1. The Immortality of the I
6 June 1916, Berlin
It would not be fitting to speak of Pentecost in our fateful time in the same way as in earlier days. We are living in a time of severe ordeals, and we cannot look only for the lofty feelings that warm our souls. If we have any right and true feeling at all, we cannot possibly, even for a moment, forget the terrible pain and suffering in our time. It would even be selfish for us to want to forget this pain and suffering and to give ourselves up to contemplations that warm our souls. Therefore it will be more appropriate today to speak of what may be useful in these times — useful insofar as we have to look for the reasons of the great sufferings of our time in our prevailing spiritual condition. As we have found in many of our previous talks here, we have to realize that we must work on the development of our souls particularly in these difficult times so that humanity as a whole can meet better days in the future.
Nevertheless, I would like to begin with some thoughts that can lead us to an understanding of the meaning of Pentecost. In the course of the year there are three important festivals, Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. Everyone will feel the great difference between them — everyone, that is, whose feelings have not become dulled, as in the case of most of our contemporaries, to the meaning of these festivals in the evolution of humanity and the universe. The difference in our feelings for these festivals is expressed in the external symbolism of the festivities connected with them.
Christmas is pre-eminently celebrated as a festival for the joy of children, a festival that in our times — though not always — includes a Christmas tree, brought into our houses from snow- and ice-clad nature. And we remember the Christmas plays we have performed here on several occasions, plays that have for centuries uplifted even the simplest human hearts, guiding them to the mighty event that came to pass once in the evolution of the earth — the birth of Jesus of Nazareth in Bethlehem. The birth of Jesus of Nazareth is a festival connected almost by nature to a world of feelings that was born out of the Gospel of St. Luke, particularly out of its most popular parts that are easiest to understand. Thus, Christmas is a festival of what is universally human. It is understood, at least to a certain extent, by children and by people who have remained childlike in their hearts, and it brings into these hearts something great and tremendous that is then taken up into consciousness.
Easter, however, although celebrated at the time of nature's awakening, leads us to the gates of death. We can characterize the difference between the two festivals by saying that while there is much that is lovely and speaks to all human hearts in Christmas, there is something infinitely sublime in Easter. To celebrate Easter rightly, our souls must be imbued with something of tremendous sublimity. We are led to the great and sublime idea that the divine being descended to earth, incarnated in a human body, and passed through death. The enigma of death and of the preservation of the eternal life of the soul in death — Easter brings all this before our souls.
We can have deep feelings for these festivals only when we remember what we know through spiritual science. Christmas and the ideas it evokes are closely connected with all the festivals ever celebrated to commemorate the birth of a Savior. Christmas is connected with the Mithras festival, which celebrates the birth of Mithras in a cave. Thus, Christmas is a festival closely linked with nature, as symbolized by the Christmas tree. Even the birth it celebrates is a part of nature. At the same time, because Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, which has great significance particularly for us in spiritual science, it includes much that is spiritual. As we have often said, the spirit of the earth awakens in winter and is most active when nature appears to be asleep and frozen. Christmas leads us into elemental nature; the lighting of the Christmas candles should be our symbol of the awakening of the spirit in the darkness of winter, the awakening of the spirit in nature. And if we want to understand the relationship between Christmas and human beings, we have to think of what connects us to nature even when we are spiritually separated from it, as in sleep when our astral body and our I ascend as spirit into the spiritual world. The etheric body, though also spirit, remains bound to the outer, physical body. Elemental nature, which comes to life deep inside the earth when it is shrouded in wintry ice, is present in us primarily in the etheric body.
It is not just a mere analogy, but a profound truth that Christmas also commemorates our etheric, elemental nature, our etheric body, which connects us with what is elemental in nature.
If you consider everything that has been said over many years about the gradual paralyzing and diminishing of humanity's forces, you will be struck by the close relationship between all the forces living in our astral body and the events bringing us this diminishing and death. We have to develop our astral body during life and take in what is spiritual by means of it, and therefore we take into ourselves the seeds of death. It is quite wrong to believe that death is connected with life only outwardly and superficially; there is a most intimate connection between death and life, as I have often pointed out. Our life is the way it is only because we are able to die as we do, and this in turn is connected with the evolution of our astral body.
Again, it is not just an analogy to say that Easter is a symbol of everything related to our astral nature, to that part of our nature through which we leave our physical body when we sleep and enter the spiritual world — the world from which the divine spiritual Being descended who experienced death in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. If I were speaking in a time when the sense for the spiritual was more alive than it is in ours, then what I have just said would quite likely be taken more as reality. However, nowadays it is taken as merely symbolic. People would then realize that the celebration of Christmas and Easter is also intended to remind us of our connection with elemental nature and with the nature that brings spiritual and physical death. In other words, the festivals are tokens reminding us that we bear a spiritual element in our astral and etheric bodies. But in our age these things have been forgotten. They will come to the fore again when people decide to work at understanding such spiritual things.
