This lecture of 12th, December, 1911, contains the fullest and most detailed account of what Rudolf Steiner said on so many occasions about the evolution of the Art of Building and its changing styles. He gives us pictures of happenings in the spiritual life of the Cosmos and in the life of the human soul which express themselves in the forms of sacred buildings and give birth to new forms as the evolution of humanity advances.
Translated from Die Ziele des Johannes-Bauvereins ‘Und der Bau wird Mensch’. Translated by D. S. Osmond. From GA# 286. Also known as: The Temple Is/Becomes — Man! or Art and Architecture that Reveal the Underlying Wholeness of Creation, lecture 1 of 14 in Architecture as a Synthesis of the Arts.
Berlin, December 12, 1911
These are the last words which echo in our ears when the Dornach Speech Chorus declaims the so-called Fensterworte — that is to say, the motifs of the windows in the Goetheanum expressed in the form of thoughts. This lecture of 12th, December, 1911, contains the fullest and most detailed account of what Rudolf Steiner said on so many occasions about the evolution of the Art of Building and its changing styles. He gives us pictures of happenings in the spiritual life of the Cosmos and in the life of the human soul which express themselves in the forms of sacred buildings and give birth to new forms as the evolution of humanity advances. The forms of Architecture were created by the forces which ray down from the Heavens to the Earth and work in the aspiring souls of men. And in the future, too, the super-sensible will impress itself into the Material through new forms which through metamorphoses from within, finally come to expression in accordance with the stage of culture attained.
The original intention was to call the first Goetheanum, the Johannesbau. This great building of wood, with its hand-carved, weaving forms and flowing colour-effects, was ultimately destroyed by fire. Those who initiated such a courageous plan, had chosen the name because the central figure in Rudolf Steiner's Mystery Plays — the aspirant for spiritual knowledge — is called Johannes Thomasius. The bareness and inadequate accommodation of the theatre rented in Munich for performances of these Mystery Plays had brought from the spectators an urgently expressed wish for a building that would be worthy of the spiritual grandeur of the Plays and the lectures, and would provide space for the rapidly increasing number of visitors. These were the circumstances in which the name was chosen by the Association formed for the purpose of carrying this plan to fulfilment, and at the first General Meeting of the Johannesbau-Verein in Berlin, Rudolf Steiner gave the following lecture which opens up for us a vista of the super-sensible foundation of the Art of Building and foreshadows its future possibilities.
IN the Building that is to be a home for Spiritual Science, full account must be taken of the evolutionary conditions and necessities of mankind as a whole. And unless this demand is fulfilled, the aim of such a Building will not be achieved. In an undertaking like this we have a deep responsibility to the laws of the spiritual life, the spiritual Powers and the conditions of human evolution of which we have a certain knowledge; and above all we must be mindful of the judgment which future times will pass upon us. In the present cycle of human evolution, this responsibility is altogether different from what it was in times gone by.
Great and mighty creations of art and of culture through the ages have many things to tell us. In a beautiful and impressive lecture this morning, [Lecture by Dr. Ernst Wagner: “Works of Art as Records of the Evolution of Humanity.”] you heard how the creations of art and of culture help us to understand the inner constitution and attitude of the human soul in earlier times.
Now there is a certain reason why the responsibility of those who shared in the creation of ancient works of art, was made easier than it is for us to-day. In ancient times, human beings had at their disposal means of help which are no longer available in our epoch. The Gods let their forces stream into the unconscious or subconscious life of the soul; and in a certain sense it is an illusion to believe that in the brains or souls of the men who built the Pyramids of Egypt, the Temples of Greece and other great monuments, human thoughts alone were responsible for the impulses and aims expressed in the forms, the colours and so on. For in those times the Gods themselves were working through the hands, the heads and the hearts of men.
