The Spiritual Guidance of the Individual and Humanity
This book is the first volume of a new edition of all Rudolf Steiner's written work — Classics in Anthroposophy. It can be called a classic for several reasons that I will describe, and it contains an important presentation of Rudolf Steiner's Christology (his research into the Christ impulse in earthly and cosmic evolution). It is one of the best accounts of this teaching with which to begin ones study, and one to which we can profitably return again and again.
Steiner had little time to revise his lectures — even during the early years of the century — due to the sheer amount of his lecturing activity, which increased each year; he sometimes gave two or more lectures in twenty-four hours. Today, about 6,000 of these lectures are in print. In addition to his lectures, Steiner's days were filled with administrative and other teaching duties, as well as meeting the needs of people who sought his advice for personal concerns. The lectures in this book and those now published as The Mission of the Folk-Souls are the only lectures he was able to revise in all his years as a spiritual teacher. Rudolf Steiner often emphasized the qualitative difference between his written works and his lectures, which are unrevised stenographic reports. Indeed, he did not write many books, and most of those that he did write underwent at least one revision during his lifetime, as he sought constantly for the clarity and precision which epitomize his approach to spiritual science.
Originally he had not wanted the lectures to be published at all, but his students began to pass around lecture notes to facilitate their study. One must imagine their excitement in those days, when each cycle of lectures seemed to present new revelations from Steiner's research. It was natural for those who could travel to the various cities and attend the lectures to want to convey these esoteric treasures to their friends. On the other hand, Steiner lectured to each specific audience according to what he thought they needed to hear out of their karmic backgrounds, and many of the lectures that are now available to the general public were originally given for members of the Theosophical Society and, later, the Anthroposophical Society. Many listeners had been personal students of Steiner for some years and had acquired a familiarity with the general outlines of his teachings. In 1923, after the founding of the Anthroposophical Society, he decided to make all his lectures available to the public. The public lectures contained a note that some familiarity with fundamental anthroposophy was necessary for an intelligent reading, and that criticism not based on such knowledge would have to be disregarded.
Yet, in the case of this book, he undertook to revise the lectures he had given June 5–8, 1911 in Copenhagen. He spent about two weeks on the revision, and the lectures were printed only two months later, on August 26, 1911. In his preface, Steiner says there were reasons he allowed these lectures to appear when they did. We may ask what those reasons were.
Rudolf Steiner sought for many years a place where he could speak openly out of his spiritual insights. Accordingly, he accepted an invitation in 1900 to lecture to the Berlin Lodge of the Theosophical Society. The enthusiastic reception of these and other lectures led to his assuming the position of General Secretary of the German section of the Theosophical Society in 1902. From the beginning, he asserted his intention to teach from the results of his own research in accordance with the needs of Western humanity, and this freedom was granted. Within the organizational framework of the Theosophical Society, Steiner worked to serve those souls who sought a spiritual impulse they could not find in either the sciences or in the established churches. For several years, Steiner's relationship with the Society was largely cordial and fruitful, and he lectured in many European cities to the lodges of the Theosophical Society.
The Theosophical Society took an increasingly Eastern direction, both spiritually and geographically, The headquarters was moved to Adyar, India. The leaders of the Theosophical Society, at first the remarkable Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, and then Annie Besant and Charles Leadbeater, as well as many members had strong feelings against Western spirituality and the Christian churches. In 1911, in Mrs. Besant proclaimed Jiddhu Krishnamurti, then a young boy, the incarnation of the Christ, and she created the Order of the Star of the East to promote this idea. This, of course, directly contradicted Rudolf Steiner' s perception that the physical incarnation of Christ could occur once during the history of the earth, for reasons carefully delineated in this book.
