Cosmic and Human Metamorphoses
VII. Errors and Truths
20 March 1917, Berlin
I should like today to introduce a sort of historical survey into this series of lectures, not so much for the purpose of making this an historical lecture, as of drawing attention to various matters concerning the Spiritual attitude of the present day, by which we are immediately surrounded.
In 1775 a very remarkable book appeared in Lyons, which even as early as the year 1782, found its way into certain circles of German Spiritual life, and the effects of which were much greater than is generally supposed. Above all, the result was such that it had to be more or less suppressed by that which was the principal impulse of the nineteenth century. This book is of the very greatest interest, more especially to those who in the interests of Spiritual Science wish to inform themselves as to what happened from the earliest times down to our own — I allude to Concerning Error and Truth, by Louis Claude de Saint-Martin (b. 18th January, 1743; d. 23rd October, 1803.). Anyone taking up this book today, whether in its own original language or in the careful German edition by Matthias Claudius, with its beautiful preface, — will find it extremely difficult to understand. Matthias Claudius himself admits this, even at the end of the eighteenth century. In his fine preface, he says: ‘Most people will not understand this book; I do not understand it myself. But what it contains has sunk so deeply into my heart, that I think it must be admitted into the widest circles.’ Least of all will those be able to make anything of this book whose knowledge is based upon those physical, chemical, and similar conceptions of the world taught today in the schools or acquired as ordinary education, and who have not even a smattering of real knowledge of these things. Neither will those understand this book, who base their present views of the times — we will not use the word ‘Politics’ — on what they glean from the ordinary newspaper, or from what is reflected from those newspapers into the magazines of the day. There are several reasons why I should refer to this book today, after the two public lectures I gave last week. In these I spoke of ‘The nature and the principles of man,’ and ‘The connection between the human soul and the human body,’ and referred to the way in which we shall some day speak of those connections, when the knowledge which can now be gained by Natural Science but cannot be utilised, is viewed in the right way. One who has a thorough knowledge of Spiritual Science cannot but be convinced that when the knowledge of Natural Science is rightly appreciated, it will no longer be possible to speak today, of the relation of the life of imagination, of feeling and of will to the human organism. It may be that in these two lectures a beginning has been made of what must come, though it may perhaps be postponed for a long time by the great resistance made in the external world, not by science but by the scientists themselves. However long a time it may take, it must eventually come about that people win consider the relation between man's soul and body in the manner outlined in those two lectures.
In those two lectures I spoke of these things as it is necessary to speak of them in the year 1917; I mean, taking all the investigations of Natural Science and other experiences of man into consideration. One could not have spoken in that way in the eighteenth century, for example. Such things would have been spoken of in a very different way at that time. The enormous significance of the fact which I have repeatedly alluded to is not sufficiently realised — that somewhere about the end of the first third of the nineteenth century, in the thirties or forties, a crisis of exceptional magnitude occurred in the development of European humanity, from the Spiritual aspect. I have often mentioned this, saying that the tide of materialism then reached its height. I have also frequently drawn attention to the frivolous way in which our own time is often called ‘period of transition.’ Of course, every time is a period of transition, and it is absolutely correct to say so of our own. The point, however, is not so much to declare that any particular time is a period of transition as to establish in what this transition consists. One will then certainly come upon certain turning-points which represent deep incisive moments of transition in the development of man; and one such, although it passes unnoticed today, occurred at the time mentioned. Hence it is easy to understand that we must speak in quite a different way about the riddles with which man is confronted now; we must use quite different expressions and study the subject from quite a different aspect than would have been the case in the eighteenth century. Perhaps no man in the eighteenth century spoke with such intensity as de Saint-Martin, calling the attention of the Natural Science of that day to problems similar to those we discuss here. In all that he said, de Saint-Martin stood in the fading light of the old age, and not as we do, in the glimmering light of a new age. Unless we consider the point of view of which I am about to speak, it might seem a matter of indifference whether one studied de Saint-Martin at all, whether one absorbed or did not absorb the peculiar form of ideas aroused in him by Jacob Böhme. Unless a very different, much more significant standpoint were in question, to which I am about to allude today, this might indeed be a matter of indifference.
