Background to the Gospel of St. Mark
VIII. Laws of Rhythm in the Domain of Soul-and-Spirit.
7 March 1911, Berlin
When we study the Gospels in the light of Spiritual Science we find descriptions of momentous, overwhelming experiences. And it is only when Spiritual Science has been studied much more widely than it is to-day, that men will be able to form an adequate idea of what has been poured into these Gospels out of the spiritual experiences undergone by their authors. They will realise then that many things become apparent only when the accounts given in the four Gospels are studied side by side.
Let me first of all call attention to the fact that in St. Matthew's Gospel the account of the Christ Impulse is preceded by references to childhood and a record of the generations of the Hebrew people from their first ancestor onwards. In this Gospel the account of the Christ Impulse takes us to the beginning of the Hebrew people from whom the bearer of the Christ Being is born. In St. Mark's Gospel we meet the Christ Impulse at the very beginning. The whole childhood story is omitted. We are simply told that John the Baptist was the forerunner of the Christ Impulse and the Gospel then begins at once with the description of the Baptism by John in the Jordan. From St. Luke's Gospel we get a different childhood story which traces the ancestry of Jesus of Nazareth much further back, ‘to the very beginning of humanity on Earth; the descent is traced to Adam who, it is then said, ‘was the son of God’. This indicates clearly that the human nature in Jesus of Nazareth is to be traced right back to the time when man was formed from divine-spiritual Beings. Thus St. Luke's Gospel takes us back to an epoch when man must not be regarded as an earthly being incarnated in the flesh, but as a spiritual being born from the womb of divine spirituality. In St. John's Gospel, again without any childhood story or any mention of the destinies of Jesus of Nazareth, we are led in a very profound way to the Christ Being Himself.
In the course of the development of Spiritual Science we have followed a definite path in our study of the Gospels. We began with the Gospel which reveals the very highest insight into the spirituality of Christ — namely, the Gospel of St. John. Then we studied the Gospel of St. Luke, in order to understand how the highest spirituality in human nature reveals itself when man's descent is traced back to the time when he came forth, as earthly man, from the Godhead. Study of St. Matthew's Gospel then helped us to understand the Christ Impulse as proceeding from the ancient Hebrew people. Study of St. Mark's Gospel has been left to the last. To understand the reason for this, many subjects recently touched upon must be connected both with facts already familiar to us and with others that are new. That is why in the last lecture I said something about aspects of human life in connection with the several members of man's being. I shall be speaking in a similar strain to-day, as a kind of introduction to certain aspects of evolution. For it will become more and more necessary to recognise the conditions upon which human evolution depends — indeed not only to recognise but also to heed them.
As they advance into the future men will become more and more independent, more and more individualistic. Belief in external authorities will be increasingly replaced by belief in the authority of a man's own soul. This is a necessary trend of evolution. If, however, it is to bring wellbeing and blessing, man must have knowledge of his own being, and it cannot be said that humanity in general has yet advanced very far in this respect.
What is particularly characteristic of the present day? There is no shortage of ideals and programmes for the good of humanity. Practically every single individual comes forward as a small-scale Messiah and is anxious to create a picture of ideal human happiness. Above all there is no shortage of associations and societies founded for the purpose of introducing into our culture something they consider essential. There is also abundant faith in these programmes and ideals: indeed so convinced of their value are their promoters that it will soon be necessary to set up a kind of Council to establish the infallibility of individuals concerned! All this is deeply characteristic of our age.
Spiritual Science does not stop us from thinking about our future, but indicates certain fundamental laws and conditions which cannot be disregarded with impunity if its impulses are to achieve any positive effect. What does a modern man believe? An ideal takes shape in his soul and he considers himself capable of making it everywhere a reality. He does not pause to reflect that the time may not be ripe for its fulfilment, that the picture he has formed of it may be a caricature or that it can become mature only in a more or less distant future. In short, it is very difficult for a man today to understand that every event must be prepared for and occur at a particular point of time determined by macrocosmic conditions. Nevertheless this is a universal law and holds good for each individual as well as for the whole human race. We can recognise how this law affects an individual when we study his life in the light of Spiritual Science for we can turn to experiences lying very near at hand.
