Galileo, Giordano Bruno, and Goethe
The title of this lecture series is, Spiritual Science's Answer to the Large Questions of the Present Time, published in German as, Antworten der Geisteswissenschaft auf den Grossen Fragen des Daseins.
26 January 1911, Berlin
It is a far cry from the great Zarathustra or Zoroaster, who formed the subject of our last lecture in this series, to the three great personalities who provide the subject matter of our lecture to-day, and the gulf of time which, in our imagination, we are called upon to span is wide indeed. It is a gulf which stretches from a time thousands of years ago, long before our Christian Era. A time which we can only understand by attributing to the human beings existing then a mental outlook utterly foreign to our own. From this distant standpoint of time, we pass to the 16th and 17th centuries of our own era, to the time when that spirit was first kindled which, ever since, has been the source and inspiration of all vital and progressive culture from then to the present day. As we shall see, this spirit, which burnt so fiercely in the 16th and 17th centuries in individuals such as Galileo and Giordano Bruno, found a fresh medium in a personality so near our own times as that of Goethe.
Galileo and Giordano Bruno are the two names we must mention when we review the beginnings of that epoch in our human evolution at which Natural Science had reached the same turning-point as Spiritual Science has reached to-day. The same great impulse which was then given to the thought of Natural Science will be, in a certain sense, given to this of Spiritual Science in the immediate future. Hence the importance of a comprehensive survey of the lines of thought and feeling of the men of that day, viz.: during the end of the 16th and the beginning of the 17th centuries — the time of Galileo and of Giordano Bruno — so that we may be able to understand their teaching in the full sense of the word.
Casting a retrospective glance over the centuries immediately preceding theirs, viz: — from the 11th to the 15th centuries, we must try and realize what at first sight appears to be the peculiar conception of the Science current in those days, and how wide was the field which the term then embraced. We must realise that during these centuries, Scientific Knowledge was viewed from an entirely different standpoint from that from which it is viewed to-day. The popular conception of Scientific Knowledge was then very different from the ideas which prevailed in later times and from those which prevail to-day. For we are now speaking of the days before the printing-press, of those days when, for the majority of the people, their sole means of participating in Spiritual and intellectual life was through the Church or the school, etc. — That is to say they could only learn from oral instruction. Hence the necessity, if we would understand those times, of obtaining a correct picture of the scientific methods pursued by the educated men of that day.
In the times preceding those of Galileo and Giordano Bruno, there was an impulse towards Science, but it was an impulse which is very difficult for the modern mind to understand. We can only understand it by placing ourselves, in imagination, in an entirely different mental atmosphere from that by which we are surrounded to-day. In those days, whatever auditorium you might have entered where Science was being taught, you would always have noted one thing. Let us take, for example, a lecture on Natural Science. No matter what branch of Natural Science it might be, whether Medicine or another, the lecturer would base all his deductions solely upon the authority of ancient writings, especially upon those of Aristotle. To-day, the lecturer on Science bases his thesis upon the results of modern investigation, carried out in such or such an institute, where scientific methods of research are followed. But the lecturer of the days preceding those of Galileo and Giordano Bruno based his thesis upon the ancient writings, especially upon those of Aristotle, which were the foundation of all Science in those days.
The figure of Aristotle stands out pre-eminent as an intellectual giant in the history of human progress; and the service he rendered to his time is unspeakably important. But, for the moment, the interesting point for us is the fact that the books of Aristotle were seldom read in the sense in which they were originally given, but the traditional rendering gave the tone, and was everywhere considered determinant.
No matter whether it were a question of the definition of a principle or of an axiom, or the question of any truth whatever, it was always referred to Aristotle. “Such was Aristotle's opinion on this point,” “you will find it expressed thus by Aristotle”. Now the modern investigator or the lecturer on Science, or even the popular lecturer, always emphasizes the fact that this or that has been observed in some place or another. But the scientific teacher in the centuries preceding Galileo and Giordano Bruno laid stress upon the fact that a few centuries ago, the great authority, Aristotle, made such or such an assertion upon such or such a question. Just as to-day we refer, in Spiritual matters, to the authority of the revelations of religious documents and tradition and not to personal investigation, so, in those days, teachers of Science did not refer to nature the observation of nature, but referred back to written authority. They referred back to the writings of Aristotle.
It is extraordinarily interesting to study a University discourse and to note how doctors and their colleagues relied upon the theories of Aristotle.
Now Aristotle was an intellectual giant; and though we must admit that even such an intellectual individuality should not be taken literally after the lapse of so many centuries, still, on the other hand, we must acknowledge that the works of Aristotle are so prodigious and so magnificent that even if they learnt nothing new, if men had studied Aristotle diligently, that is to say the original Aristotle, they would have accomplished a great deal. For the deeply illuminating teachings and theories of Aristotle could not have failed to have been of the greatest benefit to them.
This, however, was not the case. The lecturers of those days and the teachers who preached Aristotle in season and out of season, as a rule, understood nothing at all about him.
The doctrines taught in the time preceding that of Galileo and Giordano Bruno and claiming to be those of Aristotle were an almost incredibly mistaken version of his teaching. To-day, I will confine myself to showing you from the standpoint of Spiritual Science the place Galileo and Giordano Bruno took in the intellectual life of their time. I would call to mind in this connection an incident which is perfectly true and which I have often related before.
