At the time when the Mystery of Golgotha was consummated, Gnosis was the form which Thought took amongst that portion of mankind who at the time were able to understand with knowledge and not merely with dim feeling this, the greatest impulse in Man's earthly evolution.
To understand what was the peculiar disposition of soul in which the Gnosis lived within men, we must keep in sight, that the age of this Gnosis was the age when the Intellectual or Mind-Soul was being developed.
In this fact we may also find the reason why the Gnosis vanished almost entirely out of human history. That it should thus have vanished, is perhaps — until the cause be understood — one of the most amazing occurrences in the whole progress of mankind.
The development of the Intellectual or Mind-Soul was preceded by that of the Sentient Soul, and this again by the development of the Sentient Body. So long as the facts of the world are being perceived through the Sentient Body, all Man's knowledge lives in his senses. The world is seen coloured, heard sounding, and so on; but in the colours, in the sounds, in the varying states of warmth, a ‘material’ substance, presenting certain appearances of colour, warmth, and so on, there is no question; men talk of spiritual beings who reveal themselves through what the senses perceive.
In this age, there is as yet no special exercise of an ‘understanding’ that exists in Man alongside of and distinct from sense-perception. Man either yields himself up with his whole human being to the outer world, and then the Gods reveal themselves to him through his senses. Or else he draws back from the outer world within his own soul-life, and then feels in his inner man a dull, indistinct sense of life.
A notable change sets in when the Sentient Soul begins to develop. The revelation of the divine world through the senses begins to fade. In its place begins an outward perception of sense-impressions, so to speak god-divested, of colours, states of warmth, and so on. Meanwhile, within, the divine world reveals itself in spiritual form, in picture-ideas of the mind. Man now perceives the world from two aspects — from without through the impressions of sense, and from within through the spiritual impressions of the mind, in the form of Ideas.
Man must next learn to have as distinct, as clearly formed a perception of these inner spiritual impressions, as he had before of the god-informed impressions of the senses. So long as the reign of the Sentient Soul Age lasts, he can do this; for out of his own inner being the Idea-pictures rise up in full and vivid form. His mind is filled from within by a sense-free spirit-content, which is a copy of the World-content. If formerly the Gods revealed themselves to him robed in sense-vestments, they now reveal themselves in spirit-vestments.
This was essentially the time when the Gnosis came into being and when it flourished. A wonderful living lore is there, in which Man knows himself a partaker when he unfolds his inner being in purity so that the divine content may be revealed within it.
From the fourth down to the first millennium before the coming of the Mystery of Golgotha, this Gnosis was prevalent throughout the portion of mankind who had advanced farthest in the way of knowledge.
Then begins the age of the Intellectual or Mind-Soul. Now the World-images of Gods no longer rise up of themselves out of the inner man. Man himself must exert inward power in order to evoke them from his soul. The outer world with its sense impressions becomes a question. Man, when he exerts the inward power and evokes the divine World-images, obtains answers.
But the images are pale in comparison with their earlier form. It is this phase of the human soul which comes to such marvelous expression in Ancient Greece. The Greek felt himself in the midst of the outer world which strikes the senses; and he felt in the outer world the magic which could arouse his own inner power to the unfolding of World-pictures. On philosophic ground, this phase of the human soul found its development in Platonism.
But in the background, behind all this, was the world of the Mysteries. Here was faithfully treasured and preserved all that had come over as Gnosis from the age of the Sentient Soul.
Human souls were trained to be its faithful treasurers. The Intellectual or Mind-Soul developed in the ordinary course of evolution. The Sentient Soul was quickened by special training. And so, behind the ordinary religious and social life of the day, there flourished — more particularly in this age of the Intellectual or Mind-Soul, — a Mystery life of a very richly developed form.
Here the divine World-images continued to have life, inasmuch as they were made the spiritual content of cult and ritual. Look into the inner side of these Mysteries, and one sees the world pictured in the most wonderful ceremonies and rituals.
The human beings in whose inner life this had been awakened were those who were able to penetrate the Mystery of Golgotha, at the time when it was consummated, in its profound, cosmic significance. But it was a Mystery-life which kept quite aloof from the external world and its affairs in order to cultivate the Spirit-picture-world in purity. And it became ever harder for men's souls to call forth the pictures.