I am not going just to generalise but will keep to what can be observed. Let us suppose that someone conceives an idea which fires him with enthusiasm; it takes definite form in his soul and he is anxious to bring it in some way to fulfilment. The idea comes into his head and his heart urges him to act. In such circumstances a man of to-day will find it almost impossible to wait; he will go all out to bring this idea to fulfilment. Let us suppose that the idea is, in itself, insignificant, or merely a matter of information about scientific or artistic facts. An occultist, who knows the law, will not immediately proclaim his unfamiliar idea to the world. An occultist knows that such ideas live, first of all, in the astral body: the presence of enthusiasm in the soul is sufficient evidence of this, for enthusiasm is preeminently a force in the astral body. Now as a rule it will be harmful if at this stage a man does not let the idea rest as it is but proclaims it at once to his fellow-men or to the world, for the idea must follow a quite definite course. It must take deeper and deeper hold of the astral body and then impress itself into the etheric body like the imprint of a seal. If the idea is of no great importance this process may take seven days — that is the minimum time necessary. And if a man storms around with his idea he is always apt to overlook something very important, namely that after seven days there will be a subtle but quite definite experience. This experience we may have if we pay proper attention. But if a man rushes wildly around trying to launch the idea into the world, the soul will certainly not be alert to what may happen on the seventh day. In the case of an idea of only slight importance we shall always find that on the seventh day we don't really know what to do with it, and it fades away. We may feel ill at ease, perhaps inwardly worried and oppressed with all kinds of doubts, yet in spite of this we find ourselves attuned to the idea. Enthusiasm has changed into an intimate feeling of love: the idea is now in the etheric body.
If the idea is to continue to thrive it must now lay hold of the outer astral substance which always surrounds us. Hence it must pass from the astral body into the etheric body and from there into the outer astrality. For this, seven more days are needed. And unless the man in question is such a novice that when the idea begins to worry him he wants to get rid of it, he will realise, if he pays attention to what happens, that after this period something from without comes to meet his idea; he then recognises that it has been beneficial to wait fourteen days, because now he is not alone with his idea. It is as if he had been inspired from the Macrocosm, as if something had penetrated into his idea from the outer world. He will then for the first time feel in harmony with the whole spiritual world and will realise that it brings something to him when he has something to bring to it. A certain feeling of contentment arises after a period of about twice seven days.
But now the idea has to retrace its path, to pass from the outer astrality back into the etheric body. It has then become concrete and the temptation to communicate it to the world is very great. We must resist this with all our might, for there is now the danger that because the idea still lies in the etheric body, it may pass coldly into the world. If we wait another seven days the coldness leaves it and it is again filled with the warmth of the individual astral body and takes on a personal quality. That to which we gave birth and have allowed to be baptised by the Gods may now be given over to the world as our own. Every impulse in the soul must pass through these last three stages before it becomes fully mature. This holds good for ideas of no great significance.
In the case of an idea of weight and importance, longer periods will be necessary, but always in this rhythm of seven to seven.
You see, then, that what really matters is not, as a modern man thinks, to have an impulse in his soul but to be able to bear this impulse with patience, to let it be baptised by the World-Spirit and to let it live and achieve a state of maturity. Other such laws could be cited for the soul's development is a process full of ordered rhythms. For example, on some particular day — and such days vary greatly — we may feel that we have been blessed by the World-Spirit and ideas surge up from within us. In these circumstances it is a good thing not to lose our head but to recognise that after nineteen days a similar process of fructification may be expected. As I say, the development of the human soul is a process full of regular rhythms. On the whole, man has a healthy instinct not to carry these things to excess or to disregard them entirely. He takes heed of them, especially if he is one who aims at developing higher qualities and who allows them to mature; he heeds these things without being consciously aware of the law. It would be easy to show that in the creative work of artists there is evidence of a certain periodicity, a certain rhythmic process, a rhythm of days or weeks or years. This is particularly apparent in the lives of artists of the first rank — in the life of Goethe, for instance. It can easily be shown that something arises in Goethe's soul, becomes mature only after a period of four times seven years, and then appears in a different form.
