Turning Points Spiritual History
VI. Christ and the 20th Century
25 January 1912, Berlin
It cannot be denied, even by those who have made only a slight study of spiritual life, that the subject chosen for our consideration to-day has aroused an interest in the widest circles, and we might add, that this desire for knowledge is of a scientific character. On the other hand, there seems to be an ever increasing tendency toward the formation of a world-philosophy, in which such questions as are associated with the name of Christ find no true and proper place.
A previous lecture that I gave some few weeks ago in this building under the title, ‘The Origin of Man’, and a continuation of the same, upon ‘The Origin of the Animal World’ (delivered in the Architektenhaus) will doubtless have made clear to you a point to which I shall now again draw your attention. In every age, including the present period, the general conceptions and sentiments concerning such fundamental questions as ‘The Origin of Man’ and others of a similar nature, including those relative to that Being to Whom the name of Christ has been given, are directly rooted in, and dependent upon the accepted concepts of some prior age.
We have already seen while considering various matters connected with man’s origin, that as a matter of fact, those theoretical ideas and conceptions which have sprung from the general mode of thought prevailing in our time are fundamentally at variance with the actual results of scientific research. On the other hand, it is just in this relation that we find the conclusions arrived at through the medium of Spiritual Science, which traces man’s origin back to spiritual forms, and not merely to that which is external and physically perceptible, are in full harmony with the results obtained in the field of Natural Science. Perhaps nowhere do we find this want of accord so marked between that current cosmic concept, which is so general in the thoughts and hearts of the people of our day, and that which science has been constrained to adopt, as in the case of the Christ-conception. This divergence may well be due to the fact that the questions involved belong to the greatest of all those concerning the cosmos. However, since the coming of the Christ-Movement into the world’s history, man’s power of conception concerning the Christ-Being and the form which it has taken, has ever been such as was best adapted to a particular period, or as one might say, was best suited to that section of humanity which was occupied with such thoughts.
During the first centuries which followed the advent of Christianity into the world’s history, we realize in connection with a certain trend of ideas and spiritual tendency which has been called Gnosis [a term denoting a higher spiritual wisdom claimed by the Gnostics], that grand and mighty concepts were formed with regard to that Being whom we term The Christ. We find, however that the universal acceptance of these exalted gnostical conceptions continued for only a relatively short period as compared with that idea of The Christ which was, as one might say, generally approved and spread among the people, and later became the essence of the Church movement. It will be enlightening to consider briefly those lofty Christ-concepts which were evolved in the form of gnostical conceptions during the first centuries of the Christian era — not, be it understood, because Spiritual Science would seek to cloak those ideas which it has to put forward with regard to The Christ beneath a mantle of gnostic notions; such an assertion could only be made by those who because of the immaturity of their development in the field of Spiritual Science, are wholly incapable of truly differentiating between the nature of the various events and conditions which are met with in spiritual life.
In many ways the concepts of the Spiritual Science of to-day, which will be recapitulated in this lecture, extend far beyond the ancient gnosis of those early Christian times; but this very fact makes it the more interesting that we should at least touch upon these old spiritual conceptions. There are many different points of view in connection with this by-gone higher wisdom, and various degrees of light and shade in that olden spiritual trend of thought, and we will draw attention to one of its most important aspects and which harmonizes best with the teachings of Spiritual Science in our time. During the first few centuries of the Christian era, this ancient gnosis put forward the most profound ideas concerning the Christ-Being — momentous indeed in relation to that enlightenment which came with the dawn of Christianity. This higher spiritual wisdom maintained that the Christ-Being was eternal, and not alone associated and concerned with the evolution and development of humanity, but with the surrounding world of the cosmos taken in its entirety.
When considering the question of the Origin of Man we found that we were taken back to a form of humanity which floated or hovered, as it were, entirely in spiritual heights and which was not yet familiar with, nor embodied in, an outer material covering. We have seen that during the process of the earth’s evolution, mankind, starting from a purely spiritual state, gradually changed into that of a lower and denser form which we now call man; and that owing to the materialistic outlook of the present theory of evolution, which merely follows man’s earthly history backwards, his beginning has been traced to external animal forms. Spiritual Science, on the other hand, leads us directly to previous states which approach ever nearer and nearer to the immaterial soul, and finally points definitely to a spiritual origin.
The old gnosis sought the Christ-Being in that region in which mankind hovered before he had assumed his material existence, and where he felt himself surrounded alone by spiritual life and spiritual reality. If we understand this ancient gnosis rightly, then must we look upon it from the gnostic point of view, that when man had so far developed as to have reached a point when his Etheric Body should be enclosed within a material covering in order that he might take part in the general course of physical evolution, there remained behind in the purely spiritual realms what might be termed a by-gone companion of man or ‘alter ego’, in the form of an element of the Christ-Being, which did not descend with him into the physical world. Further, according to this conception, mankind was destined to undergo a process of continued development in the material plane, and it was his mission to show evidence of achievement and progress. Hence, according to the gnosis, this Christ-Element continues to dwell in the spiritual realms while mankind undergoes his period of material evolution, so that during the whole time of man’s earthly history, the Christ-Being is not to be sought in that region to which man is related as a physical perceptual entity, but alone in the realms of pure spirit.
That particular period which we call The Birth of Christianity, the ancient gnosis considered of especial import in the evolution of mankind upon Earth. It was regarded as that glorious moment when the Christ-Being entered the physical perceptual world in order to give an impulse to spiritual activity, for man had of himself retarded the soul’s development after he had descended upon the material plane. The gnosis looked upon primeval man during the very beginning of his evolution as a spiritual being bound to a world in which The Christ was then active, and it considered that He again descended upon our earth, where already for a long space humanity had been undergoing material evolution, at that particular period from which we now reckon our time.
