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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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The Problems of Our Time
GA 193

Lecture III

14 September 1919, Berlin

I have told you how at the present epoch in the history of human evolution men are confronted with great tests, though for the most part what these tests bring goes on in sub­conscious experience.

Men, as I said, can know, and must know what it means "to pass over the Threshold of the invisible world," when they go: through some kind of initiation and enter it consciously; but something like it — naturally not to-day or tomorrow but in course of a longer period of time — happens with humanity itself, in that it has to experience separation of the hitherto-interwoven forces of thinking, feeling and willing, when they fall apart, just as they become independent in the individual who passes the Threshold of the supersensible world. All this is bound up with significant changes in the depths of human nature, and it is one of the tasks of our age to make these changes part of our consciousness. The great obstacle to be overcome is the desire for comfort in man to-day, the unwillingness to know what is going on in humanity, the continued living in illusions and, in fact, dreaming about life.

We shall get the best understanding of my subject to-day by calling to mind some of the facts of supersensible life which have long been known to us. Let us recollect how the human ego and astral body leave the physical and etheric bodies as we fall asleep and return to them as we awake. That is a general description, a sort of sketch of the process. We can say in a general way that on waking man returns to his physical and etheric bodies, but then this return takes place in varying degrees. For instance, it can never be said of a little child that the ego and the astral body plunge fully into the physical and etheric bodies and become completely one with them as to activity. There is always something in his astral and ego which does not so unite. Yes, and if we look back into earlier times of human development, to the important dividing line which occurs in the middle of the fifteenth century, we must admit that, until that definite point, in human life as a whole there existed no complete immersion of the ego and astral body during the conscious waking hours.

The really important feature of our post­Atlantean age is that soul and spirit — the ego and astral body — have only recently been able to plunge entirely into the physical and etheric, and even so, not until after the 27th or 28th year. Conditions will change again with time. This is a significant mystery, in the evolution of mankind. What is the meaning of this complete immersion in the physical body? It signifies that by means of it we are able to develop thoughts and unfold ideas of the scientific, materialistic type prevalent since the days of Galileo and Copernicus. For these ideas and this scientific view of the world the physical body is the right instrument. The identification had not been achieved in earlier centuries, therefore there was no scientific thinking which is wholly bound up with the physical body. With this fact is connected everything else I have mentioned about the activity men must unfold in their spiritual-scientific attitude in order to regain the interest of the Beings of the three higher Hierarchies standing nearest to mankind. We owe it to them that we have the power to plunge completely into the physical body and therewith learn of the dead mineral external world through natural science.

It is man's duty to-day to become aware of these things. At our present stage of culture, without such a consciousness men live in a kind of sleep. That is why events happening around them do not penetrate into their drowsy minds. We simply must let these concrete facts work upon our souls in order to acquire a consciousness of what forces are dominant and active in our particular phase of evolution. In the extended span of time which we may call "the present," much must be made new — above all, the aims of education. I have already spoken of this from our own point of view. We must educate people from childhood onwards so that they can rightly enter. into an age marked by this complete plunging into the physical body, educate them to be able to take the complete plunge. Wherein will consist the success of our efforts towards a renewal of educational methods? In giving man, who is entering a new stage of development, preparation for the experience it brings. Anyone observing life to-day will know that at the present time there are a remarkable number of "broken” natures to be met with, natures unfitted to cope with life. Why are they not equal to it? Because, they cannot look back, as I have described, to the experiences of their education. Certain forces can only be developed in childhood. Once developed they remain throughout life; we have them, and can cope with it. If we have them not, we lack that power. It is in this sense that we must understand the feeling of responsibility we ought to foster with regard to education.