One of the most devoted adherents of Aristotle was at the same time a friend of Galileo's. Galileo, like Giordano Bruno, was an opponent of the followers of Aristotle, and with good reason, but not of Aristotle himself. Galileo maintained that men ought to go to the great book of Nature, which speaks so clearly to man, and learn from there the meaning of the Spirit in Nature. They should not rely entirely upon the books of Aristotle for their final authority. Now at that time, the School of Aristotle taught a marvelous doctrine concerning the seat of the nerves. Their theory was that the whole nervous system originated in the heart, that from the heart, the nerves spread to the brain and from thence spread over the entire body. “This”, said they, “is the teaching of Aristotle, therefore it must be true.” Galileo, who based his information upon the investigation of the human body, carried out by means of his physical eyes, and did not rely upon the teaching of ancient writings and ancient tradition, affirmed that the nerves had their seat in the brain and that the chief nerves originated in the brain. Galileo told this to one of his friends and wished him to see for himself and be convinced. “Yes, indeed, I will see it,” said the friend who took the opposite view, and he attended a demonstration on the human body. Then, indeed, this scholar, who was a devout follower of Aristotle, was greatly astonished and said to Galileo: — “It does indeed seem as if the nerves originated in the brain; yet Aristotle maintained that they originate in the heart. If there appears to be any contradiction here, I would believe in Aristotle rather than in Nature.” Such was the mental attitude which Galileo had to combat. Aristotle, or rather the distorted view of Aristotle, was dragged into all questions connected with Science.
To quote another instance: — A scholar of the Church wrote a treatise on immortality. Let us consider for a moment the method they employed in those days. They took their subject matter from the Church Doctrine, adding to that what they believed to be the teaching of Aristotle on the subject. Thus they used the words of Aristotle to support their own views, twisting his teaching so that they could claim its support, no matter from which side of the question, whether for or against, they wished to argue. To return to our scholar of Divinity. He had collected various passages from Aristotle in order to demonstrate the opinion of Aristotle upon the question of the immortality of the soul. Now this also is a perfectly true incident. The clergy had to submit their books to their superiors before publication. In this case, the superior objected to the book. “It is dangerous,” he said, “It would be better not to attempt it, for these extracts from Aristotle (in support of immortality) might also be used to support the opposite view.” The author of the book wrote back “If it is only a question of demonstrating more clearly the most acceptable meaning of Aristotle on this subject, then I will support it by another quotation, for one could quite well go on making quotations.” In short, from every point of view, Aristotle was used and abused.
From these two incidents, we can see how greatly Aristotle was misunderstood at the time of Galileo and Giordano Bruno. We will take the example of the origin of the nerves in the heart. The meaning of this statement is hidden. We can only understand it when we realize that Aristotle lived at the end of the period of ancient Greek culture and, therefore, at the end of the period of the old clairvoyant consciousness. Because Aristotle looked back into the past, he transmitted a Science that arose out of a clairvoyant consciousness which was able to see behind the material world into the Spiritual. It was this clairvoyant consciousness which had produced the old Science. The essence of this primeval Science was transmitted by the Greek culture as ancient Science, and this it was which Aristotle possessed. He was one of the last who recorded it. But Aristotle was not himself capable of developing that clairvoyant consciousness, for he only possessed an intellectual consciousness.
Note this well. Not without reason was Aristotle the first historian of Logic. This is because the intellectual argumentative thought was to become dominant. Thus, Aristotle assimilated the ancient teaching and reduced it into a logical system in his writings. Hence there is much in his writings which we cannot understand until we have learnt what it is he really meant. Thus, when he speaks of nerves, we must not ascribe to the word the meaning given to it to-day, nor the meaning it had even in the time of Galileo and Giordano Bruno, which was already related to our own. When Aristotle speaks of the nervous system, he means the Etheric Body of man. By which we mean the super-sensible part of human nature, which is closely connected with the human physical body. This Etheric body can now no longer be seen by man, the power of doing so having been lost during man's progressive evolution. Aristotle could no longer see it, but he knew about it, the knowledge having come to him from those times when the clairvoyant consciousness saw, not only the physical body, but also the Etheric Aura, the Etheric Body, which is really the builder and strength-giver of the physical body.
Aristotle drew his teaching from those times in which man perceived the Etheric Body as we now-a-days perceive colours. Thus, if you look at the Etheric Body instead of at the physical body, the former is truly the origin of certain currents. For Aristotle, this origin was not in the brain, but in the heart. The description given by Aristotle of these currents had usually been designated by the title of nerves. By those currents he did not mean nerves in our sense of the word, but he meant super-sensible currents, super-sensible forces. These proceed from the heart, flow to the brain and, from thence, are distributed to the various activities of the human body. These are matters which we cannot understand until we have learnt by means of Spiritual Science about the super-sensible parts and principles of human nature.
Man had lost the power of seeing clairvoyantly even so long ago as the centuries preceding Galileo and Giordano Bruno. Hence people had no idea that Aristotle was speaking of the Etheric Current. They thought he meant the physical nerves, so they asserted that “Aristotle states that the physical nerves proceed from the heart.”
Such was the contention of the devout followers of Aristotle. Those, however, who had studied in the book of Nature could not allow this. Hence the great battle between Galileo and Giordano Bruno and the School of Aristotle.