Let us quote a concrete case. In endeavouring to point out the errors into which man may fall in his philosophy of life as well as to point out the road to truth, de Saint-Martin, in his book: Des erreurs et de la virite — uses in the most practical and objective way the ideas and conceptions current in certain circles up to and into the eighteenth century. By the way he writes it can be seen that he is thoroughly accustomed to make use of them. We find, for instance, that in trying to explain the relation of man to the whole cosmos and to ethical life, de Saint-Martin employs the three principal ideas which play so great a part with Jacob Böhme and Paracelsus: Mercury, Sulphur and Salt, the three chief conceptions by which people tried at that time to grasp the sense world and also man. In these three elements it was sought to find the key to the understanding of external nature and of man. Modern man, speaking in the sense of the Natural Science of today, (as one must and should speak) can no longer use these expressions in the same way; for it is now quite impossible to think in the same way of Mercury, Sulphur and Salt, as did a man in the eighteenth century. In speaking of these, a three-fold nature was in view, which a man of the present day, could only represent according to Natural Science by dividing man as I have done, into the metabolic man, the rhythmic man, and the nerve-man, of which three the whole man is composed; for every part of him belongs to these three. If one supposes that any one part does not belong to these three, as one might of the bones, the discrepancy would only be apparent, not real. A man of the eighteenth century knew that the whole complexity of a human being could be understood if one acquired a comprehensive grasp of Mercury, Sulphur and Salt. Now of course, when the ordinary man speaks of salt today, he refers to the white substance he has on his dinner table, or if he be a chemist, to the salts with which he works in his laboratory. In speaking of sulphur the ordinary man thinks of matches and the chemist thinks of all the many experiments he has tried in his retort for the transmutation of sulphur. As to mercury, one at once thinks of quicksilver and so on.
The men of the eighteenth century did not think in this way. Indeed it is today very difficult to imagine what lived in the souls of that time when they spoke of ‘Mercury, Sulphur and Salt.’ De Saint-Martin put the question to himself in his own way; Into what parts must I divide man, if I take his body as image of his soul? And he replied: First I must consider in man the instruments or organs of his thought. (De Saint-Martin puts this rather differently but we must translate a little, for the exposition would otherwise be too lengthy). I must first study man with respect to the organ of his head; what is the principal thing therein? What comes into consideration there? What is the really active agent in the head? (or as we today should say: in the nervous system? ) He replies: Salt. And by this he does not understand the white table salt, nor what the chemist understands by salt, but the totality of forces at work in the human head, when a man forms ideas. Everything in the nature of the external working of salt, he only regards as manifestation, as an external manifestation of the same forces as work in the human head. He then asks: What is the element that chiefly works in the human breast? According to the division of man I gave in the lecture last Thursday we should put the question thus: What works in the Breathing-Man? De Saint-Martin replies, Sulphur. So that according to him, everything connected with the functions of the chest is governed by those actions which have their origin in Sulphur, or that which is of the nature of Sulphur. He then goes on to ask: What is at work in the rest of man? (We today should say: in the metabolic man.) He replies: There Mercury works. Thus, in his own way, does de Saint-Martin compose the whole human being. By the way he throws things together, from time to time, disjointedly, we can see that he stands in the fading evening twilight of that whole system of thought. On the other hand we see that standing thus in the twilight, he was still able to grasp an enormous number of gigantic truths which could still be understood then, but are now lost. These he expressed by making use of the three conceptions of Mercury, Sulphur and Salt. Thus, in the book Des erreurs et de la verite there is a very fine treatise (which to the modern physicist is of course utter nonsense) on thunder-storms, on thunder and lightning; in which he shows how on the one hand one may use Mercury, Sulphur and Salt to explain the bodily nature of man, and on the other to explain atmospherical disturbances; at one time they are working together within man, at another time in the world outside. In man they engender what may perhaps spring up as a thought or an impulse of will, while outside in the world the same elements engender, for instance, lightning and thunder. As we have said, what is thus expounded by de Saint-Martin could well be understood in the eighteenth century; it belonged to the mode of thought of that time. To the present-day physicist it would be utter nonsense. But precisely as to thunder and lightning, there is a flaw in modern physics, which is obliged to be rather easy-going with respect to these. It teaches that when the clouds in close vicinity — the one charged with positive, and the other with negative electricity — discharge their electricity, a thunderstorm is the result. Any school boy a little brighter than his fellows would notice that before the teacher starts making electrical experiments, he carefully wipes any traces of damp from the instruments, for nothing can be done with electricity where damp is present. He may ask the teacher: ‘Are not clouds damp? How then can electricity be at work in these, as you say?’ The teacher probably replies; ‘You are a silly boy, you don't understand!’ He would hardly be able to give any other answer today. De Saint-Martin tried to explain how through the Salt in the air, Mercury and Sulphur may be connected in a special way, in a similar way to that in which saltpetre and sulphur are united in gunpowder through charcoal; so through a particular transmutation of the elements of Mercury and Sulphur by means of Salt, explosions can occur. This exposition, considering the laws of that time, is extraordinarily clever. I cannot now go into it more deeply; let us rather consider the question more historically. De Saint-Martin particularly proves in a very fine way that in certain properties of the clouds which lead to thunderstorms, one can verify the relation of lightning to salt, or what he called salt. In short, he fights in his own way the materialism which was then beginning to dawn, for he had behind him the basis of a traditional wisdom, which found in him an industrious worker. In so doing he strove to find an explanation of the world in general, and after having made the above-mentioned explanations in which he makes use of the elements, he passes on to an explanation of the origin of the earth. In this he is not so foolish as those born after him, who believe in a mist or nebula as the origin of all things and who think they can find the beginning of the world by means of physical conceptions. He starts straight away by using his imagination, whereby to explain the origin of the world. In the afore-mentioned book when he speaks on this subject we find a wonderful wealth of imaginative ideas, of true imaginations, which, like his physical ideas, can only be understood in connection with the age in which he lived. We could not make use of them today, but they show that beyond a given point he tried to grasp things by means of imaginative cognition. Then, having tried this, he passes on to the comprehension of the historical life of man. Here, he tries to establish how that can only be understood by allowing for the real Spiritual impulses from the Spiritual world which from time to time found their way into the physical plane. He then tries to apply all this to the deeper nature of man, by showing how what the Bible story relates of the Fall in Paradise, rests, according to his imaginative cognition, on definite facts, how man passed over from an original condition into his existing one. He then tries to understand the historical phenomena of his own time and of all the time embraced by history, in the light of the fall from Spiritual life into matter. I am not upholding this, but it must be mentioned; naturally I do not wish to put the doctrine of de Saint-Martin in the place of Spiritual Science, or our Anthroposophy: I am only relating history, to show how far he was in advance of his times. As one reads the book Des erreurs et de la virite, chapter after chapter, we come upon one notable remark. One sees that he speaks from a rich fullness of knowledge, and that what he gives out is but the outer rind of the knowledge that lives in his soul. This is indicated in various passages in which he says somewhat as follows: ‘If I were to go deeper into this, I should be giving out truths that I may not express.’ In one place he even goes so far as to say: ‘If I were to say all that could be said on this subject, I should have to give out certain truths which, as far as most people are concerned, are better left veiled in the profoundest darkness of night.’ A true Spiritual Scientist can read a great deal between the lines in these passages; he knows why these remarks appear at certain parts of certain chapters. There are certain things which cannot be spoken of by means of assumption. It will only be possible to speak of such things when the impulses given by Spiritual Science have grown into moral, ethical impulses, — when men have acquired a certain lofty-mindedness through Spiritual Science, which will enable them to speak in a different way about certain questions than can be done in an age in which such remarkable scientific figures as those of Freud and Konsirt live and move. But the day will come when it will be possible.
In the last third of his book de Saint-Martin passes on to certain political subjects. It is hardly possible at the present day to do more than indicate how the mode of thought here employed by him can be brought into relation with the way men ‘think’ as they call it, today; that is a forbidden subject. I can only say that his whole attitude throughout the last third of his book is very remarkable. If we read this chapter today — we must do so while bearing clearly in mind that the book was published in 1775, and that the French Revolution took place subsequently. This chapter must be thought of in connection with the French Revolution, one must read a great deal between the lines in this particular chapter. De Saint-Martin proceeds as an occultist, I might say. Anyone lacking the organ of perception for the profound impulses to be found in this chapter, would probably be quite satisfied with its introduction. For here de Saint-Martin says: ‘Let no one connected with the ruling powers of the earth, or connected in any way with the government, believe that I am trying to stand well with him. I am the friend of all and everyone.’ After having thus excused himself, he goes on to say things, compared with which Rousseau's remarks are mere child's play. But I cannot say any more about this.
In short, we must realise the deep incisive significance of this man, who had a school behind him, and without whom Herder, Goethe, Schiller and the German Romanticists cannot be imagined, as he himself cannot be thought of without Jacob Böhme. And yet, when one reads de Saint-Martin to day, allowing oneself to be influenced by what he says, one feels, as I have just said: that there would not be the smallest use in putting what one has to say to the public in the form in which de Saint-Martin put it. That would be no use now, when I try to give a picture of the world, as I did in the last two public lectures and shall again in the next, which must on the one side be correct on the basis of Spiritual Science, and on the other fully justified according to the most minute discoveries of Natural Science today. The mode of forming ideas which de Saint-Martin employed is no longer suited to the way in which men must think today, nor to the way in which they must, and rightly so, formulate their thoughts. Just as in travelling, when we pass from the domain of one language into that of another, in that moment we can no longer speak the language of the first, so would it be foolish today to use the form of thought of de Saint-Martin; more especially would it be foolish, because that mighty dividing line in Spiritual evolution which falls in the year 1842 (in the first third of the nineteenth century) lies between us.
