there. Even if our first efforts in eurythmy are far from perfect and limited in scope, the principles of eurythmy will eventually overcome all imbalance in gymnastics, which is the result of today’s materialistic influences.
One really feels an inner urge to speak about the ethical and religious aspects of education, even if this can be done only aphoristically. On the one hand, we wish to appeal most strongly to what all human beings share as a common bond, beyond the limits of race and nationality. On the other, it has become obvious that it is almost impossible to speak of matters so intimately connected with people’s inner lives in a way that is both understood and accepted by all nationalities. An example may show how very different moral and religious attitudes are in various regions of the world, and how one thus feels inhibited when trying to reach people on this particular level. In reality, such intimate questions of morality and religion can be approached only through the national and religious background of the people concerned.
In all the previous considerations during our conference, I was able to speak in far more general terms about human affairs than I can today. But the anthroposophic view of the world engenders a strong desire to build bridges across all divisions into nationalities, races, and so on. In its inmost being anthroposophy feels compelled to speak with a voice that is supranational, or international. Nevertheless, we are acutely aware of the difficulties in speaking with a voice of universal humanity about such intimate matters of human life, especially in the contemporary scene, which, after all, is the reality that confronts us. So I must beg you to take what I am going to say with the attitude I just mentioned. It is an example intended to illustrate the deep gulfs dividing humankind.
During these lectures I have mentioned Herbert Spencer, who, regardless of personal opinions of his philosophy, must be considered an exponent of Western civilization. I have indicated that Spencer introduced the world to specific educational principles, one of which may be summarized as follows: It is the goal of humankind to reproduce in kind; consequently, it is in our moral interests to raise and educate our offspring accordingly. We must therefore endeavor to provide suitable parents and educators. Such, approximately, are Spencer’s views, which begin with, and aim at, a physical picture of the human being. He follows the development of the human race with an eye on its reproduction and adapts his educational goals accordingly.
Now let us look at another person who, though living a little later, can nevertheless be seen as representing an Eastern worldview. Let us consider the philosophy of Vladimir Solovyov. Although he expresses himself in Western terminology, a true Russian folk soul speaks through his works. And so we find that the ethical and religious aims of Solovyov have a very different message for humankind, one permeated by the spirit of the East. He tells us that, on the one hand, people must strive for perfection with regard to truth, and, on the other, people must partake of immortality. Here Solovyov does not imply an earthly immortality resulting from fame or glory, but the real immortality of the soul, which rightly belongs to every human soul. He goes on to say that, without this effort toward perfection in truth — in other words, without the attainment of real knowledge — human existence would be worthless. Only if we are able to perfect ourselves more and more will our human life gain in value. But if the human soul were denied immortality, then all perfection, all ability to strive toward perfection, would be nothing but a monstrous cosmic deception. Then, all human achievements in the search for truth would be submerged, and humankind would be cheated of its most precious aspirations by the very cosmic foundations themselves. However, Solovyov claims, this would be the case if, through earthly development, humankind were to consider human reproduction the final and most important goal. Then humankind’s special task in the world would be shunted from one generation to the next, and the human course would be like the spinning of an unchanging wheel, at least in terms of the moral values of existence. In other words, in the spirit of the East, Solovyov clearly rejects the Western ideals of Spencer.
This twofold way of experiencing and judging our human task on earth colors all the many divisions with regard to moral and religious issues. If we wish to understand the ethical and moral aims of humankind, we must first free ourselves from prejudice. Then we need to make an honest effort to understand the various diverging philosophies of life. The opposing views of these two thinkers show how the human constitution differs in terms of the intimate subject of today’s discussion.
The anthroposophic worldview itself is intended to help people, wherever they live on earth, toward knowledge that is beyond all limits of race or national language. Consequently, spiritual science tries to speak a supranational language (not in any physical sense, of course), a language that can be understood throughout modern civilization. For now, we can realize these goals only to a limited extent. But even these initial steps will enable us to appreciate wider issues as well. Once we have a better understanding of what was just said, we will see how little can be accomplished in moral and religious education as long as we introduce religious dogmas and fixed moral concepts to children. At best we can teach them to become Christians, Jews, Roman Catholics, or Protestants, according to our own religious beliefs. But we must eradicate from a true art of education any attempt to indoctrinate young people into our own particular ideology.
