15 September 1915, Dornach
LET US continue with the theme we have been considering for the past few days and begin by asking the question, “How old is love?” There is no doubt in my mind that the great majority of people with their rather superficial way of looking at things would immediately respond that love is as old as the human race, of course. However, anyone who recognizes cultural history as being imbued with spiritual impulses, and who therefore tries to deal with such issues concretely instead of in vague generalities, would answer quite differently. Love, my friends, is seven hundred years old at the most!
Nowhere in ancient Greek and Roman prose or poetry will you find anything resembling our modern idea of love. And if you read Plutarch, for instance, you will find the two concepts of Venus and Amor very clearly differentiated. [ Note 1 ] Love as the subject of so much lyrical eloquence in literature, and especially in poetry, is no more than six or seven hundred years old. Our modern notion of love — what love means to us today and how that is instilled in people — has played a part in the human heart and mind only for the past six or seven centuries. Before that, people did not have the same idea of love; they did not speak about it in any even remotely similar way.
This should not come as a surprise to you, not even on a theoretical or epistemological level. The objection that human beings have always made a practice of loving does not hold good; that would be like saying that if the Earth revolves around the Sun as the Copernican view claims, then it must have been doing so even during Roman, Greek, and Egyptian time — in fact, as long as it has been in existence. Of course that's true, but the people of those times didn't talk about the Copernican system.
Similarly, it is also not valid to object that what is expressed in the idea of love must have existed before the concept itself was there. Of course, the facts and phenomena of loving have always been an identifiable facet of human life, but people have not always talked about them. We have come a long way in the past six or seven hundred years in that respect; in fact, we have come so far that love occupies a central position in many people's view of life. And not only that, we now have a scientific theory, the theory of psychoanalysis, which is positively swimming in the most vulgar concepts of love, as I have shown. This is an evolutionary tendency that anthroposophists in particular are called upon to resist and to transform by fostering a spiritual-scientific philosophy of life.
Many of you may be aware that I described these same things quite precisely from a historical perspective in some earlier lectures, so I would be surprised if you were all taken aback by my statement that our idea of love is only six or seven hundred years old. [ Note 2 ] In any case, the idea of love has gradually crept into all kinds of philosophical concepts during the past few hundred years, as is revoltingly evident in psychoanalysis. It would take a long time to get to the bottom of all this, but I hope these more or less aphoristic remarks will give you some clues.
As an example, let's consider a contemporary thinker who is totally immersed in modern cultural concepts—in other words, someone who cannot overcome his supposed insight that outer sensory-physical reality is all we can reasonably talk about. I have already introduced Fritz Mauthner to you as a very sincere representative of this type of person. [ Note 3 ] Mauthner is a linguistic critic and the author of a philosophical dictionary. This puts him in a very strange position in that it makes him aware of the fact that the word “mysticism” has existed down through the ages — as a linguistic critic, he naturally wants to know what stands behind both the word itself and actual mystical aspirations.
My friends, just consider how much reading material we have to struggle through to understand that particular relationship of the human soul to super-earthly worlds that deserves the name “mysticism.” Consider, too, how very seriously we have to take any explanations, such as those in Knowledge of the Higher Worlds, if we want to understand the inner attitude needed in order to face the spiritual world as a mystic — that is, as a soul at one with the spiritual pulse and flow of higher worlds. [ Note 4 ] We can only really say what mysticism is in the modern sense of the word when we have engaged in serious reflection such as that in Knowledge of the Higher Worlds. In other words, we have to at least study that book thoroughly and attentively a couple of times.
When someone like Fritz Mauthner gets his hands on a book like Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment, it is patent nonsense to him — just so many words. Mauthner is an honest man, after all. He would be telling the truth if, having read Swedenborg, he were to say that he doesn't understand a thing when Swedenborg talks about inhabitants of Mars who can conceal their innermost impulses. He might also say that he finds nothing to relate to in a book like Knowledge of the Higher Worlds; perhaps angels might be able to understand it, but he cannot.
This is an utterly plausible opinion, and I am convinced it is what Fritz Mauthner would come to as an honest person. And in fact, if he is honest and sticks to the truth, coming to this conclusion is inevitable because the concept of mysticism eludes him entirely; there's nothing to it as far as he is concerned. For him, everything in Theosophy or Knowledge of the Higher Worlds is all just words, words, words. [ Note 5 ] If he himself experiences a kind of Faustian striving, he might express it by saying, “[I will] contemplate all seminal forces in the outer physical world and be done with peddling empty words.” [ Note 6 ] And in his own way, he is quite right.