In line with the tendency of the times, the general attitude might be: Yes, that is all very well; there may be such laws, but why should people trouble much about them? They will observe them instinctively. — Now that may have been true in the past; but because men are becoming more independent, more and more attentive to their own individuality, they must also learn to develop an inner calendar. Just as there are outer calendars of importance for everyday matters, so in the future, as the intensity of man's soul-life increases, he will have a feeling of ‘inner weeks’, of an inner ebb and flow of life, of inner ‘Sundays’, for the trend of humanity is towards an increasing inwardness. As we move towards the future, much of what man has experienced in the past as a result of the rhythmical periodicity of his life will be experienced later on as a macrocosmic resurrection in the life of soul. It will then seem to be an obvious duty to avoid bringing tumult and disorder into evolution by constantly transgressing the laws of the soul's development. Men will come to realise that the wish to communicate immediately whatever takes root in the soul is only a subtler form of egoism. They will come to feel the spirit working in the soul, not abstractly, as nowadays, but in conformity with law. And when some idea occurs to them, when they may desire to communicate some inner experience to others, they will not set about their fellow-men like raging bulls but listen to what spirit-filled nature has to say in their inmost soul.
What will it mean for men when they come more and more to recognise the spirituality which works in the world in obedience to law and by which they should let themselves be inspired? The vast majority of men to-day still have no feeling for such things. They do not believe that spiritual beings will lay hold of and work within their soul according to law. Even those who sincerely desire to work for cultural progress will for a long time yet regard it as madness to speak of this ordered activity of the spirit. And owing to the antipathy that is so prevalent to-day, those whose belief in the spirit is founded on spiritual-scientific knowledge will find that certain words in St. Mark's Gospel are directly applicable to them, and indeed to the present time:
‘But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye; for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost’ (xiii, 11).
We must try to understand a passage such as this, which has special significance for our own time because of its place in the whole framework not only of St. Mark's Gospel but in that of the other Gospels as well. Generally speaking, St. Mark's Gospel contains a good deal that is also found in the other Gospels. But there is one very remarkable passage which does not occur in the other Gospels and is particularly noteworthy because of the silly statements that have been made about it by biblical commentators. It is the passage where we are told that after Christ Jesus had chosen His disciples, He went out to preach to the people:
‘And they went into an house. And the multitude cometh together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him, for, they said, he is beside himself’ (iii, 20-1).
When we consider that in the future course of human evolution St. Paul's saying, ‘Not I, but Christ in me’, will become more and more true, that only an Ego which receives into itself the Christ Impulse can work fruitfully, we are justified in regarding the passage as particularly relevant to the present time. The destiny lived through by Christ Jesus during the events in Palestine will be lived through by the whole of mankind in the course of the ages. In the immediate future it will be more and more noticeable that wherever Christ is proclaimed with inner understanding, intense antipathy will be displayed by those who instinctively avoid Spiritual Science. It will not be difficult in the future to see how a prototypal event in Christ's life described in St. Mark's Gospel is coming to expression. Men's attitude to daily life, or the way in which art develops, and more particularly what is so widely accepted as science, will make it clear that what was said of Christ will be said of those who proclaim the Spirit in the truly Christian sense: There are many among them who seem to be beside themselves.
Again and again we must repeat that as time goes on the most important facts of the spiritual life as presented by Spiritual Science will be regarded as fantastic nonsense by the greater part of humanity. And from the Gospel of St. Mark we should draw the strength we need to stand firm in face of opposition to the truths that will be unveiled in the domain of the spirit.
