The Fifth Gospel
3 October 1913, Christiania
When I said in the lecture yesterday that those personalities who are generally called the Apostles of Christ Jesus experienced a kind of awakening at the time commemorated by the so-called Feast of Pentecost, this does not in any way imply that the Apostles were at that time immediately or fully conscious of the content of the Fifth Gospel as I am relating it now. It is quite true that when clairvoyant consciousness penetrates deeply into the souls of the Apostles, the pictures of which I spoke are discerned; but in the hearts and minds of the Apostles themselves at that time, these things lived less as pictures and more — if I may put it so — as very life, as vivid experience, as feeling, as power of soul! And the words the Apostles were then able to speak, words which captivated even the Greeks and gave the impetus for the development of Christianity — what they thus bore within them as power of soul and of feeling — all this blossomed forth from the living power of the Fifth Gospel. They were able to speak as they did, to work as they did, because they bore within their very souls those things we are now deciphering as the Fifth Gospel — though they did not speak of them in the words in which this Fifth Gospel has to be narrated now. They had been quickened, awakened as it were by the all-prevailing, Cosmic Love and under the influence of this quickening they now worked on. What lived within them was the Power which Christ Himself had now come to be. And here we have reached a point where we must speak about Christ's earthly life, according to the Fifth Gospel.
It is not easy to put these things into words which give expression to concepts and ideas of the modern mind. But many ideas acquired from our studies in Theosophy will help us to approach this greatest of all Earth-mysteries. If we want to understand Christianity we must apply to the Christ Being concepts already familiar to us from Theosophy — only in a somewhat different form.
In order to achieve some measure of clarity, we will begin by considering the event usually known as the Baptism by John in the Jordan. In respect of the earthly life of Christ, the Fifth Gospel reveals that this event was something like conception in the case of a human being. And we understand the life of Christ from then onwards until the Mystery of Golgotha when we compare it with the life of the human embryo within the body of the mother. From the Baptism by John until the Mystery of Golgotha, therefore, the Christ Being passes through a kind of embryonic existence. The Mystery of Golgotha itself is to be understood as the earthly birth — that is to say, the death of Jesus is to be understood as the earthly birth of the Christ. His earthly life in the real sense lies after the Mystery of Golgotha, when He communed with the Apostles while they were in an abnormal state of consciousness. This was what followed the real birth of the Christ Being. And with reference to the Christ Being, we must conceive the event described as the Ascension and the subsequent outpouring of the Spirit as the passing into the spiritual world which, as we know, takes place after the death of a human being. The further life of Christ in the Earth-sphere after the Ascension or after Pentecost is to be compared with the life passed through by the human soul in Devachan, in the Spirit-Land. And so we see, my dear friends, that Christ is a Being in respect of whom all ideas and concepts otherwise acquired concerning the successive stages and conditions of human life must be completely transformed. After the brief intermediate period known as Kamaloka, the time of purification, the human being passes over into the spiritual world proper, in order to prepare for the next earthly life. After his death, therefore, the human being lives through a spiritual life. From the event of Pentecost onwards, the Christ Being passed through experiences which signified, for Him, what the transition into the Spirit-Land signifies for the human being: for Christ, this was His entry into the sphere of the earth. And instead of passing, as does a human being, into a world of Devachan, a world of Spirit, after death, the sacrifice offered up by the Christ Being was that He made the earth His heaven, sought His heaven upon the earth. The human being leaves the earth in order, as we say in ordinary parlance, to exchange his dwelling-place for heaven. Christ left the heavens in order to exchange this, His dwelling-place, for the earth. I beg you, my dear friends, to understand this in its true meaning and then associate with it the feeling of what came to pass through the Mystery of Golgotha, through the Christ Being — the feeling of what Christ's sacrifice really signified. It was the forsaking of the sphere of Spirit in order that living together with the earth and with men on the earth, He might lead them onwards, lead evolution on the earth to further stages through the Impulse thus bestowed.
This already indicates that before the Baptism in the Jordan, the Christ Being did not belong to the earthly sphere. From worlds beyond the earth, from super-earthly spheres He had come down to the earth. And the experiences between the Baptism in the Jordan and Pentecost were necessary in order that Christ, the heavenly Being, might be transformed into Christ, the earthly Being. Infinite depths have been expressed when it is said of this Mystery: Since the event of Pentecost the Christ Being has been together with human souls on the earth; before then He was not together with human souls on the earth!