In addition to the etheric and astral bodies, we bear another spiritual element in us — the I. We know how complex this I is and that it continues from incarnation to incarnation. Its inner forces build the garment, so to speak, that we put on with each new incarnation. We rise from the dead in the I to prepare for a new incarnation. It is the I that makes each of us a unique individual. We can say our etheric body represents in a sense everything birth-like, everything connected with the elemental forces of nature. Our astral body symbolizes what brings death and is connected with the higher spiritual world. And the I represents our continual resurrection in the spirit, our renewed life in the spiritual world, which is neither nature nor the world of the stars but permeates everything.
Just as we can associate Christmas with the etheric body and Easter with the astral body, so Pentecost can be connected with the I. Pentecost represents the immortality of our I; it is a sign of the immortal world of the I, reminding us that we participate not only in the life of nature in general and pass through repeated deaths, but that we are immortal, unique beings who continually rise again from the dead. And how beautifully this is expressed in the elaboration of Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost! Just think, Christmas as we celebrate it is directly connected with earthly events; it follows immediately upon the winter solstice, that is, at the time when the earth is shrouded in deepest darkness.
In a way, our celebration of Christmas follows the laws of the earth: when the nights are longest and the days shortest, when the earth is frozen, we withdraw into ourselves and seek the spiritual insofar as it lives in the earth. Thus Christmas is a festival bound to the spirit of the earth. It reminds us continually that as human beings we belong to the earth, that the spirit had to descend from the heights of the world and take on earthly form to become one of us children of the earth.
On the other hand, Easter is linked to the relationship between sun and moon and is always celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon in spring, that is, the first full moon after the twenty-first day of March. We fix the date of Easter according to the relative position of sun and moon. You see how wonderfully Christmas is connected with the earth and Easter with the cosmos. Christmas reminds us of what is most holy in the earth, and Easter of what is holiest in the heavens.
Our Christian festival of Pentecost is related in a beautiful way to what is above the stars: the universal spiritual fire of the cosmos, individualized and descending in fiery tongues upon the Apostles. This fire is neither of the heavens nor of the earth, neither cosmic nor merely terrestrial, but permeates everything, yet it is individualized and reaches every human being. Pentecost is connected with the whole world! As Christmas belongs to the earth and Easter to the starry heavens, so Pentecost is directly connected to every human being when he or she receives the spark of spiritual life from all the worlds. What all humanity received in the descent of the divine human being to earth is given to each individual in the fiery tongues of Pentecost. The fiery tongues represent what is in us, in the universe, and in the stars. Thus, especially for those who seek the spirit, Pentecost has a special, profound meaning, summoning us again and again to seek anew for the spirit.
I think in our age we have to take these festive thoughts a step further and consider them more deeply than we would at other times. For how we will extricate ourselves from the sorrowful and disheartening events of our times will largely depend on how deeply we can grasp such thoughts. Our souls will have to work their way out of these events. In certain circles people are already beginning to feel that. And I would add that particularly people who are close to spiritual science should increasingly feel this necessity of our times to renew our spiritual life and to rise above materialism. We will overcome materialism only if we have the good will to kindle the flames of the spiritual world within ourselves and to truly celebrate Pentecost inwardly, to take it with inner seriousness.
In our recent talks here we have spoken about how difficult it is for people to find what is right in this area of the renewal of spirituality under the conditions of the present age. We see nowadays a development of forces we cannot admire enough; yet we lack adequate feelings to respond to them. When feelings become as necessary for the spiritual, people will realize that it is important to celebrate and not neglect the inner Pentecost in our soul. Some people — of course, not you, my dear friends, who have after all participated in such studies for several years—might well think our recent talks here smack of hypochondria and carping. 1This comment refers to the lecture cycle Gegenwärtiges und Vergangenes im Menschengeist, lectures February 13 to May 30, 1916; vol. 167 in the Collected Works, (Dornach, Switzerland: Rudolf Steiner Verlag, 1962). I think the very opposite is true, for it seems to me absolutely necessary to point out the things we talked about because people should know where to intervene spiritually in the course of human evolution. In fact, here and there other people also realize what is essential for our times.
The grandson of Schiller, Alexander von Gleichen-Russwurm, has
written a nice little book called Cultural Superstition. 2Johann Christoph Friedrich
von Schiller, 1759–1805, German poet, playwright, and
Alexander von Gleichen-Russwurm, 1865–1947, Kultur-Aber-glaube (“Cultural Superstition”), (Munich: Forum, 1916). As I read it, I was reminded of many things I said to you here. For instance, I told you that spiritual science should not remain merely a lifeless theory. Instead, it must flow into our souls so that our thinking becomes really enlivened, truly judicious, and flexible, for only then can it get to the heart of the tasks of our age. In this connection, let me read you a few sentences from this booklet Cultural Superstition by Alexander von Gleichen-Russwurm.