A specific problem in education may help illustrate this point and also help us respect matters of human freedom when dealing with children. And we will quickly realize that we must respect the inherent freedom of children if we also recognized that a dull or a bright student, or even a budding genius, should be treated with equal care. What would happen if teachers were to decide that students should take in only what was near to their own souls? In their bodily nature, those of a lower intelligence are born with a heavy burden. A genius, on the other hand, is born with a winged soul. We must admit to ourselves that we are called to help carry the burden of a disabled person. But we must also admit that, as teachers, we may not be able to follow the flight of a young genius. Otherwise, every school would have to be staffed with great geniuses, and this is probably impossible. Our teaching methods must nevertheless ensure that we do not impede the progress of an inherent genius. We must never clip the wings of a genius’s spirit. We can do these things only by developing an art of education that does not interfere with the spiritual forces that must work freely in growing human beings.
All of our previous considerations of this conference were directed to this goal, and once you examine these things in greater depth, you will find it is true. You will also find that the principles of Waldorf education can be implemented in practical life in such a way that teachers need to deal only with what they can develop in children, even in one who will eventually become a genius. Just as a teacher of short stature cannot prevent a student from becoming tall, similarly a teacher’s spiritual limitations need not limit a student’s innate possibilities for spiritual growth. The later lives of students will remain unimpeded by the inevitable shortcomings of teachers as long as we stand on a knowledge of the whole human being, which emanates from the complete human being just as the forces of physical growth do.
Consequently, I welcome the fact that, in the Stuttgart Waldorf school, something has emerged that could easily go unnoticed by a passing visitor; nevertheless it is a concrete reality. I’m speaking of the spirit of the Waldorf school, which exists independently, irrespective of the personal situations of various staff members, whose soul and spiritual lives thrive as a result of communal efforts to cultivate it. This spirit encourages teachers more and more to educate children, even when they have to help carry the heavy burden of the disabled. The teachers’ group study of the human being helps them bear this burden while making every effort to avoid the educational error of hindering a highly gifted student’s free development. This is our ideal, and it goes without saying that it does not exist just in the clouds of cuckooland, because the teachers make concerted efforts to bring it into daily life at the Waldorf school.
When dealing with the moral and religious aspects of education, we cannot draw material from existing ideologies, religious institutions, or established ethics. Our task is to reach the students’ inner being so that, in keeping with their destinies, they will be able to work freely with others in the social sphere. Consequently, we do not begin teaching by appealing to their conceptual faculties. Although knowledge provides meaning, it does not make it possible to go into the intimate regions of the soul in a living way. When imparting knowledge — and we are bound to do this in our school — when addressing the faculty of thinking as one of the three soul faculties, we must realize that thinking, too, must be channeled toward ethical aims. However, when dealing with the moral and religious aspects of education, we must appeal first and foremost to the feeling life of students. We cannot address the will directly, because human activities immediately connect people socially, and social activities are determined largely by the prevailing conditions and demands of the social milieu.
So we cannot turn directly to thinking, which always wants to turn in a certain direction, nor to willing, which must take its impulses from prevailing social conditions. We can, however, always appeal to feeling, which to a certain extent is the private domain of each individual. If we appeal to this element when teaching, we meet forces of the human soul that have a moral and religious quality. Yet, we must go beyond cultivating the students’ thinking, feeling, and willing as though each were a separate faculty. We must try to train the soul forces together. Obviously, it would be wrong to concentrate on training thinking in a lopsided way, just as it would it be wrong to concentrate only on the will. Rather, we must let feeling flow into both thinking and willing.
With thinking, only knowledge of the world and the human being — based on spiritual science — really helps us, because it allows us to build on a physical foundation. With such knowledge, we can safely turn to subjects such as physics and chemistry without the danger of being unable to rise to the level of metaphysics, or spirit. If we reach the suprasensory world along the way, we engage not only thinking but also feeling. The very moment we lift knowledge of the world to a suprasensory level, we begin to achieve a moral relationship with the ground of the world and to suprasensory beings themselves.
The element of feeling is the first of three soul faculties to which we must turn in moral and religious education. If fostered correctly, feeling will be transformed into gratitude. Right from the very beginning of school life, we must systematically develop a mood of gratitude in children — something that modern education allows in only a limited and relatively unconscious way. We must try to engender a mood of gratitude for everything children receive, with every concrete example we take from life itself.