By this you see, my dear friends, that it is possible in the Spiritual development of man, for a certain mode of thought to pass into the twilight. But in studying de Saint-Martin, one does not feel that what he says has an been exhausted. On the contrary one feels that there is in his works an enormous amount of still undiscovered wisdom, and that much might still be brought out of it. Yet on the other hand it was necessary in the Spiritual development of mankind that that way of thinking should cease, and another way of thinking should begin. This had to be. In the former the external world was only just beginning, it had only then reached its most external phases of materialism, Therefore we can only rightly understand what really happened, by surveying longer periods of time and applying to greater epochs what Spiritual Science wishes to stimulate in us; for of course what de Saint-Martin gave out at the end of the eighteenth century, being then but in its dawn, subsequently took a different form.
At that time something came to an end on the earth. Not only in a comparatively short time did the ideas ruling Jacob Böhme, Paracelsus, de Saint-Martin and others descend into the twilight, it being impossible to carry them on further; but a very curious change also took place in the manner of feeling. While in de Saint-Martin we see this phenomenon of the twilight of the human mind as regards the study of nature, the same phenomenon can also be traced in another way if we direct our attention to the almost parallel decline of theosophy, to the dimming and damping down of the theosophical philosophy of life.
True, de Saint-Martin is generally called a theosophist; but in speaking of him and describing him, I am thinking rather of a theosophy directed to Natural Science, a more religious form of theosophy then prevalent which was called by that name. Theosophy in the particular form in which it then reached a climax, ruled, I was going to say, in South Germany, though perhaps it would be more accurate to say in Schwabia. There, although it was then already on the decline, it had reached a certain maturity; and among its most prominent followers stand out the figures of Bengel and Ötinger, who were surrounded by many others. I will simply name those whom I know best: Friederick Daniel Schubart; Hahn, the mathematician; Steinhofer; the schoolmaster Hartmann, who had a great influence on Jung Stilling and even a certain influence on Goethe and knew him personally; and Johann Jacob Moser. A goodly number of remarkable minds in comparatively humble circumstances, who did not even form a connected circle, but who all lived at the time when Ötinger's star shone in the firmament. Ötinger lived almost through the whole of the eighteenth century; he was born in l702, and died in l782, as Prelate in Murrhard. A very remarkable personality, in whom was concentrated in a sense, all that the whole circle contained. It was an echo of this Theosophy of the eighteenth century which influenced Richard Rothe, Professor at the University of Heidelberg and other Universities. He wrote a fine preface to a book edited by Carl August Auberlen on the Theosophy of Frederick Christopher Ötinger. In this preface Richard Rothe, who represents a traditional echo of that circle, reminds us in his convinced acceptance of Theosophy, of those great Theosophists just mentioned; while on the other hand we can clearly see in the way he speaks of Ötinger in this preface, that he feels himself standing behind a period of twilight, even as regards those secrets of life with which he as theologist was concerned. The preface was written in 1847. I should like to quote some of it here, that you may see how in Richard Rothe (who was then in Heidelberg) lived one who looked back in thought to Ötinger, and saw in him a man who above all, in his own fashion, strove to decipher the Old and the New Testament; who tried to read them with theosophical understanding of the world. Richard Rothe looked back at that method of reading the Scriptures and compared it with the way he had been taught to read them, and which was then customary. (He only died in the sixties and was himself but an echo).
He compared the then manner of reading the Scriptures with the methods of Bengel, Ötinger, Steinhofer and the mathematician Hahn.
