As I explained in my preceding remarks, it is the beings who completed their human stage of development during the previous incarnation of the earth — the old moon period — who guide human spiritual evolution. Their guidance, however, is obstructed and opposed by beings who did not complete their development during the moon period. Nevertheless, while these “imperfect” beings obstruct the guiding activity of those who completed their development, they also, paradoxically, further it. The resistance they offer to our progress strengthens, solidifies, and lends increased weight and significance to the forces that are called forth by the beings who advance our development. In Christian esotericism, these classes of superhuman beings who have attained the developmental level immediately above our own, both those who advance our development and those who help us by introducing obstacles, are called angels or angeloi. Above them are the beings of the higher hierarchies, the arch-angels, archai, and so on, who also take part in guiding humanity.
In each of these hierarchies we find beings of varying degrees of perfection. At the beginning of the present earth's evolution, for instance, we find angeloi of higher and lower standing. Those of [lower] standing barely attained the minimum level of development when the moon stage of evolution ended and the earth stage began, while those of higher standing had passed far beyond it. Between these two types are to be found angeloi of every possible level of development whose participation in the guidance of human evolution on earth is in accordance with the level they have attained. Thus, the beings who had the guiding role in Egyptian cultural development were those who had reached a higher stage of perfection on the Moon than those who guided humanity during the Greco-Latin age, and these, in turn, were more perfect than the beings who guide us now. Those who were to guide humanity later trained themselves for this task during the Egyptian and the Greek periods. By this means, they were prepared to guide a culture that had progressed further.
In the time period following the Atlantean catastrophe seven successive cultural epochs may be distinguished: first, the ancient Indian; second, the ancient Persian; S1Ancient Persian here does not refer to what is called “Persian” in ordinary history but rather to an ancient Asian prehistoric (Iranian) culture that developed in the region where the Persian Empire flourished later. third, the Egypto-Chaldean; and fourth, the Greco-Latin. Our own period, which began around the twelfth century, constitutes the fifth cultural epoch and, although we are still in the middle of it, the first preparations for the sixth epoch are already underway. In other words, these individual periods of evolution overlap and transitions are very gradual. A seventh post-Atlantean epoch will follow the sixth.
Looking more closely at the guidance of humanity, we realize that it was only in the third cultural epoch — the Egypto-Chaldean — that the angels or lower dhyanic beings became to some extent independent guides of human evolution. This was not the case in the ancient Persian period. The angels then did not yet possess this independence and were subordinate to a higher guidance to a greater degree than they were during the Egyptian period. In ancient Persian times, angels still worked according to the impulses of the hierarchy above them. Thus, although everything was already subject to the angels' guidance, they themselves submitted to the direction of the archangels (archangeloi).
In the age of ancient India, on the other hand, during which post-Atlantean life reached unequaled spiritual heights — natural heights — under the guidance of great human teachers, the archangels themselves were still subject to a higher guidance, namely, that of the archai or “primal beginnings.”
Thus we may say that from the Indian period on, through the ancient Persian and Egypto-Chaldean cultures, certain beings of the higher hierarchies increasingly withdrew from the direct guidance of humanity. Consequently, by the time of the fourth, Greco-Latin post-Atlantean cultural period, human beings had become, in certain respects, entirely independent. To be sure, the superhuman beings described above still guided human evolution, but they held the reins as loosely as possible.
As a result, the spiritual beings guiding humanity benefited as much from our actions as we did ourselves. This explains the entirely “human” character of the Greco-Roman period: human beings were left completely to their own resources. The characteristics of art and political life in the Greek and Roman epochs grew out of this necessity of human beings to live out their individuality in their own way.
When we consider very early periods of cultural history, we find humanity guided by beings who had reached their human level of development in earlier planetary stages. The fourth, Greco-Latin epoch was intended to test human beings to the greatest extent possible. For this reason, the entire spiritual leadership of humanity had to be arranged in a new way.
In our epoch, the fifth post-Atlantean one, the beings guiding us belong to the same hierarchy that ruled the ancient Egyptians and Chaldeans. The beings who were guiding people then are in fact now resuming their activities. As I said above, certain of these beings remained behind in their development, and we can feel their influence now in today's materialistic feelings and perceptions.