When this feeling is developed properly, it can rise to the highest realms of cosmic laws available to cognition. At such a moment, people feel how the sensory world surrounds them. They come to understand natural laws and see themselves within the sensory realm. They begin to understand that whatever they discover through the senses alone will never make them fully human. Gradually they find a way of knowing the human being that points beyond the limits of the sensory world but, nevertheless, is accessible by scientific methods. They then not only experience the activity of universal cosmic laws in themselves, but divine the existence of spiritual beings. Such awareness changes knowledge into a deep feeling of gratitude toward the suprasensory beings who placed them into the world. Knowledge broadens into gratitude toward divine beings. We know we have given young people knowledge of the world in the right way if it eventually wells up in them as a feeling of gratitude toward the suprasensory world.
Thus, a feeling of gratitude is the first quality within the three human soul faculties that leads into the moral and religious sphere and that we must cultivate in young people. Gratitude itself includes a certain quality of knowing, since we must understand why we are grateful. It is characteristic of this feeling that it is closely related to our powers of comprehension. In the Waldorf school, we do not appeal to faith as handed down by tradition; this is left to our visiting religion teachers. After the ground has been prepared by class teachers, religious teachers are invited to relate what they can give to life in general.
With the students’ faculty of thinking, we first try to create a mood of gratitude. When we turn to feeling, what we find takes us beyond ourselves and out into the world. With the experience of gratitude, we find ourselves facing other beings. And, if we can identify with other beings to the extent of experiencing them as ourselves, then something begins to develop in our feeling life that we call love in the true sense of this word. Love is the second mood of soul that needs to be nurtured in moral and religious life, the kind of love we can nurture at school by doing whatever we can to help students love one another. We can provide a firm foundation for this kind of love by helping children make a gradual transition from the stage of imitation and authority, in the ninth or tenth year, to a genuine feeling of love for their teachers, whose bearing and general behavior at school must naturally warrant it.
In this way we lay the foundations of a twofold human quality; we instill the essence of the ancient call to love your neighbor as you love yourself, while helping to develop a feeling of gratitude that points more to a comprehension of the world. “Love your neighbor as you love yourself ” is complemented by the call to “love Divine Being above everything.”
Such words of truth have a familiar ring to most people today, for they have sounded through the ages. However, knowing them in theory and repeating them is not the point. It is most important to find ways to put them into practice in the immediate present, thus every age sees a renewal of humankind. We often hear the admonition to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, and God above everything, yet we see little evidence of it. Life at school should try to assure that such things are not just talked about but become infused with new life.
There is only one way that offers a firm foundation for the capacity to love in a mature way, and that is the natural transformation of the childhood stages of imitation and authority to that of love. If we work in harmony with children’s natural development toward the attainment of love — whose quality should be self-evident when seen in this light — we will not need to invent the sort of long-winded theories that are fabricated by materialistic thinkers, intended to guide sexually maturing adolescents in their first experiences of love. A whole literature has been written on the subject, all of which suffers from the simple fact that one no longer knows what to do with young people once they reach sexual maturity. The reason for this failure is that children were not prepared properly, because people did not know how to handle the previous stages of childhood. If adolescents have been guided correctly up to this incisive time in their lives, we do not have such difficulties with them.
In children’s life of will, we must guide the developing soul so that feelings flow freely into the will in the right way. Children must naturally express many different will impulses outwardly, but what asserts itself now? If we were unable to use our physical powers to express our will impulses, we would not be human in the physical sense, especially when our actions are seen in the light of morality and religion. By engendering love, we pour ourselves out into the world. By willing, we return to ourselves, and because willing is essential to our lives, we enter the realm of instincts, drives, and emotions. At the moment we look for a path to morality and religion, we must realize that everything that makes us human must now flow into our instincts and desires. This path reveals itself to us when we knowingly contemplate the universe and find the human being there. Ancient tradition put this into words by telling us that human beings are images of the Godhead.