The followers of Aristotle completely misunderstood him; no-one understood the real Aristotle; Galileo and Giordano Bruno naturally did not understand him either, for they did not take the trouble to penetrate to the real meaning of the works of Aristotle. Thus Galileo and Giordano Bruno were the two great Intellectuals of their time, who turned away from the pedantry of the Scholastics and of book-learning to the great book of Nature itself, which is available to each and all
Professor Laurenz Muellner, for whom, as philosopher, I have the greatest admiration, refers to this in a lecture which he gave in 1894 as Rector of the Vienna University. In this lecture, he drew attention to the fact that the great Galileo, with his wonderful knowledge and grasp of all the great laws of mechanics, had discovered the laws which govern the distribution of space. Now it is just these laws which govern the operation and, distribution of space which strike the eye and stir the emotions so very forcibly when we see them exemplified in St. Peter's at Rome. This mighty building influences us all. And each one experiences something tangible, which we can all understand. Let me illustrate this by the following example: — Speidel, the Viennese journalist, and the sculptor Natter were driving in the neighborhood of Rome. As they approached the city, Speidel suddenly heard a most extraordinary exclamation from Natter, who was a very genial spirit. Natter sprang suddenly to his feet. His friend could not think what was the matter with him, for he only heard the words “I am frightened”. As Natter would say no more then, it was only later that his friend heard that the exclamation had been called forth by the sight of the dome of St. Peter's in the distance.
Something akin to terrified wonder at the effect of the marvelous distribution of space, created by the genius of Michelangelo, overwhelms all who see this wonderful building. Laurenz Muellner draws attention to the fact that it is owing to Galileo, that great thinker, that it has become possible for mankind to conceive mathematically and mechanically such an effect of space-distribution as meets the eye in the wonderful building of the dome of St. Peter's, at Rome. At the same time, we must not forget that Galileo, who discovered the laws of Mechanics, was born when Michelangelo, the builder of St. Peter's, was almost on his deathbed. This means that it was from the Spiritual forces of Michelangelo that that skill in the distribution of the laws of space arose, which was not available to the intellect of man until later.
From this, we must infer that what we may term intellectual knowledge, knowledge governed by reason, may come much later than the actual composition of matter in space.
If such matters are carefully and thoughtfully considered, it will be seen that human consciousness has undergone a change; that, earlier, men possessed a certain clairvoyance and that the manner of thinking with the intellect does not go back very far. This habit or manner of thinking with the intellect, owing to certain historical necessities, arose during the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Minds like those of Galileo and Giordano Bruno are the first harbingers of what was to come. Hence their fierce opposition to the school of Aristotle and especially to those who first completely misinterpreted Aristotle — who may be taken as the expression of the ancient wisdom — and then used their misinterpretation of him as an argument against Natural Science. We have now indicated Galileo's position in the world. He was, in the highest sense of the word, the man who first inaugurated the system of severe thought necessary for Natural Science, that system of the relation of Natural Science to Mathematics, which has continued on his lines from his day to our own.
What is it that distinguishes Galileo from all other men up to his time? It is the doctrine which he was the first to realize and which he preached with such noble courage, thus proving himself a child of his age. The feelings which possessed Galileo can be to some extent rendered in the following words, which will help us to understand his whole soul and attitude of mind. “Here we stand as men upon the earth. Nature spreads herself out before us, with everything requisite for our senses and for our reason, which is connected with the instrument of the brain through nature”. Galileo says this many times, in various passages in his works, as may be verified, ”through Nature speaks the Divine Spiritual. We men approach Nature, view it with our eyes and study it with our other senses. What we perceive with our eyes, what we receive through our senses, is implanted in Nature by Divine Spiritual Beings. At first, the thoughts of the Divine Spiritual Beings exist yonder; then, as if springing forth from the thoughts of these Beings, come the visible things of Nature as the revelation of. Divine thought. Then come our powers of perception and, above all, our reason, which is inseparable from the brain. There we stand, ready to spell out, as from the letters of a book, and to arrive at the author's meaning, that which Divine thoughts have expressed in Nature.”
Galileo took his stand firmly on the ground upon which all the great minds in the course of earthly evolution have taken their stand. He believed that the manifestations of Nature, the things of Nature, are as the letters of an alphabet, which express the mind of the Divine Spiritual beings. Thus the human mind exists that it may read what the Divine Spiritual Beings have written there, written in the form of minerals, in the course of natural phenomena, in the course of the movements of the stars. Human nature exists that it may read the thoughts of the Divine Mind. To Galileo, however, the Divine Mind is only distinguished from the human mind by the fact that everything that can be thought is thought by Divine Mind at once, in a single moment, unfettered by space or time. Let us apply this to any single field; to the field of Mathematics. We see at once how extra ordinary this conception is. If a student desires to learn all that has as yet been learnt by mankind about Mathematics, he will have or to toil at Mathematics for years. Then, as you know, man's conception of Mathematics depends greatly on time. Now, Galileo argued thus: — What humanity succeeds in grasping in the course of many years is conceived by the Divine thought in one second. Divine thought is unfettered by space or time. Above all, the human mind must not suppose that with its reason limited, as it is, by space and time, it can immediately understand the Divine Mind. Man must strive. He must observe each step. He must study each separate phenomenon carefully. He must not think that he can afford to ignore the phenomena, that he can leave out of account what God has planned as the foundation of the phenomena. Galileo affirmed that it was wrong not to wish to know the, true meaning of the wonderful manifestations which Nature unfolds, by means of human reason, that it was wrong not to strive to ascertain the truth by minute investigation. He affirmed that to endeavour to arrive at the truth by speculation, instead of studying carefully the details of the various phenomena, was an entirely false method of thought.