Further, we must fully realize that the Christ-Impulse entered into humanity in the fourth post-Atlantean epoch, which began in, the eighth century B.C. and lasted until the fifteenth century A.D. When about a third of this period had elapsed, there entered into human evolution what gives meaning to the whole Earth-development — the Christ-Impulse, the Mystery of Golgotha. Man was then in process of developing the Rational or Mind soul, Gemüt-Seele, in which human thought and experience were more instinctive than they are to-day: this development was superseded in the fifteenth century by that of the Consciousness or Spiritual Soul, the period in which we live. The way in which the Event of Golgotha appeared as an impulse in world-history and human- evolution was suited, in the first instance, to the instinctive conditions of the fourth post-Atlantean epoch, and was thus understood by the men of that time. It was natural for this instinctive understanding to believe that in the personality of Jesus of Nazareth the Christ Being lived, He Who had descended from cosmic heights in order to unite Himself with that body for earthly activity. Through feeling, everyone could realize that a great, important and super­sensible occurrence had, in the Event of Golgotha, entered human life. With the passage of time the capacities of the Rational Soul became less and less. The understanding of the Event of Golgotha which existed in the first Christian centuries could not last: it was bound to vanish with the altered soul­ constitution of civilized man. In consequence, with the uprising of the Consciousness Soul, the Event of Golgotha itself came to be regarded more materially. We see that the evolution of civilized mankind in the course of the last four or five hundred years so proceeded that the understanding of what really happened on Golgotha — the indwelling of the Christ in Jesus of Nazareth — became fainter and fainter. This great Mystery, perceived instinctively through the first centuries, was less and less understood, more and more materialistically regarded, until in our times it has become possible to take as a sign of progress that men no longer desire to know anything of the supersensible, cosmic Christ, but talk of Jesus of Nazareth simply as a man, an extraordinary man perhaps, but constituted exactly like other men.

Here, too, we stand at a turning-point. A new understanding of Christ must arise. It can only come if sought by the means provided by Spiritual Science, so sought that super­sensible means may discover what can only be accomplished within the supersensible and reveal itself in the sensible. The new understanding of Christ must arise from such depths in human nature that, confronted with these depths, differences of creeds, hitherto dominant amongst civilized mankind, will be as wreaths of vapour. These differences lie in a part of the soul more on the surface than that which to-day, out of the depths of Spiritual Science, must lead to a new understanding of Christ Jesus. Nor will understanding be complete, really satisfying the needs of man's soul to-day, unless it can bridge the differences among men imposed on humanity by the various creeds. Some­thing there is as a hope from this new Christ-Impulse, something we must all long for if we are serious and worthy in our wishes for humanity, something which is actually being sought in other spheres though very unintelligently.

Nowadays men talk of the so-called “League of Nations " and hope for something from it. It is remarkable how they long to understand reality by means of abstractions. Whence is to come the impulse, working through the peoples, which can evoke a unity such as this "League of Nations" is supposed to represent? Look at everything which has been produced in the way of spiritual impulses towards its establishment — nothing but a few abstractions. Yet men sleep through such things — how soundly, we may see from a fact like the following:

Woodrow Wilson, discoverer or at least rediscoverer of the League, announced at a time when America was not taking part in world-events as she does now, that the League could only be properly established if as a result of the catastrophe of the war there were no "victors" and no "vanquished."  That was an essential condition. Taken as earnest, that makes it impossible to take seriously what is said about the League now; the two cannot be reconciled, but that is not noticed. Here is a thing which militates against' a healthy development of mankind;  men are willing to accept the most impossible contradictions if only an interval of time separates them. It is as though present-day man in no way partakes with his soul in what is really happening.

The League is a nonentity, for what has to be established in humanity must well up from the depths of man's being to the surface. New comprehension of the Christ-Impulse alone can develop what is needed to-day in the whole civilized world, from human impulses suited to the times, on a basis which will not rest on the differences between peoples. The civilized nations, torn asunder by hatred and misunderstanding, can only be united by the Christ-Impulse, as presented by Spiritual Science. This f act must sink deeply, deeply as a conviction into the soul. All else, which does not lead in this direction, is only hindering the evolution of mankind. The needs of human evolution must be dealt with from its depths, not by any trivial speech. The Earth acquired its own meaning in relation to that evolution through the Event of Golgotha, and now the time has come when this meaning must be grasped in a different way. Until men realize the duty of this understanding there will be no remedy for the wounds of our times. What is designed can no longer be brought to fruition by nations side by side, but by nations as one. It is impossible: to establish a League of Nations by outside political arrangement. These things must come from within, arising from the deepest impulse, the Christ-Impulse in man.

Anthroposophical  Spiritual Science has the duty of pointing out what each man, merely as a personal individual being, can awaken in himself — but which simply must be awakened. Directly we touch on these things, the seriousness of our times strikes us with full force. It is tragic to see how little it is felt, how men avoid approaching the great knowledge or recognition that must be definitely incorporated in human conscious­ness. The epoch through which we have passed has led us away from that inner urge which could bring us to the knowledge necessary to-day. Suppose you asked a natural scientist of the day, what the evolution of the Earth would be if man had taken no part in it. Thinking logically on the basis of his hypotheses and opinions, he could but reply that even if man were absent, the Earth would develop without him, bring forth its minerals, plants and animals: things would go on more or less as they do now, except that man would not be there, and no cities or houses would be built. Therefore, from the standpoint of natural science, we should have to say that the Earth would have developed without man, just as it has done with him.