Volition that has an ethical and religious character arises only when we can carry this kind of experience into our deliberate actions — when we can find the image of God even in our instinctive impulses. Thus we know that our true humanity remains alive in the domain of the will. What are we doing when we allow will impulses to enter the world so that, right down to the level of instincts, people recognize a true human being in us? By developing a feeling for our own humanity, which we pour into our will impulses and activities, we reveal the third of the three soul moods. There is no word in German for this third element. So, to make my meaning clear, I have to borrow a word from English — the word duty. There is no German word for duty. Those who can experience how words reveal the genius of language (as described a previous meeting) will be able to sense my meaning. It is true that anyone who, without further ado, translates simply according to what one finds in a dictionary, would translate the word duty into the German word Pflicht. But this word does not meet the need at all. As a noun, formed from the verb pflegen, it comes from a very different region of the soul. One would have to approach this matter very differently if we were to base it on Pflicht. This difficulty of finding the right word presents another example of how differently people are constituted in various parts of the earth. If we aim to be conscientious and correct in our use of language, we cannot translate duty with Pflicht to express the third mood of soul, because it would not reflect the truth. It would be a lie, even if only a technical one.
Again, it is characteristic that we can use the German words for gratitude (Dankbarkeit) and love (Liebe), but that there is no German word for expressing the third mood of soul. It is characteristic because we find ourselves entering a definite geographic locale as soon as we step from the area of cognition, which links us to humanity (since thought can be shared by all thinking people), and as soon as we leave the realm of love, which can unite people everywhere, and enter the sphere of individual volition. Here we are called on to form our lives and become aware of the individuality being developed in us by our having been placed into a definite location on earth.
However, if we approach students through their life of feeling during their ninth or tenth year, when previous powers of imitation and the inborn sense of authority have gradually changed into new faculties, our teaching will, by its very nature, lead to a moral and religious experience on their part. And when human beings are permeated by the feeling that they want to be truly human, that they must conduct their lives so that, right down to the level of instincts, they themselves and others will recognize true humanity in them, they immediately become messengers, angels of the divine world. Moral life will be pervaded by a religious mood.
If students have been guided properly up to the twelfth year, the introduction of new subjects will lead them into what lies beyond the human realm. This makes them realize that, by observing outer nature, they are entering another world, limited by the senses and obedient to the laws of a lifeless, inorganic world. (We have already described this period and indicated the right pedagogical approach.) At that moment, children feel, deep down, that they want to be truly human, even in their lower nature, at the level of instincts and drives. And then the third mood of soul arises, which is a sense of duty. Thus, through our education and in conformity with the children’s nature, we have guided them to experience the three moods of soul. Naturally, the ground had to be prepared during the previous school years.
At the stage of development toward the twelfth year, a certain loss of inner harmony will manifest in our students’ religious experiences. I mean that, in their religious life, a most important moment has arrived. Naturally, students have to be prepared for this turning point so that they can pass through it in the right way. Educators must not simply accept the “fact” that certain conflicts caused by modern civilization are inevitable. In our time, people have their moral and ethical views, which are deeply rooted in the human soul and without which they cannot imagine human dignity and human values. On the other hand, they find themselves surrounded by the effects of natural laws that, in themselves, are completely amoral, laws that affect human lives regardless of any moral issues and can be dealt with only if questions of morality are left entirely out of consideration.
In educational circles today, there is a widespread tendency to conveniently bypass this issue when children reach this critical point in their lives. In our present civilization, however, this conflict in the human soul is both deep-seated and tragic. This must be resolved one way or another before adulthood. Unless students can reconcile the moral and natural orders of the world so they are seen as part of a unity, they may suffer an inner conflict that has the strength to tear their lives apart. Today such a conflict exists in the lives of nearly all thinking people, but they remain unaware of it. People prefer to fall back on traditional religious creeds, trying to bridge what remains unbridgeable unless they can rise from the sensory world to the spiritual world, as anthroposophy endeavors to do.