The question now arises — How did the ancient wisdom actually look upon this descent of a purely spiritual being into the evolution of humanity? It was regarded in the following manner: — According to the gnosis, an especially highly developed human individuality to Whom historical research has given the name of Jesus of Nazareth, had achieved such exceptional spiritual maturity that at a particular period definite soul conditions had come about, in virtue of which this singular personality had the power to absorb certain Divine qualities and wisdom from the Spirit-World, which up to then no man could acquire. From this time on, so the gnosis states, the soul of this especially selected personality felt itself sufficiently advanced to surrender to the indwelling of that Divine Being, Who up to that moment had had no part in the actual progress and development of humanity — namely, The Christ. That event which took place on the banks of the Jordan when Jesus of Nazareth was baptized by John, and which is recorded in the Bible (Mark i, 9 to 11), was regarded by this ancient gnosis as a manifestation of the entering of the Christ-Being into the course of human evolution. The gnosis further declared that some very singular spiritual condition had been engendered with regard to Jesus through this sacred baptism, which event we may consider as wholly symbolical or otherwise.
We can obtain an idea of what underlies this gnostic concept if we pursue a line of thought somewhat as follows: — We begin with a realization of the fact that if we carefully observe the lives of other people, using those methods of thought which lead us to the very depth of the soul, and not the superficial mode so general in our time, we shall often find in the experience of such persons moments fraught with epoch-making events, when they feel that they stand at a turning-point in their lives. A situation of this nature may arise through some deep-lying sorrow or other trial of earthly origin. Then indeed they may say: — ‘That which has now befallen me differs from all my previous experiences, for it causes me to look upon myself as a man transformed.’ Certain it is that in the case of many people there occurs at times something in the nature of a crisis, such as might be described as an awakening and renewing of special and distinctive forces of soul-life.
If we imagine an experience of the above kind as representing in very imperfect and elementary manner an inner event similar to that which the gnosis regarded as having taken place at the time of the baptism of Jesus in Jordan (St. Mark i, 9), we can then readily conceive an entirely different form of happening hitherto unknown in connection with human existence, and quite unlike any which may break in upon men’s souls and is born merely of earthly trials and vicissitudes. That Divine power and supreme spiritual quality which flamed up in the soul of Jesus of Nazareth manifested in wholly new indwelling attributes, and therefrom arose a Godlike inner life shedding fresh light upon all forms of human culture quickened by its example. It was that Divine Essence which entered into the innermost being of Jesus of Nazareth — that glorious and most Holy Spirit creating in Him a new-born life, that the ancient gnosis termed THE CHRIST.
The gnosis clearly realized that through The Christ there had come to mankind something in the nature of a new impulse, an impulse differing utterly from any that had been before. For all that Godlike stimulating power which was brought forth and unfolded in Jesus during the three years subsequent to His baptism by John was such as had never up to that time found place in the evolution of humanity. The gnosis states quite definitely that we must not consider a particular man [Jesus of Nazareth] as The Christ [as is oft-times done], but that we must realize and look for The Christ in the Divine Spirit which manifested IN Jesus, through those sublime and singular qualities that were latent within his innermost being.
We have characterized this ancient spiritual wisdom concerning The Christ in the above manner, in order that it may be easy of comprehension. In the example previously cited of a special turning-point occurring in the life of a human soul, we have an instance at least in some ways analogous to the Christ-Event expressed in its most elementary form. It is especially difficult for mankind in these modern times to realize that circumstances of fundamental historic significance are directly connected with this outstanding incident, and which are of such momentous import as to form what might be termed the true centre of human evolution. When we compare this gnostical concept with various statements of Spiritual Science brought to your notice during these lectures, we find that it has in truth, no matter how we regard the facts, not only a grand and glorious conception of the Christ-Being, but it also evinces an exalted idea of man’s being, for it regards him as involved in an impulse, coming directly from the spiritual realms, and brought to bear upon the actual course of his historic growth and development. It is therefore not to be wondered at that this ancient gnostical conception was unpopular. Anyone who has obtained even a slight insight into the circumstances connected with the progress of mankind during the early centuries of the Christian era and onwards, the existing state of the human soul and the various conditions of social life at different periods, must at once admit that such concepts imply a loftiness of sentiment that was certainly not destined to find favour among the people. In order to appreciate this point we have only to consider the spiritual life of the present day.
Whenever conversation turns upon any idea similar in character to this ancient higher spiritual wisdom, the majority of people at once say: — ‘That is all an abstraction, a purely visionary notion — what we want is reality, something which directly affects our actual material life.’ Thus it is that even in our time mankind for the most part regards the old gnostical conception, as outlined, merely in the light of a wholly abstract impression. Humanity is still far from experiencing the feeling of greater satisfaction which comes of spiritual thought, and of realizing how much more true is the substantiality of all that underlies those spiritual concepts to which we may raise ourselves, than is that of things which most men regard as perceptual, concrete, and as having absolute reality. If it were otherwise we would not find, as is the case in the arts and professions, that man is ever urged toward what may be touched and seen, while all that is of the spirit, and calls for inner upliftment of the soul for its apprehension, is pushed aside and regarded as abstract and visionary.