If all of us bear part of the guilt for this terrible tragedy, it is because throughout all of Europe, in spite of culture, schools, and other educational facilities, we have gradually forfeited our independent thinking.
O, freedom of thought, in vain have the greatest poets called for you in the name of humanity. You languished, faded — you sank down as if dead! Unfree, we parroted others, our power of thinking chained, lamed, and weary.
We had time, desire, and ambition for everything except actual thinking. Even here, in the erstwhile nation of poets and philosophers, thought has become an illustrious stranger, a rare, disquieting guest. Reading and writing are no longer of any help to us; indeed, they can only be harmful if we do not know how to think.
Recently everything has been conducive to wean us of thinking altogether — everything, even our education, our art, recreation, work, social life, travel, and domestic life.
But genuine culture should teach us above all to think, for feelings and instincts alone will never suffice to make possible a peaceful coexistence of people and nations. For this, a sound, carefully trained, political mind is necessary.
And von Gleichen-Russwurm, this grandson of Schiller, traces the fact that we have forgotten how to think far back in history:
Since the Vienna Congress of 1815, all nations have made a certain effort to get along and settle down on this planet. Innumerable treaties, attempts of every kind, bear witness to this. People believed that by struggling for a constitution and suffrage they would gain real participation in government and be able to determine their own fate.
Then von Gleichen-Russwurm says we cannot do without thinking. He shows this by painting a strange picture of our present time, which we must always think about and cannot forget even for a moment.
Indeed, we have not made such wonderful progress when everything that formerly would have been spun into the yarns of the most harebrained poets has become reality. We are in such an immense and frantic jumble, more fantastic than anything that happened during the migration of peoples. Senegalese kill our poets, artists groom horses, professors tend sheep. Theater managers give orders of execution over the telephone, pious Indians seek death on our battlefields in accordance with their ancient rites. Beautiful buildings fall into ruins and shelters fit for cave-dwellers are built. Millionaires starve and struggle with vermin, while beggars sit at abandoned sumptuous tables in old castles. Suspicious characters are rehabilitated and the most harmless people languish and die in prisons.
This state of things compels Schiller's grandson to consider the necessity of enlivening thinking. However, I have not been able to find, either in this pamphlet or in his other writings, that he is looking in the right direction for the true sources of enlivened thinking.
It is indeed not easy to celebrate Pentecost in our soul nowadays, not at all easy. Now I have here the book of a man who has taken great pains in the last few years to understand Goethe — as far as he found it possible — and who has gone to great lengths to understand our spiritual science. 3Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1749–1832, leading German poet. Also wrote extensively on botany, optics, and other scientific topics. This very man, who has really tried to understand Goethe and is delighted that he is now beginning to do so, had earlier written nine novels, fourteen plays, and nine volumes of essays. His case is very characteristic of the difficulties people have nowadays in finding their way to spiritual life. In his latest book, the tenth volume of his essays, he says how glad he is to have found Goethe at last and to have the opportunity to try to understand him. One can see from this tenth volume of essays that the author is really trying very hard to comprehend Goethe. But think what it means that a man who has written so many novels, so many plays, and who is quite well-known, admits now when he is perhaps fifty or fifty-one that he is just beginning to understand Goethe.
Now his latest book is called Expressionism. The writer is Hermann Bahr. 4Hermann Bahr, 1863–1934, Austrian journalist, playwright, and theater manager. Expressionismus (“Expressionism”), 3rd ed., Munich, 1919. Hermann Bahr is the man I just described. I haven't counted all his plays; he wrote still more, but he disavows the earlier ones. It is not difficult for me to speak about Bahr because I have known him since his student days; indeed I knew him quite well. You see, he wrote on every kind of subject, and much of his writing is very good. He says of himself that he has been an impressionist all his life, because he was born in the age of impressionism.
Now let us define in a few words what impressionism really is. We will not argue about matters of art, but let us try to understand what people like Hermann Bahr mean by impressionism. Consider the work of artists such as Goethe, Schiller, Shakespeare, Corneille, Racine, Dante — or take whomever you want. You will find that what they considered great about their art was that they had perceived the external world and then worked with it spiritually. In art the perception of the outer world unites with what lives in the spirit. Goethe would have denied the status of “art” to all works that do not strive for such a union of nature and spirit.
But in modern times what is called impressionism has emerged. Hermann Bahr grew up with it and is now aware that he has been an impressionist in all he did. When he discussed paintings — and many of his essays are about painting — he did so from the standpoint of impressionism. When he wrote about painting, he wanted to be an impressionist himself, and that is what he was, and still is in his own way. Now what does such a man mean by impressionism in art? He means by impressionism that the artist is utterly afraid to add anything out of his or her own soul to the external impression given by nature. Nothing must be added by the soul.