If we have any feeling for the finer variations of style between the Gospel of St. Mark and the other Gospels, we shall also notice that the form in which certain things are presented by St. Mark is different from that to be found in the other Gospels. We become aware that through the actual structure of the sentences, through the omission of certain sentences found in the other Gospels, many things that might easily be taken abstractly are given definite shades of meaning. If we are sufficiently perceptive we shall realise that St. Mark's Gospel contains incisive and very important teaching concerning the ‘I’, concerning the inmost significance of the ‘I’ in man. To understand this we need only look carefully at one passage in the Gospel which has all the peculiar features due to the omission of details that are included in the accounts given in the other Gospels. Here is the passage in St. Mark's Gospel which, if there is a feeling for such details, will indicate its deep significance:
And Jesus went out accompanied by His disciples into the towns that are in the neighbourhood of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way He asked those who were around Him: ‘What do men say of the ‘I’? Whom do men recognise as the ‘I’?’ — And those who were around Jesus answered: ‘Men say that in the ‘I’, if the ‘I’ is the true ‘I’, there must live John the Baptist; but others say that this ‘I’ must be filled with Elias, that Elias must live in the ‘I’; others again say that another of the prophets must be regarded in such a way that the ‘I’ says: Not I, but this prophet works in me.’ But He said to those around him: ‘But whom do you say is the ‘I’?’ And Peter answered: ‘We understand the ‘I’ in its essential spirituality to be Thou, the Christ!’ And Christ charged those around Him: ‘Tell nothing of this to ordinary men, for they cannot yet understand this mystery!’ (viii, 27-33) 1Dr. Steiner was not quoting any of the usual versions of this passage but giving an extended paraphrase to clarify the points he wanted to make.
But to those around Him who had been inwardly stirred by His words He began to give this teaching:
That which is the outward, physical expression of Ego-hood in the human being must endure much suffering if the ‘I’ is to live in man. The ancient Masters of humanity and those who have knowledge of the holiest wisdom declare that in the form in which the ‘I’ is present, it cannot function; in this form it must be killed and after a rhythm of three days — a rhythm determined by cosmic laws — it must rise again in a higher form. And they were all amazed that He spoke these words openly before all men ...
At this point I must make a comment. Up to that time such words would have been permissible only in the secrecy of the Mysteries. A secret otherwise strictly guarded in the Mystery-temples was that in the process of Initiation a man must pass through the experience of ‘dying and becoming’ and waken after three days. This is an indication of the meaning of the verses which are to the following effect. —
Peter was amazed, took the Christ apart and intimated to Him that such things should not be spoken of openly. Then Christ Jesus turned about and said: ‘In speaking thus, Peter, the words are being put into your mouth by, Satan. The way in which you speak of this truth now belongs to the past, not to the present. In the past, such a truth was confined to the Temples; but in the future, because of the Mystery of Golgotha, it will be openly announced to all humanity. This is ordained by the divine guidance of world-evolution. Anyone who speaks in a contrary sense is not speaking out of divine wisdom but is distorting the divine wisdom into the form that was fitting only in the past.’
This is more or less how we must understand the above passage in the Gospel of St. Mark. We must realise that according to this Gospel the Christ Impulse means that we are to receive the Christ into the ‘I’, thus fulfilling the words of St. Paul, ‘Not I, but Christ in me’ — not an abstract Christ but the Christ who sent the Holy Spirit, the Spirit who works as inspiration in the human soul as described to-day, following the rhythms of an inner calendar.
In pre-Christian times these truths were accessible only to those who were initiated in the Mysteries and had remained for three and a half days in a deathlike condition, after having undergone the tragic sufferings which man must experience on the physical plane if he is finally to attain the heights of spiritual life. Such individuals learnt that the ‘earthly man’ must be discarded and slain, that a higher man must rise from within. This was the experience of ‘dying and becoming’. What could formerly be experienced only in the Mysteries became historical fact through the Mystery of Golgotha, as I have shown in Christianity as Mystical Fact. Henceforward it was possible for all men who felt themselves united with the Mystery of Golgotha to become disciples of this great wisdom. Contemplation of what took place on Golgotha could now lead to an experience that could hitherto have been undergone only in the Mysteries. An understanding of the Christ Impulse is consequently the most important thing which a man can acquire for his earthly being, for the power which, since the coming of the Christ Impulse, must waken in the human ‘I’.