In 1912, some of the German members, opposed to the Order of the Star of the East, decided to form a new organization; Steiner, when asked, offered the name “Anthroposophical Society.” Steiner neither desired nor actively pursued the break with the theosophists but, recognizing that it was impossible to work within the increasingly hostile atmosphere of the Theosophical Society, he agreed to work with the new “anthroposophical” organization. The first meeting was held in 1913, after Mrs. Besant had excluded the German section. Readers new to anthroposophy may see these events as typical of the regrettable yet apparently inevitable infighting that occurs within spiritual organizations of all kinds. They take on quite a different coloring, however, when seen in the context of Steiner's struggle to insure that his unique teaching of Christian esotericism could find its proper audience and the necessary methods of presentation. 1For further information, see Guenther Wachsmuth, The Life and Work of Rudolf Steiner (Whittier Books, 1955) 158–193; and Stewart C. Easton, Rudolf Steiner: Herald of a New Epoch (Anthroposophic Press, 1980), chapters 6 and 8. It should be noted that Krishnamurti publicly repudiated the claims of Besant and Leadbeater and dissolved the organization, called the Order of the Star of the East, in the 1920s. Stewart Easton has managed to portray with admirable clarity the issues and personalities which are of great importance in Steiner's work. In chapter five of his Man and World in the Light of Anthroposophy (Anthroposophic Press, 1975) he has provided a succinct presentation of Rudolf Steiners Christology.
Thus it was that Rudolf Steiner revised these lectures — an important element in the initial exposition of his Christology — during the height of difficulties within the Theosophical Society, just before the inaugurations of the Anthroposophical Society. During these years he also wrote and produced his four mystery dramas, and began the work that later matured as eurythmy and speech formation 2Eurythmy. System of movement created by Rudolf Steiner expressing both music and the sounds of speech. See Marjorie Raffe et al., Eurythmy and the Impulse of Dance (London: Rudolf Steiner Press, 1974). Speech. Steiner developed a particular mode of artistic speech in the production of his Mystery Dramas. See Rudolf Steiner, Speech and Drama (Spring Valley, NY: Anthroposophic Press / London: Rudolf Steiner Press, 1968). Also, Steiner, Four Mystery Dramas, trans. Ruth Pusch (North Vancouver: Steiner Book Centre, 1973), and Steiner, Three Lectures on the Mystery Dramas (Spring Valley, NY: Anthroposophic Press, 1983).. Rudolf Steiner introduced something quite foreign to the mode of theosophical meetings when he began to include artistic presentations, begun by Rudolf Steiner in 1907. The effect of his dramas, which included eurythmy and the new method of speech, gave the impetus to create a special building in which to perform them. Looking back, we can see how Steiner's studies in Christology and his artistic work in drama, painting, and sculpture culminated in the building of the first Goetheanum in Dornach. 3The Goetheanum is the world headquarters of the Anthroposophical Society in Dornach, Switzerland. Architecturally unique. See biesantz, The Goetheanum, (London: Rudolf Steiner Press, 1979) and Rex Raab et al., Eloquent Concrete, (London: Rudolf Steiner Press, 1979).
It is not surprising, then, to find that The Spiritual Guidance of the Individual and Humanity reveals an extremely artistic composition. Rudolf Steiner weaves together the themes of the beings that guide humanity, the working of the Christ impulse before and after the Mystery of Golgotha, and our common soul experience in a way that can best be called musical. Each new expression brings a variation that imports new information and yet relates to what precedes it. In some of his other lectures, Rudolf Steiner builds mighty pictures of the earth and of the cosmos, and portrays the activities of spiritual beings whose deeds are revealed externally through the natural sciences and through history. Until one achieves a sufficient background through contemplative study of a variety of anthroposophical concepts and makes the effort to allow these concepts to create the inner organs for further work, these initial studies can be overwhelming in their complexity and seem quite dry. For that reason, this book can be most helpful, because Steiner relates the entire subject matter to the human soul, to observations and experiences we share as human beings. These can help us find an inner strength to begin to take' anthroposophy more deeply into our own soul life.
The first chapter begins with a description of how, in the first three years of life, the higher self in each of us works to establish three capacities. Unlike the animals, we learn to orient our body in space in a way that is not innate or instinctual. Next, we learn the use of language; and then comes the ability to work with thoughts, with ideas. Thus, in the time before we are aware of our “I”, we have already done our wisest work on ourselves. If, however, our higher, divine self continued to work in this way, we would remain as children and not have the possibility of freedom. This active working must fall away as we achieve our own self-consciousness, which is constantly subject to the lure of pride and deceit, but which also gives us the possibility of self-development. Indeed, if the higher self lived within us in our present constitution for longer than three years, our body would die. In the same way, when the cosmic Christ entered the body of Jesus during the baptism in the Jordan, it could live even in this special human body for only three years.