Both the angelic (or lower dhyanic) beings that advance our development, as well as those who try to obstruct it, progressed in their development by guiding the ancient Egyptians and Chaldeans through qualities they had themselves acquired in very ancient times. At the same time, through their work of guidance they advanced their own development. Thus, these advancing angeloi are guiding our fifth post-Atlantean epoch with abilities they acquired during the Egypto-Chaldean period. As a result of this progress, they can now develop very special capabilities. Namely, they have qualified themselves to be filled with forces that flow from the most important being of the whole of earthly evolution. The power of Christ works on them.
This power works not only in the physical world through Jesus of Nazareth but also in the spiritual worlds on superhuman beings. Christ exists not only for the earth but also for these higher beings. The beings who guided ancient Egypto-Chaldean culture were not then guided by Christ; they submitted to Christ's guidance only later. This submission was the step in their development that enabled them to guide the fifth post-Atlantean period under Christ's influence. Now they are followers of Christ in the higher worlds.
On the other hand, the angelic beings I have described as obstructing our development were held back in their development precisely because they did not submit to Christ's leadership and continue to work independently. This is why the materialistic trend in our culture will become more and more pronounced. There will be a materialistic stream guided by the Egypto-Chaldean spirits whose development was held back. Most of what is called modern materialistic science is under this influence.
Besides this influence, a second, different stream is also making itself felt. This is geared to helping us find the Christ-principle, as we call it, in all we do. For example, some people today claim that our world consists, in the final analysis, only of atoms. Who instills into human beings the idea that the world consists only of atoms? They get this idea from the superhuman angelic beings whose development was arrested during the Egypto-Chaldean period. However, the angelic beings who reached their goal in the ancient Egypto-Chaldean cultural period and encountered Christ at that time can instill other ideas in us. They can teach us that substance is permeated with the spirit of Christ right down to the smallest parts of the world. And, however strange it may seem now, a time will come when chemistry and physics will not be taught as they are today under the influence of the Egypto-Chaldean spirits whose development was held back. Instead, scientists will teach that matter is built up piece by piece the way Christ ordered it. People will find Christ even in the laws of chemistry and physics, and a spiritual chemistry and a spiritual physics will develop.
Undoubtedly this now seems to many people merely a daydream or worse. But yesterday's folly is often tomorrow's wisdom. Careful observers can already discern the factors working toward this end in our cultural development. At the same time, of course, such observers know only too well the scientific or philosophical objections that can be raised — with apparent justification — against this supposed folly.
On the basis of the assumptions presented here, we can understand the advantages the guiding superhuman beings have over us. Post-Atlantean humanity encountered Christ when the Christ-event entered human history in the fourth post-Atlantean or Greco-Latin epoch. The superhuman guiding beings encountered Christ during the Egypto-Chaldean period and worked their way up toward him. Then, during the Greco-Latin epoch, they had to leave humanity to its fate, in order later to take part in guiding its development again. Today when we practice theosophy [anthroposophy] this means that we acknowledge that the superhuman beings who guided humanity in the past are now continuing their guiding function by submitting themselves to Christ's leadership. The same is also true for other beings.
In the ancient Persian epoch archangels took part in guiding humanity. They submitted to the leadership of Christ even earlier than the beings of the lower hierarchies. Zarathustra, for example, turned the attention of his followers and his people to the sun, telling them that the great spirit Ahura Mazda, “he who will come down to earth,” lives in the sun. 1Zarathustra, 660?–583? B.C., Persian religious leader, also known as Zoroaster. The archangels who guided Zarathustra taught him about the great sun-guide who had not yet come down to earth but had only started on his way so as to later be able to intervene directly in earthly evolution. Similarly, the guiding beings presiding over the great teachers of India taught them about the Christ of the future. It is an error to think that these teachers knew nothing about Christ. They only said he was “above their sphere,” and that they “could not reach him.”
As in our fifth cultural epoch it is the angels who bring Christ into our spiritual development, so in the sixth cultural epoch we will be guided by the beings who guided the ancient Persian epoch. The spirits of primal beginning, the archai, who guided humanity in ancient India, will, under Christ, guide humanity in the seventh cultural epoch. In Greco-Latin times, Christ came down from spiritual heights and revealed himself in the flesh in the body of Jesus of Nazareth — he descended right into the physical world. When they are ready, human beings will find Christ again in the next higher world. In the future, Christ will no longer be found in the physical world but only in the worlds directly above it.