The Fourth Post-Atlantean epoch already lies in the far past and our age is the first period of time in which the Gods put man's own free, spiritual activity to the test. True, the Gods do not refuse their help, but they vouchsafe it only when by the strength of aspiration developed in the soul through a number of incarnations, men make themselves worthy to receive the forces streaming to them from above. What we ourselves have to create is essentially new — in the sense that we must work with forces differing altogether from those in operation in bygone times. We have to create out of the free activity of our own human souls. The hallmark of our age is consciousness — it is the epoch of the Consciousness Soul, the Spiritual Soul. And if the future is to receive from us such works of culture and of art as. we have received from the past, we must create out of full and clear consciousness, free from any influence arising from the subconscious life. That is why we must open our minds and hearts to thoughts which shed light upon the task ahead of us. Only if we know upon what laws and fundamental spiritual impulses our work must be grounded, only if what we do is in line and harmony with the evolutionary forces operating in mankind as a whole — only then will achievement be within our reach ... And now let us turn to certain fundamental ideas which can make our work fruitful — for what we have to create must be basically, and in its very essence, new.
In a certain sense our intention is to build a Temple which is also to be a place of teaching — as were the ancient Temples of the Mysteries. Buildings erected to enshrine what men have held most sacred have always been known as Temples. You have already heard how the life of the human soul in the different epochs came to expression in the temple-buildings. When with insight and warmth of soul we study these buildings, differences are at once apparent. A very striking example is afforded by the forms of temples belonging to the Second Post-Atlantean epoch of culture. Outwardly, at any rate, very little is left of these temples of the ancient Persian epoch, and their original form can only be dimly pictured or reconstructed from the Akasha Chronicle. Something reminiscent of their forms did indeed find its way into the later temples of the third epoch, into Babylonian-Assyrian architecture and above all into the temples of Asia Minor, but only to the extent that the structure of these later buildings was influenced by the conditions obtaining in that region of the Earth.
What was the most striking and significant feature of this early Art of Building?
Documentary records have little information to give on the subject. But if, assuming that investigation of the Akasha Chronicle itself is not possible, we study the buildings of a later epoch, gleaning from them some idea of what the earlier temples in that part of the world may have been, it will dawn upon us that in these very ancient temples, everything depended upon the facade, upon the impression made by the frontage of the temple upon those who approached its portals. A man who made his way through this facade into the interior of the temple, would have felt: “The facade spoke to me in a secret, mysterious language. In the interior of the temple I find everything that was striving to express itself in the façade.” He would have felt this no matter whether he came as a layman or as one who had to some extent been initiated.
If we now turn from these temples — the character of which can only be dimly surmised by those unable to read the Akasha Chronicle — if we now turn to the temples, the pyramids or other sacred monuments of Egypt, we find something altogether different. Sphinxes and symbolic figures of mystery and grandeur stand before us as we approach an ancient Egyptian Temple; even the obelisks are enigmas. The Sphinx and the Pyramids are riddles — so much so that the German philosopher Hegel spoke of this Art as the “Art of the Riddle.” The upward-rising form of the pyramid in which there is scarcely an aperture, seems to enshrine a mystery; from outside at any rate, a façade is indicated only in the form of a riddle presented to us. In the interior, as well as information on manifold secrets contained in the ancient mystery-scripts or what later took their place, we find indications in the innermost sanctuary, of how the hearts and souls of men were led to the God who dwelt in deep concealment within the temple. The building enshrines the most sacred Mystery — the Mystery of the God. The pyramids, too, are shrines around the holiest secret of humanity, namely. Initiation. These buildings shut themselves off from the outer world, together with the Mystery they contain.
Passing now to the temples of Greece, we find that they retain the basic principle of many Egyptian temples in that we have to think of the Greek Temple as the dwelling place of the Divine-Spiritual; but the outer structure itself indicates a further stage. In its wonderful expression of dynamic power, of inner forces weaving in the forms, it is whole and complete, intrinsically perfect — an Infinitude in itself. The Greek God dwells within the temple. In this building, with its columns which in themselves reveal their function as bearers capable of supporting what lies upon them, the God is enshrined in something that is whole and perfect in itself; an infinitude is here embodied, within Earth-existence. This is expressed in the whole form and in every detail of the building.
