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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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The Presence of the Dead
GA 154

Appendix I. Faith and Knowledge

17 April 1914, Berlin

Notes from a lecture given in Prague*The following two lectures differ in character and content from the preceding five. In both, Rudolf Steiner approaches the central theme from a much wider perspective. In addition, “Faith and Knowledge” is not a complete, word for word, record of a lecture but notes summarizing what Steiner said. Therefore, the two lectures have been placed in the appendix.

Given the large amount of literature available, it is always possible to learn about the findings of spiritual science, particularly when anthroposophical groups work together. Since we are together now, I would like to discuss some guiding ideas out of spiritual impulses, ideas that continue in a more esoteric way what we spoke about more generally in yesterday's public lecture.1Lecture of April 16, 1914, entitled “Wie findet die Menschenseele ihre wahre Wesenheit?” (“How Can the Human Soul Find Its True Essence?”).

Many people today still believe in the contrast between faith and knowledge, faith and cognition. They say science can tell us about the world outside us, the only one we can know of with certainty. However, concerning the spiritual world, we must have faith. This attitude appears to contradict spiritual science, which strives to give us real knowledge of and insight into the spiritual world. In fact, it has to enter souls in our time in just this form, as insight and knowledge. In earlier incarnations our souls were in a completely different condition than now. They were more primitive, but in those times there were great individuals and many people connected with them. Those individuals conveyed ideas of the spiritual world, which we can still find in certain tribes and peoples and trace to individuals such as Hermes, Zarathustra, Moses, Buddha, and Krishna.2Hermes, the ancient Greek herald and messenger of the gods. See also Lecture Three, note 5. Spiritual ideas had to be poured into people's souls.

In the physical world life is not just toil and work, but slaving and drudgery. Most of this toil and work is not in the sense of “it's been a hard day's work,” but in the sense of unconscious occurrences caused by our thinking—in fact, our whole soul life as it takes its course.

We are all much more alike when we are born than we think. We do not resemble each other in our appearance, but in our structure. The forces at work in a child are active at an unconscious level. The spirit takes hold of the body and structures it. Only then does the sculpting and elaborating of the nerves begin. This happens independently of our mind, at a time when we are not yet able to use it. Then we become aware of ourselves as an I. That is when the wisdom we have brought with us from the gods, from the spiritual world, ceases.

In the first period after birth, we have only life forces, so to speak; our life then is nothing but a continuation of the spiritual world. Death in infancy is due to external bodily causes, and the child's soul plays no part in it.

Then we begin to deplete our physical bodies with every thought, every feeling. We must sleep to make up for what we have depleted during the day. If we did not thus eat away at our physical organization, we would have a budding and burgeoning life. Our etheric body always wants to bud and to sprout, but the astral body needs to consume what the etheric body builds up, and thus suppresses it. When we are sleeping, compensation for what has been eaten away and killed off flows into us from the spiritual world to reestablish the balance. The normal amount of sleep replaces exactly as much as has been depleted. If we decided to sleep more, as some retired people do, we would sleep too much. Of course, that is no objection to sleeping a lot. Since intellectual work takes a lot out of our physical organization, people doing that kind of work need much sleep. But if we sleep too much, we have too many new life forces and these then begin to proliferate; the human being then abounds with life forces. This surplus of life forces leads to illness. So if we want to do more than merely make up for what we depleted through our daily work and advance spiritually, we have to consciously take what we need from the spiritual world.

The founders of our religions believed it was their task to lead their people, to use up life forces, which will then be compensated for. However, what has to develop within us for the progress of humanity must be consciously drawn from the spiritual world so that it will not die in our physical existence.

That is why the founders of our religions provided ideas they had received from the spiritual world. These truly spiritual thoughts nourish our soul and maintain it. It would be the death of our soul if it always had to live in thoughts taken only from the physical world. In earlier times, religious beliefs were such spiritual thoughts human souls need. That phase of our development has been completed, and we live now in a time when we on earth will gradually lose the ability to take in what speaks only to our emotions, our faith. We can still preserve this faith for a time, galvanizing it, so to speak, but we cannot keep it for the future. The principle “I believe” has to be replaced with “I believe what I know.” People will begin to feel that this new principle must be applied. Otherwise we deny ourselves any possibility of knowing something about the life between death and a new birth. Then we would return to pitiful conditions in our next incarnation. Enthusiasm for other ideals, all clearly justified, is certainly a good thing and has to exist. However, in comparison with the foundations of spiritual science, these ideals cannot be put into practice directly. Lacking its knowledge, they can only be precursors of spiritual science.

