Excurses on the Gospel of Mark
Part III. Excursus
7 March 1911, Berlin
When aided by spiritual science we give ourselves up to the study of the Gospels, we are at once aware of powerful experiences coming to us from them. And we venture to say that people will first gain some idea of all that has been poured into the Gospels by those who wrote them, when spiritual science has been popularised somewhat as is the fashion to-day. Many things will then be recognised as belonging to the Gospels that are not found directly in these documents, but are only discovered when the four Gospels are studied side by side.
I should like, in the first place, to say that in the Gospel of Matthew the true history of the Christ Impulse is put before us in the story of a child. Beginning with an account of the ancient Hebrew people — or rather of their first ancestor — the account of the Christ-Impulse in this Gospel only goes back to the origin of the Hebrew people. In this Gospel we learn to know the bearer of the Christ Being as he developed out of the Hebrew people. When we pass on to the Gospel of Mark we meet with the Christ-Impulse directly. Here all mention of the life of the child is at first disregarded. After being told that John the Baptist is the great prophet who foretold the coming of the Christ-Impulse, it describes the baptism by John in Jordan.
Then from the Gospel of Luke we receive a new history of the childhood of the bearer of the Christ-Impulse, but this time it goes much further back as regards the origin of Jesus of Nazareth — it goes back to the beginning of mankind upon the earth. The descent of Jesus of Nazareth is traced back to Adam, and then to one who it states “was God.” Therefore, this story of his childhood clearly indicates that the human nature of Jesus of Nazareth can be traced back to a point of time when man first came forth from Divine Beings. The Gospel of Luke takes us back to a time when man can no longer be regarded as a Being incarnated in the flesh, but as a Spiritual Being, a Being that had come forth from the womb of divine spirituality.
In the Gospel of John the great facts are put before us so, that again without giving any account of the childhood or the destiny of Jesus of Nazareth, we are introduced directly, and in a very profound sense, to the very Being of Christ. In the course of the spiritual development we have ourselves passed through in recent years we sketched out a certain path as regards the study of the Gospels; our design was to begin first with the Gospel that gives us the most exalted outlook into the abstract spirituality of Christ — the Gospel according to John.
This was to be followed by the study of the Gospel of Luke, in order to show how the highest degree of spirituality possible in man becomes apparent when the life of this man, Jesus of Nazareth, is traced back to the point of time when as earthly man he came forth from the Godhead.
The study of the Gospel of Matthew was to follow, so that we might understand the Christ-Impulse as this passed through the ancient Hebrew people.
The Gospel of Mark we reserved to the last. Why this was done will be rightly understood when much that has been touched on recently as general spiritual science is connected with things you have known for long, and also with others that are comparatively new. This is why I have spoken recently of many things in human life, and in the composition of the members of man's being, and shall speak of similar things to-day, which may serve as an introduction to certain facts of human evolution. For it becomes ever more necessary that the conditions of human evolution should be recognised, not recognised only, but kept constantly before us.
As we advance towards the future, mankind will become ever more self dependent, ever more individual. Belief in external authority will be replaced more and more by the authority of the individual soul. This is the necessary course of evolution, but in order that it may bring well-being and blessedness, man has to know his own nature. We cannot say that as a whole we are far advanced in the estimation and understanding of human nature. For what, among much else, is taking place in the history of man to-day? All kinds of programmes, all kinds of so-called ideals for mankind are certainly not wanting at the present time. One can almost say that not only a man here and there, but every man might come forward to-day as a little Messiah with a special ideal for our humanity; might construct out of his head and heart an ideal by which well-being and blessedness might be attained. Nor are societies and associations wanting that suggest one thing or another which they think necessary to introduce into our culture. These we have in great measure, and faith in them is not wanting. The strength of conviction in those who put forward such programmes is so great that it will shortly be necessary to form councils to establish the infallibility of each. In speaking of such things we mention what is deeply characteristic of our age.
Spiritual science does not keep us from thinking of our future, but points to certain fundamental tendencies and laws which cannot be disregarded if anything is to be gained from its impulse.