It is not possible in a few words to explain just how the popular conception of the Christ-Being evolved in the minds of the people. But it may be said that an echo of the true Christ-Concept, which pictures a Divine Being incarnate and abiding in the man Jesus of Nazareth, has lived on through the centuries side by side with that simple idea of Jesus, which looks upon Him as born in marvellous manner and as ever approaching mankind with divine tenderness and love; a theme which is developed even in the story of his childhood. In this concept we find Jesus of Nazareth hailed by humanity as its loving Saviour. And it is in that holy sense and feeling evoked by the deeds of this beloved Redeemer that we find a dim echo of the ancient gnostic Christ-Concept. During the whole course of what we might call the external history of Jesus, there is found an upturned vision which realized the presence of some great secret truth, some awe-inspiring mystery, which even as Jesus walked the earth endowed His personality with superhuman attributes. And this superhuman quality has been termed The Christ. Further, we find that as time went on humanity became ever less and less capable of understanding that bold concept, The gnostic Christ, and this ever-increasing inability of comprehension has continued even up to the present day.
Already in the Middle Ages we note, that Science only dared to reason concerning that which is external and directly apparent to the senses, or about those things which it conceived as lying beyond our sense-perception in a kind of world governed by natural laws. It did not feel itself called upon to probe into those factors and influences which have entered into and played their respective parts in man’s evolution, in the form of noble and uplifting spiritual impulses. Thus it was that in the Middle Ages, questions concerning the origin and evolution of man in which the Christ-Impulse made itself felt, became solely objects of belief. This spiritual faith, however, continued on among the people from that time, side by side with all that was regarded as Science and absolute knowledge, but which took heed only of the lower order of cosmic matters and events.
At this point it is of interest to note, that from the sixteenth century onward, this twofold method of thought has ever more and more tended toward a crisis, and for the reason that mankind was always prone to direct and confine his powers of cognition to the perceptual world alone, and to assign all matters of spiritual origin and dependent upon spiritual progress and evolution to the category of mere dogma.
We cannot, however, enter upon this subject at the present time, for it is more essential that I now draw your attention to the fact that in the nineteenth century the course of development led mankind to a point where, as one might say, all true conception of The Christ was wholly lost, at least to a very large proportion of the people. But, nevertheless, we must admit that among a small section of the community the ancient gnostic concepts still lived on, and were yet further developed after a manner which we might regard as bringing about a deeper insight into the Christ-Impulse. In the case of the majority, even among the scientific theological circles, there was a general renunciation of the true Christ-Concept. An attempt was made to centre all in the personality of Jesus of Nazareth, and to look upon Him as One possessed of singular attributes, and especially chosen because of His profound and all-embracing comprehension of the laws and conditions of human evolution, and the Divine inner nature of mankind — but even so, to be considered as a man — although a man transcendent in all things. Thus it came about that in those days in place of the old Christology, there grew up what might be called a mere Jesus-life-research. The results of this mode of thought and study became ever more and more incredible, when considered in the light of all those Divine qualities which dwelt within the being of The Chosen One, Jesus of Nazareth. For according to these investigations Jesus was to be regarded as One specifically selected as endowed with supreme and unique spiritual attributes, but nevertheless possessed of human individuality.
The crowning point in this class of conception is reached in such works as that entitled The Nature of Christianity, by Adolf Harnack, and other similar attempts in the direction of what we have termed Jesus-life-research, and which have appeared in many and varied forms. For the present, however, it is only necessary to merely draw attention to the results obtained from deep and earnest study along these lines, and since this subject is the most modern of any with which we are concerned we can do so very briefly. We would say that the methods employed during the nineteenth century in order to authenticate historically those events which occurred at the beginning of the Christian era, have led to no actual positive conclusions.
It would take us much too far to enter into any kind of detail respecting this particular trend of thought; but anyone who will make a careful investigation into the results achieved in modern times in this connection, will know that an endeavour has been made to apply the ordinary methods of external research, to prove that the personality of Jesus of Nazareth actually lived at the beginning of our Christian spiritual life. Now this attempt to demonstrate the existence of Jesus by such historical means as may be applied in other cases has merely led to the following admission: — ‘It is impossible to confirm the personality of Jesus of Nazareth by external material methods.’ But it by no means follows that the negative assumption, which claims that Jesus never lived, is thereby proved. These material investigations have simply shown that we cannot employ the same historical means in order to verify the life of Jesus of Nazareth, as may be used to demonstrate the existence of Aristotle, Socrates or Alexander the Great. But that is not all, for of late this field of inquiry has led to serious difficulties being experienced in quite another direction.
It is only necessary to refer to such works as those by William Benjamin Smith, published by Diederich of Leipzig, to realize that the result of painstaking and exact research into Biblical and other documentary records relating to Christianity has again revealed the fact that [in many instances] these venerable documents cannot be referring to those matters to which, during the greater part of the nineteenth century, it was generally supposed they had reference. A special attempt was made to reconstruct the life of Jesus of Nazareth from the results of philological investigations into these ancient chronicles; but in the end it was found that in the very writings themselves there was evidence of an underlying significance of quite a different nature from that which appeared upon the surface. It became apparent that in spite of every effort to picture the life of Jesus by employing the most carefully chosen and exact methods, the Biblical records, those Christian documents wherein mankind feels itself upon a firm and truly Christian foundation, hardly mention Jesus of Nazareth as a human being. External science is thus driven to the following statement: — ‘The ancient records scarcely ever allude to Jesus of Nazareth as a man, they refer to Him as a God ‘; and again to this remarkable anomalous assertion: ‘It is an error to believe that any proof may be found in the original Christian documents of the existence of Jesus of Nazareth as an actual human personality. Rather do we come to the conviction that what the evangelical and other olden sacred writings state is, that in the very beginning of the Christian era was a Deity, and only when we recognize this fact, does all that is written in these aged chronicles become of true significance and import.’