For adults, such a conflict is indeed tragic. If it arises in childhood before the eleventh year, it brings disturbances in its wake that are serious enough to ruin the soul life of a child. A child should never have to say, “I study zoology and find nothing about God. It’s true that I hear of God when I study religion, but this does not help explain zoology.” To allow children to be caught in such a dilemma would be awful, since this kind of questioning can completely throw them off their proper course in life. Of course, the education we have been considering during the last few days would never allow such a schism to develop in a child’s soul, because it fully considers the importance of the eleventh to twelfth years and all that follows. Only then (not before) is it time for the student to become aware of the disharmony between life as seen in terms of nature and life seen from the moral point of view. We should not overprotect children by glossing over certain facts of life — such as the fact that, apart from gratitude, love, and duty, the world is a duality seen with human eyes. However, if education is based on the principles elaborated here, students will be able to resolve this seeming disharmony in the world, especially at this particular age. Certain problems will deepen and enrich our students’ religious lives far more than if they were fed only the traditional sorts of religious instruction, which have to be accepted on faith. Such real meaning assures students that a bridge can be built across the abyss they have experienced for the first time, because it is a reality.
Our civilization requires that we let our ethical and religious views play their proper role in life as it is. And in our religious teaching we must take our cue from the critical moments of the students’ developing life of feeling. The difficulties of finding the kind of bridge I have described are highlighted by a book published in London toward the end of the eighties. It is called Lux Mundi, and among its contributors are several authors who represent the official views of the High Church of England. It attempts to take what has crystallized in the Church and integrate it more into social life. Even members of the High Church are at pains to build such a bridge — needless to say, from their point of view. You find people discussing this everywhere, and it could well become the substance of our religious life.
Can we really offer something that is being debated so much today as a subject for growing children? Are we in a position to lead young people into Christianity, while theologians increasingly argue about the reality of Christ? Should it not be our task to find ways to help each person relate to Christianity as a free individual? We must not teach accepted dogmas or fixed formulas as ethical and religious instruction; rather, we must learn to nurture the divine spiritual element that lives in the human soul. Only then shall we guide children correctly, without impinging on their inner freedom to eventually choose their own religious denomination. Only then will students be spared inner uncertainty on discovering that one adult is a member of the High Church while another may be a Puritan. We must succeed in enabling students to grasp the real essence of religion. Likewise, through the cultivation of the three moods of soul, we must succeed in allowing morality to develop freely in the souls of children instead of trying to inculcate them by means of set moral precepts. This problem is at the very heart of the social question, and all the talk or social work related to it will depend on whether we provide the right basis for the moral education of young people. A significant part of the whole social question is simply a question of education.
It was possible to present only a few rough outlines of the moral and religious aspect of Waldorf education, which we have been studying during the last few days. If our educational aims are rooted in a true knowledge of the human being, and as long as we realize that we must refrain from introducing dogmas, theories, or moral obligations into our teaching, we will eventually succeed in laying the right foundation for the moral and religious life of our students.
So we must continue to work toward a true art of education that conforms to the needs of our time. Perhaps I may hope that what I presented to you during the last few days will show that I an not at all against the achievements of general education. Broadly speaking, our present civilization is not lacking in good educational aims and principles, and during the nineteenth century, they were stated in abstract terms by the great educators of various countries around the world. Waldorf education has no intention of opposing or belittling their findings, but it believes it knows that these ideas can be implemented only through the appropriate measures, and that such measures can grow only from a real and deep experience of the human being and the world. Fundamentally, Waldorf education tries to bring about what most people are looking for, though their goals may be somewhat abstract or ill-defined. We are seeking ways to achieve something that everyone would really like to see in education, and if this is the feeling that has arisen among those who have shown genuine interest in an anthroposophically based education as practiced in the Waldorf school, then the right kind of response has been evoked here.
Ladies and gentlemen, it has meant a great deal to me to be permitted to speak to you in this spirit. It is more important to me that you appreciate the spirit from which I have spoken than that you hear the details of what I brought. Details might have to be modified or adapted in one way or another. What matters are not the details but the spirit behind them. If I have succeeded in evoking some experience of the tolerant and humane, yet active spirit behind our education based on spiritual science, then perhaps just a little of what I wanted to bring in these lectures has been achieved.
In conclusion, I wish to emphasize once more my firm conviction that it is of utmost importance to speak from this spirit during our time. I would like to thank you for the interest you have shown during these lectures. I would also like to thank you for spending your time at this conference, especially during this festive season, and I hope that, as you leave, you feel at least some justification for your journey to Dornach. If this is the case, I would like to give you my heartiest farewell in the hope that we may meet again, in the sense in which I spoke to you at the opening of this lecture course.