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Foundation Course: Spiritual Discernment, Religious Feeling, Sacramental Action
GA 343

V. Conceptual Knowledge and Observational Knowledge

28 September 1921 p.m., Dornach

At the start of the hour, various participatory questions and objections were presented. The stenographer didn't add to these words, but Rudolf Steiner had jotted down the following key words in one of his notebooks (See the fax page 38-40 NB 127 in the documentary supplements):

  • Discussion
  • Can we define religion?
  • Impossibilities—
  • Luther as an answer—
  • Do without knowledge to reach religion!—
  • Spine of the world—and turn to the divine—
  • Gulf—world = God
  • ?—another: Contrast between God and World isn't found
  • Rel. Connection with God—3 ways

Thinking Feeling Willing

  • Anthrop unclear: due to transformation of world through science or not making religion dependent on knowledge—so that people who have no knowledge, come short—Good faith =
  • Dr Geyer: It is said: Anthrop in the world Religion belongs to God. Paradox
  • Another: Can religion become independent?
    or Art—science?
    will religion stop being independent
  • Another: if it repulses someone
    Secret—deepest being. Despite all unravelable difficulties on hand ... submit/go through to* the soul-like
  • and another: religion—relation between one soul and God—but the effects change towards others—this is increased by Anthroposophy
  • and another: ? leads us to God today?
  • and another: Is a value judgement of Anthrop to religion both necessary? (Ist ein Wertunterschied z. A. u. Rel. beide nötig?)*
  • and another: Living relationship to concepts—are concepts in contrast with corrupted form—
  • Main concept: Pledge faith
    Faith has knowledge content—gradually got lost
    awareness, which gives knowledge content—
    the results of today—
(*—words are abbreviated which can create various interpretations—Translator)
  • To what extent does the Pauline contrast with the Pistis and Gnosis.—

Rudolf Steiner: I would prefer at best to answer you more concretely than in abstractions. First, I would like to approach a difficult question by saying the following.

In Anthroposophy we currently have very few people who are engaged in spiritual activity. Anthroposophy is in the beginning of her work and one can admit that in a relatively short time it may work differently into the human soul, compared with today. One thing is quite remarkable today, and perhaps you'll find that reprehensible, but it is perhaps much better to side with what appears currently than to express it with an abstract reprimand.

Anthroposophy is taught, recited, written in books and I have the basic conviction that the way those questioners here, at least some of them, require Anthroposophy to be a knowledge—and that such a knowledge which is understood by most, at least a good many, for the majority who interest themselves intensively in Anthroposophy, this is not yet the case. Many people today accept something which they have heard about in Anthroposophy, on good faith. Why do they do this? Why are there already such a large number of people who accept Anthroposophy on good faith? You see, among those the majority have acquired religious natures in a specified direction and without them actually claiming to understand things in depth, they follow Anthroposophy because they have become aware of a certain religious style throughout the leadership of Anthroposophical matters. It is just a kind of religious feeling, a religious experience, which brings numerous people to Anthroposophy, who are not in the position of examining Anthroposophy, like botanists who examine botany; this is what is promoted here.

One doesn't usually intensely observe that in relation to what I mean here, Anthroposophy is quite different to the other, the outer, more scientific sciences. Scientific knowledge is in fact quite so that one can say about it: take the human being into consideration and it will in fact be quite dangerous for faith, you'll impair faith. It is not just about science making you uncomfortable, but it is about having the experience of the mystery of faith being disturbed. In the practical handling of this question one finds, as far as it goes beyond where it is another kind of science, as is the case with Anthroposophy, that numerous people experience a consistent religious stance in the way Anthroposophy is presented. Despite it not wanting, as I often repeat, to be a religious education, it is nevertheless felt that it is moving in the direction where a religious feeling can go along with it. Actually, this idea that knowledge kills faith—I have much understanding for this—must be revised regarding Anthroposophy. One must first ask if it is not because Anthroposophy is a not conceptual knowledge, but a knowledge based on observation, that the relationship between faith and knowledge becomes something quite different. Let us not forget that this observation of knowledge killing faith has only been created on the hand of a science which is completely conceptual, completely intellectual. Intellectualism is for Anthroposophy only a starting point, it is only regarded as the basis and foundation, then one rises to observation quite indifferently whether it is one's own or a shared observation.