Of course, under such conditions no music could be created; but Bahr excluded music. Neither could there be architecture. Music and architecture can therefore never be purely impressionist. However, in painting and in poetry pure impressionism is quite possible. Very well, as far as possible everything coming out of the artist's own soul was to be excluded. Thus, the impressionist painters tried to create a picture of an object before they had properly perceived it, before they had in any way digested the visual impression. In other words, looking at the object, and then right away, if possible, capturing it before one has added anything to the picture and the impression it evoked — that is impressionism! Of course, there are different interpretations of impressionism, but this is its essential nature.
As I said in a public lecture in Berlin, Hermann Bahr is a man who champions whatever he thinks to be right at the moment with the greatest enthusiasm. When he first came to the university in Vienna, he was heart and soul for socialism; he had a passion for it and was the most ardent social democrat you can imagine. One of the plays he now disavows, The New Humanity, is written from this socialist standpoint. I think it is out of print now. It has many pages of social democratic speeches that cannot be produced on stage. Then the German National Movement developed in Vienna, and Hermann Bahr became an ardent nationalist and wrote his Great Sin, which he now also repudiates. By that time, after having been a socialist and a nationalist, Bahr had reached the age when men in Austria are drafted for military service, and so at nineteen he became a soldier.
He had left behind socialism and nationalism and now became a soldier, a passionate soldier, and developed an entirely military outlook on life. For a year he was a soldier, a one-year volunteer. After this he went for a short time to Berlin. In Berlin he became — well, he did not become a fervent Berliner; he couldn't stand that, so he never became an ardent Berliner. But then he went to Paris where he became an enthusiastic disciple of Maurice Barrès and people of his ilk. He was also an ardent follower of Boulanger who just at that time was playing an important role. 5Georges-Ernest-Jean-Marie Boulanger, 1837–1891, French general and politician, became figurehead among revanchists, including Bonapartists, royalists, and leftists. Aroused popular enthusiasm among elements antagonistic to government. Fled to England. Well, I don't want to rake up old stories, and so I will not tell you of the passionate Boulangist letters the enthusiastic Bahr wrote from Paris at that time.
Then he went to Spain, where he became inflamed with enthusiasm for Spanish culture, so much so that he wrote an article against the Sultan of Morocco and his rotten behavior toward Spanish politics. Bahr then returned to Berlin and worked for a while as editor of the journal Freie Bühne, but, as I said, he never became an ardent Berliner. Then he went back and gradually discovered Austria. After all, he was born in Linz. Oh, sorry, I didn't mention that before all this he had also been to St. Petersburg where he wrote his book on Russia and became a passionate Russian. Then he returned and discovered Austria, its various regions and cultural history and so on.
Bahr was always brilliant and sometimes even profound. He always tried to convey what he saw by just giving his first impression of it, without having mentally digested it. As you can imagine, it can work quite well to give only the first impression. A socialist — nothing more than the first impression; German nationalist or Boulangist — nothing more than the first impression; Russian, Spaniard, and so on and so forth. And now to be looking at the different aspects of the Austrian national character — doubtlessly an extraordinarily interesting phenomenon! But just imagine: Bahr has now reached the age of fifty, and suddenly expressionism appears on the scene, the very opposite of impressionism.
For many years Hermann Bahr has been lecturing in Danzig. On his way there he always passed through Berlin, but without stopping. He is fond of the people of Danzig and claims that when he speaks to them, they always stimulate him to profound thoughts, something that does not happen in any other German town. Well, the people of Danzig asked him to give a lecture there on expressionism. But just think what that means to Hermann Bahr, who has been an impressionist all his life! And only now does expressionism make its appearance! When he was young and began to be an impressionist, people were far from delighted with impressionist pictures. On the contrary, all the philistines, the petty bourgeois — and of course other people too — considered them mere daubing. This may often have been true, but we will not argue about that now. Hermann Bahr, however, was all aglow and whosoever said anything against an impressionist painting was of course a narrow-minded, reactionary blockhead of the first order who would have nothing unless it was hoary with age and who was completely unable to keep pace with the progress of mankind. That is the sort of thing you could often hear from Hermann Bahr. Many people were blockheads in those days.
There was a certain coffee-house in Vienna, the Café
Griensteidl , where such matters were usually settled. It used to be
opposite the old Burgtheater on the Michaeler Platz but is now defunct.
Karl Kraus, the writer who is also known as “cocky Kraus”
and who publishes small books, wrote a pamphlet about this coffee-house,
which back in 1848 had Lenau and Anastasius Grün among its
illustrious guests. 6Karl Kraus, 1874–1936, Austrian satirist,
critic, and poet. In his writings attacked middle-class circles and the
liberal press. Wrote dramas, essay collections, and translated
Nikolaus Lenau, pseudonym of Nikolaus Niembsch von Strehle- nau, 1802–1850, Austrian poet, bom in Hungary. Wrote in tradition of German Romantic pessimism; known for his lyric verse.