Even if the Gospels had not been written, Steiner asserts, this knowledge of the first years of childhood would reveal that Christ lives in us: “To perceive and understand the forces at work in our childhood is to perceive Christ in us.” Through inner striving, we can contact again the wisdom that worked so powerfully in our first years, and we can find the Christ because of his incarnation into humanity. Indeed, the goal of earthly evolution, of the existence of this planet and our life on it, is to gradually make our entire being an expression of these divine cosmic forces — of the Christ impulse. Childhood is a perpetual reminder of the higher self, and it reveals the spiritual guidance that also lives in the Gospels and in the great initiates.
In the second chapter, Steiner describes humanity's own childlike condition in ancient times, and then he outlines how the higher spiritual beings have passed through their own “human” stage in earlier incarnations of the earth. As recently as ancient Egypt, people could recognize the spiritual beings who spoke through their leaders and teachers. The focus of the chapter is on the angels, the beings closest to humanity, who guided human development during the Egyptian epoch and again during our time. He shows how some of the angels have progressed properly in their development, while others have developed more slowly. These two types of angels bring to humanity both the possibility for our own progressive evolution, and also the two kinds of evil: the tendency to ignore our earthly responsibilities and become dreamers and visionaries, and the increasing temptation toward materialism. While their activities cause trouble in the present life of humanity, these beings actually work together in the spiritual world to guide human development. With delicacy and beauty, Steiner indicates the necessity for these retarding spirits in our evolution, for without them, we would not have the opportunity to achieve full self consciousness, diversity and freedom. The more progressive beings could only have produced uniformity in human nature.
This chapter concludes with a caution against fanaticism. “The most beautiful things can seduce and tempt us if we pursue them one-sidedly.” To guard against this, he urges us to insure that clairvoyance is augmented by an effort to grasp conceptually just the kind of spiritual facts that are presented in this book. Spiritual science helps us to avoid error; clairvoyance should be accompanied by initiation, the training that allows “a clear assessment of what is perceived in the supersensible world.” This is the difference between seeing and understanding, by being able to distinguish between the different kinds of beings and events of the higher worlds. Most important, through the study of anthroposophy, we begin to meet the Christ with our higher soul forces.
In the final chapter, Rudolf Steiner surveys the sweep of the Post Atlantean Age, the present age of the world. 4For a description of earth evolution, including post-atlantean times, see Rudolf Steiner, An Outline Of Esoteric Science, trans. Catherine E. Creeger (Hudson, NY: Anthroposophic Press, 1997). He shows how the progressive spiritual beings have also met the Christ, but the retarding beings have not. These latter spirits have inspired the natural science that has formed the present world culture. In the future, scientists will perceive that the Christ has arranged every atom of the earth, and a new physics and chemistry will result. We can say, then, that in the future there will live in people's hearts a Christ-idea whose magnitude will be beyond anything humanity has believed to know and understand so far. What has developed through Christ as a first impulse and has lived on as an idea of him until now is — even in the best representatives of the Christ — principle only a preparation for a true understanding of Christ. Christ first entered human hearts through the pictures from his life on earth in a human body. Today we must prepare for a spiritual meeting with the Christ, similar to Paul's experience at Damascus. An essential part of this preparation is a strengthened consciousness and a sense of responsibility toward spiritual perception, and this vital discrimination can be enhanced through the careful study of such a book as this one.
In conclusion, one hopes that this new edition will find the active readership it deserves. Many people who first approach anthroposophy for the first time are suspicious and even resentful of Christianity as it has manifested in the past two thousand years, and when they discover that anthroposophy is Christ-centered, they may feel disappointed or even upset. For others, it is perplexing that Steiner's Christology puts forward quite radical elements when compared to the theology of his day or ours. In this book, Rudolf Steiner gives both a broad, sweeping picture of human and cosmic evolution and the central place of the Christ impulse in that development, and also relates this evolution to our inner life, to the experiences and insights that anyone with the good will to look within can have, and from which they can then follow these anthroposophical thoughts to the reality of the Christ experience. Here we are given a deeply rewarding perspective of the age in which we live and in which we are witnessing the rapid dissolution of our cultural life; here also we can find the inner sustenance to work toward building the culture of the new age. From this point of view, The Spiritual Guidance of the Individual and Humanity is a “classic” work of spiritual science.