Now is not this all very extraordinary? According to the investigations of our period, when we allude to Jesus of Nazareth, we must speak of a Deity; but this same period and same line of research admits of no reality in this God or purely Spiritual Being. How, then, does present-day science regard The Christ? He is looked upon as a visionary creation, a mere ideal concept which insinuated itself into the history of mankind, and was called into being by a folk fantasy born of mental impulse. According to the latest investigations in this field, The Christ is to be regarded not as a reality, but as a kind of imaginary god. To put it plainly, we would say: — Modern scientific research is brought face to face with something for which it has absolutely no use; for what can it do with a God in Whom it has no faith? External science has merely proved that the Bible records speak of a Deity, but it knows of naught else to do with this Deity, than to ascribe to Him a place in the category of visionary concepts.
We will now compare the attitude of external Science as characterized above, with what Spiritual Science has to say upon the matter. At this point I should like to mention a book entitled Christianity as Mystical Fact, of which I am the author. The fundamental idea underlying this work has been but little understood. I have therefore endeavoured to set forth its object more clearly in a preface to the second edition. My intention was to show that the history of mankind — World History — is not complete in that picture which we can generally obtain from external history and external documents, and for this reason: — Throughout all human evolution spiritual impulses are at work, spiritual factors are present, and these we must attribute to the agency of spiritual beings. If with this concept we compare the whole nature and method of the historic world-conception put forward by Leopold von Ranke and others, we can only say: — The highest point to which the Science of History has as yet reached is, that it actually speaks of historical ideas as if they were subject to the intrusion of abstract impressions coming, as one might say, from without during the course of human evolution and the development of Nations and of Peoples. That is the utmost extent of general belief in this direction. But ‘ideas’ are not what historians consider them to be, and do not develop force and exhibit power. The whole process of human evolution would be lifeless and spiritless if it proceeded merely historically, and if it were not that those ideas which enter into the souls of mankind are the expression of invisible and supersensible impulses, which rule and govern the whole field of human growth and development. Behind all that is revealed in this external progression, there still remains something which can only be unveiled by those supersensible means at the disposal of Spiritual Science, where the methods are applicable to things which are beyond the powers of our sense-perception. Attention has already been drawn to this subject in a previous lecture, and we shall again refer to it at some future date.
I could demonstrate to you how the Christ-Impulse entered historically into the evolution of humanity in such manner that it proved itself to be an actual continuation of that self-same influence which played its part in the spiritual development of mankind in the by-gone days of the ancient mysteries; the actual nature of which is even yet but little understood. A true comprehension of all that was accomplished in pre-Christian times by the olden mysteries in connection with the laying down of spiritual foundations for the development of nations and of peoples can only come, when, through the methods of modern Spiritual Science, man has gained an understanding of that particular form of development through which the soul is transformed into an instrument capable of apprehending that Spirit-World which lies behind all things material and perceptual. In these lectures I have many times referred to transformations of this character.
We now know that mankind, who in these days is in a sense confined and only interested in the immediate experiences of his intimate soul-life, may verily raise himself above his present state and assume a more perfect form of soul-being which can live in the Spirit-World, even as the human counterpart lives in the physical world. Through the study of history in the light of Spiritual Science, we learn that the possibility of thus raising the soul-being to spiritual heights through a process of purely intimate individual soul development, has come about gradually during the evolution of mankind, and was not known in primeval times. Whereas the soul may now through its own effort and measures rise freely, and while still possessed of its individual quality acquire the power of spiritual discernment, in pre-Christian times such was not the case; for the soul was then dependent upon an impulse born of certain modes and procedures, which were a part of the rites performed in the Sanctuaries of the Mysteries.
In my book entitled Christianity as Mystical Fact, I have presented a somewhat detailed account of those ancient rites which were conducted by the priests in connection with the soul. These ceremonies took place in the various Temples of the Mysteries, as they were then considered to be, but which in this lecture we will regard more as Temples assigned to spiritual instruction. What actually took place in these sanctuaries may be briefly outlined as follows: — By means of certain methods and observances the soul was freed from its bodily covering, and it was made possible for it to remain for a time in a condition similar to, though in many ways differing from, the ordinary sleep-state.
When we consider the sleep-state in the light of present-day Spiritual Science, we look upon it that while the human frame remains quiescent and sleeping, the actual centre of man’s Etheric Being is situated outside the recumbent figure, and that during such state the power of the true inner essence of this etheric nucleus is so low that unconsciousness supervenes, and the nucleus becomes, as it were, enveloped in darkness. The methods employed during these ancient mystic rites in order to affect the human soul were as follows: — Through the influence of certain advanced personalities, who had themselves passed through similar mystical initiation, a species of sleep-state was first induced. This was of such nature that the inner forces of the soul were thereby strengthened and intensified. When a certain stage was reached the soul left the body, which was then in a condition of deathlike sleep, and for a time entered upon a psychic existence, a kind of sleep-life, during which it could look upon the Spirit-World with full consciousness. While this sleep-life continued, the soul was able to realize its true position as an inhabitant of the spiritual realms. When, in due course, the soul was brought back once again to ordinary mundane conditions, there came to it recollections of all those things which it had observed and experienced while freed from the body. It was then that it could [while active within the human form] come before the people and stand forth as a prophet, bringing to them proofs of the existence of a Spirit-World and of an eternal life to come. In those olden days it was in the manner above indicated that the soul was enabled to take part in the life of the spiritual realms; and in the mysteries were found the canons to which it must submit, and for a long period, in order that the supreme spiritual leaders in the ancient Mystery Sanctuaries might bring about the final consummation of the soul’s desire.