After all, human beings will not always remain as they are now. We will become more mature and will find Christ in the spiritual world, as Paul did in the event on the road to Damascus, an event that prophetically foreshadows the future. And as the great teachers who led humanity in the Egypto-Chaldean epoch also guide us, so too it will be they who will lead us in the twentieth century to a vision of Christ similar to the one Paul saw. They will show us that Christ works not only on the earth but spiritualizes the entire solar system. Then, in the seventh cultural epoch, the reincarnated holy teachers of India will proclaim Christ as the great spirit, whose presence they first sensed in the unity of Brahman but which received its meaning and content only through Christ. 2Brahman, Hindu Godhead or Absolute; the creator god of the Hindu sacred triad (with Vishnu the preserver and Shiva the destroyer). They will recognize Christ as the spirit they believed to rule above their sphere. Thus, step by step, humanity is led into the spiritual world.
To speak of Christ as the leader of successive worlds and of the higher hierarchies is the teaching of the science that has unfolded since the twelfth and thirteenth centuries under the sign of the Rose Cross, a science that has increasingly proven essential for humanity. 3The Rose Cross is the emblem of the Rosicrucians. Tradition associates the rose with Persia, the cross is the symbol of Christianity. Historically, the Rosicrucian Order is thought to have been founded as a secret society c.1430 by Christian Rosenkreutz. Commonly associated with healing, occultism, alchemy; Steiner counters the “... materialistic caricature of Rosicrucianism ... presented today. The task of the Rosicrucians was to formulate a science by means of which they would be able to let their (universal) wisdom flow gradually into the world.” Rosicrucian Esotericism, (Spring Valley, NY: Anthroposophic Press, 1978), 6. See also George Adams, The Mysteries of the Rose-Cross, (Sussex, England: New Knowledge Books, 1955). Looking at Christ from this perspective, we gain new insights into the being who lived in Palestine and then fulfilled the Mystery of Golgotha, as the following shows.
There have been many different views of Christ before today's. For example, certain Christian gnostics of the first centuries claimed that the Christ who lived in Palestine did not have a physical body of flesh at all but had only an apparent “etheric”body that became visible to physical eyes. 4Gnosticism arose in the Hellenistic era. Gnostics believed that salvation is attained through knowledge rather than through faith or deeds. Consequently, since for them only an etheric body was present, they said Christ's death on the cross was not a real death but only an apparent one. There were also various disputes among the adherents of Christianity — for example, the famous dispute between the Arians and the Athanasians, 5Arius, c.250–336, Greek ecclesiastic at Alexandria. Taught Neoplatonic doctrine that God is alone, unknowable, and separate from every created being, that Christ is a created being and not God in the fullest sense but a secondary deity, and that in the incarnation the Logos assumed a body but not a human soul. Growing dispute over his teaching led Emperor Constantine to call the Council of Nicaea (325) where Arianism was declared heresy. Saint Athanasius, c.293–373, Greek theologian and prelate in Egypt. Lifelong opponent of Arianism. Attended Council of Nicaea (325) as deacon. Bishop of Alexandria. Advocated homoousian doctrine. Often exiled because of his opposition to Arianism. Wrote doctrinal works. Not author of Athanasian creed, which originated later (5th or 6th century). and so on — as well as many different interpretations of the true nature of Christ. Many different views of Christ, indeed, have been held by people right into our own time.
Spiritual science, however, must see Christ not just as an earthly being but as a cosmic being. In a certain sense, we human beings are also cosmic beings. We live a dual life: a physical life in the physical body from birth until death and a life in the spiritual worlds between death and rebirth. While we are incarnated in the physical body, we are dependent on the earth because the physical body is subject to the living conditions and forces of the earth. We ingest the substances and forces of the earth, and we are also part of the earth's physical organism. But once we have passed through the portal of death, we no longer belong to the forces of the earth.
Yet, it would be wrong to imagine that having passed through the portal of death we do not belong to any forces at all, for after death we are connected with the forces of the solar system and the other galaxies. Between death and rebirth we live in and belong to the cosmos in the same way as between birth and death we live in the earthly realm and belong to the elements of air, water, earth and so on. After death, we enter the realm of cosmic influences; for example, the planets affect us not only with gravity and other physical forces explained by physical astronomy but also with their spiritual forces. Indeed, we are connected with these cosmic spiritual forces after death, each of us in a particular way appropriate to our individuality. Just as a person born in Europe has a different relationship to temperature conditions and so on than a person born in Australia, so each of us similarly has a unique, individual relationship to the forces working on us during life after death. One person may have a closer relationship to the forces of Mars while another is more closely connected to those of Jupiter and yet others may have a closer relationship to the forces of the entire galaxy, and so on. These forces also lead us back to the earth to our new life. Thus, before our rebirth we are connected with the entire starry universe.