But the motive which prompted Galileo was quite other than those which give rise to similar language to-day. Galileo would not limit the human mind to observation because he denied the operation of the Divine Mind in Nature; on the contrary, just because the Divine Mind manifests itself in Nature and reveals itself as so great, so powerful and so wonderful; because (to the Divine Intelligence) all creative thought springs into being in a moment, while the human mind requires an eternity in which lovingly to decipher the letters of the Alphabet and can only arrive gradually at the detailed thoughts which they represent. It is humility at the thought of how far human reason is below the Divine Reason which prompts Galileo to warn his contemporaries. “you can no longer see behind the things of sense. Not because this was never possible to man, but because the time for doing so has gone by.”
Observation, experience and individual thought; these composed the standard which Galileo placed before his contemporaries. This he was able to do because, in a certain sense, his mind was cast in a mathematical mould and because his method of thinking was so rigidly mathematical. In illustration of this we will take the matter of the telescope. Galileo heard that a discovery had been made in Holland, by means of which it was possible to perceive the most distant stars in the firmament. We must bear in mind that there were no newspapers in those days. He only heard from travelers that some thing had been discovered in Holland of the nature of a telescope. Galileo could not rest till he had found out for himself what this was and himself invented a telescope by means of which he made the great discoveries which confirmed the theories which had recently been promulgated in the Copernican-cosmo-conception. In order to understand these things aright, we must remember these two facts: — that nothing was then understood of the old super-sensible science, and that Galileo was a pathfinder for the new science. Secondly, that a short time before, Copernicus had given a new aspect to the conception of the world through external thought concerning the movements of the planets round the Sun. We must put ourselves in the position of the men of that time and try to enter into the mentality of those who believed, as men had done for thousands of years before them: — “Here we stand on the firm earth, immovable in space.” To men with views such as these, the idea was now presented for the first time, that the earth was spinning round the Sun with incalculable rapidity. Such a conception literally out the ground from under their feet. We cannot be surprised at the excitement such an idea created in all, whether partisans or opponents. To minds like that of Galileo, the way by which Copernicus had arrived at his conclusions was particularly convincing. Let us examine in the light of the present time the means by which Copernicus arrived at his conclusions.
What made Copernicus arrive at the conception that the planets move round the Sun?
Up to his time, a theory of the universe had prevailed, which was itself not understood because it was intended to be taken in a Spiritual sense. As then understood, it was indeed an impossible conception. Men had to suppose that the planets described the most complicated movements — circles — and then circles within circles. It was precisely this terrible complication of ideas which had to be got rid of. This it was which was so obnoxious to certain types of mind.
In reality, Copernicus made no new astronomical discoveries. Be said to himself “Let us proceed along the simplest lines of thought in order to arrive at an explanation of the movements of the planets.” He expressed his system of the universe in the simplest of terms. And with what a wonderful result! The Sun was placed in the centre while the planets revolved around it in circles or in ellipses, as Kepler proved later. The whole conception of the universe was reduced to a wonderful simplicity.
It was this simplicity which so greatly influenced the mind of Galileo. For he always emphatically affirmed that “the human mind is capable of recognizing truth in its simplicity.” Beauty is to be found in the simple, not in the complex. And truth is beauty.
It was because of its Beauty and because of the simplicity of its Beauty that the Copernican theory of the system of the Universe was accepted by so many minds at that time. Galileo in particular accepted it because he found in the teaching of Copernicus that Beauty in simplicity for which he was seeking.
Now he could see the Moons of Jupiter, which hardly anyone would believe in. The eyes of Galileo were the first to see the Moons of Jupiter which encircle him as the planets do the Sun. It was a solar system in miniature. Jupiter with his Moons was as the Sun with his planets. This discovery confirmed the theories of a solar system constructed in accordance with a conception. It seemed so to Galileo, who applied the theory of Copernicus in miniature to a visible world. Hence Galileo was indeed a Pioneer of the New Science.
Thus it came about that he divided the presence of mountains in the Moons, that there were spots in the Sun and that the Nebulae extending across the stars were disintegrated worlds of stars. In short, all which may be expressed as the revelation of the Divine Wisdom expressed in the world of sense. All this made a tremendous effect upon Galileo. With his mathematical mind, the question of time, which was completely lost sight of in the material conception of the visible world, naturally influenced him greatly. Galileo first created the impulse in the human mind to admit that we cannot see behind the material veil with our normal consciousness: “The super-sensible is not to be understood by the human senses. It cannot be comprehended by human reason. Divine Reason grasps it outside time and space, while man's reason is limited to time and space. Let us confine ourselves to that which, in time and space, our human reason can understand.”
Now, seeing that Galileo achieved such greatness in so many things, he is also, from the point of view of philosophy, one of the most important pioneers of the modern Spiritual development of humanity. Can we then wonder that we also see in him a mind who wished to make clear to himself and to others the relation of man to the world of sense and to his own soul-life.
It is a popular fallacy that Kant was the first to draw attention to the fact that the world around us is nothing but illusion and that it is not possible to arrive at “the thing in itself,” at things as they really are. Expressed rather differently, Galileo had already demonstrated this idea; only, behind the visible, he always saw the all-pervading thoughts of the Divine Spiritual, and it was only from humility and not from principle that he said that only after long aeons of time would mankind be fit to draw nearer to it.