My view is that it is not necessary at all, to place a wall in front of Anthroposophy, that things should be accepted in good faith. This is not quite so. A certain shyness remains today, to shine a very thorough light into what is said by single anthroposophical researchers. When this shyness is overcome then one doesn't need some of other perception or clairvoyance. Just like one can take a dream as an error or a truth, even if one only experiences the dream for what it is, which is a perception; in the same way one can recognise the truth or error in a painted image. Basically, it's the same for life. This is not easily understood—those involved with spiritual research know. One gets much more out of life when one looks at things yourself rather than being told about them, because observation of life demands a great deal. Yet, these things need to be researched so they can enter into life.

Now, something like the viewpoints of conceptual knowledge which we are already familiar with, is what I noticed in the inquiries of our questioners, whose first point was: How can we define religion? One could—this is how it can be said in the course of the discussion—renounce knowledge, leave the world lying on its back and turn to the Divine because there is an abyss between the world and God, and so on. This is said about it.

Now if you are familiar with my arguments you will have found that I do not give definitions anywhere; in fact, I am sharply against giving definitions in Anthroposophy. Sometimes, since I speak about popular things, I conceptualise them. Even though I know quite well that definitions can certainly be a help in the more scientific or historic sense of today's kind of knowledge, even though I'm aware of the limited right of definitions, I remind myself how, within Greek philosophy, defining a human being was recommended. The definition is such that a human being is alive, that it has two legs and no feathers. So the next day someone brought along a plucked chicken and said, this is a human being.—You see how far a person is from the immediate observation, even with practical definitions. These things need to be examined.

That is the peculiarity of intellectualistic knowledge, and in it, is to be found many such things which have led to the judgement which sharpens the boundary between belief and knowledge even more. One needs to enter into the intricacies a bit more. You see, already in our simplest sciences are definitions which actually have no authority at all. Open some or other book on physics. You find a definition like the following: What is impenetrability? Impenetrability is the property of objects, that in the place where an object is present, another body cannot be at the same time.—That is the definition of impenetrability. In the entire scope of knowledge and cognition, however, not everything can be defined in this way; the definition of impenetrability is merely a masked postulate. In reality it must be said: One calls an object impenetrable when the place where it is in, can't at the same time be occupied by another object.—It is namely merely to determine an object, to postulate its individual character; and only under the influence of materialistic thinking, postulates masked as definitions are given.

All of this creates an entire sea of difficulties which current mankind is not aware of at all because people have really been absorbing it from the lowest grade of elementary school; mankind really doesn't know on what fragile ground, on what slippery ice he gets involved with, in reality, when educated through the current system of concepts. This conceptual system which is in fact more corrupt than theological concepts—a physicist often has no inkling that their concepts are corrupt—this is something which not only kills belief, but in many ways, it also kills what relates to life. These corrupt scientific concepts are not only damaging to the soul, but even harmful to physical life. If you are a teacher, you know this.

Therefore, it is no longer important that the spiritual scientist, the Anthroposophist has to say: Precisely this scientific concept must be transformed into the healing of mankind.—Here is where the Anthroposophist becomes misled, when the religious side insists that an abyss be created under all circumstances between belief and knowledge, because, between what one observes with the senses, and Anthroposophy, there is really a great abyss. This is what even from the anthroposophical side needs to be clarified.

Now I would like to consider this question from the religious side and perhaps as a result of me approaching it from the religious side, it will be better understood religiously. You see I can completely understand that the following may be said—that one must turn away from the world to find the way to God. The basic experience that exists, the paths that will have to be taken, those I know. I can also certainly understand when someone talks about how it would be necessary, in a certain sense, that the dew of mystery should cover anything with religious content. I would like to express myself succinctly only; it has already surfaced in the questions. Briefly, I can fully understand if someone strives in a certain way to place everything that can be known on the one side and on the other side, look for a religious path according to such fundamentals as are searched for by a whole row of modern evangelists. This search should take place not through events but in a far more direct way. In the elaboration of Dr Schairer, it was again correctly described: also in the questioning of Bruno Meyer which was given to me yesterday, it is expressed clearly. So, I can understand it well. But I see something else.