The idea of the temple as an expression of all that is most precious to man, is embodied in the Christian Temple or Church. Such buildings, erected originally over a grave, indeed over the Grave of the Redeemer, culminate in the spire which tapers upwards to the heights. Here we have before us the expression of an altogether new impulse, whereby Christian architecture is distinguished from that of Greece. The Greek Temple is, in itself, one complete, dynamic whole. The Church of Christendom is quite different. I once said that by its very nature, a temple dedicated to Pallas Athene, to Apollo or to Zeus needs no human being near it or inside it; it stands there in its own self-contained, solitary majesty as the dwelling-place of the God. The Greek Temple is an infinitude in itself in that it is the dwelling-place of the God. And it is really the case that the farther away human beings are from the temple itself, the truer is the effect it makes upon us. Paradoxical as it may seem, this is the conception underlying the Greek Temple. The Church of Christendom is quite different. The call of a Christian church goes out to the hearts and minds of the Faithful; and every one of the forms in the space we enter tells us that it is there to receive the community, the thoughts and aspirations of the congregation. There could hardly have been a truer instinct than that which coined the word Dom for the Temple of Christianity, for Dom expresses a gathering-together, a togetherness of human beings. (Dom is akin to tum, as in Volkstum).
We cannot fail to realise that a Gothic building, with its characteristic forms, is trying to express something that is never as separate and complete in itself as a Greek Temple. Every Gothic form seems to reach out beyond its own boundaries, to express the aspirations and searchings of those within the walls; there is everywhere a kind of urge to break through the enclosing walls and mingle with the universe. The Gothic arch arose, of course, from a deep feeling for the dynamic element; but there is something in all Gothic forms which seems to lead out and beyond; they strive as it were to make themselves permeable. One of the reasons why a Gothic building makes its wonderful impression is that the multi-coloured windows provide such a mysterious and yet such a natural link between the interior space and the all-pervading light. Could there be any sight in the world more radiant and glorious than that of the light weaving through the coloured windows of a Gothic cathedral among the tiny specks of dust? Could any enclosed space make a more majestic impression than this — where even the enclosing walls seem to lead out beyond, where the interior space itself reaches out to the mysteries of infinite space?
From this rapid survey of a lengthy period in the development of temple-architecture, we cannot have failed to realise that its progress is based upon underlying law. But for all that, we still confront a kind of Sphinx. What is really at the root of it? Why has it developed in just this way? Can any explanation be given of those remarkable frontages and facades covered with strange figures of winged animals and winged wheels, of the curious pillars and columns to be found in the region of Asia Minor as the last surviving fragments of the first stage of temple-architecture? These frontages tell us something very remarkable ... exactly the same, in reality, as the experience which arises within the temple itself. Can there be any greater enigma than the forms which are to be seen on fragments preserved in modern museums? What principle underlies it all?
There is an explanation, but it can only be found through insight into the thoughts and aims of those who participated in the building of these temples. This, of course, is a matter in which the help of occultism is indispensable. What is a Temple of Asia Minor, in reality? Does its prototype or model exist anywhere in the world?
The following will indicate what this prototype is, and throw light upon the whole subject. Imagine a human being lying on the ground, in the act of raising his body and his countenance upright. He raises his body upwards from the ground in order that it may come within the sphere of the downstreaming spiritual forces and be united with them. This image will give you an inkling of the inspiration from which the architectural forms of the early temples of Asia Minor were born. All the pillars, capitals and remarkable forms of such temples are a symbolic expression of what we may feel at the sight of a human being raising himself upright — with the movements of his hands, his features, the look on his face, and so on. If with the eyes of the Spirit we are able to look behind this countenance into the inner man, into the microcosm that is an image of the macrocosm, we should find, inasmuch as the countenance expresses the inner man, that the countenance and the inner man are related in just the same way as the facade or frontage of a temple of Asia Minor was related to its interior. A human being in the act of raising himself upright — that is what the early temple of Asia Minor expresses, not as a copy, but as the underlying motif and all that this motif suggests. The spiritual picture given by Anthroposophy of the physical nature of man helps us to realise the sense in which such a temple was an expression of the microcosm, of man. Understanding of the aspiring human being, therefore, sheds light on the fundamental character of that early Art of Building. Man as a physical being has his spiritual counterpart in those remarkable temples of which only fragments and debris have survived. This could be pointed out in every detail, down to the winged wheels and the original forms of all such designs. The Temple Is — Man! rings to us across the ages like a clarion call.