For what does the man of to-day believe? He takes counsel with himself; an ideal rises in his soul and he believes he is capable of making his ideal actual. He does not pause to think that perhaps the time is not ripe for its introduction, that the picture he has formed may perhaps be a caricature, and that it may possibly only reach fruition in a more or less distant future. In short it is very difficult for people to-day to understand that every event must be prepared for, that owing to the general macrocosmic relationships of the world these are ordained to take place at fixed times. It is exceedingly difficult for present day humanity to grasp this. All the same it is a universal law, and holds for each individual as well as for the whole human race.
We can recognise the working of this law as regards individuals, when we observe their lives by means of spiritual science. Here we have to consider the smallest, most intimate things that rise within the soul.
I am not now dealing with general ideas, but will keep rather to what has been observed in particular cases. In the first place let us suppose that we have someone before us who has been able to grasp some idea in his soul most intensely; that he has been so fired by it that it assumed a distinct form in his soul and he desires earnestly to make this idea actual. Let us suppose then that this idea first arose in his head, and was then filled with impulses of feeling from his heart. Such a man would not be able to-day to wait, he would set about at once giving reality to his idea.
Suppose that at first this was quite a small idea concerned with some scientific or artistic fact. Will an occultist who knows the laws put such an entirely strange idea at once before the world? We are assuming that the idea is quite a small one. The occultist knows that it appears first in the life of the astral body. This can be observed even outwardly through the fact that enthusiasm dwells in the soul. It is pre-eminently a force of the astral body.
It is as a rule harmful when people do not allow the idea at this stage to rest quietly and not set it at once before the world; for the idea has first to follow a clearly defined course. For instance, it must enter ever deeper and deeper into the astral body and then impress itself, as a seal does, on the etheric body. If the idea is a small one this process may take seven days. But this time is necessary. And if the man goes ahead hurriedly with his idea, he is apt to overlook one important fact, namely, that after seven days a quite clearly defined experience of a very subtle kind takes place. If these things are noticed he may have this experience, but if he goes madly ahead saying: — “Out with it into the world!” The result is that his soul is not disposed to listen for what may happen on the seventh day. With a small idea it always happens on the seventh day that the person does not rightly know how to carry it out, that it vanishes again within the soul. The man is restless, perhaps even frightened, oppressed with doubts, yet all the time in spite of feeling perturbed he is attached to his idea.
Enthusiasm now changes to an intimate feeling of love. The idea is now within the etheric body. If it is to prosper and thrive it must lay hold of the outer astral substances with which we are always surrounded; thus from our astral body it must first pass into our etheric body and thence into the external astrality. To accomplish this another seven days is necessary. And if the man is not such a tyro that when the idea begins to trouble him, he says: — “Away with you!” But if he pays heed to the way life progresses he can see that after this period something comes to meet his idea from outside which can be expressed somewhat as follows: — “It is well to have waited fourteen days, for now I am no longer alone with my idea. It is as if I had been inspired from the macrocosm, as if something had entered my ideas from the outer world.”
A man then feels for the first time that he is in harmony with the whole spiritual world, that it brings something to meet him, when he has something to give to it. A certain soul-satisfying feeling arises after a period of about twice seven days.
This idea has then to follow the path backwards, it has to enter the etheric body again by way of the external astrality. We are then aware of it quite objectively, and the temptation is very great to give it to the world. This must again be resisted with all our power; for there is a danger, while the idea is still in the etheric body, of its entering the world in a cold way, of being communicated to the world in a cold and icy way. But if you wait for a further period of seven days the coldness leaves it and it is filled again with the warmth of the individual astral body; it takes on the character of the personality. Thus what we gave birth to in the first place, and then allowed to be baptised by the Gods, we are now able to hand over to the world as our own. Every impulse we feel in our souls must pass through these three stages before it becomes ripe within us. This holds as regards small ideas.
For more important ideas longer periods of time are necessary, but these always pass in a rhythm of seven and seven. In this way not weeks but months are built up, and then again years in the same rhythm. We can have a rhythm of seven to seven weeks, and of seven to seven years.
From this you can see that the important thing is not so much what the man of to-day thinks, or what impulses are in his soul, but that he has the power to bear these impulses with patience to allow them to be baptised by World-Spirits, and then emerge when they are ripe. Other laws of a similar kind might be added to this, for what is called the “development of the soul” is full of such ordered arrangements.