The experiences undergone by the Christ Being between the Baptism in the Jordan and the event of Pentecost took place in order that His abode in the spiritual world might be exchanged for His abode in the earth-sphere. They were undergone in order that Christ, the Divine-Spiritual Being, might take upon Himself the form in which alone it would be possible for Him to live, henceforward, in communion with the souls of men. To what end, then, did the events of Palestine take place? To the end that Christ, the Divine-Spiritual Being, might assume the Form which enabled Him to live in communion with human souls on earth.
Here we have a direct indication that the event of Palestine is unique and without parallel — as I have so often stated. A higher, non-earthly Being comes down into the earth-sphere — until under the influence of this Being, the earth-sphere shall have been duly transformed. Since the days of Palestine the Christ Being has therefore been a power in the earth itself.
To form a really clear conception of the event of Pentecost according to the Fifth Gospel, necessitates the use of certain concepts that are elaborated in Theosophy. We know that in earlier times there were Mysteries, Initiations, that the human soul was lifted through these Initiations into participation in the spiritual life. The most graphic picture of the pre-Christian Initiation is provided by the so-called Persian or Mithraic Mysteries. In these Mysteries there were seven stages. [See Christianity and the Mysteries of Antiquity, by Rudolf Steiner. Rudolf Steiner Publishing Company.] He who was to be led into the higher levels of spiritual experience attained, first of all, the rank called symbolically a “Raven.” Then he became a “Secret One,” a “Hidden One.” In the third degree he became a “Fighter;” in the fourth, a “Lion;” in the fifth degree the name of the people to which he belonged was conferred upon him. In the sixth degree he became a “Sun-Hero,” in the seventh a “Father.” In regard to the first four degrees it is sufficient, now, to say that in them a man was led by stages to deeper and deeper spiritual experiences. In the fifth degree he was ready for an extension of consciousness, giving him the power to become the spiritual guardian of his people, whose name was therefore conferred upon him. An Initiate of the fifth degree in those times participated in a very special way in the spiritual life.
From a Lecture-Course given here 1The Mission of the Folk-Souls. Christiania, 1910. Rudolf Steiner Publishing Co. we know that the peoples of the earth are led and guided by those Beings of the Spiritual Hierarchies known as the Archangeloi, the Archangels. An Initiate of the fifth degree was lifted into the sphere where he participated in the life of the Archangeloi. Such Initiates of the fifth degree were needed in the cosmos; that is why, on the earth, there was an Initiation into this fifth degree. When such a personality initiated in the Mysteries, had lived through the deep experiences and acquired the enrichment of soul proper to the fifth degree, the gaze of the Archangeloi was directed to this soul, reading in it as we read in a book which tells us certain things we need to know in order to perform some deed. In the soul of one who had been initiated in the fifth degree, the Archangeloi read what was needful for this people. To enable the Archangeloi to lead the people aright, there must be Initiates of the fifth degree upon the earth. These Initiates are the intermediaries between those who are the actual leaders of a people, and the people itself. They bear upwards, as it were, into the sphere of the Archangeloi, what is essential for the right leadership of the particular folk.
How could this fifth degree be attained in ancient, pre-Christian times? It could not be attained if the soul of the human being remained in the body. The soul must be raised out of the body. Initiation consisted precisely in this lifting of the soul out of the body. And outside the body the soul underwent experiences which imparted to it the content I have just been describing. The soul must leave the earth and rise up into the spiritual world in order to attain the goal set before it.
When the sixth degree of the old Initiation had been attained, the degree of the Sun-Hero, there became active in the soul of this Sun-Hero a power required not only for the leadership, the guidance, the directing of a people, but for still higher purposes. Study the evolution of mankind on earth and you will perceive how peoples and nations arise and then pass away, how they are transformed. Peoples are born and peoples die — like individual human beings. But what a particular people has accomplished for the earth must be preserved in the whole onward march of evolution. Not only has a people to be directed and guided, but the results of the earthly labours of this people must be led out beyond it. In order that the achievements of a people may thus be led onwards by the Spirits whose task this is, the Sun-Heroes were needed. For what has been brought to life in the soul of a Sun-Hero can be read by Beings in the higher worlds. This was a means of acquiring those forces by which the results of a people's labours may be integrated into the* labours of mankind as a whole. The power living in the Sun-Hero transcended the activity of a single people. And just as one who was to become an Initiate of the fifth degree in the ancient Mysteries must pass out of his body in order to undergo the necessary experiences, so too, he who was to become a Sun-Hero must pass out of his body and, during this time of absence, actually have the Sun as his dwelling-place. These things seem almost incredible, possibly sheer folly to the modern mind. But here too the saying of Paul holds good: that what may be wisdom in the sight of God is often foolishness in the sight of men.