And now let us turn to the temples of Egypt and of Greece. Man can be described not only as a physical being, but also as a being of soul. When we approach man on Earth as a being of soul, all that we perceive in his eyes, his countenance, his gestures, is, to begin with, a riddle as great in every respect as that presented by the Egyptian Temple. It is within man that we find the holy of holies — accessible only to those who can find the way from the outer to the inner. And there, in the innermost sanctuary, a human soul is concealed, just as the God and the secrets of the Mysteries were concealed in the Temples and Pyramids of Egypt.
But the soul is not so deeply concealed in man as to be unable to find expression in his whole bearing and appearance. When the soul truly permeates the body, the body can become the outward expression and manifestation of the soul. The human body is then revealed to us as a work of artistic perfection, permeated by soul, an infinitude complete in itself. And now look for something in the visible world that is as whole and perfect in itself as the physical body of man permeated by soul. In respect of dynamic perfection you will find nothing except the Greek Temple which, in its self-contained perfection, is at the same time the dwelling-place and the expression of the God. And in the sense that man, as microcosm, is soul within a body, so is the temple of Egypt and of Greece, in reality, MAN!
The human being raising himself upright — that is the prototype of the oriental temple. The human being standing on the soil of the Earth, concealing a mysterious world within himself but able to let the forces of this inner world stream perpetually through his being, directing his gaze horizontally forward — that is the Greek Temple. Again the annals of world-history tell us: The Temple is — MAN!
We come now to our own epoch. Its origin is to be found in the fruits of the ancient Hebrew culture and of Christianity, of the Mystery of Golgotha, although, to begin with, the new impulse had to find its way through architectural forms handed down from Egypt and from Greece. But the urge is to break through these forms, to break through their boundaries in such a way that they lead out beyond all enclosed space to the weaving life of the universe. The seeds of whatever comes to pass in the future have been laid down in the past. The temple of the future is foreshadowed, mysteriously, in the past. And as I am speaking of something that is a perpetual riddle in the evolution of humanity, I can hardly do otherwise than speak of the riddle itself in rather enigmatical words.
Constant reference is made to Solomon's Temple. We know that this temple was meant to be an expression of the spiritual realities of human evolution. We hear much of this Temple of Solomon. But a question that leads nowhere — and here lies the enigma — is often put to men living on the physical Earth. It is asked: Has anyone actually seen King Solomon's Temple? Is there anyone who ever saw it, in all its truth and glory? Here indeed there is a riddle! Herodotus traveled in Egypt and the region of Asia Minor only a few centuries after the Temple of Solomon must already have been in existence. From the descriptions of his travels — and they mention matters of far less importance — we know that he must have passed within a few miles of Solomon's Temple, but he did not set eyes upon it. People had not seen this temple! The enigma of it all is that here I have to speak of something that certainly existed — and yet had not been seen. But so it is ... In Nature, too, there is something that may be present and yet not be seen. The comparison is not perfect, however, and to press it any further would lead wide of the mark. Plants are contained within their seeds, but human eyes do not see the plants within the seeds. This comparison, as I say, must not be pressed any further; for anyone who attempted to base an explanation of Solomon's Temple upon it would be speaking quite falsely. In the way I have expressed it, however, the comparison is correct — the comparison between the seed of a plant and the Temple of Solomon.
