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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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The Principle of Spiritual Economy
GA 109

IX. Ancient Revelation and Learning How to Ask Modern Questions

Kristiania (Oslo), May 16, 1909

Today we shall stress more the occult side of yesterday's observation. The four post-Atlantean cultures somehow had to reflect the great cosmic events in the souls of human beings as they had happened in historical sequence. However, beginning with the thirteenth or fourteenth century of our cultural epoch, such a reflection no longer took place because the external events in human evolution must be traced to more profound reasons.

We know that the etheric bodies of the great Atlantean initiates had been preserved for the Seven Holy Rishis, and we also know how the etheric and astral body of Zarathustra had been woven into those of Moses and Hermes. At any time the possibility existed that such etheric bodies, which had been cultivated and prepared by the initiates, could be further used in the spiritual economy of the world. But other things took place as well. For especially important personalities, such etheric bodies are formed in the higher worlds. When somebody was especially important for the mission of humanity, an etheric body or an astral body was woven in the higher worlds and was then imprinted on this personality.

This is what happened in the case of Shem who indeed has something to do with the whole tribe of the Semites. A special etheric body was coined for such a tribal ancestor, and Shem became a sort of dual personality by this process. It may sound fantastic to the modern mind, but a clairvoyant would see a personality like Shem as he would see an ordinary human being with his or her aura; but then also in such a way as if a higher being that extends down from higher worlds completely filled his etheric body and as if the aura became a mediator between this personality and the higher world. Residing in a human being, such a divine being, however, has a very special power: it can multiply such an etheric body, and the multiplied etheric bodies then form a web that is continually woven into the descendants. Thus the descendants of Shem received an imprint of the copy of his etheric body. However, the Mystery Centers kept not only the multiplied copies but also the etheric body of Shem himself. Any personality that was meant to receive a special mission had to use this etheric body if it wanted to be able to communicate with the Semitic people, similar to the way in which a very educated European would have to learn the language of the Hottentots if he wanted to communicate with them. Therefore, the personality with a special mission had to bear within himself the real etheric body of Shem in order to be able to communicate with the Semitic people. Such a personality, for example, was Melchizedek: he could show himself to Abraham only in the etheric body of Shem.

We now have to ask ourselves something. If it is only now, in the fifth post-Atlantean cultural epoch, possible for us to develop an understanding for Christianity, what was the situation in the remainder of the Graeco-Latin era, which lasted into the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries? A mysterious, occult process took place. Christ lived only three years in the sheaths of Jesus of Nazareth, who was such a sublime individuality that He was able to leave the physical world at the age of thirty when the dove appeared over His head so that He could enter the spiritual world. Since the Christ-Individuality lived in the physical body, it filled out the three highly developed bodies of Jesus. Invisible to the physical eye, they were now multiplied as had formerly been the case with the etheric body of Shem so that the copies of the etheric and astral bodies of Jesus of Nazareth were available from the time he died on the cross. This has nothing to do with His ego; it passed into the spiritual world and has repeatedly reincarnated itself afterward.

We see how Christian writers in the first few centuries after the Christ-Event still worked on the basis of an oral tradition that was transmitted by the disciples of the Apostles, who set great value on a direct, physical transmission of the Christ-Event. However, this would not have been a sufficient building block for later centuries, and that is why a copy of the etheric body of Jesus of Nazareth was woven into especially eminent heralds of the Christian message beginning with the sixth and seventh centuries. One such herald was Augustine, who in his youth had to go through tremendous struggles. However, only when the impulse of the etheric body of Jesus of Nazareth came to work in him in a significant way did he begin to become engaged in Christian mysticism of his own initiative. His writings can be understood only in this light. Many other personalities in the world, such as Columban,40Columban (545–615) was an Irish missionary. Gallus,41Gallus was a sixth-century Irish-Scotch missionary. and Patrick,42Patrick (c. 384–c. 460) was an English missionary. carried within themselves such a copy of Jesus's etheric body and were therefore in a position to spread Christianity and built a bridge from the Christ-Event to the succeeding times.

By contrast, we see human beings whose astral body received the astral body of Jesus of Nazareth in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Such a personality was Francis of Assisi. When we look at his life from this point of view, we will understand it in quite a few ways. His qualities of humility and Christian devotion will become especially clear to us when we tell ourselves that such a mystery lived in him. In the time from about the eleventh through the thirteenth centuries such human beings became the heralds of Christianity by the very fact that the astral body of Jesus was woven into their own astral body. Hence, they received Christianity by virtue of Grace.

Although the ego of Jesus of Nazareth left its three sheaths at the baptism of John, a copy of this ego remained in each of them similar to the imprint a seal leaves behind. The Christ-Being took possession of these three bodies and of that which remained as the imprint of the Jesus-Ego. Beginning with the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries, something like an ego copy of Jesus was woven into human beings who began to speak of an “inner Christ.” Meister Eckhart and Tauler were individuals who spoke from their own experience like an ego copy of Jesus of Nazareth.