You see, what people take from Anthroposophy, quite indifferently now, how far their research comes or in how far they have insight—and as we said, it can be seen without being a researcher or an observer through what you get from Anthroposophy—means they must relinquish quite a few things from their "I," I mean from their egotism. In a certain sense selflessness belongs to this point of departure from one's self, when entering the world. One could say a person needs to radically tear out inborn egoism in order to really find a human relationship to the simplest Anthroposophical knowledge. A feeling for the world as opposed to an ego feeling for oneself must be developed to a high degree, and gradually grow just by following this apparent path of knowledge, which is not only similar to fervent love but equal to it; everything grows from here. Basically, one learns about true submission to objectivity by following anthroposophic content.

In opposition to this, I propose something else. One can relinquish all such involvement in the world, all such conceptual submission of oneself and then try, out of oneself, I don't want to call it "in feelings" but for instance how Dr Schairer expressed it, through "connecting to God" make one's way. One can try to stretch the entire sum of inner life, one could call it, electrically, to find what the direct communication with God is. Also there, I must say, I know what can be achieved by that strong relationship of trust in God, without entering into some kind of unclear mysticism, up to certain mystics who have remained with clear experiences. I've seen it before. Yet I find despite everything that is attempted in devotion to the world, in connecting to the world, in connecting to divine world forces and so on, a large part of egoism, even soul-filled egoism, remains. Someone can be extraordinarily religious out of the most terrible egoism. Prove it for yourself by looking with the eyes of a good psychologist at the religiosity of some monks or nuns. Certainly, you could say, that is not evangelistic belief. It may differ qualitatively, but in relation to what I mean now, it still differs qualitatively. If you prove this, you perhaps find the performing of a devotion to the utmost mortification, yet it sometimes harbours—the true observation of psychologists reveals this—the most terrible egoism. This is something questionable which can give up even a superficial view of an important problem. You see, to find an exchange with God in this way is basically nothing extraordinary because God is there and whoever looks for Him, will find Him. He will obviously be found. Only those who don't find Him are not looking for Him. One can find him, sure, but in many cases, one asks oneself what it is one has found. I may say out of my own experience: What is it?

In many cases it is the discovery the forces of the inner life, which only exists between birth and death. One is able to, with these forces which exist between birth and death, to be a very pious person. However, these forces are laid down with us in our graves, we have no possibility of taking these forces with us through the gate of death. Should we acquire thoughts of eternity, acquire thoughts of the supersensible, these we will take with us through the gate of death and while we do so, we must already have become selfless, as I have indicated. You see, this is something which is always questionable to me, when I discover it—what I can quite rightly understand—like Schleiermacher's philosophy of religion. Licentiate Bock has recently told me that with Schleiermacher one could discover something quite different. It would be lovely if something could happen, but according to the usual way Schleiermacher is interpreted, I find in the Schleiermacher way the reference and exchange with the Divine as only created through the forces which are lost when we die. What is this then, that is lost though death, my dear friends? Even if it's religious, if it is lost with death it is nothing more than a refined lust of the soul, an intensification of temporal life. One feels oneself better for it, when one feels secure with God.

You see, I want to speak religiously about the necessity to achieve a concept of belief which lives within the danger of connecting temporal forces to people. This of course has a relationship to the Divine. Here something terrible always appears to me in the great illusion within the numerous people's current lives which consist of people being unable to see how the rejection of a certain content, which must always have a content of knowledge—you could call this observational content, but finally this is only terminology—how the judgement of such content severely endangers religious life. Old religions didn't exist without content and their content of Christian teaching was once full of life, and it only turned into what we call dogma today, at the end of the fourth century after Christ. So one could say this distaste for content, this selfish fear of so-called wisdom—I'm fully aware of calling it "so-called wisdom"—that, my dear friends, always reminds me of people living in this illusion, that this fear of knowledge of the supersensible actually is also produced by materialism. Within this concept of faith, I see a materialistic following, I can't help myself; this following of materialism is no conscious following but something which exists in subconscious foundations of the soul as a materialistic following.