During his Initiation the Sun-Hero lived in communion with the whole solar system, having as his place of abode the Sun, as the ordinary human being lives on the earth as his own planet. As mountains and rivers are around us here, so were the planets of the solar system around the Sun-Hero during the time of his Initiation. During his Initiation the Sun-Hero was transported in consciousness to the Sun. In the ancient Mysteries this could only be achieved outside the body. And when he came back into his body he remembered what he had experienced and was able to use these experiences as a potent force for furthering the evolution and well-being of all humanity. The Sun-Heroes were transported away from the body during the process of Initiation and came back again into the body, having within them then the power of incorporating the achievements of a people into the evolution of humanity as a whole. And what was it that these Sun-Heroes experienced during the three and a half days of their Initiation while their dwelling-place — for so we may truly call it — was on the Sun? They experienced communion with Christ, who before the Mystery of Golgotha was not fully upon the earth! All the Sun-Heroes of old had been transported into the higher worlds, for in ancient times it was only in those worlds that communion with Christ could be experienced. From this world into which the old Initiates must rise during their Initiation, the Christ came down to the earth. And so we may say: what could be attained by a few single individuals in ancient times through Initiation, was attained as the result, so to say, of a natural happening during the days of Pentecost, by those who were the Apostles of Christ Jesus. Whereas before then it was necessary for men to rise up to Christ, Christ had now come down to the Apostles. And the Apostles, in a certain respect, had become men who bore within them the substance and content that had belonged to the souls of the ancient Sun-Heroes. The spiritual power of the sun had poured into souls of men, working on henceforward in the evolution of humanity. In order that this might be, the events of Palestine were necessary.
Of what was Christ's earthly state of being the outcome? It was the outcome of infinite suffering — transcending in intensity anything that the human mind can conceive. If we are to think correctly about these matters, certain obstacles again due to the modern attitude of mind, must be put aside, and I am obliged at this point to make an interpolation in the narratives of the Fifth Gospel.
I would strongly recommend the reading of a book lately published, because it is written by a man with a certain genius, and is evidence of the nonsensical statements that can be made about spiritual things by men of such calibre. I refer to Maurice Maeterlinck's book, La Mort. Among many meaningless passages in this book there is also the statement that when the human being has died, he is a spirit and can no longer suffer because he has laid aside the physical body. Maeterlinck, a man of some genius, is therefore labouring under the illusion that the physical alone can suffer and that for this reason, one who is dead cannot suffer. He is entirely oblivious of the phenomenal, almost incredible folly here implied, that the physical body which is composed of physical forces and chemical substances alone can suffer ... as if a stone were capable of suffering. The physical body cannot suffer; suffering lies always in the realm of soul. Things have come to such a pass that in the simplest matters people think the opposite of the truth. There would be no suffering in Kamaloka if there could be no suffering in the spiritual life. Suffering in Kamaloka is caused precisely by the deprivation of the physical body. Anyone who holds the view that a spirit cannot suffer will be incapable of any true conception of the infinite suffering undergone by the Christ Spirit in Palestine.
But before I speak of this suffering, I must call your attention to another matter. It must be remembered that at the Baptism in the Jordan, a Spirit came down to the earth and lived thereafter for three years in the physical body which then passed through death on Golgotha — a Spirit who before the Baptism in the Jordan had lived in conditions of existence altogether different from those of the earth. What does it mean — that this Spirit had lived in conditions of existence altogether different from those of the earth? In theosophical parlance it means that this Spirit was subject to no earthly karma. Please pay attention to this. For three years there dwelt in the body of Jesus of Nazareth a Spirit who lived through this period on the earth without any earthly karma in His soul. Because of this, all the experiences undergone by Christ are fundamentally different from those undergone by a human being. If we suffer, if this or that experience comes to us, we know that the suffering has its basis in karma. It was not so in the case of the Christ Spirit. For three years He lived through experiences on the earth without becoming involved in karma. What, then, did this entail for Him? Suffering without any karmic reason, utterly undeserved suffering, the suffering of guiltlessness! The Fifth Gospel is the theosophical Gospel and reveals to us that absolutely unique earthly life of three years to which the concept of karma is not applicable.