But Galileo said: — “When we see a colour, it makes a certain impression on us. For example, red. Is the red colour in the things?” Galileo used a very remarkable illustration, which showed at once that the primary conception was incorrect. That, however, is immaterial to our purpose. The point we wish to emphasize is the conception itself as an idea of that time. Galileo said: — “If you take a feather and tickle a man on the soles of his feet or the palms of his hands, the man will experience a sensation of tickling. Now is the tickling in the feather? No. It is entirely subjective. What is in the feather is quite different. As the tickling is subjective, so too is the red colour subjective, which is visible in the world.” Thus he compared colours and even sounds with the tickling caused by the application of a feather to the soles of the feet.
Once we realize this, we can already trace in Galileo the beginnings of what came down to us as the philosophy of our modern times. For modern philosophy doubts the possibility of Man's ever being able to penetrate behind the veil of the world sense in any way whatsoever.
Thus we see in Galileo, who was born in 1664, the quiet, determined pioneer, while Giordano Bruno, who was somewhat older, being born in 1648, reflected in his mentality all the great truths which were fermenting in the minds of men such as Copernicus, Galileo himself and others at that period. The mind of Giordano Bruno mirrors for us all the great ideas of that time in a mighty, comprehensive system of philosophy.
Giordano Bruno's own personal attitude to the world, quite
apart from the mental attitude of the men of his day?
Giordano Bruno (who only knew the corrupted version of
Aristotle) argued thus: — “Aristotle maintains
that a sphere exists which extends to the Moon, thence to the
different spheres of the stars; then comes the sphere of
the Divine Spiritual. Thus, according to Aristotle, the Living God must be sought for outside the spheres of the stars.”
Giordano was viewing the Universe according to the conception of Aristotle. He saw first the earth, then the spheres of the Moon and of the Stars. Then, finally, beyond these again, beyond this world and beyond that inhabited by man, in the great periphery of this world, the Divine Spirit, which literally directs the revolutions and movements of the world of the planets.
Giordano Bruno could not reconcile this conception with the actual human experience of his day. That which could now be perceived by means of the human senses, that which he himself perceived when he looked at plants, animals and man, that which he saw when he looked at mountains, seas, clouds and stars, all this appeared to him as a marvelous image of what lives in the Divine Spirit itself. In the moving stars, in the clouds sailing through the air, he saw not only a script written by the Divine Being, but something which might pertain to the Divine Being as a finger or a limb does to ourselves. The fundamental conception of Giordano Bruno was not that of a God who directs the visible world from outside, from the periphery, but a God who is incorporate in every single manifestation of the visible, whose bodily form is the visible world.
If we seek to understand how it was that he arrived at such a conclusion, we find that it was the result of the joy of the intoxication of delight in the spirit of the new age which had just begun. This new age had been preceded by a time during which man had been content to grope about amongst the old ideas of Aristotle. A time in which the leading Scholars, if they walked through woods and fields, had no eyes for Nature and all her beauties, but had their minds wholly set on Parchments and Writings which had originated with Aristotle.
Now, however, the time had come when the voice of Nature began to make itself heard by men. Great discoveries revealed themselves one after another. Mighty minds like that of Galileo pressed on from point to point, recognizing the Divine in Nature herself at every step.
The theory of the God in Nature, in contradistinction to the mediaeval conception of Nature, from which God was eliminated, was accepted everywhere with an universal delirium of joy. To this spirit, every fibre of Giordano Bruno's being responded. “There is Spirit in all things,” he says, “This is proved by physical research. Wherever we see a visible creation, there we shall meet the Divine.” There is only one difference between the physical and the Divine. Because we are men and confined within narrow boundaries, the visible appears to us to be limited by time and space. To Giordano Bruno, the Spirit of God exists behind the sense-world. Not in the way in which (as he thought) it had existed for Aristotle or the men of the Middle Ages. He believed the Divine Spirit to be self-existing; and Nature only the body by means of which its Spirit manifested itself in all its beauty.
Nevertheless, man cannot perceive the whole of the Divine Spirit in Nature, he can only see a part. In all things, in all time and in space, the Divine Spirit is to be found. This was the creed of Giordano Bruno. Hence he says “Where is the Divine? In every stone, in every leaf, the Divine is everywhere. In all creation, specially in beings possessing a certain independent existence”. These beings, which recognise their own independence, he terms Monads. By a Monad, he means something which floats and flourishes in the ocean of divinity. All Monads are mirrors of the Universe. Thus Giordano conceived of the universal Spirit as divided into many Monads, and in each Monad that was an individual Spirit, there was something which was a reflection of the Universe.
Such a Monad is the human soul, and they are many. Indeed, the human body itself is composed of many Monads, not of one. If we understand the truth about the physical body according to the ideas of Giordano Bruno, we shall not see the fleshly human body, but a system of Monads; these Monads cannot be clearly seen, just as we cannot distinguish the separate midges in a swarm; the chief Monad is the human soul. When the human soul comes into existence at birth, so said Giordano Bruno, the other Monads which belong to the soul collect together and, by this, the existence of the Chief-Monad, of the Soul Monad, is made possible. When death approaches, the Chief-Monad discharges and disperses the other Monads.
According to Giordano Bruno, birth is the assembling of many Monads round a Chief-Monad, while death is the separation of the inferior Monads from the Chief-Monad, so that the Chief-Monad may be able to take on another form. For each Monad is obliged to take on, not only the form by which we know it here, but every form which it is possible to take on in the Universe. Giordano Bruno conceives of a procession through every form. Thus he approaches as close as possible — in his enthusiasm — to the idea of the re-incarnation of the human soul.