I really believe that it will be through religious foundations, particularly for the priest, if he could bring himself to it, to overcome the shyness of the so-called gulf between belief and knowledge. The world and God, and the gulf between them—yes my dear friends, this is indeed the deepest conviction of Anthroposophy itself; what Anthroposophy seeks, is to create a bridge between the two. When this gulf has been bridged, then only will the higher unity of God and world be possible. At first, from the outside, this abyss appears, and only when man has gone through everything which makes this bridging necessary, can the abyss be overcome, and only then does man discover what can be called the unity of God with the world.

Let's consider the religious connection with God. Would a religion—this question was asked in three ways and called thinking feeling and willing—would a religion still be approachable through Anthroposophy, which is dependent on knowledge, to people who do not have knowledge, or will they get a raw deal?—Anthroposophy certainly doesn't make religiousness dependent on knowledge. I must confess in the deepest religious sense I actually can't understand why a dependent religious life should exists beside Anthroposophy because the course of an anthroposophic life becomes such that firstly, of course, single personalities become researchers, who to some extend break through to the observation; then others will apply their healthy human minds to it—yes, this is what it is about. Just recently in Berlin this word was taken as evil from a philosophic view, and opposed on the grounds of the human mind being unable to understand anything super-sensory, and that the human mind which is able to understand something super-sensory, would surely not be healthy.—

A healthy human mind can simply look through the communications of spiritual researchers when he only wants to, if he doesn't put a spoke in his own wheel because of today's scattered prejudices. Certainly, there will be numerous other people who take it on good faith. Now, we can't compare something small with something big, but if this is only about using comparisons, one could perhaps do it. You see, I assume that the Being, Who we call the Christ, possesses an immeasurable higher content within, than human beings who call themselves Christians, and you have but trust in Him. Why should that be unjustified? That knowledge appears through this, knowledge which is not immediately clear, but which arrives in an earnest manner, that is to say as it comes out of personal research, clarifies what is discovered with no need to somehow try to understand why that would let people be given a raw deal. In this I actually find something which ultimately amounts to the fact that one can't acknowledge anything which one has not discovered oneself.

We won't get far in life at all if we are not also presented with something through other means than only direct observation. You see, it is obvious for a spiritual researcher to say: You, living in the present, haven't seen the deeds of Alexander the Great, but there is a connection between the life at present and the regarded-as-truth unseen deeds of Alexander the Great. Here a theologian objected: Yes, Alexander the Great don't interest me any longer, but that which is claimed in Anthroposophy I must see for myself, otherwise it doesn't interest me.—One can't say that everything of interest must always come from something observed. Just imagine if someone could only believe in his father and mother after he has looked at the truth of his belief in them. So, as I've said, I can't quite grasp something by applying precise terms to what is really meant; I would like to rather say, that I find a certain contradiction between, on the one hand, it is said that Anthroposophy wants to be wisdom and therefore appears dubious, and on the other hand, one could accept it, if you knew about things. This doesn't seem like quite a good match.

A particularly important question to me is the following. Perhaps its difficulty has resulted from what I've said myself: A person experiences through the anthroposophic life at the same time something which can meet the religious need. The next question then comes: When art assumes religious form, when science and social life take on religious form, will religion stop being independent and gradually only become something which exists with everything else in the world?—Well, that seems to me or at least seemed to me to be a complete misjudgement of the religious when it is indicated that art will develop in future in such a way, in the anthroposophic sense, and that it will develop social life in such a way according to the anthroposophic sense, that religion as something independent will vanish. Religion has indeed other living conditions, quite other needs than Anthroposophy.

It was so that the old religious foundations always had wisdom in the background. One can say there is no old religion which doesn't have wisdom in its background, and because knowledge existed there, it is not involved in religion. Religion is only created through the relationship of man to what is known. When so much anthroposophic art produced in future is not looked at with a religious mood, it will never make a religious impression. One would never be able to cultivate religion, no matter how hard one tried, in order to say about the social life what can be said out of spiritual science, out of Anthroposophy, when in reality people don't experience in all earnest the meaning of the words: "What you do to the least of my brothers, you also do to me."—The most beautiful anthroposophical impulses could never become a reality in life, if so much should be done, it would remain an empty science if religious life wasn't cultivated.