In this present age we can be inspired in a special way by the Gospels. The Gospel of St. Matthew was a particularly valuable source of inspiration for the epoch in which the Christ Event actually occurred. For our own time the same can be said of the Gospel of St. Mark. We know that this is the age of the development of the Consciousness or Spiritual Soul which detaches itself, isolates itself, from its environment. We know too that in our age primary attention should not be paid to racial descent but rather to the living impulse expressed in the words of St. Paul: Not I, but Christ in me.
Our own fifth post-Atlantean epoch can, as I have said, be inspired particularly by the Gospel of St. Mark. By contrast, man's task in the sixth epoch will be to permeate himself wholly with the Christ Being. Whereas in the fifth epoch the Christ Being will be a subject of study, of deep meditation, in the sixth epoch men will be permeated by the Christ Being in all reality. They will find particular help in the Gospel of St. Luke, which reveals the whole origin of Jesus of Nazareth — that is to say, of the Jesus described in St. Matthew's Gospel who leads back to Zarathustra, and the Jesus of St. Luke's Gospel who leads back to the Buddha and Buddhism. St. Luke's Gospel gives a picture of the evolution of Jesus of Nazareth, reaching back to the divine-spiritual origin of man. It will be more and more possible for man to feel himself a divine-spiritual being. To be permeated by the Christ Impulse can hover as an ideal before him but this ideal becomes reality only if, in the light of St. Luke's Gospel, he recognises physical man in the sense-world as a spiritual being having a divine origin.
The Gospel of St. John which may well be a manual of guidance for the spiritual life of man to-day will be the book of inspiration for the seventh post-Atlantean epoch. Men will then stand in need of a great deal which, as spiritual beings, they will have had to master during the sixth epoch. But they will also have to unlearn from its very foundations much of what they believe to-day. Admittedly, this will not be so very difficult because scientific facts will themselves show that many beliefs will have to be discarded.
To-day, for instance, a man would be considered to be ‘out of his mind’ if he were to maintain that the usual distinction made between ‘motor’ and ‘sensory’ nerves is nonsense. Motor nerves, as they are called, simply do not exist; there are only sensory nerves. The so-called motor nerves are sensory nerves, but their function is to make us aware of the corresponding movements in the muscles. Before very long it will be recognised that the muscles are not set in motion by the nerves but by the astral body — moreover by a force in the astral body that is not directly perceived in its real form: for it is a law that what is to produce an effect is not directly perceptible. What gives rise to movement in the muscles is connected with the astral body, in which a sound or tone, a kind of resonance, is produced. Something akin to music pervades the astral body and muscular movement is the expression of this. What happens can be compared with the well-known Chladni sound-figures which are produced when a fine powder or sand is scattered on a metal plate and forms itself into figures when the plate is made to vibrate by drawing a violin bow across it. Our astral body is filled with numbers of such figures or tone-forms which bring it into a particular condition. In a quite simple way you can convince yourself of this by tightening the biceps — the upper-arm muscle — and holding it close to your ear. When you have acquired the knack of making the muscle sufficiently taut and lay your thumb on it you will be able to hear a sound. — This is not meant to be taken as absolute proof but is merely a trivial illustration. We are, so to speak, permeated with music and give expression to this in the movements of our muscles. And we have the ‘motor’ nerves, as they are wrongly called, in order that we may be aware to some extent of the muscular movements. The way in which facts are grouped together in physiology still seems — but only seems — to contradict this.
