Our bookstore now ships internationally. Free domestic shipping $50+ →

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric
GA 118

7. The Return of Christ

Polermo, 18 April, 1910

As we are meeting together here for the first time today, let us speak of some intimate concerns of our spiritual science. We will discuss what concerns the evolution of the human individuality at first in somewhat general terms and next time in detail. We can understand the life of a single individual only when we also know the epoch in which he lives. The human soul evolves through the ages, progressing from one incarnation to another. The soul's faculties today are not the same as in earlier times. Human faculties have reached the point today at which human beings can perceive the world of the senses and can think it through inwardly. Before this epoch it was completely different, because human souls still possessed a certain dreamlike clairvoyance, one could say.

At that time, a person would not have been able to develop his consciousness of self, of his I. The ancient, dreamlike clairvoyance had first to disappear; he had to be limited to the world of the senses to be able, by means of a growing capacity for discernment of physical appearances, to arrive at the consciousness of his own self. In the future, he will win back the clairvoyance he once had and will at the same time be able to hold onto his self-consciousness.

This evolution has proceeded slowly and continuously; nevertheless, we can indicate the exact moment when the conscious condition of physical, sensible perception began. It was the year 3101 before Christ's appearance on earth. Until that time, there existed a natural clairvoyance. Then it gradually began to disappear, and the dark epoch called the lesser Kali Yuga began, in which the human soul could no longer perceive the spiritual world.

Let us imagine now the state of human souls at the onset of that dark epoch. In remembering past epochs, the human soul might say, “I once could behold spiritual beings; I could see into at least a part of the world where the ancient Rishis and Zoroaster were teachers, and I could listen to those great leaders and masters of old; I could hear the great leaders who spoke to me from the wisdom that arises from the spiritual world.” This feeling, however, became ever weaker in those souls.

Three thousand years after the beginning of that dark epoch, a new possibility arose for a human being to unite himself with the spiritual world. This possibility lay in the fact that a person could achieve union with the spiritual world through his I; that is, it was possible for him to perceive the spiritual world even though human perception was limited to the senses. It was through the incarnation of Christ that this possibility arose. All other great world leaders incarnated in such a way that their spiritual being united with an astral body. When we attempt to understand the essence of the Bodhisattvas, we find that their spiritual portion, which worked on earth, raised itself into higher worlds and was linked only to the astral body. In Christ alone do we find a divine-spiritual being in direct connection with a physical body. This means that the I of Jesus abandoned his physical, etheric, and astral sheaths, and the Christ incarnated Himself as the I within those sheaths so that the I of every human being can have a connection with the Christ. Consequently, we see that in earlier ages the great leaders of humanity could be so perceived that one could reach an understanding of their bond with the spiritual world only through pictures. Now, however, in contrast, the whole biography of Christ consists of facts that could come to expression in the physical world. In other words, the Christ event can be grasped with our intellect, with our physical mind. God had to descend to the physical world because the human faculty for perception could no longer raise itself above the world of the physical senses. For this reason came the mighty prophecy of John the Baptist that the disposition of the human soul must change so that the kingdom of heaven can draw near.

In earlier times one could approach the kingdom of heaven to some degree through human clairvoyance. Now one had to find it in Christ Himself through the medium of the senses. In order that humanity should not lose its link with the spiritual world during the dark age of Kali Yuga, Christ had to descend to the physical plane. The Dark Age lasted more than 5,000 years. We are living in the important time of the end of Kali Yuga. Since 1899, the Dark Age, which began in 3101 BC, has already run its course, and since then certain faculties of soul have slowly begun to develop that have not yet been recognized by human science. In this twentieth century of ours, new faculties of the human soul will gradually evolve in a portion of humanity. Before the end of the century, for instance, it will be possible to perceive the human etheric body. Another faculty will be to look inward and behold, as if in a dream, the picture, the counterpart, of a deed one is about to perform. Certain persons endowed in a particular way will have still another experience. What Paul experienced at Damascus, which was a personal experience for him, will become common experience for a certain number of people.

One can perceive the significance of this event in the twentieth century from the following. Paul could learn about everything that had happened in Palestine without its changing him from Saul to Paul. His condition of soul was such that he could not be convinced that the Christ lived in the man from Nazareth. At the event of Damascus, he could say for the first time with his clairvoyant consciousness: Christ exists! The people who will experience the event of Damascus in the twentieth century will receive direct knowledge of Christ. They will not require documentary evidence in order to recognize Christ, but they will have direct knowledge, as is today possessed only by the initiates. All the faculties that today can be acquired by means of initiation will in the future be universal faculties of humanity. This condition of soul, this experiencing of soul, is called in esotericism the “second coming of Christ.” Christ will not be incarnated again in a physical body, but He will appear in an etheric body as in the street near Damascus.