What is the aim of Solomon's Temple? Its aim is the same as that of the Temple of the Future. The physical human being can be described by Anthroposophy; the human being as the temple of the soul can be described by Psychosophy; and as Spirit, the human being can be described by Pneumatosophy. Can we not then picture man spiritually in the following way: — We envisage a human being lying on the ground and raising himself upright; then we picture him standing before us as a self-contained whole, a self-grounded, independent infinitude, with eyes gazing straight forward; and then we picture a man whose gaze is directed to the heights, who raises his soul to the Spirit and receives the Spirit! To say that the Spirit is spiritual is tautology, but for all that it underlines what is here meant, namely, that the Spirit is the super-sensible reality. Art, however, can work only in the realm of sense, can create forms only in the world of sense. In other words: The spirit that is received into the soul must be able to pour into form. Just as the human being raising himself upright and then the human being consolidated in himself were the prototypes of the ancient temples, so the prototype of the temple of the future must be the human soul into which the Spirit has been received. The mission of our age is to initiate an Art of Building which shall be able to speak with all clarity to the men of future times: The Temple is — Man — the Man who receives the Spirit into his soul! But this Art of Building will differ from all its predecessors. We now come back to what was said at the beginning of the lecture.
With our physical eyes we can actually see a man who is in the act of raising himself upright. But man as a being pervaded by soul must be inwardly felt, inwardly perceived. And this was indeed the case — as you heard this morning when the lecturer so graphically said that the sight of a Greek Temple “makes us feel the very marrow of our bones.” Truly, the Greek Temple lives in us because we are that Temple, in so far as we are each of us a microcosm permeated by soul. The quickening of the soul by the Spirit is an invisible, super-sensible fact ... and yet it must become perceptible in the world of sense if it is to be expressed in Art. No epoch except our own and the epochs to come could give birth to this form of Art. It is for us to make the beginning, although it can be no more than a beginning, an attempt ... rather like the temple which having been once whole and perfect in itself, strove in the Church of Christendom to break through its own walls and make connection with the weaving life of the universe.
What have we to build?
We have to build something that will be the completion of this striving. With the powers that Spiritual Science can awaken in us, we must try to create an interior which in the effects produced by its colours, forms and other features, is a place set apart — and yet, at the same time, is not shut off, inasmuch as wherever we look a challenge seems to come to our eyes and our hearts to penetrate through the walls, so that in the seclusion as it were of a sanctuary, we are at the same time one with the weaving life of the Divine. The temple that belongs truly to the future will have walls — and yet no walls; its interior will have renounced every trace of egoism that may be associated with an enclosed space, and all its colours and forms will give expression to a selfless striving to receive the inpouring forces of the universe.
At the opening of our building in Stuttgart* I tried to indicate what can be achieved in this direction by colours, to what extent colours can be the link with the Spirits of the surrounding world, with the all-pervading spiritual atmosphere. And now let us ask: Where does the super-sensible being of man become externally manifest? When does an indication reach us of the super-sensible reality within physical man? Only when man speaks, when his inner life of soul pours into the word; when the word is the embodiment of wisdom and prayer which — without any element of sentimentality — enshrines world-mysteries and entrusts them to man's keeping. The word that becomes flesh within the human being is the Spirit, the spirituality which is expressing itself in the physical human being. And we shall either create the building we ought to create ... or we shall fail, in which case the task will have to be left to those who come after us. But we shall succeed if, for the first time, we give the interior the most perfect form that is possible to-day — quite apart from the outside appearance of the building. The exterior may or may not be prosaic ... that does not fundamentally matter. The outside appearance is there for the secular world — with which the interior is not concerned. It is the interior that is of importance. And what will this interior be?
* See the lecture: “Die okkulte Gesichtspunkte des Stuttgarter Baues.” Stuttgart, October, 1911.