The unique relationship of an individual to the cosmic system determines which forces lead him or her back to earth; they also determine to which parents and to which locality we are brought. The impulse to incarnate in one place or another, in this or that family, in this or that nation, at this or that point in time, is determined by the way the individual is integrated into the cosmos before birth.
In the past the German language had an expression that poignantly characterized the birth of an individual. When someone was born, people said that he or she had “become young” (“ist jung geworden”). Unconsciously, this expression indicates that following death we are first subject to the forces that made us old in our previous incarnation, but just before our new birth, these are replaced by other forces that make us “young” again. In his drama Faust, Goethe says of someone that he “became young in Nebelland (the land of mist)”; Nebelland is the old name for medieval Germany. 6Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1749–1832, leading German poet and playwright. Faust (1808–32), a drama in verse, is Goethe's masterpiece. The lines referred to are in Part Two, Scene 2.
People who are knowledgeable about these things can “read” the forces that determine a person's path in his or her physical life; on this basis horoscopes are cast. Each of us is assigned a particular horoscope, in which the forces are revealed that have led us into this life. For example, if in a particular horoscope Mars is above Aries, this means that certain Aries forces cannot pass through Mars but are weakened instead.
Thus, human beings on their way into physical existence can get their bearings through their horoscope. Before ending this discussion — which, after all, seems a daring one in our time — we should note that most of what is presented today in this area is the purest dilettantism and pure superstition. As far as the world at large is concerned, the true science of these things has largely been lost. Therefore, the principles presented here should not be judged according to the claims of modern astrology, which is highly questionable.
The active forces of the starry world push us into physical incarnation. Clairvoyant perception allows us to see in a person's organization that he or she is indeed the result of the working together of such cosmic forces. I want to illustrate this in a hypothetical form that nevertheless corresponds fully to clairvoyant perceptions.
If we examined the structure of a person's brain clairvoyantly and could see that certain functions are located in certain places and give rise to certain processes, we would find that each person's brain is different. No two people have the same brain. If we could take a picture of the entire brain with all of its details visible, we would get a different picture for each person. If we photographed a person's brain at the moment of birth and took a picture of the sky directly above his or her birthplace, the two pictures would be alike. The stars in the photograph of the sky would be arranged in the same way as certain parts of the brain in the other picture. Thus, our brain is really a picture of the heavens, and we each have a different picture depending on where and when we were born. This indicates that we are born out of the entire universe.
This insight gives us an idea of the way the macrocosm manifests in the individual and from this, in turn, we can understand how it manifests in Christ. If we were to think that after the Baptism, the macrocosm lived in Christ in the same way as it does in any other human being, we would have the wrong idea.
Let us consider for a moment Jesus of Nazareth and his extraordinary life. At the beginning of the Christian era, two boys named Jesus were born. One belonged to the Nathan line of the house of David, the other to the Solomon line of the same house. These two boys were born at approximately — though not exactly — the same time. 7Nathan and Solomon were both sons of King David, the second king of Israel. The Gospel of St. Luke cites Nathan as a forefather of Mary (Luke 3:31); St. Matthew traces Joseph's lineage to Solomon (Matthew 1:16). For a detailed account of the two Jesus children, see Rudolf Steiner, From Jesus to Christ, (London Rudolf Steiner Press, 1973), lecture 8.
In the Solomon child portrayed in the Gospel of St. Matthew, the individuality who had lived earlier as Zarathustra incarnated. Thus, in the Jesus depicted in the Gospel of St. Matthew, we actually encounter the reincarnated Zarathustra or Zoroaster. 8The Zoroaster mentioned here by Steiner lived in very ancient times, according to the Greeks — already 5000 years before the Trojan war. He is not identical with the Zoroaster or Zarathustra mentioned in ordinary history. The individuality of Zarathustra grew up in this child just as Matthew describes it, until the boy's twelfth year. Then Zarathustra left his body and entered the body of the other Jesus, the one described by the Gospel of St. Luke. That is why at this moment the child Jesus so suddenly became entirely different from what he had previously been. When his parents found him in the temple in Jerusalem after the spirit of Zarathustra had entered him, they were astonished. This is shown by the fact that they could not understand what he said when they found him for they knew only the Nathan Jesus as he had been before. The Jesus who now stood before them could talk as he did to the scribes in the temple because the spirit of Zarathustra had now entered into him.