Yet this is a complete error. If you put together the various things to be found in our twenty years of lecturing, you will feel what I am saying as a self-evident fact, but attention must be drawn to it. The physical body of man is permeated during his existence be­tween birth and death by the soul; and in this present epoch it is so interwoven in a particular way: the ego and astral body plunge completely into the physical. Again, when either by cremation or burial, we give over the corpse of the physical body to the earth, it means to present-day science no more than that the body has consisted of various substances which at death are added to the earth and go their way according to the various principles established by organic and, more especially, by inorganic, chemistry. But that is all pure nonsense. It is emphatically not without significance, that from birth to death this human body is inhabited by a human soul-spirit being. We give the corpse over to the earth in a form and condition which it has only acquired from this fact — the indwelling from birth to death of a being, man's soul and spirit, which before birth (or conception) lived in the spiritual world. The Earth in its evolution would long ago have fallen into decay and desolation if it had not received as a ferment — whether through burial or fire-the human bodies which have been the dwellings of souls, though now deserted by them. In olden days when bread was baked (nowadays the thing is more artificial) a little of the dough was kept back, to be added as yeast at the next baking that was a necessary part of the process. In the same way the Earth would not be able to develop unless it received human bodies (not the animal body !) as a sort of ferment. By their means the Earth, which would otherwise long ago have turned to dust, is enabled to bring to completion what lies within its evolution. Man does have a share, and especially just now, in the whole evolution of the Earth, and even what we relinquish to the Earth at our death is important for it.

The other thing which happens to man, especially at this epoch of his evolution, is that when he passes a certain age of maturity, 27 to 28, he is in his waking life, as regards his physical body, in a relationship which works in a particular way on the spiritual, super-earthly world. This is a remarkable polarity in man's evolution. If he passes through the gate of death and leaves his body behind him, he releases something from the body which serves the Earth as a ferment in its develop­ment, whereas if he lives through the period from 28 to 35 on Earth, he gives the spiritual world something which it needs. (Things are somewhat modified in the case of people who die before 28 — to consider this to-day would take us too far.) What we give to the spiritual world is the most important thing that we come upon-again when in the spiritual world we live our life backwards. We really do give something to the super-earthly world, just as we relinquish our body to the earthly world at death.

This is one of the secrets bound up with evolution, and nowadays it is essential that men should absorb them into their conscious­ness. These are certainly not sensational bits of knowledge — much more than that. To take them seriously and experience them in, the soul with full import brings an unusual earnestness of outlook on life, a deepened seriousness which is necessary to-day. The external understanding of what is included in our idea of the Threefold Commonwealth can and must be given to the outer, exoteric world, but the real, fundamental understanding which will lead to conscious co-operation in social evolution must begin with the seriousness based on the view of life gained through anthroposophical spiritual science. Otherwise we do not understand things deeply enough. All that is connected , with the Threefold Commonwealth must be proclaimed in the external world. In our movement we should awaken the needful enthusiasm and fire, so that the necessary understanding may be given to others through the personal conviction of those who can attain the right; comprehension from the standpoint of spiritual science. The ordinary superficial knowledge possessed by people in the external world, of the kind which leads, for instance, to the belief that the Earth could evolve even if man were not concerned in it, cannot produce the necessary understanding for our time. So it is that as we pass through our cities our heart bleeds when we realize the complete lack of contact with what is really going on in the evolution of humanity.

The immediate culmination, led up to by all these facts, was what we called the World War, that whirlpool into which were poured all the results of the superficial views which had begun to gather force. To-day it is man's duty to reach the triple deepening of which I spoke in the last lecture, concerning the beings of the three Hierarchies next above us. We must learn to see that we live and move among such a complex of facts. Humanity, and we as part of it, must go through the epoch in which, the ego and astral body plunge their deepest into the physical and etheric bodies and are exposed to the strongest temptations, which have their origin in the fact that as human beings we are so closely united with the physical. There are two forms in which this temptation can arise; one I would call the "Western," the other the "Eastern." We carry the Western form with peculiar strength in our own nature, but we see it more and more definitely the further West we turn our gaze. It lies in the fact that, as we plunge more and more deeply into the physical body, we come into inner connection with the earth forces with which it is associated. Our physical body is connected with these forces, and is only released from them when we consciously overcome the force of gravity and all the kindred forces which bind it to the Earth. People do not really know how, through their organization, they overcome the forces which are active in them. I once mentioned an illustration of this in the human brain, which is so heavy that if it exerted its full weight it would crush the blood­-vessels immediately below it: there is, how­ever, a remarkable arrangement in the human organization whereby the brain floats in the cerebral fluid. Now according to ' the principle of Archimedes, a body floating in water loses as much weight as that of the water it displaces; therefore the pressure on the blood-vessels is reduced, because the brain floats in the brain water and the weight of the brain is overcome. Thus we overcome much.