However, Mauthner is not only honest, he is also thorough, and so he wonders if it is actually true that human souls have never experienced anything like mysticism. After all, people have always talked about it. What was it, then, that induced them to speak about mysticism?
When I was a very young man, I knew an outstanding theologian, now dead, who was also very well educated in philosophy. [ Note 7 ] He always said, and rightly so, that behind every error there is something true and real we must look for. No idea is so crazy that we need not look for the reality behind it. This is also Mauthner's rationale in conceding that there must be something to mysticism after all. Obviously, there are still strange characters around who write books like Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and talk about our mystical relationship to spiritual worlds, but to him it is all nonsense. However, there has to be something in human nature that produces the emotions these crazy, mixed-up people call mysticism. There must be something behind it.
If you try to find how Mauthner discovers what underlies mysticism, the most you can say after having read the entry on mysticism in his dictionary is that he keeps going around in circles. [ Note 8 ] Everything in this article revolves around words and definitions of words. But since I was interested in finding out how Mauthner, in his own way, attempts to get at what is behind mysticism, I looked it up in his dictionary to see what could be found there ... [gap in the stenographic record]
So I looked up not only his entry on mysticism but also the one on love. I found the article on love to be one of his best, and very well written. It's actually very nice. Mauthner first mentions Spinoza's definition of love and Schopenhauer's brief and heavy-handed definition, and then he explains that it is necessary to distinguish between mere eroticism, which is strictly physical and confined to sexuality, and real love on a soul level. Mauthner admits all that, and even goes on to say something as elevated as this: [ Note 9 ]
I believe that people who are one-sided geniuses in thinking have seldom, if ever, had any understanding of love in its highest degree, of feelings of love taken to pathological extremes. They have not experienced it personally and have only tried to categorize the descriptions of poets.
That is, the philosophers did not know much about love except what they looked up in books of poetry.
I believe that love in its ultimate degree has been experienced and described only by artists (approximately since the time of Petrarch), and that it entered common parlance through the power of imitation or fashion and captured the imagination of readers for six hundred years, and is now in the process of being replaced by another fashion. Although the ultimate degree of love is as rare as a great artistic creation or the kind of religious union with God that St. Francis may have experienced, still the whole world babbles on about religion, art, and love. What they mean by all this are mere substitutes for emotions that perhaps one person in a million has actually experienced.
The ultimate degree of love, whose existence I do not deny, is really something of a miracle — and people have also tried to explain miracles as pathological phenomena. In the most unlikely event that both sexual partners experience the highest degree of love, a miracle takes place in defiance of all the laws of nature: each one lifts the other and both float above the earth. Archimedes' principle is, or appears to be, superseded. Whether in happiness or in death, the longing of mysticism is fulfilled.
There you have it. For someone like Mauthner, steeped in modern materialistic philosophy, the emotion of love is the only way human beings can experience the feelings “deranged” mystics experience in their relationship to spiritual things. “Whether in happiness or in death, the longing of mysticism is fulfilled” is a remarkably honest sentence coming from someone who has lost all connection to the spiritual world. Mauthner continues:
For the purposes of this little investigation, I have deliberately overlooked many other meanings of the word “love.” At this juncture, however, I must still point out that union with God is experienced by mysticism as the pleasure of love at its most passionate and most spiritual, and that Spinoza made use of his first definition of love (in Book III and Book V of his Ethics) to proclaim the love for God, the amor erga Deum, as the highest bliss known to human beings. The longing to give expression to the inexpressible is intrinsic to mysticism, and this has led to considerable misuse of the concept of love. There is something of this vivid mysticism not only in Spinoza's pantheistic extravagance, but also in Schopenhauer's metaphysical cynicism. It is also what Cousin meant when he said that we love the infinite and imagine we love finite things.
The well-known feeling that leads us to call our sexual partners “lovers” runs through so-called love in all its various degrees. And we describe our very subjective experience through the unwarranted use of the corresponding verb “to love.” The attempt to find an objective noun, namely, the word “love” to describe this experience met with such success that people have persuaded themselves that the experience itself is as common as the word “love” has become.
As you can see, when the modern materialistic world tries to formulate a concept of mysticism out of its own fundamental impulses, it is forced to conclude that what mystics dream of can only be found in the emotion of love in the real world; that is, everything spiritual is dragged down into a refined version of eroticism.
