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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Origin of Suffering, Origin of Evil, Illness and Death
GA 55

II. The Origin of Evil

22 November 1906, Berlin

It is characteristic of the whole of modern literature that it speaks so little of evil; materialism simply does not concern itself with evil. A materialistic explanation can apparently be found for suffering, illness and death; but not for evil. In the case of the animal one speaks of cruelty, destructiveness, but one cannot call the animal evil. Evil is confined to the human kingdom. Modern science tries to grasp the human being out of the animal and eliminates all differences between man and beast. It must therefore also deny evil. In order to find evil one must enter fully into human qualities and acknowledge that man lays claim to a kingdom of his own. We will now consider this question from the standpoint of spiritual science.

There is an original human wisdom which penetrates to the actual nature of things lying behind the purely external appearance. In earlier ages this wisdom was preserved in narrow circles to which entry was vouchsafed only after strict tests. Before someone secured admission he must have proved to the guardian of the wisdom that he would use his knowledge only in the most selfless way. During the last decades the elementary part of this wisdom-science has for certain reasons been popularised. More and more of it will flow into daily life. We are standing only at the beginning of this development.

Now how is evil connected with actual human nature? It has often been sought to explain evil. People have said that there is no evil in the actual sense of the word—it is a diminished good, it is the worst good. For as there are different grades of existence in everything, so too in goodness. Or they say: As the good is an original power, so too is evil. In particular this view was expressed in the Persian Myth of Ormuzd and Ahriman. Occult science is the first to show how evil is to be understood out of the depths of human nature and the whole nature of the cosmos. If one denies it one can in no way grasp it. One must understand what task and mission evil has in the world. From the development of man in the future we see how men have grown out of the past and what evil is to signify in their path of evolution.

Spiritual science teaches of the existence of certain highly evolved men, the initiates, and it has been taught in the Mystery Schools of all times how man can bring himself to such a stage of evolution. Definite exercises were prescribed there which develop man in quite a natural way. They are exercises of meditation and concentration which are to give man another kind of sight which cannot be attained with the intellect and the five senses. Meditation in the first place leads away from the grasp of the senses. Through inner soul-work man becomes free of the senses. Something then takes place similar to the operation on a man born blind. There is a kind of operation which opens man's spiritual eyes and ears. It will be attained in the development of the whole human race in the course of a long period of time. But one must not disclaim the world when one wishes to rise higher; an ascetic fleeing from the world does not serve clairvoyance. Clairvoyance is the fruit of what the soul collects in the sense-world. Greek philosophy beautifully compared the human soul with a bee. The world of colour and light offers the soul honey which it brings with it into the higher world. The soul must spiritualise sense experience and carry it up into higher worlds.

Now what is the task of the soul which is free from the body? We touch here upon an important principle. Each being when it has developed to a higher stage becomes guide and leader of those beings and forms through which it has passed. When man has so spiritualised himself that he no longer needs the physical body he works on the world from outside as spiritual leader. Then the mission of this planet is fulfilled and it goes over to another embodiment. The Earth will then obtain a new planetary existence, and men will then be the gods of the new planet. The body of humanity which is forsaken by the Spirit will be a lower kingdom. We bear in us now a double nature: that which will rule on the next planet and that which will be the lower kingdom. Just as the Earth will incorporate itself afresh so has it also perfected itself out of earlier processes of evolution. Just as the human beings will be the gods of the next planet, so were the Beings who now lead us, men on the previous planet and they had as lower element what we are as men on Earth. In this way we see the connection of the Earth with processes which lie in the past and in the future. The present stage of man was once the stage of the Beings who are the creators and leaders of men today, the Elohim, who manifest as leaders of human evolution. And on the future planet men will have advanced so far that they themselves are leaders and guides.

But one must not think that there will be an exact recapitulation: the same is never repeated. Nothing happens in the world twice; there was never the earthly existence that there is now. Earth-existence signifies the Cosmos of Love; existence on the previous planet signifies the Cosmos of Wisdom. We are to evolve love from its most elementary stage to its highest. Wisdom rests hidden on the foundation of earth-existence. One should not speak therefore of the “lower” physical human nature, for it is really the most perfected form of man. One should look at the wisdom-filled structure of a bone, for instance the upper thigh bone. We see there solved in the most complete way the problem of how to carry the greatest possible mass of weight with the employment of the least material and force. One should look at the marvellous structure of the heart, of the brain, The astral body does not indeed stand higher. It is the “enjoyer” which makes continual attacks on the wisdom-filled heart. It will still take a long time to become as perfect and wise as the physical body. But it must become so, for that is the course of evolution. The physical body had to evolve too; what is wise in it had to develop out of unwisdom and error. Evolution of wisdom preceded the evolution of love; love is not yet perfected. It is to be found in the whole of nature, in plant, animal and man from the lowest sex-love to the highest spiritualised love. Immense numbers of beings which the love-urge brought forth are destroyed in the battle for existence. Conflict is active wherever love is, the entry of love brings conflict, necessary conflict. But love will also overcome it and change conflict into harmony.