The spirit of Zarathustra lived and matured to a still higher perfection in this Jesus, who came from the Nathan line of the house of David, up to his thirtieth year. It should also be noted that impulses from the Buddha streamed out of the spiritual world into the astral body of this youth, in whom the spirit of Zarathustra now lived.
It is true, as the Eastern tradition teaches, that the Buddha was born as a “bodhisattva” and only reached the rank of buddha on earth in his twenty-ninth year. 9Buddha, Indian religious leader, founder of Buddhism. Historical name Siddhartha Gautama, c.563–483 B.C. Some Eastern religions believe him one of the last incarnations of the Godhead. Son of a royal family, he renounced luxury and became an ascetic. Bodhisattva, a being that compassionately refrains from entering Nirvana for the salvation of others. When Gautama Buddha was still a small child, Asita, the great Indian sage, came weeping to the royal palace. As a seer, Asita knew this royal child would become the “Buddha.” He only regretted that, since he was already an old man, he would not live to see the son of Suddhodana become Buddha. This wise man Asita was reborn in the time of Jesus of Nazareth; it is he who is introduced in St. Luke's Gospel as the temple priest and sees the Buddha reveal himself in the Nathan Jesus. And because he saw this he said: “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace ... for mine eyes have seen thy salvation” (Luke 2:29-30). Through the astral body of this Jesus boy — the one presented in the Gospel of St. Luke — Asita could see what he had not been able to see in India: the bodhisattva who has become Buddha. 10Steiner describes the human being as comprised of four “bodies”: physical, etheric, astral, and ego. The astral body bears the inner world of desires, pleasure and pain, and the qualitative world of emotions. See Occult Science, 21–28.
All of this was necessary for the development of the body that was to receive the Baptism by John in the river Jordan. At the moment of the Baptism, the individuality of Zarathustra left behind the threefold body — physical, etheric, and astral — of the Jesus who had grown up in the complicated way that enabled Zarathustra's spirit to dwell in him — for the reborn Zarathustra had had to undergo the two developmental possibilities represented in the two Jesus boys. Thus John the Baptist was brought before the body of Jesus of Nazareth in whom the cosmic individuality of Christ was now working. Other human beings are placed into their earthly existence through cosmic-spiritual laws, but these are then counteracted by those originating in the conditions of the earth's evolution. In the case of Christ Jesus, however, the cosmic spiritual powers alone remained active in him after the Baptism. The laws of the earth's evolution did not influence him at all.
During the time that Jesus of Nazareth pursued his ministry and journeys as Jesus Christ in Palestine in the last three years of his life — from the age of thirty to thirty-three — the entire cosmic Christ-being continued to work in him. In other words, Christ always stood under the influence of the entire cosmos; he did not take a single step without cosmic forces working in him. The events of these three years in Jesus' life were a continuous realization of his horoscope, for in every moment during those years there occurred what usually happens only at birth. This was possible because the entire body of the Nathan Jesus had remained susceptible to the influence of the totality of the forces of the cosmic-spiritual hierarchies that guide our earth.
Now that we know that the whole spirit of the cosmos penetrated Christ Jesus we may ask, Who was the being who went to Capernaum and all the other places Jesus went? The being who walked the earth in those years certainly looked like any other human being. But the forces working in him were the cosmic forces coming from the sun and the stars; they directed his body. The total essence of the cosmos, to which the earth belongs, determined what Christ Jesus did. This is why the constellations are so often alluded to in the gospel descriptions of Jesus' activities. For example, in the Gospel of St. John the time when Christ finds his first disciple is described as “about the tenth hour” (John 1:39). In this fact the spirit of the entire cosmos expressed itself in a way appropriate to the appointed moment. Such indications are less obvious in other places in the gospels, but people who can read the gospels properly will find them everywhere.