Anastasius Griin, pseudonym of Anton Alexander von Auersperg, Duke, 1806–1876. Austrian poet and politician. Outspoken leader of liberal sentiment. Wrote verse and ironic epics. When the building was torn down, Kraus wrote a booklet entitled Literature Demolished. 7Karl Kraus, Die demolierte Liteiatur (“Literature Demolished”), Vienna, 1896.
The emergence of impressionism was often the topic of discussion in this coffee-house. As we have seen, Hermann Bahr had been speaking for years about impressionism, which runs like a red thread through all the rest of his metamorphoses. But now he has become older; expressionists, cubists, and futurists have come along, and they in turn call impressionists like Hermann Bahr dull blockheads who are only warming over the past. To Hermann Bahr's surprise the rest of the world was not greatly affected by their comments. However, he was annoyed, for he had to admit that this is exactly what he had done when he was young. He had called all the others blockheads and now they said he was one himself. And why should those who called him a blockhead be less right than he had been in saying it of others?
A bad business, you see! So there was nothing else for Hermann Bahr but to leam about expressionism, particularly as he had been asked by the people of Danzig, whom he loved so much, to speak about it. And then it was a question of finding a correct formula for expressionism. I assure you I am not making fun of Hermann Bahr. In fact, I like him very much and would like to make every possible excuse for him — I mean, that is, I like him as a cultural phenomenon.
Hermann Bahr now had to come to terms with expressionism. As you will no doubt agree, a man with a keen and active mind will surely not be satisfied to have reached the ripe age of fifty only to be called a blockhead by the next generation — especially not when he is asked to speak about expressionism to the people of Danzig who inspire him with such good thoughts. Perhaps you have seen some expressionist, cubist, or futurist paintings. Most people when they see them say, We have put up with a great deal, but this really goes too far! You have a canvas, then dashes, white ones running from the top to the bottom, red lines across them, and then perhaps something else, suggesting neither a leaf nor a house, a tree nor a bird, but rather all these together and none in particular.
But, of course, Hermann Bahr could not speak about it like this. So what did he do? It dawned upon him what expressionism is after much brooding on it. In fact, through all his metamorphoses he gradually became a brooding person. Now he realized (under the influence of the Danzig inspiration, of course!) that the impressionists take nature and quickly set it down, without any inner work on the visual impression. Expressionists do the opposite. That is true; Hermann Bahr understood that. Expressionists do not look at nature at all — I am quite serious about this. They do not look at anything in nature, they only look within. This means what is out there in nature — houses, rivers, elephants, lions — is of no interest to the expressionist, for he looks within. Bahr then went on to say that if we want to look within, such looking within must be possible for us. And what does Bahr do? He turns to Goethe, reads his works, for example, the following report:
I had the gift that when I closed my eyes, and with bowed head imagined a flower in the center of my eye, it did not stay for even a moment in its first form, but unfolded itself and new flowers with colored as well as green leaves grew out of it. They were not natural flowers, but imaginary ones, yet regular as the roses of a sculptor. 8Goethe, quoted in Bahr, Expressionismus, p. 85.
Goethe could close his eyes, think of a flower, and it would appear before him as a spiritual form and then of itself take on various forms.
It was impossible to fix this creation welling forth in me, but it lasted as long as I wished, and neither faded nor grew stronger. I could produce the same thing by imagining an ornamental, many-colored disc, which also continually changed from the center to the periphery, exactly like the recently discovered kaleidoscope ...
Here afterimage, memory, creative imagination, concept and idea are all at work at once, manifesting with complete freedom in the inherent living nature of the organ, without design or guidance.
Now if you are not familiar with Goethe and with the world view of modern idealism and spiritualism, you will find it impossible to make something of this right away. Therefore, Hermann Bahr continued reading the literature on the subject. He lighted on the Englishman Galton who had studied people with the kind of inner sight Goethe had according to his own description. 9Sir Francis Galton, 1822–1911, English scientist. Traveled widely. His studies of meteorology form basis of modern weather maps. Best known for his work in anthropology and the study of heredity; founder of eugenics; devised system of fingerprint identification. As is customary in England, Galton had collected all kinds of statistics about such people. One of his special examples was a certain clergyman who was able to call forth an image in his imagination that then changed of itself, and he could also return it to its first form through willing it. The clergyman described this beautifully. Hermann Bahr followed up these matters and gradually came to the conclusion that there was indeed such a thing as inner sight. You see, what Goethe described — Goethe indeed knew other things too — is only the very first stage of being moved in the etheric body. Hermann Bahr began to study such fundamental matters to understand expressionism, because it dawned on him that expressionism is based on this kind of elementary inner sight. And then he went further. He read the works of the old physiologist Johannes Müller, who described this inner sight so beautifully at a time when natural science had not yet begun to laugh at these things. 10Johannes Müller, 1801–1858, German physiologist and comparative anatomist. Taught Virchow, DuBois-Reymond, and Haeckel.