But further study of this Gospel reveals to us other things as well concerning these three years. This life of three years on earth which we have conceived as an embryonic life, produced no karma, incurred no guilt. A life of three years which neither engendered nor was conditioned by karma was spent on earth. If the concepts and ideas arising from these things are taken in the really deep sense, much will be acquired for a true understanding of these extraordinary events in Palestine which otherwise remain, in so many respects, incomprehensible. For just think what has been the outcome of it all in the evolution of humanity, think of how it has been misunderstood! And yet, what an impulse has been given! But these things are not always taken in their deep and essential meaning. When they are, people will think differently in many respects. Matters that are, in reality, profoundly significant are so often unheeded. Probably many of you have heard of the book which came out in 1863 — Ernest Renan's Life of Jesus. This book is usually read without heed being paid to the real gist of it. Perhaps in time to come the world will be astonished that countless people have read this book without discovering what is really the most remarkable thing about it. What makes it remarkable is that it is a mixture of very noble, beautiful writing and cheap fiction. The fact that a very high-minded and beautiful exposition is mixed up in this book with writing like that of a cheap novel, will be regarded one day as quite extraordinary. Read Ernest Renan's Life of Jesus with this in mind, read what he makes of Christ — who is, of course, for him, paramountly Christ Jesus. Renan makes Him an heroic figure whose intentions, to begin with, are altogether good, who is a great benefactor of humanity, but who is then carried away by the people's infatuation and more and more falls in with what they like to hear and to have said to them. In magnificent style, Ernest Renan applies to Christ what one often finds being applied at a lower level. For it does, after all, happen that when people see something spreading, like Theosophy for example, they criticise it by saying: At the beginning your intentions were altogether praiseworthy, but then came mischievous adherents merely for the purpose of hearing what everyone likes to hear, and you were driven from one stage to another ... This is how Renan speaks of Christ Jesus. He had the effrontery to describe the Raising of Lazarus as having been in the nature of a fraud, condoned by Christ Jesus as an effective means of making a stir among the people! He goes so far as to depict Christ Jesus in the grip of frenzied rage and succumbing more and more to the folk-instincts. In this way an element of cheap fiction is mingled with the noble discourses also contained in this book. All healthy feeling must — to put it at its mildest — recoil from descriptions of a being who to begin with is full of the highest intentions but finally succumbs to the folk-instincts and allows all kinds of frauds to be perpetrated. Strangely enough, however, Renan is not repelled but writes in a most beautiful and moving way of this being. Curious, is it not? But it proves how strongly men are drawn to Christ, even when they understand nothing about Him. It can actually happen that a man like this makes the life of Christ into so much cheap fiction and yet finds no words of admiration too strong for the purpose of turning men's minds and hearts to this personality. Such things are only possible in connection with a Being whose circumstances were those of Christ Jesus. Oh, the karma that would have piled up during those three years of Christ's life on earth had that life been as Renan describes it! But in times to come it will be recognised that such a description becomes null and void in the light of the knowledge that a life was once lived on earth without creating karma. This is the message of the Fifth Gospel.
Let us turn again to the event we know as the Baptism by John in the Jordan. The Fifth Gospel tells us that the words contained in the Gospel of St. Luke are a correct rendering of what could have been heard at that time by highly developed clairvoyant consciousness: “This is my beloved Son; this day have I begotten Him.” And that is a true rendering of what actually came to pass: the begetting, the conception of Christ into the sphere of the earth. This was what happened at the Baptism in the Jordan. As in the next two lectures we shall be speaking of the Being who came down to the body of Jesus, we will, to begin with, only consider the fact that there came one, Jesus of Nazareth, who gave up His body to the Christ Being. The Fifth Gospel reveals — and this is what we read with the backward-turned gaze of clairvoyance — that at the beginning of Christ's earthly pilgrimage, He — the Christ — had not fully united with the body of Jesus of Nazareth, that there was only a loose connection between the Christ Being and the body of Jesus of Nazareth. The connection between the bodily form and the soul was not as it is in an ordinary human being but of such a kind that at any time — for example when it was necessary — the Christ Being could leave the body of Jesus of Nazareth. And while the body of Jesus of Nazareth lay somewhere as if in sleep, the Christ Being went His way in the Spirit hither and thither, wherever His Presence was needed. The Fifth Gospel reveals to us that the body of Jesus of Nazareth was not always present when the Christ Being appeared to the Apostles, but that often the body of Jesus of Nazareth had remained in some place, while the Spirit, the Christ Spirit appeared to the Apostles — but this Appearance was such that they might well confuse it with the actual body of Jesus of Nazareth. True, they were aware of a certain difference but the difference was too slight to enable them always to perceive it clearly. The other four Gospels give little indication of this but it is there, in very truth, in the Fifth Gospel. The Apostles were not always able to distinguish quite clearly: Now we have Christ Jesus before us, or, now we have only the Christ Spirit before us. The distinction was not always obvious and they did not invariably know whether the one or the other condition held good. Mostly they took the Appearance to be that of Christ Jesus, that is to say, the Christ Spirit in so far as they knew Him in the body of Jesus of Nazareth. But what came to pass in that earthly life of three years was that through the course of those three years the Spirit bound itself more and more closely to the body of Jesus of Nazareth; the Christ Being — as an etheric Being — assumed an ever greater likeness with this physical body. Notice once again how different it was with the Christ Being from what it is with the body of an ordinary man. The ordinary man is a microcosm in relation to the macrocosm, he is an image of the whole macrocosm. Such is the body of the individual human being — that is to say, what comes to manifestation in the physical body of a man. What man becomes on earth reflects the great universe. With the Christ Being the opposite is the case. The macrocosmic Sun Being shapes Himself into likeness with the form of the human microcosm, narrows and contracts more and more into the human microcosm. Exactly the opposite!