At every turn our eyes will light upon something that seems to say to us: This interior, with its language of colours and forms, in its whole living reality, is an expression of the deepest spirituality that man can entrust to the sphere of his bodily nature. The mystery of Man as revealed to wisdom and to prayer, and the forms which surround the space, will be one in such a building. And the words sent forth into this space will set their own range and boundaries, so that as they strike upon the walls they will find something to which they are so attuned that what has issued from the human being will resound back into the interior. The dynamic power of the word will go forth from the centre to the periphery and the interior space itself will then re-echo the proclamation and message of the Spirit. This interior will set and maintain its own boundaries and at the same time open itself freely to the spiritual infinitudes.
Such a building could not have existed hitherto, for Spiritual Science alone is capable of creating it. And if Spiritual Science does not do this in our day, future epochs will demand it of us. Just as the Temple of Western Asia, the Temple of Egypt, the Temple of Greece, the Church or Cathedral of Christendom have arisen in the course of the evolution of humanity, so must the place of the Mysteries of Spiritual Science — secluded from the material affairs of the world and open to the spiritual world — be born from the Spirit of man as the work of art of the future.
Nothing that is already in existence can prefigure the ideal structure that ought, one day, to stand before us. Everything, in a certain sense, must be absolutely and in essence new. Naturally, it will arise in a form as yet imperfect, but at least it will be a beginning, leading to higher and higher stages of perfection in the same domain.
How can men of the modern age become mature enough to understand the nature of such a building?
No true art can arise unless it is born from the whole Spirit of an epoch in human evolution. During the second year of my studies at the Technical High School in Vienna, Ferstel, the architect of the Votivkirche there, said something in his Presidential Address which often comes back to me. On the one side his words seemed to me at the time to strike a discordant note, but on the other, to be absolutely characteristic of the times. Ferstel made the strange statement: “Styles of architecture cannot just be found, cannot be invented.” To these words there should really be added: “Styles of architecture are born from the intrinsic character of the peoples.” Up to now, our age has shown no aptitude, as did the men of old, for finding styles of architecture and of building and then placing them before the world. Styles of architecture are “found,” but in the real sense only when they are born from the spirit of an epoch. How can we to-day reach some understanding of the Spirit of our age by which alone the true architecture of the future can be found? ... I shall try now to approach the subject from quite a different angle and point of view.
During the course of our work, I have come across artists in many different domains who feel a kind of fear, a kind of dread of spiritual knowledge, because Spiritual Science tries to open up a certain understanding of works of art and the impulses out of which they were created. It is quite true that efforts are made to interpret sagas, legends, and works of art, too, in the light of Spiritual Science, to explain the impulses underlying them. But so often it happens — and it is very understandable — that an artist recoils from such interpretations because, especially when he is really creative, he feels: When I try to formulate in concepts or ideas something that I feel to be a living work of art, or at least a fertile intuition, I lose all power of originality, I lose everything I want to express — the content as well as the form. ... I assure you that little has been said to me through the course of the years with which I have greater sympathy. For if one is at all sensitive to these things, it is only too easy to understand the repulsion that an artist must feel when he finds one of his own works or a work he loves, being analysed and explained. That a work of art should be taken in hand by the intellect is a really dreadful thought for the artist who is present, somewhere, in all of us. We seem to be aware of an almost deathlike smell when we have an edition of Goethe's Faust before us ... and there, at the bottom of the pages are the analytical notes of some scholar who may even be writing them as a philosopher, not merely as a philologist! How ought we to regard these things? I will try to make the point clear to you, very briefly, by means of an example.
I have before me the latest edition of the legend of “The Seven Wise Masters,” published this year by Diederichs. It is an old legend of which many different versions exist. Fragments of it are to be found practically all over Europe. It is a remarkable story, beautiful and artistically composed. I am, of course, speaking here of the art of epic poetry, but the same kind of treatment might also be applied to architectural art. I cannot take you through all that is contained, sometimes in rather unpolished phraseology, in this legend of the Seven Wise Masters, but I will give you a skeleton outline of it.