So, Bahr gradually worked his way through Goethe, finding it very stimulating to read Goethe, to begin to understand him, and in the process to realize that there is such a thing as inner sight. On that basis he arrived at the following insight: in expressionism nature is not needed because the artist captures on canvas what he or she sees in this elementary inner vision. Later on, this will develop into something else, as I have said here before. If we do not view expressionism as a stroke of genius, but as the first beginnings of something still to mature, we will probably do these artists more justice than they do themselves in overestimating their achievements. But Hermann Bahr considers them artists of genius and indeed was led to admit with tremendous enthusiasm that we have not only external sight through our eyes, but also inner sight. His chapter on inner sight is really very fine, and he is immensely delighted to discover in Goethe's writings the words “eye of the spirit.”
Just think for how many years we have already been using this expression. As I said, Bahr has even tried to master our spiritual science! From Bahr's book we know that so far he has read Eugene Levy's description of my world view. 11Eugene Levy, Rudolf Steiners Weltanschauung und ihre Gegner (“Rudolf Steiner's World View and its Opponents”), Berlin, 1913. Apparently, Bahr has not yet advanced to my books, but that day may still come. In any case, you can see that here a man is working his way through the difficulties of the present time and then takes a position on what is most elementary. I have to mention this because it proves what I have so often said: it is terribly difficult for people in our age to come to anything spiritual. Just think of it: a man who has written ten novels, fourteen plays, and many books of essays, finally arrives at reading Goethe. Working his way through Goethe's writings, he comes to understand him — though rather late in his life. Bahr's book is written with wonderful freshness and bears witness to the joy he experienced in understanding Goethe. Indeed, in years past I often sat and talked with Hermann Bahr, but then it was not possible to speak with him about Goethe. At that time he naturally still considered Goethe a blockhead, one of the ancient, not-yet-impressionist sort of people.
We have to keep in mind, I think, how difficult it is for people who are educated in our time to find the way to the most elementary things leading to spiritual science. And yet, these are the very people who shape public opinion. For example, when Hermann Bahr came to Vienna, he edited a very influential weekly called Die Zeit. No one would believe us if we said that many people in the western world whose opinions are valued do not understand a thing about Goethe, and therefore cannot come to spiritual science on the basis of their education — of course, it is possible to come to spiritual science without education. Yet Bahr is living proof of this because he himself admits at the age of fifty how happy he is finally to understand Goethe. It is very sad to see how happy he is to have found what others were looking for all around him when he was still young. By the same token, to see this is also most instructive and significant for understanding our age. That somebody like Hermann Bahr needs expressionism to realize that one can form ideas and paint them without looking at nature shows us that the trend-setting, so-called cultural world nowadays lives in ideas that are completely removed from anything spiritual. It takes expressionism for him to understand that there is an inner seeing, an inner spiritual eye. You see, all this is closely connected with the way our writers, artists, and critics grow up and develop.
Hermann Bahr's latest novel is characteristic of this. It is called
Himmelfahrt (“Ascension”). 12Hermann Bahr,
Himmelfahrt (“Ascension”), Berlin,
1916. The end of the book indicates that Bahr is beginning
to develop yet another burning enthusiasm on the side — all his
other passions run like a red thread through the novel — namely, a
new enthusiasm for Catholicism. Anyone who knows Bahr will have no doubt
that there is something of him in the character of Franz, the
protagonist of his latest novel. The book is not an autobiography, nor a
biographical novel; yet a good deal of Hermann Bahr is to be found in
this Franz. A writer — not one who writes for the newspapers;
let's not talk about how journalists develop because we don't want the
word “develop” to lose its original meaning — but a
writer who is serious about writing, who is a true seeker, such as
Hermann Bahr, cannot help but reveal his own development in the
character of his protagonist. Bahr describes Franz's gradual development
and his quest. Franz tries to experience everything the age has to
offer, to learn everything, to look for the truth everywhere. Thus, he
searches in the sciences, first studying botany under Wiessner, the
famous Viennese botanist, then chemistry under Ostwald, then political
economy and so on. 13Friedrich Wilhelm Ostwald, 1854–1932, German
physical chemist. Invented a process for preparation of nitric acid by
oxidizing ammonia, important in the production of explosives during
World War I. Was awarded 1909 Nobel prize for chemistry. He
looks into everything the age has to offer. He might also have become a
student of ancient Greek under Wilamowitz, or have learned about
philosophy from Eucken or Kohler. 14Rudolph Christoph Eucken, 1846–1926, German
philosopher. Wrote on historical philosophy and his own philosophy of
ethical activism. Awarded Nobel prize for literature in
Josef Kohler, 1849–1919, German jurist and writer. After that, he studies political economy under Schmoller; it might just as well have been in somebody else's course, possibly Brentano's. 15Gustav von Schmoller, 1838–1917, German economist.