However, something has to be taken into account. In Shairer's defences there are three images: The first image is that man can approach water in a dual manner, either as a chemist and analyst in H2O, or one can drink water. The supersensible world analyses a person whether he comes as an Anthroposophist, or when he takes possession of a direct experience, then he is a religious person. The religious person equals someone who drinks the water, the Anthroposophist is someone who analyses water and finds H2O. Dr Shairer's second image is the following: Let's assume I've deposited a large amount of bank notes or gold on the table and I count, divide it and so on, so I calculate the money; but I may also possess this money, that is another relationship. The person who calculates the money is an Anthroposophist; the one who possesses it all, is a religious person. Shairer's third image is particularly characteristic. A person could have studied every possibility of human health and illness; he could know every branch of medicine. The other person can be healthy. So the one who is healthy, is the religious person, and the one who studies everything about illness and health, is the Anthroposophist.

The three examples are, considered abstractly, are extraordinarily accurate but still, only thought about abstractly. They are actually only valid for today's common knowledge. You see, with the water analysis, something can be done. For someone who doesn't study Anthroposophy, it is useless. Because one has to, if one wants to approach it, begin by "drinking" it. Water in Anthroposophy is not there for mere outer analysis; it must be drunk at the same time. The activity of drinking and the activity of the analysing or synthesizing are the same. That one believes something else about it, results from the fact that recently an otherwise excellent man has written in "Tat" that he would have no interest in my statements regarding the Akasha-Chronicle unless I honour him with them in a splendid illustrated edition.—Yes, my dear friends, to use such an image at all, one must acknowledge that the Akasha-Chronicle can only exist for those who allow themselves to experience it spiritually. It can't be allowed to be compared in this way. Already upon this basis I'm quite sure that the modern bad habit of the cinema will not be applied to Anthroposophy—hopefully not.

Therefore, the comparison between drinking water and water analysis is relevant for ordinary science but has no relevance to Anthroposophy. The second image was about counting money and possessing money. This also is not quite so; it is tempting, but it doesn't work this way. I can namely possess money but when I'm too foolish to be unable to count it, then its possession doesn't matter much. Under some circumstances I could possess the whole world but if I can't enter into it, then under the circumstances the world can mean very little.

Now; the thing about medicine. Materialistic medicine can certainly be studied on the one hand while on the other hand one could be healthy. One could certainly, if it's your destiny, be sick despite anthroposophical medicine. However, the comparison on this basis is not entirely true for the reason that materialistic medicine, what one knows about it, actually has nothing to do with being healthy in earthly life, but it is a knowledge and from this knowledge action can result. With Anthroposophy it is namely so, that anthroposophical medicine has to certainly also be a deducted knowledge, but the human being is approached much more closely. Here is something which can be proven with great difficulty, and it is because of the following. Take for example, this is necessary, someone aged forty and recommend, for a start, that he should stop smoking and drinking wine or something, and say to him, it would in fact improve his health, he would live longer than he would otherwise. Now he dies aged 48; and people say he already died at 48, it didn't help him.—I can't prove that if he hadn't avoided wine, he could perhaps have died at 44 already. When one encounters such things, there are small stumbling blocks. It is extraordinarily difficult to deliver proof when that which is to be accomplished, must be created as proof out of the world.

People certainly sometimes think curiously about things. I knew an anatomist, Hyrtl, who was an extraordinary big man who equally had a stimulating influence on his students and had a long life after he retired. He became over 80 years old then he died in a small place into which he had withdrawn. Just after Hyrtl's death, a widow who was a farmer encountered a man and she said to him: "Yes, now Hyrtl has died, we liked him so much, but he studied so much, and that's why he had to die; it doesn't bode well if one studies so much."—To this the man asked: "But you husband, how old was he when he died?" She said: "45 years."—Now the man asked if her husband has studied more than old Hyrtl?—You see, similar things actually happen on closer examination.

Now I don't want to deviate from serious things and would like to say the following. For Anthroposophists it is not important that there should be a distinction between drinking water and water analysis, but there is in fact something where in place of abstract knowledge, of discursive knowledge, an experience occurs within the knowledge of analysis; yet it remains above all knowledge. Only the Leese licentiate has resented calling an experience knowledge while he claimed—not out of a Christian but out of another scientific dogma—he may never take what he has experienced as an object of knowledge. Well, I mean, the thing is, if you really understand what Anthroposophy is as a human experience, this alien-to-life of the scientific no longer applies.