It is typical, for instance, that Mauthner brings up the particular way in which a woman friend of Nietzsche's, the author Lou Andreas-Salomé, [ Note 10 ] describes Nietzsche's intellect as a type of refined eroticism. [ Note 11 ] It is interesting, too, how Mauthner reacts to her portrayal of Nietzsche. He says:
Recently, after so many attempts by men, a woman, Friedrich Nietzsche's friend Lou Andreas-Salome, has also tried to formulate a philosophy of love in her excellent book on Nietzsche, which won her the hatred of the entire Nietzsche clan. She is very subtle in her expositions, but bold enough to refuse to accept fidelity as an attribute of love, and she forges a link between the artist's fantasy and that of lovers (“Eroticism,” p. 25). She too, however, intellectualizes the act to such an extent that there seems to be no conceptual distinction between sensuality and the intellectual phenomena accompanying it.
In other words, then, from the way men and women express themselves, we see that nowadays, even in our thinking, we have to replace our relationship to the spiritual world with the eroticism throbbing in our souls — a more or less refined eroticism, depending on the character of the individual in question.
This all has to do with the fundamental materialistic tendency of our times, which also leads to untruthfulness when people are not honest enough to admit that all they know about mysticism is the aspect that is identical to eroticism. Untruthfulness emerges when these people talk about eroticism but conceal it behind a veil of mystical concepts. Materialists who freely admit that they see nothing but eroticism in all of mysticism are actually much more honest than people who take eroticism as their starting point but hide it behind mystical formulas as they clamber up to the very highest worlds. Sometimes you can almost see the ladders they are using to scramble up to the very highest planes of existence in order to have a mystical cover-up for something that is actually nothing more than eroticism. On the one hand, then, we have the theoretical linking of mysticism to eroticism, and on the other hand the tendency of our modern times to sink down into eroticism and drag all kinds of murky, misunderstood mysticism into it.
Some time ago I challenged you to work on eradicating the mystical eccentricities that come about through the kind of mingling of spheres I described, so that people who are well able to recognize the noble character of spirituality will once again be able to rise to the perspective needed to speak about spirituality where spirituality is actually present, without clothing subjective emotions in spiritual forms. In making this appeal, I hoped to create some degree of clarity in these matters within the Anthroposophical Society, so that clear thinking might prevail. [ Note 12 ] Time alone will tell whether we will actually be able to accomplish this.
In former times (and in fact until quite recently, as I pointed out yesterday), a much more radical means was used to safeguard the basic requirements of any kind of spiritual scientific society. It was a simple matter of excluding one entire sex, half of humanity, so that the other half would be spared the dangers inherent in mixing elevated spiritual concepts with thoughts of natural human activity on the physical plane. Thinking about spiritual matters belongs to the spiritual world. We must come to the healthy realization that it is much worse to talk about certain aspects of natural human interaction in mystical formulas that do not belong to this natural level than it is to call these things honestly by name and admit that this aspect belongs to the physical plane and must remain there.
Schopenhauer, in his singularly heavy-handed fashion, characterized love as follows: “The sum total of the current generation's love affairs are thus the human race's ‘earnest meditatio composition is generationis fu fume, e qua iterum pendent innumerae generationes’ ” — the earnest meditation of the human race as a whole on the composition of generations to come, on which in turn countless generations depend. [ Note 13 ] Well, that's Schopenhauer's opinion, not mine! It is a terrible thing to see people deny the rightful place of such urges and disguise them by saying, for example, that they are obliged to do what they do so that an extremely important individuality can incarnate. That is really an abomination in the eyes of someone trying to practice mysticism in all earnestness and dignity.
We must also take into account the fact that mysticism is not intended as an excuse for laziness on our part. That is what it becomes, however, when healthy concepts are replaced by unhealthy ones in the name of mysticism. Here on the physical plane, people are supposed to make their mark through good will and work — real hard work. If they prefer to gain recognition under false pretenses rather than on the merits of their work, and demand special treatment by virtue of being the reincarnation of somebody or other, then they are using mysticism as an excuse. They want to be recognized as someone special without doing a thing. This is a very trivial and vulgarized way of looking at the matter.
If we are making every effort, as indeed we must nowadays, to foster spiritual science openly in the presence of both sexes, the old compulsory bans must be replaced by a serious and dignified attitude on the part of both men and women as they seek to acquire knowledge of the higher worlds. We must succeed in eliminating from this search all the fantasies bound up with our lower human drives. Only then will we be able to prevent the proliferation of errors originating in the illusions of individuals prone to mystical laziness. Mysticism, my friends, does not ask us to become lazier than the people out there who care nothing about it. If anything, it requires us to be more diligent than they are. And mystical morality cannot mean sinking below the moral level of other human beings; rather we must advance beyond it. If we do not make a serious effort to eradicate anything resembling “Sprengelism,” as I would like to call it, from our Society, we will make no progress.
How I will continue with this series of lectures depends on the course of your meeting today. [ Note 14 ] Let us first see how far you get in this meeting, and then I will announce when we will continue.