Wisdom is the characteristic of physical nature and where this wisdom is permeated by love is the beginning of earthly evolution. Just as today there is conflict on the earth so was error to be found on the earlier planet. Remarkable fabulous beings wandered about—errors of nature which were not capable of evolution. Love grows out of the loveless and wisdom proceeds from unwisdom. Those who attain the goal of earthly evolution will bring love into the next planet as a force of nature, just as wisdom was once brought to Earth. The humanity of the Earth look up to the gods as to the bringers of wisdom. The men of the following planet will look up to the gods as to the bringers of love. Wisdom is granted to men as divine revelation from the men of the earlier planet. All the kingdoms of the world are connected with one another. If there were no plants then in a short time the breath of life would become tainted; for men and animals inhale oxygen and breathe out life-destroying carbonic-acid. Yet the plants inhale carbonic-acid and give out oxygen. Here then the higher depends on the lower for the breath of life.

And it is the same in all the kingdoms. As animal and man depend on the plants, so are the gods dependent on man. That was so beautifully expressed by Greek mythology where the gods receive nectar and ambrosia from the mortals. Both signify love; love is created within the human race. And the race of the gods breathes in love; it is the gods' nourishment. Love which is created by man is food to the gods. That is much more real than—say—electricity, however peculiar it seems at first, Love appears to begin with as sex-love and evolves up to the highest divine love. But all love, lower and higher, is breath of the gods. Now it might be said: If all that is true then there can be no evil. But wisdom underlies the world, love evolves. Wisdom is the guide of love. Just as all wisdom is born out of error, so does love struggle to the heights only out of conflict.

Not all the beings of the previous planet rose to the height of wisdom. Beings remained behind and they stand approximately between gods and men. They still need something from man, nor can they clothe themselves in a physical body. One calls them Luciferic beings, or groups them together under the name of their leader, Lucifer. How does Lucifer work upon man? Not as the gods do. The divine approaches the noblest in man; it cannot and must not approach the lower. Only at the end of evolution will wisdom and love celebrate their nuptials. But the Luciferic beings approach the lower, unevolved element of love. They form the bridge between wisdom and love. Thus does wisdom first mingle with love. That which applies only to the impersonal is thus entangled with personality. On the earlier planet wisdom was an instinct as love is today. A creative wisdom-instinct prevailed, as today a creative love-instinct. Wisdom led man instinctively; but through the fact that wisdom drew away and no longer guided, man became self-conscious and realised that he was an independent being.

In the animal wisdom is still instinctive and so the animal is not yet self-conscious. Wisdom, however, wished to lead and guide man from outside, unconnected with love. Then Lucifer came and implanted human wisdom into love. And human wisdom looks up to divine wisdom. In man wisdom became enthusiasm and love itself. Had only wisdom exercised its influence, man would have become only good; he would have used love solely for the building up of earthly consciousness. But Lucifer brought love into connection with the self, and self-love was added to self-consciousness. That was beautifully expressed in the Paradise story: “... and they saw that they were naked.” That means that human beings saw themselves for the first time; previously they had seen only the surrounding world. They had only an earthly consciousness, but not a self-consciousness. Now men could put wisdom into the service of the self; from then on there was selfless love for the surroundings and love for the self. And the self-love was bad and the selflessness was good. Man would never have obtained a warm self-consciousness without Lucifer. Thinking and wisdom now entered into the service of the self and there was a choice between good and evil. Love must turn to the self only in order to set the self in the service of the world. The rose may adorn herself only in order to adorn the garden. That must be inscribed deeply into the soul in a higher occult development. In order to be able to feel the good, man had also to be able to feel the evil. The gods gave him enthusiasm for the higher. But without evil there could be no self-feeling, no free choice of good, no freedom. Good could have been realised without Lucifer, but not freedom. In order to be able to choose good man must also have the bad before him; it must dwell within him as the force of self-love. But self-love must become love of all. Then evil will be overcome. Freedom and evil have the same original source. Lucifer makes man humanly enthusiastic for the divine. Lucifer is the bearer of light; the Elohim are light itself. If the light of wisdom has kindled wisdom in man, then Lucifer has brought light into man. But the black shadow of evil had to intermingle; Lucifer brings a shrunken, blemished wisdom but this can penetrate into man. Lucifer is the bearer of external human science which stands in the service of egotism. In pupils of occultism therefore selflessness as regards knowledge is demanded. What the leaven of the old dough means for the new bread: this, from the earlier planet, Lucifer means for us. Evil is good in its place; with us it is no longer good. Evil is good out of place. The absolute good of a planet always brings evil too in one of its parts to the new planet. Evil is a necessary course of evolution.

One must not say that the world is imperfect because it contains evil. Far rather is it perfect precisely on that account. When lovely figures of light are shown in a painting together with evil devils, the picture would be spoilt if one wanted to cut out the devil-figures. The creators of the world needed evil in order to bring the good to unfoldment. A good must first be broken on the rock of evil. The All-Love can only be brought to its highest blossoming through self-love. Goethe is therefore right when in “Faust” he makes Mephistopheles say he is “... part of that Power that ever would the Evil do, and ever does the Good.”