We will now ask this question: — Whence came those ancient standards of human conduct which have been passed on by peoples spread throughout the world during the course of man’s evolution; and those flashes of spiritual enlightenment proclaiming his Godlike origin and the eternity of the soul? The answer comes through Spiritual Science; from it we learn that this olden wisdom originated with those who had themselves undergone initiation after the manner we have outlined. There is a reflection of these primeval moral precedents, manifested in strange and curious fashion, in connection with Myths and Legends and various graphic portrayals of the past; for in these very fables we find depicted many of the same experiences which came, as if in a living dream, to the initiates in the Mystery-Sanctuaries. Indeed, we first begin to understand Mythology rightly, when we regard the forms and figures there presented, as pictorial representations of things which appeared to the spiritual vision of the Initiates during the time of their participation in the secret rites. If we would establish a relation between the mythological conceptions of olden times and the religious teachings of an earlier age, we must hark back to the ancient mysteries and ponder upon all that lay concealed therein, deep hidden from a profane external world. Mysteries revealed to those alone, who, through severe trials and unswerving observance of that secrecy and restraint imposed upon all, had truly fitted themselves to take part in the dark ceremonies of initiation. We cannot, however, at this point enter into the actual circumstances which led to the close veiling of the mystic rites performed in that now remote grey past. But when we turn our gaze backward and follow the course of spiritual development in pre-Christian times, we realize that it was ever in the dim obscurity enshrouding the inscrutable observances of that by-gone age, that man’s soul unfolded and was strengthened.
The souls of men were not so fully developed in the past that they could of themselves and of their own efforts rise upward and enter the realms of the spirit, while merely dependent upon their immediate powers and unaided by the ministrations of the temple priests. In my book, Christianity as Mystical Fact, I have pointed out that even while external history ran its course a change was taking place; and it has there been my object to show how the whole plan and design underlying human evolution was such, that when the turning-point was reached which marked the birth of Christianity mankind was already prepared to enter upon a new era. This change had come about because of all that man had experienced and absorbed through repeated reincarnations, and through knowledge gained from initiates concerning the Spirit-World. From then on he would have the power of upliftment to spiritual heights within his own innermost soul, which could henceforth rise of its own effort, free from all external influence and unaided by those means which it was the custom to employ in the by-gone days of the mysteries.
According to the views which we now hold, the most outstanding event that came to pass in Palestine, in connection with the spiritual progress of mankind was the final perfecting of the soul, so that it should be fitted for what we might call Self-Initiation. This ultimate consummation had been approached gradually and the necessary preparation had extended over possibly hundreds of years; yet the end came just about the very time when that special turning-point was reached which marked the beginning of the Christian era. The soul was then so far perfected that it was ready for self-initiation, during which act it would be merely guided by those having knowledge of the true path and of the trials that must be endured; henceforth self-initiation might be achieved without external aid rendered by Temple priests, or by leaders having understanding of the mysteries. And further, through the founding of Christianity all those other rites and observances which were performed time and time again in the innermost sanctuaries of the Temples, memories of which are still preserved in Legends, Myths and Mythologies connected with folklore, are found to have a place in that Grand Plan which underlies the world’s history.
If we would indeed understand the Gospels, we should ask ourselves the following question: — ‘What experiences were essential to a candidate for initiation in the days of the ancient Persians or Egyptians, who desired so to uplift his soul that it might gaze directly upon the Spirit-World?’ Injunctions concerning such matters were clearly set forth and formed the basis of what we might term a Ritual of Initiation. These commands and instructions covered a time extending from a certain event designated by some as The Baptism, and by others as The Temptation, up to that moment when the soul was led forth and blessed with a true discernment of the spiritual realms. When we compare such Initiation Rituals with the most important statements contained in the Gospels, then (as I have shown in the book to which I have just referred) we find that in the Gospels there appear once again detailed narratives concerning ancient initiation ceremonies, but here the descriptions have reference to that great outstanding historical character, Jesus of Nazareth. It further becomes clear that whereas in previous times an Initiation Candidate was raised to spiritual heights in the seclusion of the Temples of the Mysteries, Jesus of Nazareth, because of the course which history had taken, was already so far advanced that He not only remembered His experiences in the Spirit-World and thus brought enlightenment to humanity, but He became unified in spirit with One, to Whom no earthly being had as yet become united, namely, The Christ-Being. Thus we find a great similarity between the narrative of the spiritual development of Jesus of Nazareth up to that moment when The Christ entered into His soul and during the following three years when He drew inspiration and wisdom from this Divine source, and the descriptions of the wonted course of the ancient forms of initiation.
In the accounts which tell us of all the trials and experiences which Jesus of Nazareth underwent in those olden days, we find the events connected with His initiation clearly marked by the magnitude and Godlike nature of the spiritual facts which underlie the historical descriptions. This is especially noticeable in the Gospel of St. John. While in previous times countless aspirants had taken part in the sacred rites, they had only advanced to that point when they could testify as follows: — ‘The spiritual world is a reality, and to such a world does the human soul belong.’ But when it came to pass that Jesus was Himself initiated, He became actually unified and at one with the most significant and outstanding of all spiritual beings ever remembered by former initiates; and it was toward this supreme initiation that the ordered plan underlying all ancient forms and ceremonies had its trend.
Thus do we behold The Mystery of Golgotha emerging from those secrets which were hidden in the dark mysteries of the past, to take its place in that grand design so fundamental to the world’s history. As long as man refuses to believe that in a certain locality and at a definite time Jesus of Nazareth was blessed with Divine initiation, and imbued with the spirit of The Christ in such manner that this Almighty influence could stream forth and act as an impulse upon all future generations — just so long will he remain unable to realize the true import and meaning of the Christ-Impulse in its relation to the evolution of mankind. When through the study of the basic principles of Spiritual Science the reality of great spiritual events such as we have portrayed is admitted, then will first dawn a true comprehension of all that has come to human evolution through the advent of the Christ-Impulse; and we shall no longer degrade the Gospels by discovering in them four separate rituals of initiation in which matters and circumstances concerning Jesus of Nazareth are hidden away and mysteriously concealed. When we come to understand these things rightly we shall realize that everything which followed as a result of the event in Palestine, held a deep significance for all later periods in human evolution.