In relation to the secret, the Mystery, I may here insert what I said yesterday. I said it is not so that Anthroposophic knowledge can be obtained and then through thoughts, change into ordinary knowledge. In order to have the correct relationship to it, one must repeatedly return to it. It exists in quite another kind of inner relationship to people than does scientific knowledge. There still exists something of a sacred shyness in the relationship people have to anthroposophical knowledge and it is certainly not the case that clarity is thus undermined according to what is attained through Anthroposophy. You see, basically it's like this: when we go through the Portal of Death and before we enter the Portal of Birth into this earthly world, we live in that world which Anthroposophy speaks about. That is in fact the reality. Through Anthroposophy we take part in the riddle of creation and in the riddle of death, to a certain degree. That one doesn't understand these things in the same way in which one understands ordinary intellectual knowledge, something else must make this possible. You are not going to be guided into such a world as some people suppose. I have heard among thousands of objections, also heard that it is said Anthroposophy wants to solve all world riddles, and when the time comes where there are no more riddles in the world, what will people do with this knowledge? Then the earth will not be interesting anymore; everything which one can know about the earth, exists in them being riddles.—

Certainly, in an abstract sense, this can be an objection. However, even understood abstractly, the riddles do not become smaller, but they become ever bigger. Life has not been made easier by entering into the spiritual world, but at first the immeasurability of the world and the immeasurability of knowledge becomes apparent. That is why, in the case of the Mystery there is no reduction or degradation of the Mystery, but there is actually an elevation of the Mystery. This at least is apparent in experience.

Regarding the question whether there's a difference in value between Anthroposophy and religion or if both are necessary, I would like to say the following. Value differences lead into a subjective area and one has no sure foundations if one wants to assert differences in value. In any case you may from the scant anthroposophic explanations which I've given today and before, actually say that Anthroposophy and religion are both necessary in the future and that Anthroposophy is only necessary for the foundation of the work, which you need towards the renewal of religious life. Anthroposophy itself doesn't want to appear as endowed with religion but it wants to offer every possible help when religious life wants to find renewal.

Now my dear friends, I could, as I see, not answer everything exhaustively, I still want to put some things on hold. I have certainly had feelings through experiences with which I now want to give an answer to the question, which perhaps has not already appeared in the question, for instance this: I also have my religious objections to the faith which serves only those human forces which actually die with us, and that one—according to my experience I can say this—also through religious instruction, say something in a sense of: avoid the world and develop something completely different—and precisely in this way, strongly refer to man's egoism.

I have experienced the following phenomenon. For example, a good Anthroposophist who tried to work with all his might in order to find a path in Anthroposophy, but without a necessary measure of selflessness and without enough self-confidence, when courage failed him, became a Roman monk. I'm not speaking hypothetically but from experience. Yes, this person has experienced nothing other than having failed due to a lack of selflessness which he would have needed and the lack of confidence which he would have needed. This is the strongest appeal to those forces which dissipate with death; it doesn't serve these forces to go through the gate of death with the soul, to penetrate to reality. People just want to go down to where they don't have to be so strong, so there arises a sinking courage, this attach-oneself-on-to-something which through its submission into activity brings a certain inner satisfaction—which is only a kind of inner desire or lust—to become a Roman monk.

It is indeed from a religious basis needed to say that the priest should give a person something which doesn't only work for his communications with God up to death, but beyond death. In this connection Anthroposophy must be honest throughout with its knowledge. If one could know more—which is possible—about what goes beyond the gate of death and what doesn't remain, where for instance one has a mystic like saint Theresa, with an involvement only with the transient, so one could, even if you weren't a mystic, prepare yourself for life after death, where one enters atrophied for being a mystic with desires in life. One does enter, but in such a way of course as one would enter into life without hands or feet.

Through Anthroposophical knowledge a religious impulse can be discovered. To all of this the shyness must be overcome to unite belief and knowledge, which is what Anthroposophy strives for.