At the beginning of Christ's life on earth, directly after the Baptism in the Jordan, the connection with the body of Jesus of Nazareth was only very slight. The Christ Being was still quite outside the body of Jesus of Nazareth. The power operating in the Christ Being as He went about the land was still an entirely super-earthly power. Cures were performed such as no human power could have performed. In His discourse with men the Christ Being spoke with the impressiveness of a god. As though fettering Himself to the body of Jesus of Nazareth only when He so willed, Christ worked as the super-earthly Christ Being. But in increasing measure He took on likeness with the body of Jesus of Nazareth, contracted into earthly conditions of existence and experienced the gradual ebbing of the Divine power. All this was undergone by the Christ Being as He identified Himself more and more closely with the body of Jesus of Nazareth ... in a certain respect it was a retrogressive process of evolution. It was the lot of the Christ Being to feel how the Divine power steadily waned in this process of self-assimilation to the body of Jesus of Nazareth. Stage by stage the God became a Man. Like someone who in the throes of unceasing pain becomes aware that the body is steadily declining, so was the Christ Being aware of the waning of His spiritual power while as an etheric Being He was gradually identifying Himself with the earthly body of Jesus of Nazareth ... until the similarity was so complete that He could feel anguish like a man. This is also described in the other Gospel when it is said that Christ Jesus went out with His disciples to the Mount of Olives where He — the Christ Being — had upon His brow the sweat of anguish. Stage by stage the Christ had become Man, had become human, had identified Himself with the body of Jesus of Nazareth. In the same measure in which this etheric Christ Being grew to greater identity with the body of Jesus of Nazareth, in the same measure did the Christ become Man. The miraculous, god-begotten power ebbed from Him. There before us is the whole Way of the Passion — beginning from days shortly after the Baptism by John in the Jordan, when the people, amazed at His deeds, exclaimed: Such wonders have never yet been wrought on the earth! This was the time when the Christ Being had as yet assumed but little likeness with the body of Jesus of Nazareth. In three years the path had led from this astonished gaze of the people standing in wonder around Him to the point where the Christ Being had so identified Himself with the body of Jesus of Nazareth that in this sickly body with which He had made Himself one, the Christ Being could no longer answer the questions of Pilate, of Herod, of Caiaphas. The Christ Being had become so identical with the body of Jesus of Nazareth, with this steadily weakening body, that when the question was put: “Hast thou said that thou wilt destroy the temple and in three days build it up again?” — the Christ Being no longer spoke from the frail body of Jesus of Nazareth and remained as one dumb before the high priests of the Jews, dumb before Pilate who asked: “Hast thou said thou art the King of the Jews?” That was the Way of the Passion — from the Baptism in the Jordan to the point where all power had departed from Him. And forthwith the multitude who had once gazed in amazement at the manifestations of the super-earthly, wonder-working powers of the Christ Being, no longer stood in astonishment around Him but stood before the Cross, mocking the powerlessness of the God who had become Man, in the words: If thou art a God, come down from the Cross! Thou hast helped others, now help thyself! This was the Way of the Passion — a Way of infinite suffering, to which was added the sorrowing for a humanity that had come to be as it was at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha.
But this suffering gave birth to the Spirit which was poured upon the Apostles on the day of Pentecost. Out of this suffering was born the all-prevailing Cosmic Love which at the Baptism in the Jordan had come down from the super-earthly, heavenly spheres into the sphere of earth, had taken on the likeness of man, of a human body, and had endured that moment of utmost, divine powerlessness in order to bring forth the Impulse we know as the Christ Impulse in the further evolution of mankind.
These are things of which we must be mindful if we would understand the real significance of the Christ Impulse in the sense in which it must be understood in times to come. Men of the future will need such understanding if they are to make progress along their path of evolution and of culture.