As we progress in our spiritual research, we will feel the need to remain silent rather than to speak. If we speak nevertheless, it is out of insight into the conditions necessary for our time. Knowledge alone will make us free, and it is the task of the future to win the freedom of the human soul.

Thoughts of great spiritual power came from the founders of our religions. They were thoughts of faith that could wonderfully illuminate the region beyond death. These ideas were transformed into a true, spiritual light that revealed the environment beyond death to human beings. But the time will come when we will have to live in freedom. And even if new religious leaders were still to proclaim the old teachings of faith with the voice and the power of the gods, we would no longer understand them. We are experiencing this now. The sciences concerned with the outer world have arrived, as they had to. A great contemporary scientist, Max Müller, said that if an angel were to come down and proclaim news of the spiritual world, people would not understand or believe him.3Max Müller, 1823–1900, German orientalist, linguist, and religious scholar, professor of philology at Oxford. Literally: “A change is to take place, a transformation of such magnitude that even if angels came down and announce it, we would understand it as little as an infant would understand what we told it about the world in our language,” in Leben und Religion (“Life and Religion”), Stuttgart, n.y.

That is the development of humanity. It seems to lead inevitably to the loss of our ability to imbue ourselves with thoughts related to the spiritual worlds. That would mean we would have less light after death to illuminate our spiritual environment by ourselves. After all, no sun will shine from the outside on the world around us then, the light has to come from us. We then take the place of the sun and illuminate our surroundings after death. People unable to do this will have to return and repeat life on earth to assimilate thoughts and ideas that are fruitful for their existence after death. When we understand this, more than the usual enthusiasm for spreading spiritual science will loosen our tongue and prompt us to speak. Believing in what we know—that will be the need of humanity in the future.

In ancient times, religious ideas, myths, and fairy tales gave souls light for the spiritual world. It is easy to say that myths and fairy tales developed in the childhood stages of the human race. Of course, people did not physically meet the angels that myths and fairy tales speak about. But thinking based on philosophy will be of little use in the spiritual world where such knowledge has no meaning. It is easy to say fairy tales are not based on truth. Spiritual researchers are not so naive, and know that fiery dragons do not really fly through the air. However, they always knew it was necessary to form the Imagination of the fiery dragon, for when it lives in the soul, it casts light on the spiritual world. These are powerful Imaginations. That is the principle behind all myths; they are not intended to reflect external reality accurately, but to enable us to live in the spiritual world.

Materialists say myths and fairy tales originated in the childhood stage of the human race. But in its childhood, humanity was taught by the gods. In the process of our evolution, myths and fairy tales are gradually lost, but children should not grow up without them. It makes a tremendous difference whether or not children are allowed to grow up with fairy tales. The power of the fairy tale images, which give wings to the soul, becomes apparent only at a later age. Growing up without fairy tales leads later to boredom, to world-weariness. Indeed, it can even cause physical symptoms—fairy tales can help to prevent illnesses. The qualities that seep into our soul from fairy tales later emerge as a zest for life, enthusiasm for being alive, and an ability to cope with life, all of which can be seen even in old age. Children have to experience the power of the content of fairy tales while they are young and can still do so. People who cannot live with ideas that have no reality on the physical plane will be dead to the spiritual world. Philosophies based only on the material world are the death of our soul. Physical evolution leads to the death of the spiritual world. We must reach a view of the world based not on appearances, but resting solidly on its own inherent structure. We have to move toward the principle: I believe what I know.

We have to learn to pay attention to the symptoms of our cultural life. For example, I once gave a lecture in a town in southern Germany, and afterward two Catholic priests came up to me and said that I was only speaking to educated people, while they spoke so everyone could understand them. In reality, the opposite is the case. Anthroposophy can reach everyone provided we find the way to the simple, ordinary people. The farmer would understand it much better than the so-called educated person if only the way were not blocked by social conventions. In these matters, we must be able to leave ourselves completely out of the picture and not ask what we think best. Instead, we must ask what human souls require in a given era. So I replied to the priests that while their feeling tells them they speak to everyone, the facts will tell them they do not, because not everyone comes to hear them. And it is to those who do not come to them that I speak.