And with reference to the conception of our collective reality, he says: — Man, with his normal consciousness, stands confronted by this reality. What he first receives are the impressions of the senses. These are his first means of knowledge. Of these, there are four, says Giordano Bruno. The first means by which man acquires knowledge is by the impressions of the senses.
The second are the images we construct in our imagination when the things which have impressed the senses are no longer before us, when we only remember what we have experienced. Here we already penetrate further into the soul. This second channel of knowledge he terms “the power of imagination.” The word must not be taken to mean what it does to-day, but it must be understood in the sense in which it was used by Giordano Bruno. After a man has received what the impressions of sense have to give him, he enters (forming the picture within himself) into the impressions. The impression is made from without on the within. It then follows that man, while he penetrates the things with his reason and then proceeds further, draws nearer to the truth, instead of going further away from it. Hence Giordano Bruno recognises reason, the intellect, as the third means of acquiring knowledge, and in this he has in mind the moment when we leave the objects visible to our senses and ascend to the realm of thought. Then something higher and truer than any impression created by the senses flows towards us.
According to Giordano Bruno, the fourth stage is Reason. Reason to him is a living and weaving in the regions of Pure Spirit.
Thus the system of Giordano Bruno comprises four stages of knowledge. He does not, however, classify them in the same way as they are classified, for example, in my books, “The Way of Initiation” and “Initiation and its Results”, under the headings of Present Knowledge, Imaginative Knowledge, Inspirational Knowledge and Intuitive Knowledge. His classifications are more in the abstract. We must, therefore, think of him in the following way: Giordano Bruno lived first at that point of time when the knowledge of visible phenomena was, advancing, therefore he used expressions which resemble those used now to express knowledge of the ordinary visible world, rather than those which relate to the higher worlds. But when Giordano Bruno looks up to the Spiritual World, we can have no doubt of his meaning from the tremendous emphasis with which he says “The Divine Spirit which exists in everything, which has its bodily form in all things, possesses that of which we have the representation, as the idea is the conception of the thing”.
“In what way is the world in God? How is the Spirit in God?” he asks, and replies: “The Spirit is in God as Idea, as the Thought that precedes the Word.” In everything is the Spirit in Nature, as form, he replies, by which he means, that the idea which exists in the Divine Spirit is in the crystal, which has a form; it is in the plant, which has a form; in the animal, which has a form; it is in the human body, which has a form. Of all visible things which have form, a counterpart exists in the human soul as the concept of them.
Giordano Bruno carries this still further. The things of Nature are shadows of the Divine Ideas. “Note well”, he says, “Our concepts are not the shadows of things, they are the shadows of the Divine Thoughts.” Thus, if we have the things of Nature around us and thus have the shadow of the Divine Idea, our concepts will be again fructified thereby. While we are forming our concepts, the Divine Spirit is weaving His Ideas into the original, so that we come in direct contact with the stream which connects us with the Divine Idea.
When we study the theories of that Physical Science which is to-day called Monism, (unlike that of Giordano Bruno), what strikes us most is the fact that, if we would be consistent in speaking of these theories, we must say “they do not mention the Divine Thought”. But Giordano Bruno did not say that, he was a Spiritualist in the strictest sense of the word. What he has to gibe us out of the true inspiration of the Renaissance relates to the Monads. The assembling of the Monads at birth and their dissolution at death refers to the Divine Thoughts, which, in his conception of the world, flow into the world of ideas; and in his own words “The human thought is a reflection of the Divine.” If this is once thoroughly understood, we shall understand something of the spirituality of Giordano Bruno.
But for this, one thing is necessary: we must distinguish between the real and the unreal Giordano Bruno, between the Giordano Bruno who was so greatly misunderstood and the real man himself.
Giordano Bruno was the master-mind, who, by his unbounded enthusiasm, spread broadcast among his contemporaries the more intellectual achievements of Galileo in the realms of Scientific Thought. This is why every utterance of Giordano Bruno carried such weight. All the joy and enthusIasm of the Spirit of the age, all its delight in the discovery of the working and weaving of Nature in the physical world, was concentrated in the personality of Giordano Bruno. This flood of rejoicing was itself crystallized into a system of philosophy, for the Divine Spirit which dwells in all visible things most certainly illuminated the soul of Giordano Bruno, and he was conscious of it. Hence we can understand those utterances of Giordano Bruno, which we do well to remember; they sound as if Nature herself had a direct message for men in those days. We can only quote a few words here.
Consider how wonderful the following thought is, to which Giordano gives expression in contradistinction to the teaching of Aristotle on the same subject. “The Spirit of Divine intelligence is not beyond the visible world, it is not exterior to it, it is everywhere, wherever we may look. The Divine Intelligence does not dwell in any place exterior to the visible world. It does not dwell in that vague realm, of which we may say ‘something moves in circles wide’, it does mot dwell in a revolving, encircling realm, with which we can communicate only from a great distance. The Divine Spirit is the united principle of that vital force, which is in everything and in Nature herself.”
Such was the language which rang out at that time, such the convictions which sprang from the innermost depths of the soul of Giordano Bruno. The question now remains how best to reproduce this language to-day, so that it will speak directly to our hearts and minds. Hermann Brunnhofer, who called attention to this and had to submit to being called a too enthusiastic admirer of Giordano Bruno, put his words into fine verse:
Non est Deus vel intelligentia exterior
Cirounrotans et circumducens;
Dignuis enim illi debet esse
Internum prinzipuim Motus,
Quod est Natura propria, species propria, anima propria,
Quam habeat tot quot in illius
Gremio et corpore vivent
Noe generali Spiritu, corpore.