Then, in the highest places of the Mysteries, Spirit-beings descended out of the spiritual Cosmos, to aid struggling men in their efforts after knowledge. So the impulses of the Sentient Age were continued and further developed under the influence of the Gods themselves. There arose a Gnosis of the Mysteries, of which none but a very few had even the faintest conception. Alongside this Mystery-Gnosis, was what men could take in with the Intellectual or Mind-Soul. This was the exoteric Gnosis, of which fragments have come down to posterity.
In the exoteric Gnosis of the Mysteries men became ever more incapable of rising to the development of the Sentient Soul. And so this esoteric wisdom passed over more and more into the care and cultivation of the Gods alone. This is one of the deep secrets in the historic evolution of mankind: ‘Divine Mysteries,’ so to speak, were at work in it from the first centuries of Christianity down into the Middle Ages.
In these Divine Mysteries, the treasure which men could no longer preserve, was preserved in earthly life by Angelic beings. And so the Gnosis of the Mysteries lived on whilst the exoteric Gnosis was being diligently exterminated.
The World-Image-content, treasured in a spiritual way by spiritual beings, preserved in the Gnosis of the Mysteries so long as it was needed for the advancement of mankind, could not indeed be made accessible to the conscious understanding of men's souls. But the feeling-content could be preserved, so that at the right cosmic moment, when men were fitly prepared, it might be given to them and bring them the warmth of soul with which the Spiritual Soul might — later on and in a new way — penetrate into the kingdom of the Spirit. Thus Spirit-beings built the bridge between the old World-content and the new.
There are indications to be found in this mystery of human evolution. The Holy Vessel of the Grail, the Cup of Jasper used by Christ when He broke the Bread, in which Joseph of Arimathea caught the Blood which flowed from the pierced side of Jesus — the Cup, that is, which held the Mystery of Golgotha — was taken, so legend says, into the custody of Angels, until the Castle of the Grail had been built by Titurel, and it could descend upon those human beings who were duly prepared to receive it.
Spirit-beings treasured the World-Images in which lived the Mystery of Golgotha. And when the time was come they sent down, not indeed the Imaginative content — that was not possible — but the feeling-content into the minds of men.
It can be but a stimulus, this feeling legacy of an ancient knowledge, implanted in the hearts of men. Yet it is a very powerful stimulus, from which in our age — out of the Spiritual Soul — there may grow up, by the light of Michael's agency, a new and full understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha.
Anthroposophy is striving after this new understanding. From the description given, it is clear that Anthroposophy cannot be a revival of the Gnosis, for this was the mode of knowledge of the Sentient soul; whereas Anthroposophy has to draw a no less rich content of knowledge out of the Spiritual Soul, and in a totally new way.
The Gnosis develops in its characteristic form in the age of the Sentient Soul (fourth to first millennium before the incidence of the Mystery of Golgotha.) “The Divine' reveals itself in this age of Man inwardly, as a spiritual content of the mind, whereas in the previous period — the Age of the Sentient Body — it had revealed itself in and with the sense-impressions of the outer world.
In the Age of the Intellectual or Mind-Soul, ‘the Divine,’ as spiritual content, has faded from the inner life, and can be realized but faintly. The Gnosis is preserved in sternly guarded Mysteries; and when men can preserve it no longer, because they are no longer able to requicken the Sentient soul, Spirit-beings take charge of it and carry over into the Middle Ages, not indeed the knowledge-content but the feeling-content of it. (this is indicated in the legend of the Holy Grail.) Meanwhile the exoteric Gnosis, which found its way into the Intellectual or Mind-Soul, is being forcibly exterminated.
Anthroposophy cannot be a revival of the Gnosis; for Gnosis was connected with the development of the Sentient Soul. The work of Anthroposophy is, by the light of Michael's agency, to evolve out of the Spiritual Soul a new form of understanding of Christ, and the World. Gnosis was the old form of knowledge, preserved from earlier times — the one best able, at the time when the Mystery of Golgotha took place, to convey this Mystery to men's understanding.