This is one example of the kind of truths by which people will gradually be convinced that man is indeed a spiritual being, woven into the harmony of the spheres even in his muscles. And Spiritual Science which has to make preparation for a spiritual understanding of the world in the sixth post-Atlantean epoch, will have to concern itself in every detail with the truth that man is a spiritual being. Just as a musical tone rises into a higher sphere when it becomes a spoken human word, so in macrocosmic existence the harmony of the spheres rises to a higher stage when it becomes the Cosmic Word, the Logos.
Now in man's physical organism, the blood, in the physiological sense, is at a higher stage than the muscles. And just as the muscles are attuned to the harmony of the spheres, so is the blood attuned to the Logos and can be experienced more and more strongly as an expression of the Logos — as indeed has been the case unconsciously ever since man was created. This means that on the physical plane man will eventually feel the blood, which is the expression of the ‘I’, to be the expression of the Logos. And in the sixth epoch, when men have learnt to recognise themselves as spiritual beings, they will no longer cling to the fantastic idea that the muscles are moved by ‘motor’ nerves but will recognise that they are moved by the harmony of the spheres which has become part of their own personality.
In the seventh post-Atlantean epoch men will feel their very blood to be permeated by the Logos and will grasp for the first time the real content of what is said in St. John's Gospel. For not until the seventh epoch will the scientific nature of this Gospel come to be recognised. And then it will be felt that the first words of the Gospel ought to stand at the beginning of every book on physiology, that the whole of science should move in the direction indicated by these words. The best thing to say at the moment is that much of this can even to-day be understood, but by no means all; it can hover as an ideal before us.
Everything I have been saying indicates that St. Matthew's Gospel could be a source of inspiration especially for the fourth post-Atlantean epoch, just as that of St. Mark can be for our own. The Gospel of St. Luke will be especially important for the sixth epoch. We must ourselves prepare the conditions that will then prevail, for the seed of whatever the future holds in store must have been planted in the past. If we understand the contents of St. John's Gospel we shall find everything that is to be lived out in the further course of human evolution, everything that is to develop in the seventh epoch up to the time of the next great catastrophe. Therefore it will be particularly important for us to regard St. Mark's Gospel as a book that can give guidance for much that we must practise and also for much that we must guard against. The very sentences of this Gospel are themselves an indication of the significance of the Christ Impulse for the ‘I’ of man.
It is important to realise that our task is to grasp the reality of Christ in the spirit and to be aware of how Christ will reveal himself in future epochs. In my Rosicrucian Mystery Play, The Portal of Initiation, an attempt was made to indicate this task by words spoken by the seeress, Theodora. There will be something like a repetition of the event experienced by Paul at the gate of Damascus, but to believe that the Christ Impulse will come into the world again in a human physical body would merely be an expression of the materialism of our times. We can learn from the Gospel of St. Mark how to guard against such a belief, for the Gospel contains a special warning for our own epoch. And although much of the Gospel has a bearing on the past, its verses apply, in the high moral sense I have indicated, to our immediate future. We shall then realise the urgent necessity of the influence that must proceed from Spiritual Science.
If we understand the spiritual meaning of the following passage we shall be able to relate it to our own times and to the immediate future:
‘For in those days shall be affliction, such as was not from the beginning of the creation which God created unto this time, neither shall be again’ (xiii, 19-23).
These words must be applied to man's power of understanding. There is every prospect of affliction in the future, when truth will come to expression in its full spiritual reality.
‘And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved (that is to say, nothing would have been saved of spiritual nourishment): but for the elect's sake, whom he hath chosen, he hath shortened the days.’
Then come the words:
‘And then, if any man shall say to you, Lo, here is Christ! or lo, he is there! believe him not. ...’
Here the Gospel of St. Mark is pointing to a possible materialistic conception 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!’
So powerful will be the onslaught of materialism that it will be essential for human souls to acquire the strength to stand the test expressed in the words: False Christs and false prophets will arise. — But if it is then said: Here is Christ! — those who have felt the true influence of Spiritual Science will obey the exhortation: If any man shall say to you, Lo, here is Christ — believe it not!