Lujo Brentano, 1844–1931, German economist. A leading pacifist and opponent of German militarism. Awarded Nobel prize for peace in 1927. After that, Franz studies with Richet how to unravel the mysteries of the soul; again it might just as well have been with another teacher. 16Charles-Robert Richet, 1850–1935, French physiologist. Conducted research in serum therapy, epilepsy; discovered phenomenon of anaphylaxis. Awarded 1913 Nobel prize for physiology. Also studied psychic phenomena. He then tries a different method and studies psychoanalysis under Freud. 17Sigmund Freud, 1856–1939, Austrian neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis. However, none of this satisfies him, and so he continues his quest for the truth by going to the theosophists in London. Then he allows someone who has so far remained in the background of the story to give him esoteric exercises. But Franz soon tires of them and stops doing them. Nevertheless, he feels compelled to continue his quest.
Then Franz happens upon a medium. This psychic has performed the most remarkable manifestations of all sorts for years. And then the medium is exposed after Franz, the hero of the book, has already fallen in love with her. He goes off on a journey, leaving in a hurry as he always does. Well, he departs again all of a sudden, leaving the medium to her fate. Of course, the woman is exposed as a spy — naturally, because this novel was written only just recently.
There are many people like Franz, especially among the current critics of spiritual life. Indeed, this is how we must picture the people who pronounce their judgments before they have penetrated to even the most elementary first stages. They have not gone as far as Hermann Bahr, who after all, by studying expressionism, discovered that there is an inner seeing. Of course, Hermann Bahr's current opinions on many things will be different from those he had in the past. For example, if he had read my book Theosophy back then, he would have judged it to be — well, never mind, it is not necessary to put it into Bahr's words. 18Rudolf Steiner, Theosophy: An Introduction to the Supersensible Knowledge of the World and the Destination of Man, (Hudson, NY: Anthroposophic Press, 1988). Today he would probably say there is an inner eye, an inner seeing, which is really a kind of expressionism. After all, now he has advanced as far as the inner seeing that lives today in expressionism. Well, never mind. These are the ideas Hermann Bahr arrived at inspired by the people of Danzig, and out of these ideas he then wrote this book.
I mention this merely as an example of how difficult it is nowadays for people to find their way to spiritual science. This example also shows that anyone with a clear idea of what spiritual science intends has the responsibility, as far as possible and necessary, to do everything to break down prejudices. We know the foundations of these prejudices. And we know that even the best minds of our age — those who have written countless essays and plays — even if they are sincerely seeking, reach the most elementary level only after their fiftieth year. So we have to admit that it is difficult for spiritual science to gain ground. Even though the simplest souls would readily accept spiritual science, they are held back by people who judge on the basis of motivations and reasons such as the ones I have described.
Well, much is going on in our time, and, as I have often said, materialistic thinking has now become second nature with people. People are not aware that they are thinking up fantastic nonsense when they build their lofty theories. I have often entertained you with describing how the Kant- Laplace theory is taught to children in school. They are carefully taught that the earth at one time was like a solar nebula and rotated and that the planets eventually split off from it. And what could make this clearer than the example of a drop: all you need is a little drop of oil, a bit of cardboard with a cut in the middle for the equatorial plane, and a needle to stick through it. Then you rotate the cardboard with the needle, and you'll see the “planets” splitting off just beautifully. Then the students are told that what they see there in miniature happened long ago on a much larger scale in the universe. How could you possibly refute a proof like this? Of course, there must have been a big teacher out there in the universe to do the rotating. Most people forget this. But it should not be forgotten; all factors must be taken into account. What if there was no big teacher or learned professor standing in the universe to do the rotating? This question is usually not asked because it is so obvious — too obvious. In fact, it is really a great achievement to find thinking people in what is left of idealism and spiritualism who understand the full significance of this matter. Therefore I have to refer again and again to the following fine passage about Goethe by Herman Grimm, which I am also quoting in my next book. 19Herman Grimm, Goethe, vol. 2, Lecture 23, p. 171f., Berlin, 1817.
