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The Gospel of St. John (Basle)
GA 100

Lecture I

16 November 1907, Basle

When we carefully study the mental life of the present day we find a deep cleft in many minds. Men now receive, even in earliest youth, not one view of the world only but two: the one from their religious instruction and the other from Natural Science. The result of this is, that from the very outset doubts arise as to the correctness of the religious traditions.

It might be thought that Spiritual Science or Anthroposophy desires to bring in a new religion in addition to those already existing; but that is not the case. Anthroposophy is not a new religion, it is not a new sect.

In these lectures it will be our task, with the aid of Spiritual Science, to show the significance of this religious document, St. John's Gospel, and in so doing we shall be able to point out the relation of Spiritual Science to religious records in general. Spiritual Science enables us to understand the various religions in the world. One who is acquainted with Anthroposophical Spiritual Science takes Christianity as it is, as a fact of the very greatest significance to the whole spiritual life of humanity. It has been made impossible for the mental and spiritual life of the present day to understand the depths of Christianity. This understanding can only be gained through Anthroposophical Spiritual Science. If we make use of what it provides we can penetrate deeply into the wisdom contained in the religious records.

We might compare Spiritual Science with philology. We can also study the Christian documents with the aid of philology; but Spiritual Science leads us into the spirit of these documents. The best expounder of Euclid's Geometry is one who knows Geometry, not one who only knows the Greek language.

Spiritual Science is not to be a new religion for the men of modern times; it is to be the means by which the true contents of Christianity may be brought home to them. Christianity is the zenith and meeting point of all religions. All other religions do but point to Christianity, which is the religion for all the future and will not be followed by any other. The fountain of Truth which springs up in it is abundant and never-ending; it is so plenteous that as the evolution of humanity progresses it will reveal every new aspects of its being. Anthroposophy or Spiritual Science is to present Christianity to man from a new and different side.

Now, the various religious records may be considered from four different points of view:

1. The point of view of the Simple Believer, who holds fast to the words that are giving him. Many people, however, cannot reconcile the standpoint with their modern thought and they then pass on to:

2. The point of view of the Critic, the Doubter, the one who denies. This is the point of view of the “clever, enlightened men”, who have “risen above” religious truths. But many of them search further and discover that a very great deal is nevertheless contained in these religious documents they wrestle through to:

3. The point of view of the Symbolists. These interpret the religious records in their own way and find in them much or little according to their knowledge or acuteness. In Germany many former Freethinkers have come to this point of view. Finally, it is possible through Spiritual Science to arrive at:

4. The point of view where one learns to take the religious documents literally once more. We find many remarkable examples of this in the study St. John's Gospel.

St. John's Gospel takes quite a special place among the four Gospels. The Gospel of Matthew, Mark and Luke give us an historical picture of Jesus, but St. John's Gospel is regarded as a kind of apotheosis, a wonderful poem. There are many contradictions when we compare it with the statements made in the other Gospels, but these contradictions are so apparent that it cannot be supposed that the old defenders of St. John's Gospel did not perceive them also.

At the present time St. John's Gospel is considered to be the least worthy of credence. The reason for this attitude lies in the materialistic frame of mind of the men of our time. In the course of the 19th century humanity became materialistic in feeling, and consequently also in thought; for as a man feels, so does the judge. Materialism is not confined to the view of the world contained in the books of Büchner, Moleschott, and Vogt: even those who explain the religious documents from a certain spiritual standpoint do this in a fully materialistic way. As example of this I might quote the dispute between Karl Vogt and Professor Wagner of Munich. This dispute was fought out at the time in the “Augsburger Zeitung” and ended completely in favor of Karl Vogt. Wagner stood up for the existence of the soul; he did this, however, in an absolutely materialistic way. And as the theologians have materialistic feelings, the three synoptic Gospels please them better, because they more easily admit of a materialistic explanation. It is repugnant to materialistic thinking to accept a Being who towers above all men; it is much more acceptable to them to see in Jesus a noble human being only, “the humble man of Nazareth.” According to St. John's Gospel is quite inadmissible to see in Jesus only that which also lives in any other man. The Christ-soul in the Jesus-body is something quite different. St. John's Gospel represents Christ to us not only as a very great man, but as a Being who embraces the whole earth.

If we translate St. John's Gospel according to the spirit and not only according to the words, the first 14 verses run approximately as follows:—

1. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a God

2. The same was in the very beginning with God

3. All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.

4. In Him was Life, and the Life was the Light of men.

5. And the Light shone in the darkness, but the darkness did not comprehend it.

6. There was a man sent from God whose name was John.

7. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that through him all men might believe.

8. He was not that Light, that came to bear witness of the Light.

9. For the true Light, which enlighteneth all men, was to come into the world.

10. He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, but the world did not recognize Him.

11. It came into the several human beings, even into the ego-men; but the individual human beings, the ego-men, did not receive Him.

12. But those that did receive Him, to them gave He power to manifest that they were Sons of God.

13. Those who trusted in His Name were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

14. And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we have heard His teaching, the teaching of the only begotten Son of the Father, full of devotion and truth. (in St. John's Gospel truth—aletheia—is Spirit Self, devotion—charis—is Life Spirit, and wisdom—sophia—is Spirit Man.)

Even the very first words are taken in an abstract sense by the modern man. The “Very Beginning” is thought of as an abstract beginning; but to grasp the true significance of this word we must recall what was taught on this point in the Christian Secret School of Dionysius the Areopagite.

Mineral, plant, animal, and man make up the series of being in evolution which require the physical body. Above them are beings who do not need the physical body, namely, the Angels, Archangels, Very Beginnings, the Powers, Virtues, Dominions, the Thrones, Cherubim and Seraphim, and Beings were still higher.

Thus the Very Beginnings are real Beings. They are those who, at the beginning of the evolution of our world, were already at the stage humanity will only reach at the end of its evolution (in the Vulcan Period.) If in the light of this we study the first verse, “In the very beginning was the word,” we might represent the state of affairs pictorially by the following comparison. Before we utter a word, this word lives in us as thought. It lives within us. When the word is uttered the air around us is set in motion; vibrations are produced. If we imagine these vibrations condensed and hardened in some way, we should see the words fall to the ground as forms and figures; we should perceive the creative power of the word with our eyes. If the word is already creative now, it will be much more so in the future.

Man already possesses organs which will only attain their full significance in the future; he also possesses others which are already in decline. To the latter belong the organs of reproduction, to the former the heart and the larynx, for these are only at the beginning of their development. At the present time the heart is an involuntary muscle, although it has transverse fibers like all voluntary muscles. These transverse fibers are an indication that the heart is in the process of transition from an involuntary to a voluntary organ. The larynx is destined to be the human organ of reproduction in a distant future, strange as this may sound at present. Just as man, by means of speech, can already transpose his thoughts into vibrations of the air, he will in the future be able to create his own image by means of the word.

The Very Beginnings already possessed this creative power at the outset of the evolution of our world and can therefore be rightly looked upon as divine Beings. At the beginning of the evolution of the Earth a divine Word was uttered, and this has become mineral, plant, animal and man.