When, for instance, on a certain day, and such days are very rare in men's lives, you have the feeling: — “To-day I feel as if blessed by the World-Spirit, ideas arise in me!” It is well to receive these quietly, to know that after nineteen days a process of fructification such as I have described will take place in the soul. The evolution of the human soul is full of such ordered arrangements. Now man has an instinctive feeling not to overvalue these things, and for this we should be very thankful, not to allow himself to be too much uplifted by them. He takes note of them, especially those men whose aim it is to develop and ripen their higher natures, take note of them without really knowing the law. Thus it is often noticed that artistic natures reveal certain periods in their creative activities, that there is a rhythm in them according to days, weeks, and years. This is easily seen in artists of the first rank, in Goethe, for instance. We note how something rises in Goethe's soul, and that only after four times seven years is it really ripe, and then it emerges in another form from that in which it first appeared.
People might easily remark here in accordance with the inclination of to-day: — “Yes, my dear spiritual investigator, such laws there may be, but why should people trouble so much about them? They note them instinctively!”
Such a remark has reference to a time that is past. Because people are becoming more self-reliant, because they harken more and more to their own individuality, they must try to develop within them an inner calendar. Just as an outer calendar is of importance in external affairs, so in the future, when the intensity of man's soul has increased, he will feel “inner weeks” he will feel an inward ebb and flow in his life of feeling and experience, inner Sundays. Men will progress in accordance with this inwardness. Many things felt by man formerly in the partitioning of his life according to number will be experienced at a later day inwardly; this will be the dawn of what is macrocosmic in the souls of men. It will then be for him a self-understood duty not to bring tumult or disorder into human evolution by overstepping the sacred laws of the soul's development. He will come to understand that it is but a refined form of egoism to desire to communicate immediately what is taking place in the soul.
Men will come of themselves to experience the spirit within them, and this not abstractly as is done to-day, but they will perceive how this spirit works regularly and according to law in their souls. When something happens to them, and they wish to communicate this to others, they will not let this loose headlong on humanity like a mad bull, but will listen to what the spirit-filled nature within them has to say.
What importance will it have for men when they learn to value more and more and to harken more and more to what emerges in this way as law out of the inner spirituality of the world, and when they allow themselves to be inspired by it? Men in general have little feeling for such things. They do not believe that Spiritual Beings enter into our inner being and work there according to law. They will for long regard it as foolishness, even where culture is well advanced, when the ordered activity of the Spirit is spoken of. And those who from spiritual scientific knowledge believe in the Spirit, will experience through the deep antipathy of the times that are approaching what is said concerning our day in the Gospel of Mark:
“And when they shall lead you (away) and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither premeditate, but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour that speak ye; for it is not ye that speak but the Holy Ghost.” — Mark XIII, 11.
We must endeavour to understand a sentence like this which has such special reference to our day, because of the value it acquires through its connection with this Gospel — not with the other Gospels.
As regards the Gospel of Mark you see that in a general way it contains what is also to be found in the other Gospels. But one passage found in this Gospel is remarkable just because it is not found in the other Gospels. This passage is especially remarkable because commentators have said some really very silly things about it. It is where Christ Jesus came out from preaching to the people, and where, after he had chosen his disciples, we are told: —
“And they went into an house. And the multitude cometh together again so that they had not roam so much as to eat bread. And when His friends heard of it they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said: He is out of His senses, He is beside Himself.” — Mark III, 19-21.
This passage is not found in the same way in the other Gospels. When we realise that the future course of human evolution will be such, that the saying of St. Paul: — “Not I, but Christ in me!” will become ever more and more true, that that human ego alone is fruitful which receives into it the Impulse of Christ, we ought to feel that this passage refers in a most outstanding way to our own day. The fate experienced through the events of Palestine by Jesus Christ, as a representative, will be lived through by the whole of humanity in the course of time. In the near future men will divine more and more that wherever Christ is taught from an inward understanding of Spiritual Science, great antipathy will be manifested by those who turn from this teaching instinctively. It will not be at all difficult to see that those things will come to pass in the future which are described in prophetic images as the Events of Christ in the Gospel according to Mark.