Long ago, in the time of his [Goethe's] youth, the famous Kant-Laplace fantasy [you see, Grimm calls it a fantasy!] about the origin and future destruction of the earth had taken root. Out of the rotating cosmic nebula our children leam about in school, a central nucleus of gas forms, which later becomes the earth. During unfathomable periods of time, this congealing globe goes through all its developmental phases, including that of human habitation, until it finally falls back into the sun as a piece of burnt-out slag. This long, but to the public fully comprehensible, process would need no outside intervention to run its course, except the exertion of some exterior force to keep the sun at an equal temperature. It is impossible to conceive of a more barren prospect for the future than this, urged upon us as scientifically logical and necessary. A carrion bone that a hungry dog would not go near would be a refreshing, appetizing morsel compared to this final excrement of creation our earth is supposed to be when it finally falls back into the sun. The eagerness for knowledge that makes our generation accept and believe theories of this kind is a sign of a sick imagination, a historical phenomenon it will take future scholars a lot of ingenuity to explain.
Indeed, later generations will wonder how we could ever have taken such nonsense for the truth — nonsense that is now taught as truth in all our schools! Herman Grimm goes on to say:
Goethe never entertained such comfortless theories ... Goethe would have taken care not to derive the Darwinists' conclusions from what he had first learnt in this respect from nature and has expressed in his works.
As you know, a more spiritual understanding of Darwinism would have led to quite different results. What Grimm meant here and what I myself have to say is not directed against Darwinism as such, but rather against the materialistic interpretation of it, which Grimm characterized in one of his talks as violating all human dignity by insisting that we have evolved in a straight line from lower animals. As you know, Huxley was widely acclaimed for his answer to all kinds of objections against the evolution of human beings from the apes — I think the objections were raised by a bishop, no less. 20Thomas Henry Huxley, 1825–1895, English biologist. Foremost advocate in England of Darwin's theory of evolution. Engaged Bishop Samuel Wilberforce (1805–1873) in famous exchange at Oxford (1860). In later years wrote philosophy. People applauded Huxley's reply that he would rather have descended from an ape and have gradually worked his way up to his current world view from there, than have descended in the way the bishop claimed and then have worked his way down to the bishop's world view. Such anecdotes are often very witty, but they remind me of the story of the little boy who came home from school and explained to his father that he'd just learnt that humans are descended from apes. “What do you mean, you silly boy?” asked the father. “Yes, it's true, father, we do all come from the apes,” said the boy, to which the father replied, “Perhaps that may be the case with you, but definitely not with me!” I have often called your attention to many such logical blunders perpetrated against true thinking and leading to a materialistic interpretation of Darwinism.
But these days, people always have to outdo themselves. We have not yet reached the point where people would say they have gone far enough; no, they want to go still further and outdo themselves grandiosely. For example, there is a man who is furious about the very existence of philosophy and the many philosophers in the world who created philosophies. He rails at all philosophy. Now this man recently published a volley of abuse against philosophy and wanted to find an especially pithy phrase to vent his rage. I will read you his pronouncement so you can see what is thought in our time of philosophy, by which people hope to find the truth and which has achieved a great deal, as you will see from my forthcoming book: “We have no more philosophy than animals.”
In other words, he not only claims we are descended from animals, but goes on to demonstrate that even in our loftiest strivings, namely in philosophy, we have not yet advanced beyond the animals because we cannot know more than the animals know. He is very serious about this: “We have no more philosophy than animals, and only our frantic attempts to attain a philosophy and the final resignation to our ignorance distinguish us from the animals.” That is to say, knowing that we know as little as cattle is the only difference between us and the animals. This man makes short work of the whole history of philosophy by trying to prove that it is nothing but a series of desperate attempts by philosophers to rise above the simple truth that we know no more of the world than the animals.
Now you will probably ask who could possibly have such a distorted view of philosophy? I think it may interest you to know who is able to come up with such an incredible view of philosophy. As a matter of fact, the person in question is a professor of philosophy at the university in Czernowitz! Many years ago he wrote a book called The End of Philosophy and another one called The End of Thinking, and he just recently wrote The Tragicomedy of Wisdom, where you can find the sentences I quoted. This man fulfills the duties of his office as professor of philosophy at a university by convincing his attentive audience that human beings know no more than animals! His name is Richard Wahle, and he is a full professor of philosophy at the university in Czemowitz. 21Richard Wahle, Die Tragikomödie der Weisheit: Die Ergebnisse und die Geschichte des Philosophierens (“The Tragicomedy of Wisdom: The Results and History of Philosophy”), Vienna and Leipzig, 1915, p. 132.
We have to look at things like this, for they bear witness to how “wonderfully far” we have advanced. It is important to look a bit more closely at what is necessary in life, namely, that the time has come when humanity has to resolve to take the inner Pentecost seriously, to kindle the light in the soul, and to take in the spiritual. Much will depend on whether there are at least some people in the world who understand how the Pentecost of the soul can and must be celebrated in our time.
I do not know how long it will be before my book is ready, but I have to stay here until it is finished, and so we may be able to meet again next week for another lecture.