The same thing may be noticed in other parts of the body. Forces which are but little noticed show, even in the physical frame, what a cosmic wonder exists in the organization of man. We are necessarily connected with the forces of the earth, but we must not come into immediate contact with them. The temptation to make too close a connection with these forces is to be found in the Western world, in all the Western attitude towards life. This temptation is an Ahrimanic one. We can only combat it by gradually so deepening our knowledge as to become able to survey humanity's historical development and understand the Event of Golgotha as a real fact in the centre of it — just as we comprehend the position of Caesar Augustus or Socrates in history. For the Western world the only safeguard against this temptation and its consequences is to take the Christ into its scientific, exact view of things, that He should penetrate the entire Western view of the world. The Eastern view is exactly the opposite. The Oriental remains, in a sense, at the level of childhood, not allowing his astral body and ego to plunge down into the physical and etheric bodies although  at the present epoch it is fore-ordained that humanity should do so. The Oriental shuns this immersion. It is interesting to see the most important features of the day from this point of view. A number of Rabindranath Tagore's beautiful speeches have been translated. Read them and you will find in them an atmosphere quite different from anything spoken by a Westerner. An entirely different spirit speaks. Just as the perspective in an Eastern drawing or painting differs from a Western one, so the entire soul-mood of Rabindranath Tagore differs from that of a European or an American. This is due to the fact that even the educated Easterner of to-day, if rooted in Eastern culture, shuns the connection with the physical body. In this case the temptation is Luciferic — not to make proper use of the physical body, but to leave it unused. While the American strives to use the body to excess, the Oriental strives to make as little use of it as possible.

In this sense we must come to understand race-psychology. In the same sense, too, we ought for decades to have perceived the relation between the Eastern and Western peoples of Europe if the World War was to be avoided. It was not for nothing, but of purpose, that in 1910 I lectured in Christiania on the Folk-spirits. If you read those lectures you will find many indications of what has happened in the catastrophe of the last five years. The great thing in all these things is to prepare, earnestly and fully, not to shun reality, but to comprehend it in such a way that men can take their place in the development of the world, not selfishly subsisting alone, or bounded by their own immediate interests. We cannot fulfill our task to-day unless we develop the good will to take part in the whole development of humanity — at least in our consciousness. None of this is intended as a criticism of the past, for I have often said that such criticism is useless from the point of view of spiritual science. What matters is that we should act and think differently in the future from the past and be prepared to trans­fer into the future what we have gained from spiritual knowledge.

I have shown you during these few days how man should regard his entire life between birth and death. At birth we take over the forces of the supersensible world from our super­sensible existence into the physical sense-world. These forces continue their effect — a fact which is very hard for men of to-day to understand. How do they work? They work in all that man develops as spiritual life in this, world. There would be no possibility of poets being born among us, of philosophy or science, or of impulses towards the education of men — in fact, no possibility of developing any spiritual life at all, if we did not carry with us through birth those impulses which come from our pre-natal life. All that belongs to our spiritual life is of pre-natal origin. On the other hand, what we ourselves develop within the economic life, through our will-impulses, brotherliness love for humanity, thought and work for others, rather than for ourselves, what in a sense we do "on our own" because we are part of the economic life, all that provides the most important impulses, for what we carry over into the spiritual world. Just as we carry with us out of that world the forces which above all build our spiritual life here, so we take the forces developed in the economic life by human love and brotherliness back into the spiritual world at death.. There they accompany us and are our most important impulses. Looking at what emerges in a child's life from year to year, we see the inheritance of what is given from the spiritual world to enable man to unfold all that is spiritual on earth; and looking, in the economic life, at the results of our will to work for others, there presents itself the fruit we carry through the gate of death into the spiritual world. To the view of one who can see the spiritual world, these are the two opposite poles of development. In my book Theosophy, in the account of the soul-land and spirit-land, you will find this expressed in ideas which spring entirely from a living view of these conditions. We build up our own spiritual life with forces derived before birth or conception; the economic life we develop so that we can convey the forces belonging to it into the spiritual world; but the State, what constitutes the sphere of "rights" is the opposite of the impulses existing between death and a new birth; what is developed here on earth and belongs to the earth only is the life of polities, law, the State. That has no relation to the spiritual world.