Anima, Natura animantia
Plantea, Lapides quae univena ut
Disimus proportionaliter cumastro
Euden composita ordine, etaedem
Contemperata complexion um, symmetus,
Secundum genus, quantumlebet secundum
Specierum numeros singula deslingunlui.
- Giordano Bruno says philosophically: It is worthy of God to be the inner moving principle of things.
- See also: Herman Brunnhofer, The Influence of Giordano Bruno upon Goethe — Goethe's Journals — Vol. VII, 1886.
Goethe translates this line for line in the poem beginning:
“What Kind of God were He who from the World
Remained aloof and the great Universe Around His finger twirled?” etc.
This is a poetical translation of the mind of Giordano Bruno through the instrumentality of the mind of Goethe. It was not merely that Goethe wrote these verses with Giordano Bruno's works lying beside him. Some other influence must have been at work than that which would have made Goethe merely recast the words of Giordano Bruno in a poetical form. We see in this how the spirit of Giordano Bruno becomes fully alive in Goethe. Nevertheless it is not only a couple of centuries which have to be bridged when we pass from the days of Galileo and Giordano Bruno to Goethe. We must realise that what in the case of Giordano Bruno had its origin in the first great enthusiastic mood from which arose the philosophic cult of Nature, became in Goethe a mood leading him with complete devotion from one thing to another and finally causing him to bring back into Nature the God whose existence man now learned to feel in Nature herself. In Goethe the mood of Giordano Bruno had become his own. It was born in him, as it were. It was already present in him when, at the age of seven, he took the music desk belonging to his father and arranged on it mineral ores from his father's collection, so as to have some products of Nature herself — for the same purpose he took plants from his father's herbarium. He then placed a little stick of incense on the top of the heap and waited, burning glass in hand, for the Sun to rise, so that he might enkindle the incense from its rays and thus consummate a sacrifice culled from the forces of Nature to the God who lives in the plants and minerals and to whom he had erected an altar.
Thus did Giordano Bruno live in Goethe at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries, but in such a way that what lived as the innermost attitude of his soul, Goethe carried into every detail of Nature.
It was this mental attitude which made it impossible to Goethe to understand how the Scientific investigators of that day could attach such importance to the outward signs which differentiate men from animals. The physical Scientists of the eighteenth century maintained that man did not possess the same number of small bones in the upper part of the jaw bone as the animals — viz. the inter-maxillary bones — which contain the sheath of the upper teeth. Animals possess these and this is where men differ from animals. Goethe could not understand this highly materialistic idea. This indeed could not be the God who was the inner vital principle of Nature. The God of whom Giordano Bruno spoke as “circumroians et circumducens.” He must be a God who worked outside Nature, a God who, first of all, made the animals, then made man and then, in order to differentiate man from beast, arranged that animals should have the inter-maxillary bones, while these should be wanting in man.
Goethe was the great investigator of Nature, who endeavoured to show that that which existed in Nature as form was capable of rising higher, and that it is not in anything external, such as the inter-maxillary bones, that the difference between the human and the animal world is to be found, but that something exists in man which, though it may be clothed with tones and muscles like those of the animals, constitutes the higher mind of humanity. This is only another proof of the magnitude of Goethe's genius. He not only discovered traces of the inter-maxillary bone and proved that it had only disappeared in man because it was a subordinate bone, but he also shows that the vertebrae may be distended if the activity of the mind contained in the brain finds this to be necessary. A long time ago, when I was studying the Scientific writings of Goethe, in order to understand his assertion that the bones of the skull are transposed vertebrae, the latter having been extended into the cavities of the skull, I came to the inevitable conclusion that Goethe must have conceived the idea that the brain itself was transposed spinal marrow and that this change had been wrought by the mind. That not only the covering tissue, but that the brain itself had been moved up from the vertebrae and spinal marrow to a higher level. It was a wonderful moment im my life when I discovered that, in the last decade of the eighteenth century, Goethe had written in pencil on a slip of paper “The brain is in reality only a piece of transposed spinal marrow.” Professor Bardeleben relates this in his article in the Weimar Year-Book on “Goethe as Scientific Investigator.”
Thus we see the mood which first appeared in Giordano Bruno applied by Goethe to the different parts of living beings. We see how Goethe applied the ideas of Giordano Bruno — to whom, as we have seen, he approaches so closely, even in his choice of words — in a practical way to everything in natural scientific thought.
This is why Goethe laid such stress upon finding in the whole plant world the metamorphosis of the primal archetypal plant (Urpflanze). Added to the great achievements of Goethe as artist were his noteworthy achievements as a scientific investigator of Nature. In a certain sense, the spirit which had come down from the clairvoyant stages of perception to a material form of vision was incorporated in Goethe, as a personality who saw the Divine in all his observations of Nature, even in the individual plants. The expression “Urpflanze”, Primal Archetypal plant. What did Goethe mean by that? He meant to indicate the Spiritual essence in the various species of Plants. With regard to this, the conversation between Schiller and Goethe at Jena, after a meeting of the Botanical Society, which they had both attended, is important. When they had left the assembly, Schiller said: — “What they said about plants was very unsatisfying.” Goethe replied: — “It might have been expressed differently. We ought to be able to see, not only those parts of the plant which we hold in our hands, but also their Spiritual relationship.” Then he took a piece of paper and drew the structure of a plant in a few strokes. He showed to Schiller that the type is not only present in the Lily, the Dandelion or the Ranunculus, but in all plants. Then Schiller, who could not understand the structure of the primal plant) said: — “That is no reality, it is nothing but an idea.” Goethe was very puzzled and said: — “It would gratify me very much to think that I could have ideas without knowing it and even see them with my physical eyes.” For Goethe could perceive the Spiritual element which permeates all plants. He saw it so clearly that he could even draw it. The same applies to the primal archetypal animal in all animals.