The outward behaviour of many people, as well as much that is produced as art, and especially what is widely circulated to-day under the guise of science, will clearly show that those who speak of the Spirit in the sense in which Christ spoke of it will say in the near future: — “There are many among them who appear to be out of their senses, ‘beside themselves’!
It has to be stated again and again that the most important facts of spiritual life, as put forward by Spiritual Science, will be regarded in the future as fanciful tales by the greater part of humanity.
From the Gospel of Mark we should be able to evolve the necessary strength to stand firm against all the opposition that will be stirred up against the truths to be discovered in the domain of the Spirit.
If one has a feeling for the finer differences of style found in this Gospel from those found in the other Gospels, one notices spiritual scientific differences here also; we find in it things not found in the other Gospels. One notices in the construction of its sentences, in the exclusion of many sentences found in the other Gospels, that many things which might be accepted quite abstractly take on a special shade of meaning. When one has a feeling for this, one notices also that in the Gospel of Mark we are given an incisive, a most pregnant teaching concerning the ego. One sentence only need be noted for this to be made clear, one sentence, the special feature of which consists in certain things being omitted that are found in the other Gospels. If one has such perception, one realises the deep significance of the following passage: —
And Jesus went out, and His disciples into the towns of Cesarea, Philippi, and by the way He asked His disciples, saying unto them, “Who do men say the ‘I’ Is? What do people recognise as the?” And those who were round about Jesus answered and said: “The people say that in the true ‘I’ must live John the Baptist.” But others say this ‘I’ must be filled with Elias, that Elias must live in the ‘I’; others again say, another of the Prophets must be so worked on that the “I” says: “Not I — but the Prophet works in me.” But He said to those who were with Him, “What do you say that the ‘I’ is?” Then Peter answered: “We understand the ‘I’ so that we grasp it in its spirituality as Thee, that is as the Christ.” And He charged them that they should not tell ordinary men of this! For this mystery they could not understand.
But to those who had been moved by His words He began to give the following teaching: “That which is the outward physical expression of the ego-nature in man must suffer many things if it is to attain full development; and so it came to pass that the most ancient masters of mankind and those who knew the content of the holiest wisdom could say: The form in which the ego dwells at present serves it no longer; in this form it shall be slain, and after three days, in accordance with the ordered rhythm of universal connections, it will rise again in a higher form.”
And they were all amazed that He should speak these words openly before all men.
Here I must remark that up to that time such words could only have been spoken in the Mysteries. It was a secret that until then was only mentioned in the temple of the Mysteries — the secret that men had to undergo “death and birth” (Stirb und Werde) in the course of initiation and after three days had to rise again. Hence we are told: —
Peter was amazed, took the Christ aside and pointed out that such things should not be spoken of openly. Then the Christ turned Himself about and said: “In speaking thus Peter, thou givest thyself over to Satan; for stating this truth as thou dost is not for our time, but belongs to the past.” These things were in those days confined within the temple. In the future, in view of the superlative Mystery of Golgotha they will gradually become the possession of all men. Thus it is ordained in the divine guidance of earthly evolution. Those who say otherwise do not speak in accordance with the divine wisdom men had in the past, but gave a temporal form to the wisdom of the gods.
It is somewhat in this way we have to understand this passage that meets us in all the grandeur of its clear-cut phrases in the Gospel of St. Mark. We have to realise that the Impulse of Christ according to the Gospel of Mark consists in our receiving the Christ into our ego, so that the saying of Paul: — “Not I, but Christ in me,” may become ever more actual; and not the abstract Christ only, but He who sent the Holy Spirit, the concrete Spirit, who in an ordered and regular manner (as we have described to-day) works inspiringly with his inward calendar in the souls of men.
In pre-Christian times people only attained knowledge through being initiated into the Mysteries, when for three and a half days they remained in a death-like state after having endured the tragic suffering of one who, while living on the physical plane, tries to raise himself to spiritual heights. There they learnt that this earthly man must be slain, that a higher man must rise again in him — that is, he must experience “death and birth.” What formerly had only been experienced in the Mysteries now became an historical fact through the Mystery of Golgotha. If they felt united with this Mystery it provided the possibility by which all men could become pupils of this greater wisdom. 1See Christianity as Mystical Fact,” by Rudolf Steiner.
Understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha was therefore the most important understanding. It was only possible for earthly man to acquire an understanding of what was to enter more and more into the human ego after the coming of the Christ-Impulse.
We can now receive inspiration in a certain way from the Gospels. For the time in which the Christ Event took place, the Gospel of Matthew was a good “book of initiation”; for our day this holds good more especially with regard to the Gospel according to Mark.
You all know that this is the age in which the consciousness-soul is to be especially developed, in which it is to be separated in isolation from its milieu. You know that we are now summoned to direct our attention not so much to the fact that we belong to any special race, but to what is to be born in us, and is described in the words of St. Paul: — “Not I but Christ in me!”
Our fifth post-Atlantean period is that specially inspired by the Gospel according to Mark. The task of the sixth post-Atlantean period on the other hand, will be gradually to fill the whole of humanity with the spirit of Christ. Thus while in the fifth period of civilisation the Being of Christ will be an object of study, of deep inward penetration, in the sixth men will receive His nature into their whole being. Added to this, what we have learnt to recognise as the inner nature of the Gospel of Luke is of great value, for it is the one which reveals fully the origin of Jesus of Nazareth, as does also the Gospel of Matthew, which leads us back to Zarathustra, just as the Jesus of the Gospel of Luke leads us back to Buddha and Buddhism. For in our studies of the Gospel of Luke we realise that Jesus of Nazareth is presented to us throughout the course of his long evolution in such a way that we are led back to the divine spiritual origin of mankind. Through this man will be able to realise more and more his own divine nature, and because of this must fill himself with the Christ-Impulses. This stands before us as a wondrous ideal, but it will only become concrete when, through the Gospel of Luke, we rise to a true understanding of the physical man of the sense world as a divine Being with a spiritual origin.
And for the seventh post-Atlantean period of civilisation, and on until the next great catastrophe, the Gospel of John will be the book of inspiration, as for the man of to-day it is a guide for his spiritual life. In that period many things will be of service to man which he has learnt in the course of the sixth epoch. But much of what is believed to-day will have to be unlearnt — fundamentally unlearnt. This will not be difficult, for scientific facts indicate that we will have to overcome many things. Thus many things are so regarded to-day that they are called “of the senses,” things which inform us concerning such self-understood wisdom, as that the terms “motor” and “sensory nerves” are pure nonsense. There are no “motor nerves.” There are only nerves of perception. Nerves that control movements are also nerves of perception, only their purpose is to bring to our perception the corresponding movement of the muscles. It will not be so very long before people realise that movement is not conveyed to the muscle by means of the nerves, but by the Astral body, and indeed by that within our astral body which in the immediate future will not be directly perceived to be what it is. For there is a law which lays down that what is active (operative) is not recognised immediately for what it is. What calls forth movement in the muscles is connected with the astral body, and indeed in such a way that in the astral body itself, by the movement of the muscles, a kind of resonance or tone is developed.
Something of the nature of music permeates our astral body; and finds expression through the movement of the muscles. It is really the same as in the case of the well-known Chladnic tone-forms, when a fine powder scattered on a metal plate can be set in motion if this is stroked by a violin bow; certain figures then appear in the powder. Our astral body is filled with nothing but such forms which are at the same time tone-forms, and their united activity is what causes our astral body to assume its special aspect (Lage). All this is imprinted in the astral body. People can convince themselves of this in a quite trivial way. If the biceps or the muscles of the forearm are tightly braced and then laid against the ear this tone can be heard; but the exercises must be done in the right way, the muscles must be stretched and the thumb laid on them. This is no real “proof,” but only a means by which what is here mentioned can be illustrated in a trivial manner. We are permeated by music and reveal it in the movement of our muscles, and we are endowed with “motor-nerves” as they are wrongly called, so that we may know something concerning the movements of our muscles.