The miracles of healing the sick must also be understood from this point of view. Let us look at just one passage, the one that reads, “Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any that were sick with various diseases brought them to him; and he laid his hands on them and healed them” (Luke 5:40). What does this mean? Here the gospel writer points out that this healing was connected with the constellation of the stars, that in those days the necessary constellation was present only after the sun had set. In other words, in those times the healing forces could manifest themselves only after sunset. Christ Jesus is portrayed as the mediator who brings together the sick and the forces of the cosmos that could heal them at precisely that time. These were the same forces that also worked as Christ in Jesus. The healing occurred through Christ's presence, which exposed the sick to the healing cosmic forces. These healing forces could be effective only under the appropriate conditions of space and time, as described above. In other words, the forces of the cosmos worked on the sick through their representative, the Christ.
However, these forces could work in this way only while Christ was on earth. Only then were the cosmic constellations so connected to the forces in the human organism that certain diseases could be cured when these constellations worked on individuals through Christ Jesus. A repetition of these conditions in cosmic and earthly evolution is just as impossible as a second incarnation of the Christ in a human body. Thus, the life of Christ Jesus was the earthly expression of a particular relationship between the cosmos and human forces. When sick people remained for a while by Christ's side, their nearness to Christ brought them into a relationship to the macrocosm and this had a healing effect on them.
What I have said so far allows us to understand how the guidance of humanity has been placed under the influence of Christ. Nevertheless, the other forces whose development was held back in the Egypto-Chaldean epoch also continue to work alongside those that are Christ-filled, as we can see in many contemporary interpretations of the gospels. Books are published that take great pains to show that the gospels can be understood astrologically. The greatest opponents of the gospels cite this astrological interpretation, claiming, for example, that the path of the archangel Gabriel from Elizabeth to Mary represents the movement of the sun from the constellation of Virgo to another one.
To a certain extent, this astrological interpretation is correct; however, in our time, ideas of this sort are instilled into people by the beings whose development was arrested during the Egypto-Chaldean epoch. Under their influence there are some who would have us believe that the gospels are merely allegories representing certain cosmic relationships. The truth is, however, that the whole cosmos is expressed in Christ. In other words, we can characterize Christ's life by describing for each of its events the cosmic relationships that, through Christ, entered life on earth.
As soon as we understand all this correctly, we will inevitably and fully accept that Christ lived on earth. The false view mentioned above, however, claims that, because Christ's life is expressed in the gospels through cosmic constellations, it follows necessarily that the gospels are only an allegory of these constellations and that Christ did not really live on earth.
Allow me to use a comparison to make things clear. Imagine every person at birth as a spherical mirror reflecting everything around it. Were we to trace the outlines of the images in the mirror with a pencil, we could then take the mirror and carry the picture it represents with us wherever we went. Just so, we carry a picture of the cosmos within us when we are born, and this one picture affects and influences us throughout our lives. Of course, we could also leave the mirror clean as it was originally, in which case it would reflect its surroundings wherever we took it, providing us with a complete picture of the world around us. This analogy explains how Christ was in the time between the Baptism in the Jordan and the Mystery of Golgotha. What enters our earthly life only at our birth flowed into Christ Jesus at each moment of his life. After the Mystery of Golgotha, what had streamed into Christ from the cosmos merged with the spiritual substance of the earth, and it has been united with the spirit of the earth ever since.
When Paul became clairvoyant on his way to Damascus, he was able to perceive that what had previously been in the cosmos had merged with the spirit of the earth. People who can relive this event in their soul can see this for themselves. In the twentieth century, human beings are able for the first time to experience the Christ-event spiritually, as St. Paul did. Up to this century only those individuals who had gained clairvoyant powers through esoteric schooling were able to have such experiences. Today and in the future, however, as a result of natural human development, advancing soul forces will be able to see Christ in the spiritual sphere of the earth. Beginning with a certain point in the twentieth century, a few people will be able to have such experiences and will be able to relive the incident at Damascus, but thereafter gradually more and more people will be able to do so, and in the distant future it will have become a natural capacity of the human soul to see Christ in this way.
When Christ entered earthly history, a completely new element was introduced into it. Even the outer events of history bear witness to this. In the first cultural periods after the Atlantean catastrophe, people knew very well that the physical planets, such as Mars, Jupiter, or Saturn, were the expressions or manifestations of spiritual beings. In later ages this view was completely forgotten. People came to see the heavenly bodies as merely material things — to be judged according to their physical conditions. By the Middle Ages, people saw in the stars only what their physical eyes could perceive: the sphere of Venus, the sphere of the sun, of Mars, and so on up to the sphere of the firmament of fixed stars. Beyond that, they believed, there was the eighth sphere which enclosed the others like a solid blue wall around them.