A series of episodes graphically narrated in connection with one main theme, have the following superscription: “Here begins the Book which tells of Pontianus the Emperor, his wife the Empress and his son, the young Prince Diocletian, how the Emperor desired to hang his son on the gallows, and how he is saved by words spoken each day by Seven Wise Masters.”
An Emperor has a wife and by her a son, Diocletian. She dies, and the Emperor takes a second wife. His son Diocletian is his lawful heir; by the second wife he has no son. The time comes for the education of Diocletian. It is announced that this will be entrusted to the most eminent and wisest men in the land, and Seven Wise Masters then come forward to undertake it. The Emperor's second wife longs to have a son of her own in order that her stepson may not succeed his father; but her wish is not fulfilled and she then proceeds to poison the mind of the Emperor against his son; finally she resolves to get rid of the son at all costs. For seven years Diocletian receives instruction from the Seven Wise Masters, amassing a wide range of knowledge — sevenfold knowledge. But in a certain respect he has outgrown the wisdom that the Seven Wise Masters had been able to impart to him. He has, for instance, himself discovered a certain star in the heavens and it is thereby intimated to him that when he returns to his father, he must remain dumb for seven consecutive days, must utter no single word and appear to be a simpleton. But knowing too, that the Empress is intent upon his death, he asks the Seven Wise Masters to save him. And now the following happens, seven times in succession, The son comes home, but the Empress tells the Emperor a story with the object of persuading him to let his son be hanged. The Emperor gives his assent, for the story has convinced and deeply moved him. The son is led out to the gallows in the presence of the Emperor and on the way they come upon the first of the Seven Wise Masters. When the Emperor holds him responsible for his son's stupidity, he — the first of the Masters — asks leave to tell the Emperor a story, and receives permission. “Very well,” says the Wise Man, “but first you must allow your son to come home, for it is my wish that he shall listen to us before he is hanged.” The Emperor acquiesces and when they have returned to their home, the first of the Seven Wise Masters tells his story. This story makes, such an impression upon the Emperor that he allows his son to go free. But the next day the Empress tells the Emperor another story, and again the son is condemned to death. As he is being led to the gallows, the second of the Seven Wise Masters comes forward, begging leave to tell the Emperor a story before the hanging takes place. Again the upshot is that Diocletian still lives. The same happenings repeat themselves seven times over, until the eighth day has come and Diocletian is able to speak. This is the story of how the Emperor's son comes to be saved.
The whole tale and its climax are graphically told. And now, think of it: We take the book and absorb ourselves in it; the graphic, if at times rather crude pictures, cannot fail to delight us; we are carried away by a really masterly portrayal of souls. But such a story immediately makes people call out for an explanation. Would it always have been so? No indeed! It is only so in our own age, the Fifth Post-Atlantean epoch, when the intellect predominates everything. In the days when this story was actually written, nobody would have been asked to explain it. But the verdict nowadays is that explanation is necessary ... and so one makes up one's mind to give it. And after all, it is not difficult. The Emperor's first wife has given him a son who is destined to receive teaching from Seven Wise Masters and whose soul has descended from times when men were still endowed with natural powers of clairvoyance. The soul has lost this clairvoyance but the human I has remained — and can be instructed by the Seven Wise Masters, who are presented to us in many different forms. As I once said, we have essentially the same theme in the seven daughters of Jethro, the priest of Midian, who came to Moses by the well belonging to their father; he, eventually, became the father-in-law of Moses. In the Middle Ages, too, there are the seven Liberal Arts. The second wife of the Emperor who has no consciousness of the Divine, represents the human soul as it is to-day, when it has lost consciousness of the Divine and is therefore also unable to have a son. Diocletian, the son, is instructed in secret by the Seven Wise Masters and must finally be freed by means of the powers he has acquired from these Seven. And so we could continue, giving an absolutely correct interpretation which would certainly be useful to our contemporaries. But what of our artistic sense? I do not know whether what I now have to say will find an echo or not! When we read and absorb such a book and then try to be clever, explaining it quite correctly, in the way demanded by the modern age, we cannot help feeling that we have wronged it, fundamentally wronged it. There is no getting away from the fact that a skeleton of abstract concepts has been substituted for the work of art in all its living reality — whether the explanation is true or false, illuminating or the reverse.