Now, although what we may term man’s deepest life-centre has always been, so to speak, near at hand, nevertheless this very life-centre was something the awareness of which had not up to the time of that great happening really penetrated into the consciousness of mankind. It was ordained that through The Mystery of Golgotha men’s eyes should be opened and a new era entered upon, in which it would be realized that in the life-centre, the Ego, there manifests an element which is common to both individual man and the entire cosmos.
If we would know in what manner that great and vital change which was wrought in the world’s history by the coming of the Christ-Impulse, is regarded when viewed in the light of Spiritual Science, then we must first realize that: — Man, in respect of his being, consists of a Physical Body, an Etheric or Life Body, an Astral Body, and deep within and underlying all is the veritable Ego1 — that true I, which continues on from incarnation to incarnation. Now, an awareness of the presence of this ultimate centre of life broke in upon man’s consciousness last of all. So that in pre-Christian times he had no thought of its existence. Even as the Physical Body is directly united and in contact with the Physical World, and the Astral Body with the Astral World, so is man’s deepest life-centre, the Ego, born of that Spirit-World which passeth man’s uttermost understanding. Hence, that great message which Christianity and the Christ-Impulse brought to mankind may be thus expressed: — Seek not the Deity and the Godlike primordial principle in the Astral Body, but in man’s innermost being, for there abideth the true Ego.
Previous to the advent of Christianity man would exclaim: — ‘My soul is indeed rooted in the Divine. It is the Divine quality alone which can extend the vision and bring unto me true enlightenment [through the powers of those who have a deeper knowledge of spiritual matters].’ But now he is learning to say: — ‘If thou would’st truly know where thou canst unveil the profoundest depths of all that is Divine and active throughout the world; then look of thyself within thine Ego, for therein lieth the channel through which cometh unto thee the Word of God. His voice will break in upon thy conscious state if thou but rightly understandest that because of the Mystery of Golgatha, the powers which are of God have entered into mankind; and if thou wilt but realize that then indeed was a glorious initiation truly consummated — to stand forth as a grand historical event. But especially does God speak unto thee, if thou but exaltest thyself and makest thy soul to be as an instrument, able and fitted, to apprehend that which is of the spiritual realms.’
Before that supreme act came to pass at Golgatha, the way of those who would enter upon the life of the spirit, lay through the deep mysteries of the Temple Sanctuaries. The actual awakening of the Divine consciousness which speaks through the Ego is the very essence of the Christ-Impulse; and the growth and development of the ancient Initiation-Principle paved the way and made it possible that this great impulse should come to humanity. During the whole future course of evolution, because of the Mystery of Golgatha, there will enter into men’s souls an ever-increasing clarity of understanding and discernment of the Divine Spirit to which man is so truly united. That same Holy Spirit which even now speaks through the Ego, when man has indeed freed himself from all earthly conditions and circumstances.
He who can understand the Gospels from this point of view will realize the wonderful evidence of racial development and preparation for those coming events which were brought about in the past by the powers of the Spirit-World. It will be apparent that throughout the ancient Hebrew evolution, mankind was ever being made ready to hear the voice which would later speak through the deep centre of man’s being, the Ego-centre; even as the spirit of the old Hebrew race spoke to Judaism. But the people of other nations had heard no such voice, for they were only conscious of the Divine Spirit as it held converse with the soul in the case of those who were truly initiated.
It had become clear to Judaism that the evolution of mankind is a continuous process of development and progress, and that deep within man’s Ego there dwell those mystic forces which appertain to his innermost being. Hence the Jew became conscious of this thought: — ‘When as an isolated personality, a part of the ancient Hebrew race, I look back upon the course of man’s evolution from the time of Abraham, and realize that Supreme Deity who has ruled over all things from generation to generation, there comes over me a vague undefinable feeling that everything which is Divine and of that Holy spiritual power which has fashioned the individual qualities of mankind, lives in me.’ It was in this way that the separate members of the old Hebrew race felt that they were united and at one with Abraham — their father. But Christianity definitely states that all such thoughts and conceptions concerning the Godlike qualities in man are lacking in completeness and fail to picture him in his most perfect form; even though he believe within himself that – ‘I AM THAT AM’. A true realization of those Divine attributes and forces which are active deep within mankind can only come when there is a clear apprehension of those things which are of the spirit and lie beyond all human generations.
Therefore if we would give the above words their fuller and truer meaning we should say: — Before Abraham, was the I AM. This implies that man’s Ego is eternal; and that in the beginning was the same Godlike element which has continued on throughout all generations and will be for evermore. To this the Hebrew would add: — ‘Look not upon that which fadeth away and is of man’s material being, but regard only the Divine Essence which has lived and flowed in the blood of all descendants of Abraham, who was indeed our father. See to it that ye shall know and discern this Holy Spirit in each one of God’s children. But seek it not in the bond which uniteth brother and sister, but in that which abideth in each one of you and cometh to the light when man, in very solitude, shall know himself in his innermost soul, and cry out, I AM.’
Christ Jesus uttered words of similar intent and which we must interpret in like manner; with one modification they are as follows: — ‘If any man come to me, and forsaketh [‘Hate’, see Luke xiv, 26] not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple:2 We must not regard the significance of the above passage as in any way conflicting with the just claims of relationship and child love, but rather as indicating that The Christ had brought into the world that Principle of Divine Spirit which each individual man, because he is man, may find if he but seek steadfastly in the very centre of his being. It was because of this transcendent deed that, henceforth, mankind would enter into ever closer contact with the very heart of Christianity. Then would this most sacred principle rise up supreme, and while overcoming all diversity and error, bring about the realization of that universal quality which all may discern who but look deep within.