We simplify matters by interpreting things of this kind as we find convenient. There are plenty of people who apply to the present day (perhaps with the idea of showing a little monarchical tendency in these republican times) the Biblical saying, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's " — but it is a misapplication. The saying cannot be understood apart from the circumstances belonging to it. In those days the Roman Caesar was held to be "God" and demanded divine honours. Caligula enacted such worship for the statues of the Greek Gods which he trans­ported to Rome, beheaded, and adorned with his own head in exchange, as he deemed fit and proper. (The Zeus statue alone escaped this fate.) Even at the time when Jesus of Nazareth spoke them, these words meant "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and reserve something for the God Whom you must seek in another being than Caesar." In many passages of the Gospels it is necessary in our time that they are correctly interpreted, and not as they usually are; so that we may be able thereby to struggle nearer to the conception of reality needed by our times.

During these few days it has been my task to show you, from various points of view, that the problem confronting mankind to-day is how to conduct this struggle, how to reach this view of reality, which can only be attained by grasping spiritual reality as something concrete, as concrete as sense-reality. Nothing does so much harm in the present day as shutting our eyes to reality. Men have gone on long enough with the policy of ignoring the truth, shutting their eyes to it. Anthroposophical spiritual science aims in seriousness at opening eyes to reality. To-day they are all but closed. Man's defective sense of reality is witnessed by the amazing things that are given out. I am obliged to draw attention to such things because they throw light on our times. A number of people, closely associated with the events which have brought such misery over Mid-Europe (misery not at its end, but only just beginning) have only disclosed their real countenances when the awful events of the summer, and particularly the autumn, of 1918, occurred. It was then that many men showed themselves in their true colours. They had arrived at remarkable positions, remark­able because so very different from their  earlier ones. I have known people who look with a sort of pity at personalities bearing such responsibility and yet never ask whether millions in the world are not worse off, in body and soul, than these responsible men who now hold a position so different from their former one. In these things it is important to have our eyes open and to have a sense of reality in our knowledge of the present. It is perverse fantasy to cling to our own pet ideas because they please us, without listening to the voice of truth. It is not pleasant to speak the truth about these things, but when we see with bitterness of soul how, these things have developed, how perverted fantasy appears where one hoped for practical help for life; how this fantasy asserted itself with shattering force while those who faced reality were called Utopian idealists, we are compelled to speak. No pity should prevent us, now that things are clear and we have their own confessions, from speaking our mind about such fanatics, in this tormented Central Europe, who have never deigned to see reality as it is but wish to mould it according to their own comfortable ideas. In this sphere, also, reality must be seen in the true light, for it is no small reckoning we have to make. All the miserable endeavours to justify themselves before the world are the strongest accusations against them. There will be no healing, no peace, until the necessity for earnestness is realized and for a serious recognition of reality. I did not come here to say these things from any desire to be clever: rather, as being associated with a serious spiritual movement, I feel it a duty — a necessity — to speak. We have seen (but could not talk of what we saw, for our lips were sealed) that men of absolute incompetence were called to positions of authority — standing like shadows beside the great truths destined to stream through mankind. I know many people still feel offended when told the truth, but this shutting of the eyes to facts must have an end; it is only by looking honestly at these things that the force can arise which is needed for human progress.

We need such a force. We must grasp something essentially different from the mental outfit of the men to whom we owe our present position. We must have the courage to lay hold of something new.

It is with a view to preparing this new out­look, even in outer reality, that I have spoken here and in other gatherings of the Anthroposophical Movement, not to give a kind of superior Sunday-evening sermon, but to emphasize the gravity of the times. He alone is an Anthroposophist, in the real sense of the word, who is gripped by the central purpose of his time and wills the truth, rejecting the lies which have entangled us so terribly in the conditions of to-day. I could wish that the few words in which I have given an outline of what is necessary might penetrate your hearts — it is not your minds only that I would reach, for it is from hearts that must arise the deep understanding so necessary for the times. We have to discover the impulse which will set humanity upright again, and to do that we must first of all learn how thoroughly we are ensnared by mere phrases and by untruth in all directions. From the spirit the truth will come. Wisdom lies in truth and truth alone — that should be graven deeply into our souls.

I have said a little about what is characteristic of our epoch of evolution from a spiritual standpoint. I have laid these matters before you because I believe that through them the most essential need of the present can be brought near to the human heart — the mood of soul from which that earnestness comes which is necessary in order to live in the service of humanity to-day. My aim this time has been to arouse such earnestness.