The greatest work of art of all is the world itself — Macrocosm or Microcosm! In olden times the secrets of the world were expressed in pictures, or symbols. We, in our day, bring the intellect, and Spiritual Science too, to bear upon the ancient wisdom which has been the seed of the culture of the Fifth Post-Atlantean epoch. We do this in order to explain the secrets of the world. In comparison with the living reality this is just as abstract and barren as a commentary in comparison with the work of art itself. Although Spiritual Science is necessary, although the times demand it, nevertheless in a certain respect we must feel it to be a skeleton in comparison with the living realities of existence. It is indeed so. When Theosophy keeps only our intellects busy, when with our intellects we draw up tables and coin all kinds of technical expressions, Theosophy is nothing but a skeleton — above all when it is speaking of the living human being. It begins to be a little more bearable when we are able to picture, for instance, the conditions of existence on Saturn, Sun and Moon, the earlier epochs of Earth-evolution or the work of the several Hierarchies. But to say that the human being consists of physical body, ether-body, astral body and Ego — or Manas and Kama-Manas ... this is really dreadful, and it is even more dreadful to have charts and tables of these things. Thinking of the human being in all his majesty, I can scarcely imagine anything more horrible than to be surrounded in a great hall by a number of living people and to have on the blackboard beside one a chart of the seven principles of man! But so, alas, it must be ... and there is no getting away from it. It is not, perhaps, actually necessary to inflict these things upon our eyes — they are anything but pleasing to look at — but we must have them before the eyes of the soul! That is part of the mission of our age. And whatever may be said against these things from the point of view of art, they are, after all, part and parcel of the times in which we live.
But how can we get beyond this? In a certain respect we have to be arid and prosaic Theosophists; we have to strip the world bare of its secrets and drag glorious works of art into the desert of abstract concepts, reiterating all the time that we are “Theosophists!” How can we get out of this dilemma?
There is only one way. We must feel that Theosophy is for us a Cross and a Sacrifice, that in a sense it takes away from us practically all the living substance of world-secrets in the possession of mankind hitherto. And no degree of intensity is too great for words in which I want to bring home to you that for everything that truly lives, in the course of the evolution of mankind and of the Divine World too, Theosophy must, to begin with, be a field of corpses.
But if we realise that pain and suffering are inseparable from Theosophy, in that it brings knowledge of what is greatest and most sublime in the world, if we feel that we have in us one of the divine impulses of its mission — then Theosophy is a corpse which rises out of the grave and celebrates its resurrection. Nobody will rejoice to find the world being stripped of its mysteries; but on the other hand nobody will feel and know the creative power inherent in the mysteries of the world as truly as those who realise that the source of their own creative power flows from Christ, Who having carried the Cross to the Place of Skulls, passed through death. This is the Cross in the sphere of knowledge which Theosophy carries in order to experience death and then, from within the grave, to see a new world of life arising. A man who quickens and transforms his very soul — in a way that the intellect can never do — a man who suffers a kind of death in Theosophy, will feel in his own life a source of those impulses in Art which can turn into reality what I have outlined before you to-day.
True spiritual perception is part and parcel of the aim before us — and we believe that the Johannesbau-Verein will help to make this aim understood in the world. I hardly think any other words are needed in order to bring home to you that this Building can be for Anthroposophists one of those things which the heart feels to be a vital necessity in the stream of world-events. For when it comes to the question of whether Anthroposophy will find a wider response in the world to-day, so much more depends upon deed than upon any answer expressed in words or thoughts; very much depends, too, upon everyone contributing, as far as he can, to the aim which has found such splendid understanding on the part of the Johannesbau-Verein and may thus be able to take its real place in the evolution of mankind.