On earth we gain knowledge and insight through our physical and etheric bodies. Let us examine carefully how much of what is in our soul comes from the physical world. Light, for example, reaches us through the eyes. The process of seeing is one of deterioration right from its start in the eyes. The deterioration starts directly at the retina. The process detaches itself from life. In the morning, after sleep, our eyes have been restored and are filled with pure life. However, as we perceive, something forms in the living tissue that is no longer alive but only mineral. And we perceive the outer world, which is mirrored in us, because this process continues in the nerve tissue. Thus, insofar as the physical body is the bearer of these processes, it is not alive.

The etheric body is the bearer of thoughts that are also mirror images. People could easily discover that our thoughts reflect the super-sensible. Thoughts will never lend themselves to inspection under the microscope because in reality they live in the etheric body. They are formed by our thinking, which is mirrored in the physical body. We can see from this that understanding and knowledge are dependent on the physical and etheric bodies, which are affected only by the impressions of the physical world. Completely different thoughts have to take hold in our soul, in our astral body, and all our feeling, willing, and thinking not limited to the physical plane. Otherwise we will remain inwardly dead. All thoughts that represent objects are meaningful only on the physical plane. This is implied in the very question, “Are thoughts that do not represent objects justified?” Only with the thoughts living freely in the spirit, living freely in the astral body and the I can we gain insight, only with those thoughts can we live. These thoughts not only represent things, but are also inwardly active and alive; they create something out of themselves and out of us.

In modern art, naturalism predominates these days. In ancient times the soul was filled with images that brought activity into the thoughts of the astral body. Everything depicting only outer things is meaningless in the spiritual world. We must imbue ourselves with new images that can once again meaningfully permeate our soul. Often we take hold of something we believe to exist only in our imagination, to be only fantasy. This is frequently only a memory of something originating on the physical plane. We can revitalize what would otherwise die in our soul only by enlivening our images with thoughts that do not originate on the physical level and are not created by that kind of imagination.

People increasingly misuse the phrase: A beautiful soul in a beautiful body, a healthy soul in a healthy body. This phrase was appropriate for the understanding of earlier times. Unfortunately, today it is seen as a statement of cause; if someone has a healthy body, people conclude that a healthy soul lives in it. Whatever makes the body healthy will do the same for the soul.

If people do not develop thoughts that keep the astral body inwardly agile, they will suffer from mineral deposits even in childhood and as a result become ill later in life. And the world they enter after death will remain dark, because they do not radiate any light themselves. The rays of the sun strike a surface and that is how we see things. But in the spiritual world we are the source of light; we illuminate the surroundings we are supposed to see. Souls feeling the need to pursue spiritual science may not be aware of these circumstances, but they live in the depths of the soul. Just as in the physical world sunlight comes from the outside, so we must make ourselves sunlike in the spiritual world. We have to light in ourselves the spiritual fuel, the inner flame, to illuminate the realm of the spirit.

Physicists imagine the red of a rose can be traced to oscillation, to variations in wavelength. People say there is really no sound, only vibrations of air. They claim what we hear as sound exists only in our ears. Well, a simple experiment can teach us otherwise, namely, if we have someone wake us up by knocking on the door. We will notice that we were not conscious during the night when we were asleep, but that on waking up we were already living in the knocking. We ourselves have to enter into the knocking sound. We use the other person to do the knocking because our soul itself cannot do it. If we resolved firmly to wake up, we could do so, but this way we are only using the other person as a tool.

If materialist views continue to persist for several generations more, the red of roses will really disappear. People will actually see little gray atoms vibrating as an atomic whirl, not because they have to see them or because they exist, but because they will have trained themselves to see them. That is why it is necessary to spread spiritual science, to prevent having to live in a future filled with nothing other than physical atoms swirling around.

We are not talking about the physical ether but the one that is living thought. We must realize first of all that a rose is not a mass of whirling atoms, but that behind it there are real living and interweaving elemental beings. The theory of the spiritual world is secondary; the main thing is to concentrate our feeling, to feel ourselves living and weaving in our new perception of the reality of the spiritual world. This is the resurrection of the spiritual world in our souls, the truly ecumenical Easter event.

Our ancestors required a different event that was connected to the time when the sun reaches its zenith. When everything in nature was budding and blossoming, they experienced an ecstasy that reaffirmed for them the existence of the spiritual world. What they experienced then at St. John's Tide we now have to experience in the spring, at Easter. We have to be able to celebrate the awakening of the soul, the resurrection of the soul, when spiritual science speaks to us not merely as a theory, but as living knowledge.