There are still many people present who carry within themselves something like the various bodies of Jesus of Nazareth, but these are now no longer the leading personalities. Increasingly we can see how there are human beings in the fifth epoch who must rely on themselves and on their own ego and how such inspired people have become a rarity. It was therefore necessary that a spiritual tendency develop in our fifth epoch to ensure that humanity would continue to be imbued with spiritual knowledge. Those individualities who were capable of looking into the future had to take care that human beings in the times to come would not be left simply to rely on their human ego only. The legend of the Holy Grail relates that the chalice from which the Christ Jesus took the Last Supper with his disciples was kept in a certain place. We see in the story of Parsifal the course of a young person's education typical for our fifth post-Atlantean epoch. Parsifal had been instructed not to ask too many questions, and his dilemma arose from his following those instructions. That is the important transition from the traditional to more modern times: in ancient India and later with Augustine and Francis of Assisi the student had to live in a state of the highest degree of passive devotion. All these humble people allowed themselves to be inspired by what was already alive in them and by what had been woven into them. But now things changed in that the ego became a questioning ego. Today, any soul that accepts passively what is given to it cannot transcend itself because it merely oberves the happenings in the physical world around it. In our times the soul has to ask questions; it has to rise above itself; it has to grow beyond its given form. It must raise questions, just as Parsifal ultimately learned to inquire after the mysteries of the Grail's Castle.43Steiner is referring to the German courtly epic Parzival by Wolfram von Eschenbach (about 1200/10). The Frenchman Chretien de Troyes was the author of the first great artistic treatment of the theme; in his unfinished poem “Percivale” finds the Grail and heals the king. Wolfram's story is drawn from Chretien's model but is much more spiritualized in its triadic structure: innocence, fall, salvation. The Simpleton Parsifal is educated as a knight who knows proper courtly behavioral codes, one of them being not to ask too many questions. This attitude causes him to be expelled from the Grail's Castle, and only after he has undergone a second, Christian phase of education does he know how to express his charity by asking the appropriate question of the ailing king.

Spiritual investigation today begins only where there is questioning, and the souls today that are stimulated by external science to ask questions and to search are the Parsifal souls. And this has led to the introduction of Rosicrucian education—that much maligned mystery school of thought—that accepts tradition gratefully but does not accept traditional wisdom blindly. Yet that which today constitutes Rosicrucian spiritual orientation has been investigated in the higher worlds directly with the spiritual eye and with the means the student himself has been instructed to utilize This has not come about simply because this or that is written in old books or because certain people believed one thing or another. Rather, the Rosicrucian spiritual method proclaims wisdom that has been investigated today. It was gradually prepared in the Rosicrucian schools that were founded in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries as a result of the work of an individuality by the name of Christian Rosenkreutz.

This accumulated wisdom can today be proclaimed as Spiritual Science. This is so because today it is no longer possible to instill in human beings what is to inspire them from the inside without their having a hand in the process. Today people who feel that Spiritual Science speaks to their hearts must approach it through their own free will, through their own free impulse, and through the fact that they feel enlivened by spiritual knowledge. Hence we need not attempt to stir up an interest in Spiritual Science.

Through this theosophical-Rosicrucian orientation of the spirit, we again bring close to ourselves what is still present in the copies of Jesus of Nazareth's ego. Those who prepare themselves in this manner will pull into their souls the copy of the ego of Jesus of Nazareth so that they become like imprints of a seal, and it is in this way that the Christ- Principle finds its way into the human soul. Rosicrucianism prepared something positive, and since anthroposophy is meant to become life, the souls that absorb and truly accept it will gradually undergo a metamorphosis. To accept anthroposophy within yourself means to change the soul in such a way that it is able to come to a true understanding of the Christ.

The anthroposophist makes himself or herself a living recipient of what was given to Moses and Paul in the JavehChrist-Revelation. It is written in the fifth letter of the Apocalypse that the people in the fifth cultural epoch are those who can really absorb the things that will be quite obvious for the cultural period of the Philadelphia community. The wisdom of the fifth cultural period will open as a flower of love in the sixth period.

Today mankind is called upon to accept into itself something new, something divine, and thereby to undertake again the ascent into the spiritual world. The Spiritual Scientific teaching of evolution is being imparted not because people are supposed to put their blind faith into it, but because mankind is supposed to reach an understanding of it through its own powers of judgment. This teaching is being directed to those who bear the core of the Parsifal nature within themselves. And it is not being proclaimed just in special places or to a special group of people, but human beings from all of humanity will come together to listen to the call of spiritual wisdom.