Then Copernicus came and shook to its foundations the established outlook of relying completely and exclusively on what the human senses could perceive. 11Nicolaus Copernicus, 1473–1543, Polish astronomer. Made astronomical observations of orbits of sun, moon, planets. Gradually abandoned accepted Ptolemaic system of astronomy and worked out heliocentric system in which the earth rotates daily on its axis and, with other planets, revolves around the sun. According to modern natural science, only people with muddled minds can claim that the world is maya or illusion and that we must look into a spiritual world to see the truth. Scientists believe that true science is based on what our senses tell us, and they record those perceptions. However, the only time when astronomers relied exclusively on their senses was in the days when the astronomy prevailed that modern astronomers oppose!
Modern astronomy began to develop as a science when Copernicus started to think about what exists in the universe beyond the range of human sensory perception. In fact, it is true of all the sciences that they developed in opposition to sensory appearance. When Copernicus explained that what we see is maya, illusion, and that we should rely on what we cannot see — that was the moment when science as we know it today began.
In other words, the modern sciences did not become “science” until they stopped relying exclusively on sensory perception. Giordano Bruno, as the philosophical interpreter of Copernicus's teachings, proclaimed that the eighth sphere, which had been considered the boundary of space enclosing everything, was not a boundary at all. 12Giordano Bruno, 1548–1600, Italian philosopher. Arrested by the Inquisition and burned at the stake. A critic of Aristotelian logic and champion of Copernican cosmology, which he extended with the notion of the infinite universe. It was maya, an illusion, and only appeared to be the boundary. In reality, a vast number of worlds had been poured into the universe. Thus what had previously been regarded as the boundary of the universe now became the boundary of the world of human sensory perception. We have to look beyond the sense world. Once we no longer see the world merely as it appears to our senses, then we can perceive infinity.
Originally, then, humanity had a spiritual view of the cosmos, but in the course of history this was gradually lost. The spiritual world view was replaced by an understanding of the world based exclusively on sensory perception. Then the Christ impulse entered human history. Through this principle humanity was led once again to imbue the materialistic outlook with spirituality. At the moment when Giordano Bruno burst the confines of sensory appearance, the Christ-development had so far advanced in him that the soul force, which had been kindled by the Christ-impulse, could be active within him. This indicates the significance of Christ's involvement in human history and development, which is really still in its early stages.
What, then, are the goals of spiritual science?
Spiritual science completes what Bruno and others did for the outer physical sciences by demonstrating that the conventional, sense-based sciences can perceive and understand only maya or illusion. At one time, people looked up to the “eighth sphere” and believed it to be the boundary of the universe. Similarly, modern thinking considers human life bounded by birth and death. Spiritual science extends our view beyond these boundaries.
Ideas like this one allow us to see human evolution as an uninterrupted chain. And, indeed, what Copernicus and Bruno accomplished for space by overcoming sensory appearance had already been known earlier from the inspirations of the spiritual stream that is continued today by spiritual science or theosophy [anthroposophy]. Modern esotericism, as we may call it, worked in a secret and mysterious way on Copernicus, Bruno, Kepler, and others. 13See Lecture Two, note 2 Thus, people whose outlook is based on the findings of Bruno and Copernicus betray their own traditions when they refuse to accept theosophy [anthroposophy] and insist on looking only at sensory appearance.
Just as Giordano Bruno broke through the blue vault of heaven, so spiritual science breaks through the boundaries of birth and death and proves that the human being comes forth from the macrocosm to live in this physical life and returns again to a macrocosmic existence after death. What is revealed in the individual on a limited scale can be seen on a much larger scale in the representative of the cosmic spirit, in Christ Jesus. The impulse Christ gave to evolution could be given only once. Only once could the entire cosmos be reflected as it was in Christ; the constellation that existed then will not appear again. This constellation had to work through a human body in order to be able to impart its impulse to the earth. Just as this particular constellation will not occur a second time, so Christ will not incarnate again. People claim that Christ will appear again on earth only because they do not know that Christ is the representative of the entire universe and because they cannot find the way to the Christ-idea presented in all its elements by spiritual science.