The Gods of old were national gods — gods of the peoples — and had relation to certain racial peculiarities. We still find something of this nature in the East among the Buddhists. But the God who stands revealed through Christianity is One who will raise mankind above all human discord and divergence, and lead him on to that which he truly is, because he is indeed MAN. He who would gain knowledge of the fundamental character of the Christian Doctrine must necessarily regard those spiritual powers and impulses which have guided supreme events in world history as realities [he cannot aver that all was begotten of mere chance actions and purely human mental activity]. He must break away from previous concepts of what is basic and of primary historic import; for happenings which have long been so regarded are in reality but upon the surface of the world’s actual growth. Underlying and controlling all human progress and development are beings far above man’s normal powers of sense-perception who are just as real as is the animal and the man in our material world. Supreme and preeminent among those spirit mentors who govern and direct the growth and development of mankind is THE CHRIST — that Christ, who, according to the ancient gnosis, was active in the body of Jesus of Nazareth during a period of three years.
Once again do we realize that Spiritual Science has attained to a concept and an understanding that enables it to throw light upon matters which have already claimed the attention of external science. The latter has been forced to admit that [in respect of The Christ] we are not merely concerned with a man, but with a Divine Being who, while He ruled and gave guidance must, nevertheless, in a certain sense, be considered as active within the man, Jesus. Here, however, we come upon a situation with which external science is unable to cope. Spiritual Science, on the other hand, leads us to the direct contemplation of beings thus acted upon and made subservient to divine spiritual powers, in the manner indicated, and regards such states as of actual occurrence; hence it can approach this sphere of modern investigation in a proper and logical manner. An amazing feature of twentieth-century spiritual development will be that external science will recognize and acknowledge that the concepts of the nineteenth century were in error, in so far as an attempt was then made to reduce the life of Christ Jesus to a life of Jesus of Nazareth only. Further it will be found that the final result of all research in this field will prove that in Christ Jesus we are concerned with a God; and when any science proclaims this truth it is a sign that it has begun to follow the true path. Spiritual Science would merely add that if mankind once admits the verity of the above statement, it may go forward ever assured that it is upon a certain and absolute foundation. The concept expressed in the above assertion is certainly in direct opposition to that material monistic cosmic conception, which has been formed in modern times.
In two of my previous lectures to which I have already referred, namely, ‘The Origin of Man’, and ‘The Origin of the Animal Kingdom’, we have seen that Spiritual Science was in complete accord with the actual facts brought to light by external Science. We would here say that in the matter we are now considering, Spiritual Science is again disposed to associate itself with the results of conscientious scientific research; but where there is doubt and divergence, it will be found that external Science will fall short of that goal which may be reached through the methods of Spiritual Science. In these days man regards human life and human understanding, as they appear to him in the physical world, as if they were irreconcilable with a closely associated and actual outer spiritual realm. He further believes that at the uttermost, man’s greatest fault can only lie in forming wrong conceptions of the material world, or in doing something which is looked upon as detrimental or malicious, and which does not conform with outer and apparent progress.
It is the custom at the present time in connection with the existing cosmic concept, to seek the origin of phenomena only in that which is close at hand; and it has become more and more clear the further man penetrates into spiritual life, that a point has now been reached with regard to this method where a complete change in ideas has become necessary. Both natural science and history have come to a stage where there is a definite scepticism concerning all spiritual matters, and these external sciences are now merely employed in collecting and associating outer perceptual facts, wholly regardless of that underlying spiritual reality which may be apprehended in all phenomena capable of sense-perception. One might almost say, that our present period has reached a point where scientific thought must be reversed, and assume a directly opposite attitude. The soul, through its constant inner striving, will in the end lead ultra materialism and ultra materialistic monism to adopt a concept, which as yet has played but a small part in man’s ideas concerning the cosmos. But in future investigations into the origin of things there will enter thoughts and ideas, so far, not generally accepted.
In my two works, Philosophy of Spiritual Activity and Truth and Science, I have explained that man has been compelled to assume that the position in which he finds himself relatively to the world, is not his true position; and that he must first undergo a development of inner-life so that he may recognize reality in natural phenomena, in order to be able to place himself in just and ethical relation to such phenomena. Further, in the mind of man there must dawn a clear understanding of the fundamental idea in redemption in addition to mere apprehension of causative factors in life. It will be a task of the twentieth century to gain general acceptance of the concepts pertaining to Redemption, Deliverance and Reincarnation, among the external sciences. The position which man has himself assumed as expert and judge of the world does not represent reality; for he can only arrive at true concepts after he has freed himself from his present false ideas, risen to a higher standard of thought, and overcome those barriers which cause him to view all things in distorted and unreal form — such a consummation would be Perceptive-Redemption.