Christ incarnated on the physical plane when humanity had become limited to the physical body. We can repeat today the words of John the Baptist, “Repent! for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (“Change the disposition of your soul so that your own faculties open the spiritual world to you.”) Human beings with etheric clairvoyance will thus behold the Christ appearing before them in an etheric body. The faculties I have just described are lying like seeds in the soul. In the future they will be developed, and one will be able to say that the destiny of a person lies to a certain extent in his own hands. When this etheric vision appears, however, it will be necessary for people to know the significance of these faculties. It will be impossible then to fall back into materialism as people do today. One will not be immediately aware of the faculties when they appear, and those who possess them will even be regarded as sick or deluded by fantasy. It is therefore the mission of spiritual science to prepare human beings for the understanding of such faculties. Communicating the fundamental wisdom (Ideale) of spiritual science thus is not optional but is a necessary measure for the evolution of humanity.

What we have said will often be repeated in the years to come, but it is vital that it be understood correctly. It is possible that materialistic tendencies will penetrate the Theosophical Society, (see Note 6) even to the point that one will believe that Christ will take on a material body when He comes again. If this were to be the case, one could assert that humanity has made no progress at all in the last 2,000 years. Christ appeared 2,000 years ago in a physical body to be perceived by the physical senses. For future clairvoyance He will appear in an etheric body. By means of spiritual science we are preparing ourselves to understand the significant era ahead of us. To be anthroposophists, it is not enough to understand anthroposophy in a theoretical way; we must bring it to life within ourselves. It will be necessary to observe this great event with complete exactness. There will be ambitious persons who try, out of the materialistic direction of theosophy today, to profit for themselves by making believe that they are the Christ, and they will find people who believe them. For the true anthroposophist, it will be a test to arm himself against such attempts and, instead of debasing human feeling in such a way, to raise it up to the spiritual worlds. Those who understand anthroposophy in the right way will say to these false messiahs of the twentieth century: you have announced the appearance of Christ on the physical plane, but we know that Christ will manifest Himself only in an etheric form. True anthroposophists will await Christ's appearance to the higher senses. A person must, before his death, have understood the true significance of this second coming of Christ; then, in the life between death and a new birth, this understanding will open his spiritual senses. Those who will not have these faculties, who have not been able on earth to understand the significance of Christ's second coming, however, must await a new incarnation to be able to acquire this understanding on the physical plane.

We are living in an extremely important epoch. We must characterize the event of Christ's second coming, which will be perceived by clairvoyant human beings. We can characterize this event by directing our attention to the cosmos and by alluding to an event that is approaching in our own day. This event is the appearance of Halley's Comet (see Note 4) which is also an important subject of study in Rosicrucian theosophy. The appearance of this comet is connected with events in the spiritual world. Just as the movements of the planets circling the sun correspond to the regular events in the evolution of humanity, so the appearance of a comet corresponds to an influence that runs counter to the regular events. Rosicrucian research has demonstrated that every comet exerts a particular influence on human evolutions. (see Note 7) The present comet has as its particular influence an intense impulse toward materialism. Every time Halley's Comet has appeared, a new impulse toward materialism has taken place. Its appearance in 1759 corresponded with the epoch in which Voltaireanism was at its high point. The appearance in 1835 corresponded with the materialism of Moleschott, Büchner, and others. (see Note 5) In the same way, in our time there will be a new impulse toward materialism, and the outer sign of this is the appearance of the comet. Those who let themselves be swayed by its influence will fall into the deepest materialism.

Today, not only this impulse exists, but there is also another influence, which is to raise humanity to spiritual heights. This will be observed by those who understand the signs of the times. In the macrocosm, the sign for this influence is the fact that the sun at the vernal equinox has entered the sign of Pisces, the Fish. At the time when Christ appeared, the sun was in the sign of Aries, the Ram. The sun began to enter this sign in about 800 BC and was well into Aries at the time of the event of Golgotha. Now the sun has been in the sign of Pisces for several centuries. In the near future it will have advanced so far in this sign that it will be the outer symbol for the appearance of Christ in the etheric body. You will see, therefore, that anthroposophy does not expound to the world theoretical teaching but rather that the signs of the times have given us the task of teaching anthroposophy. In the West this message has been foreseen for many centuries by those who call themselves Rosicrucians. (see Note 7) Among the Rosicrucians, a Fifth Gospel is taught beside the four that are well known. It is through this spiritual gospel that the other four can be understood, and it will be given to a portion of humanity of the twentieth century, just as the others were given on the occasion of the physical appearance of Christ. Those adherents to the Rosicrucian movement who will have a clear consciousness will understand the significance of this Fifth Gospel for humanity. (see Note 8)

If you will become attentive to Rosicrucian theosophy, your striving will be able to enter into the spirit of the progress of humanity, so that it will become possible to understand the Christ Who is to appear in a new form. The time is at hand when we will be able to recognize the Christ directly, even if, though this is unlikely, all the Gospels as printed documents should be lost.

One can speak about these things only in a circle where a preparation exists that has been acquired not only through theoretical learning but through continuous breathing of the air of our group life. In public lectures one must observe certain boundaries, but in this group we breathe such an air that these great truths could be spoken of tonight. Our souls, however, should not be satisfied merely with the expression of such truths in words but should gain from them the strength for daily work, a light that will stream daily into ordinary life, and a strength for the future. One must become wiser through truth, but one must also speak ever more courageously of the truth, as of a spiritual blood that we wish to allow to flow into our feeling and will.