Thus, modern spiritual science or theosophy [anthroposophy] has developed a Christ-idea that shows us our kinship with the entire macrocosm in a new way. To really know Christ we need the inspiring forces that are now imparted through the ancient Egyptian and Chaldean superhuman beings who were themselves guided by Christ. We need this new inspiration, which has been prepared by the great esotericists of the Middle Ages since the thirteenth century. This new inspiration must now be brought more and more to the attention of the general public. If we prepare the soul properly for the perception of the spiritual world according to the teachings of spiritual science, we will be able to hear clairaudiently and to see clairvoyantly what is revealed by these ancient Chaldean and Egyptian powers, who have now become spiritual guides under the leadership of the Christ-being. The first Christian centuries up to our own time were only the preparation for what humanity will receive and understand one day.
In the future, people's hearts will be filled with a Christ-idea whose magnitude will surpass anything humanity has known and understood so far. The first impulse that Christ brought and the understanding of him that has lived on until now is even in the best exponents of the Christ-principle only a preparation for a true understanding of Christ. Strangely enough, those who present the Christ-idea in this way in the West will in all probability be accused of not basing themselves on western Christian tradition. After all, this western Christian tradition is utterly inadequate for understanding Christ in the near future.
Western esotericism allows us to see the spiritual guidance of humanity gradually merge with the guidance proceeding from the Christ-impulse. Modern esotericism will gradually flow into people's hearts, and the spiritual guidance of the individual and humanity will more and more be seen consciously in this light.
Let us recall that the Christ-principle first entered human hearts
when Christ ministered in Palestine in the physical body of Jesus of
Nazareth. In those days, people who had gradually resigned themselves to
trusting only in the sensory world could receive the impulse appropriate
to their understanding. The same impulse then worked through modern
esotericism to inspire such great minds as Nicholas of Cusa, Copernicus,
and Galileo. 14Nicholas
Cusanus, 1401–1464, German prelate and philosopher. Bishop and
later created cardinal. Wrote treatises for church councils as well
as works on mathematics and philosophy. Anticipated Copernicus by his
belief in the earth's rotation and revolution around the sun.
Galileo Galilei, 1564–1642, Italian mathematician, astronomer, and physicist. First to use telescope to study the skies. Tried by the Inquisition for supporting the Copernican system. That is why Copernicus could assert that sensory appearance cannot teach us the truth about the solar system and that we must look beyond it to find the truth.
At that time, people were not yet mature enough — even a brilliant man like Giordano Bruno was not yet ready — to integrate themselves consciously into the stream of modern esotericism. The spirit of this stream had to work in them without their being conscious of it. Giordano Bruno proclaimed proudly that the human being is actually a macrocosmic being condensed into a monad to enter physical existence; and that this monad expands again when the individual dies. What had been condensed in the body expands into the universe in order to concentrate again at other levels of existence and to expand again, and so on. Bruno expressed great concepts that fully agree with modern esotericism, even though they may sound like stammering to our modern ears.
We are not necessarily always conscious of the spiritual influences that guide us. For example, such influences led Galileo into the cathedral of Pisa. Thousands of people had seen the old church lamp there, but they did not look at it the way he did. Galileo saw the lamp swing and compared its oscillations with his pulse beats. In this way he discovered that the church lamp swung in a regular rhythm similar to that of his pulse — the “law of the pendulum,” as it is known in modern physics. Anyone familiar with modern physics knows that physics as we know it would not exist if it had not been for Galileo's laws. What was at work in leading Galileo to the swinging lamp in the cathedral — thus giving modern physics its first principles — now works in spiritual science. The powers that guide us spiritually work secretly in this way.
We are now approaching a time when we have to become conscious of these guiding powers. We will be able to understand better what must happen in the future if we correctly grasp the inspiration coming to us from modern esotericism. From this inspiration we also know that the spiritual beings whom the ancient Egyptians considered to be their teachers — the same beings who ruled as gods — are ruling again, but that they now want to submit to Christ's leadership. People will feel more and more that they can allow pre-Christian elements to be resurrected in glory and style on a higher level. In the present era we need a strengthened consciousness, a high sense of duty and responsibility concerning the understanding of the spiritual world. For this to enter our soul we must understand the mission of spiritual science in the way I have outlined.