Moral-Redemption comes about when man feels that the position which he occupies in his relation to the world is not his veritable standing, and when he realizes that he must seek a path leading over those obstacles which tower above him, blocking the way to all things appertaining to his true place in life. Concepts of the soul’s rebirth upon a higher plane, will yet be evolved from the wonders which come to light through the investigations of natural science, and the results of historical research. Man will then know, if he pictures the world as in a photographic image and conjures forth a vision of the scientific and historic progress of mankind, that this vision does not represent the material world alone, for underlying all human advancement there is clear evidence of a mighty spiritual plan of earnest training and development. He will no longer believe that the world as depicted by science is a mere physical creation, for he will realize that God’s laws are ever operative in such manner as to bring about his gradual unfoldment. If only natural science would extend its sphere of action beyond a mere portrayal of the perceptual world and rightly educate mankind, so that the human soul might break away from a position which is untenable, and rise to a state which would permit of its rebirth into a more exalted life — and if man could but know how glorious would then be the freedom from that restraint which ever hinders his upward progress, he would indeed have developed within himself those things fundamental to a true world concept of the Christ-Impulse. He would realize that he has power to look back into the grey mists of the past, to a period to which we have often referred, when his true being dwelt in a purely spiritual realm, later to descend into the material world that he might there of his own effort further his growth and advancement. Then would mankind understand the reason why it became imperative, that at a certain definite period in earthly progress a complete change of thought, a reversal of ideas, be brought about; he would know that it was in order that all might be empowered to tear themselves away from those false deceptive material concepts, which have entered so deeply into man’s consciousness. It is the Christ-Impulse which has checked man’s fall, and has saved humanity from being utterly immersed in those things which are but of the material world [and have neither value nor reality].
With respect to the evolution of humanity, The Christ is to be regarded objectively as the [Divine Principle] which is the source of our experience of a sacred power and quality entering the soul when reborn, and freed of all those primal transgressive tendencies which seek to find expression when man is associated with external earthly progress. It is this most holy essence, flowing in upon the world, which is indeed that manifestation we know as The Christ.
If the twentieth century would but regard the glorious realities of man’s inner life in a serious light it would understand the Christ-Event, and no more be in conflict with the concept and verity of those happenings which take place during the soul’s rebirth into a higher sphere. Spiritual Science would then prove that the same actual principles underlie all historic progress and development, as obtained in the case of external natural phenomena and occurrences. With regard to man’s ideas concerning the cosmos, he has fallen into that very error which finds expression in the words of Schopenhauer: — ‘The world is my own conception.’ This statement implies that we are surrounded by a universe of colour, sound, and so forth, dependent entirely upon the action of the eye and other sense organs for its being. But if we seek to comprehend the world in its totality, it is not true to say: — ‘All colour has existence only in virtue of the physical constitution of the eye.’ For the organ of sight would not be there, if the light had not first conjured it into being. If, on the one hand, it is true that the sensation of light be determined by the eye’s structure, then, on the other hand, it is equally true that the eye has been created by the light through the sun’s action. Both of these verities must therefore be involved in one incomprehensible reality. Thus do we realize the truth underlying Goethe’s words, when he says: —
‘The eye must thank the light for its being.’
From animal matter the light has brought forth a corresponding instrument suitable to receive its impressions. Thus has the eye formed itself in the light, so that it may be sensible of its touch in order that the illumination which is within may meet and blend with the rays which come from without. Even as the eye has been fashioned through the light’s action, and apprehension of the latter comes through the agency of this organ of vision, so was the fulfilment of man’s inner Christ-Experience and rebirth of soul, brought about by that supreme Christ-Event — The Mystery of Golgatha.
Spiritual Science tells us that before the advent of the Christ-Impulse, such inner experience could occur only under the stimulus of an external influence wrought through the agency of the mysteries, and not as is now the case, through a form of self-initiation induced within man’s very being.
There is a certain similarity between the relation of the colours and the light waves to the eye, and the profound mystery of the inner Christ-Experience; for as the eye apprehends the bright radiance of the light, so in man’s deepest being does he become conscious of the Divine Essence — The Christ. That his soul can rise up, and of its own effort transcend all previous limitations, is now possible because the resplendent sun — that grand Mystery of Golgotha — has shed its glorious rays upon the world’s history. If it were not for that supreme objective event, and the objective Christ, there could be no such mysterious subjective inner experience as will enter into the life of mankind during the twentieth century, to be regarded earnestly and from a truly scientific stand-point.
The twentieth century will see the dawn of those conditions necessary to a veritable understanding of the Christ-Impulse. It will be proved how absolute was its reality as a Divine centre of spiritual radiance, shining forth with a light which awakens an inner realization of that great truth reflected in Goethe’s words: —
‘Who overcomes himself, doth conquer that dread power
Which holds all beings closely bound –‘
Now, because of that spiritual bond between man’s latent capacity to overcome self, The Mystery of Golgotha, and the glorious Christ-Impulse, it follows that only by thus conquering can man know his being as it truly is, and knowing, he will henceforth regard his earthly nature as a quality from which he must be wholly freed. Further, he will realize that the attainment of a true standard of conduct and all genuine cognition and discernment can alone come to one who has sought and found redemption. It will be through an understanding of inner salvation that mankind will at last learn the true meaning of the concept of redemption as related to life’s historic evolution.
Finally, we would say, that during the twentieth century there will spread abroad a great illumination which will bring to humanity a clear comprehension of the Christ-Impulse, and this new knowledge will be in complete accord with the significance of Goethe’s fuller message3: —
‘Who overcomes himself, doth conquer that dread power
Which holds all beings closely bound — and he shall rise.
First dawns the glorious truth in that glad hour;
That truth by which, through Christ, mankind shall gain God’s prize.’
Notes for this lecture:
1. See lecture on Moses; footnote 2.
2. What is here implied is that the longing to be at one with the Christ Spirit which came into the world through Jesus of Nazareth, should be so intense that each of His disciples must be ready to sacrifice all ties of human love so that he may devote his life and being to the absolute service of THE CHRIST Who manifests within. Judging from the context the word ‘Hate’ which is in Luke xiv, 26, would appear to be of doubtful origin. [Ed.]
3. Von der
Gewalt, die alle Wesen bindet,
Befreit der Mensch sich, der sich überwindet,
Und in dieser Uberwindung sich selber erst in Wahrheit findet,
Wie die ganze Menschheit in Christus sich selber in Wahrheit finden kann.’