Thus Goethe pursued the God who does not work from without the material world, but who lives and operates within all visible things. Thus he followed the Divine Spirit which moves invisibly in everything, working in a concrete way from plant to plant, through leaf, blossom and fruit. It works in the same way from one animal to another, and also from one bone to another, from one animal form to another. It is interesting to note that Goethe was not understood by the men of his own time, not even by Schiller. But little by little the spirit of Goethe will take root even in the thought of the Natural Scientists. It will be acknowledged that Goethe's ideas were a stage higher than those of Giordano Bruno. Giordano Bruno spoke of a God, a pantheistic God, who is to be found everywhere, in plants and in animals. But Goethe, although he too sought the great spirit who does not operate from without, said further: — We must not only seek for Him in general; we must study the detailed phenomena and look for the Spirit in the separate things. For it lives in one way in plants, in another in mineral; one way in this bone and another way in that.
The Spirit is in perpetual action; it forms the various parts of matter, matter follows the moving spirit. This can be expressed as one universal spirit, as was done by Giordano Bruno. It can also be sought with deep devotion in every single detail, as Goethe did. In this way, man draws nearer and nearer to the Spirit at work in the outspread carpet of Nature, by degrees will that Spirit reveal itself.
If we study the successive stages of progress represented by Galileo, Giordano Bruno and Goethe, and search for the root principle which directed such great minds, we shall learn by degrees to adhere to the root principle which directed them, and not to be led away by the will-of-the-wisp of superficial criticism. For even the greatest minds do not escape criticism. Let us take Galileo with his great conception of the Divine, which embraced the whole of Creation in the span of one moment, and was unfettered by space or time. When we consider this, the question is bound to arise: — “What do the men of to-day know about the real significance of Galileo?” As a rule, they know little more about him than the one incident which is assuredly not true, that he said, as is supposed, “It moves, nevertheless.” A fine saying, truly, but, as can be seen from the investigations of the Italian scholar, Angells de Gubernatis, it cannot be true. And how often do we not hear that the last words of Goethe were: — “More light”, which is exactly what he never did say.
Hence we see that these great minds must be studied in the light which Spiritual Science is able to throw upon them, We cannot, as we are so fond of doing, judge of the past with our own, individual, unaided, modern mind.
These three master-minds form a wonderful, harmonious triad, which marks the beginning of our modern age; in Galileo and in Giordano Bruno we see the dawn, in Goethe we see the Sun itself, which show how the Spirit of the modern age already taught him to see that the smallest atom of matter cannot exist without Spirit behind it, which brings one atom in touch with another.
I would call to your remembrance an incident which Goethe relates himself. Many years after the death of Schiller, it was decided to transfer his remains from their grave to the Princes Mausoleum. There was some difficulty in deciding which were really the bones of Schiller. Goethe was attracted by a skull, which he saw must have belonged to a man of the type of the genius of Schiller; on closer inspection, he decided that this must be Schiller's skull, as he recognised it from the strongly marked peculiarity in the shape of the skull. This skull was accordingly placed in the Princes Mausoleum. Here he recognised the principle, which was also recognised by Galileo, that the spirit (or genius) must be sought for humbly and mathematically.
The ancient church lamp still hangs in the cathedral at Pisa, swinging backwards and forwards before countless souls. But Galileo had only sat before it once, when he measured the beating of his pulse by the regular swinging of the lamp and thus discovered the laws of balance, which are of such vast importance to-day. This was a Divine Inspiration. There are many such cases. At the grave of Schiller, Goethe was inspired with the thought which lived in the philosophic inspiration of Giordano Bruno. “Spirit is inseparable from matter. It is everywhere. Not, however, tossing it wildly about and driving it round, but, as Spirit which exists in the minutest atom.” This conception of the Spiritual, which existed in Giordano Bruno, was re-born in Goethe's soul, as he held the skull of Schiller in his hand, and, as water congealed into ice, so was the Spirit of Schiller made manifest to him in the skull of Schiller.
Goethe's entire spiritual standpoint lies before us when we study the poem which he wrote after having looked on Schiller's skull. Especially those lines, which are so often misinterpreted, and which we can only understand when we realise that in the situation which we have described above, Goethe saw the individuality of Schiller in plastic form before him, as if frozen.
Then he cries, as he must do, forced thereto by the similarity of the Spirit which united Giordano Bruno and Goethe:
Was kann der Mensch imleben mehr gewinnen,
Als dass sich Gott-Natur ihm offenbare,
Wie sie das Feste ladesst zu Geist verrinnen,
Wie sie das Geisterzeugte fest bewahre.
What can a man wrest more from life
Than that Nature, all-divine, reveal to him
How that she causeth the firm and formed to melt into Spirit,
And how what is born of the Spirit she holdeth fast in form.