This is but one form of those truths that will convince people more and more that man is really a spiritual being; that he is really interwoven with the harmony of the spheres — even to his muscles. And spiritual science, whose task it is to prepare the sixth epoch in respect of the spiritual understanding of the world, will concern itself in every particular with such truths as deal with man as well as with spiritual Beings. Exactly as tone in one connection rises to a higher sphere when from musical sound it becomes the spoken human word, so it is in cosmic relationships. The sphere harmonies become something higher when they become the cosmic word or Logos; and this they are when all that is active as sphere harmonies becomes Logos.
Now in the physical organisation of man the next thing higher than the muscles is the blood. In the same way as a muscle is attuned to the sphere harmonies, the blood is attuned to the Logos, and can become ever more and more an expression of the Logos as it has been, unconsciously, since the beginning of man.
This means there is a tendency on the physical plane for the blood of man which is the expression of his ego to become the conscious expression of the Logos. And when in the sixth period of civilisation men have learnt to recognise themselves as spiritual beings, they will no longer hold to the fantastic idea that muscles are moved through motory nerves, but will know that they are moved by sphere harmonies which have become personal.
Then in the seventh period of civilisation men will feel that even to their blood they are permeated by the Logos — they will then feel for the first time the real content of the Gospel of John. The science of this Gospel will be first understood in the seventh period, and people will come to feel that every book of physiology should begin with the opening words of the Gospel of John. What our attitude to it should be is well expressed in the following words:
“Much of this Gospel we can understand now, but for long there will be much more that we cannot understand!” It stands before us as a high ideal.
From all I have said to-day you will gather that the Gospel of Matthew has to be regarded as especially inspiring for the fourth period of post-Atlantean civilisation, and for our own day the Gospel of Mark must be considered especially inspiring. For the next period, the sixth, the Gospel of Luke is important, and we must prepare ourselves for it, because the seed of everything that is to come to pass in the future must have existed already in the past. And everything that is to come to pass in the further course of human evolution, everything that is to develop in the seventh period up to the time of the next catastrophe comes fully to light in the Gospel of John if we can but understand it. It is therefore specially important that we should understand the Gospel of Mark as a book that can give us guidance in much that we have to practise, and much we have to guard against. Especially those short sentences which in their pregnant style impart to us the meaning of the Christ-Impulse for the human ego. It is very important we should realise that our task is to grasp the Spirit of Christ; and that we should realise how He will reveal Himself in the different periods of the future.
We have attempted to present this as regards our day in the words of the Rosicrucian Mystery Play, “The Portal of Initiation” as put into the mouth of the seeress Theodora. In the scene referred to we have something like a repetition of the Event of Paul on the way to Damascus. It is but a sign of the materialism of our day when people think that the Christ-Impulse could reveal itself again within a physical human form. That we have to guard against such a belief we learn from the Gospel of Mark, which holds a special warning for our day. If much that is found in this Gospel has reference to what is past, yet one sentence, in the higher moral sense just mentioned, has meaning for the near future. When considering spiritual realms the eye of the spirit can see that the influence proceeding from Spiritual Science is a necessity. When the deep spiritual meaning of the following passage is understood we shall connect it with our age and with the one shortly to follow:
“For in those days shall be affliction such as was not from the beginning of the creation which God created until this time, neither shall be.”
We have to direct men's attention to these words. All kinds of afflictions await those in the future who desire to give expression to spiritual truth in its true form: — “And except that the Lord had shortened those days nothing of spiritual nourishment would have been left, but for the elect's sake He has shortened those days!”
And then we are told:
“If in that time anyone shall say to you, ‘Lo, here is Christ, or Lo, He is there, believe Him not.’ ”
The Gospel here refers to an eventual materialistic acceptance of Christ.
“For false Christs and false Prophets shall rise and shall show signs and wonders to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect. But take ye heed: behold I have foretold you all things!” — Mark XIII, 19-23.
The attacks of materialism will be so strong that it will be necessary for men to acquire sufficient strength of soul really to endure what is expressed by the words: — “False Christs and false Prophets will appear.” And when they are told: — “Lo, here is the Christ!” those who have come under the influence of Spiritual Science will be able to accept the warning given in the Gospel of Mark.
When men say to you “Lo, here is the Christ,” believe it not!