With respect to this Richard Rothe says something very remarkable: ‘Among the men of this school, to which Bengel with his Apokalyptica belongs, Ötinger occupies a foremost place. Not satisfied with the theology of the schools of his day, he thirsted after a richer and fuller and at the same time a purer understanding of Christian truth, The orthodox theology did not suffice him, it seemed to him but shallow; he wanted more than that; not that it asked too much of his faith, but that the deeper spirit within him wanted more than that. He did not object to the super-naturalism of the orthodox theology of his time, but considered rather that the latter did not take the supernatural seriously enough. His innermost soul rebelled against the spiritualism which reduced the realities of the world of Christian faith to mere abstractions, to mere thought-pictures. Hence his fiery zeal against all forms of idealism.’ ... Such a saying might appear strange, but it has to be understood. By idealism the German understands a system which only lives in ideas, whereas Ötinger as well as Rothe, strove for true Spiritual life. True Spirits were they, who pushed history forward, not like what Ranke and others with their pallid notions, have described as the so-called ideas of history. As though it were possible for mere ideas — one really does not know what word to use in speaking reality — possible for mere ideas to wander through history and carry the whole thing on further. The followers of Ötinger wished to put the living in the place of the abstract and dead. Hence Ötinger's fiery zeal against any idealism; hence too his realism, which, although that was not his intention, did actually, in his energetic search for ‘massive’ conceptions, tend towards materialism.
The conceptions he was trying to find were such as really grasped the Spiritual, not merely talking of an ideal archetype at the back of things, but real, solid (massive) thoughts and ideas, such as look for the Spirits behind created things.
Rothe continues: ‘His leaning to nature and Natural Science is intimately connected with this fundamental scientific tendency. The lack of appreciation, the tendency of the idealist to despise the world of Nature, were foreign to him; he felt that behind rude matter there was a very real existence; he was profoundly permeated by the conviction that without the world of sense there could be no real true existence, either divine or creative. This is a startling and new legitimisation of the authority of history, and we see not only in Ötinger but in the earlier contemporaneous Theosophists and especially in the philosophical writings of Jacob Böhme, the original scientific tendency of the time of the Reformation breaking through again, as shown in this thirst after a true understanding of the world of Nature.’ The kind of realism for which Ötinger longed, comes to ‘life in its innermost being in Christianity,’ (so says Richard Rothe) — ‘if transplanted into any other Spiritual movement it must become weaker, more especially as regards its own peculiar doctrine. It is capable of bearing a completely different, richer, Christian world of wonder than that of this idealism to which we have all been accustomed from childhood, which is governed by a fear of believing too strongly in the actuality of Divine things and of taking the word of God too literally. Indeed, this Christian realism demands just such a wonder-world as is unfolded in the doctrine of the Last Things. It cannot therefore, be led astray in its eschatological hopes by the compassionate shaking of the head of those who believe themselves alone to be in the right. For to Christian realism it does not seem possible to arrive at a thoughtful understanding of created things and their history, without clear and definite thinking as to the final result of the development of the world, which is the object and aim of Creation, for only thus can light and meaning come into men's conceptions. This Christian realism does not shrink from the thought of a real, bodily and, therefore, truly living spirit-world, and a real contact of that world with man, even in his present state. The reader admits how true this all seems in the pages of Ötinger.
This refers to a time in which men did not seek for the ideas of the world of nature, but for a living world of Spirit, and indeed Ötinger tried to bring all the treasures of knowledge then accessible to man to his assistance, for the purpose of establishing a living contact with the Spiritual world. What stood behind such a man as this? He was not like a man of the present day, who has above all the task of showing that modern Natural Science must allow itself to be corrected by Spiritual Science, for true knowledge to be attained. Ötinger strove for something different. He strove to prove that the Spiritual world must be contacted in order to attain an understanding of the Bible, of the Scriptures, and especially of the New Testament. Richard Rothe puts it beautifully:
‘In order to understand this, a man must assume that frame of mind (which was that of Ötinger) which admits in its whole consciousness, that, as regards the Holy Scriptures a full, complete and, therefore, real understanding of them is still lacking, that the explanations given by the Churches do not contain it.’ Rothe goes on to say: ‘Perhaps I can best make this clear by relating what has been my own experience for more than thirty years of the Bible and more particularly of the New Testament — and of the words of the Saviour and the Epistles of Paul. The more I study the Scriptures, with the help of the Commentaries, the more I am impressed with a lively sense of their exuberant fulness, not only because of the inexhaustible ocean of feeling which surges through them, but no less by the thoughts contained in the words that I encounter. I stand before them with a key put in my hand by the Church, which has tested it for many a century. I cannot exactly say that it does not fit, still less can I say that it is the right one. It has effected an opening, but only with the help of the power I use in the unlocking. Our traditional exegesis — I do not refer to the neological one — gives me some understanding of the Scriptures, but does not suffice for a full and complete understanding. It is certainly able to draw forth the general content of the thoughts, but cannot give any reason for the peculiar form in which the thoughts appear. It seems to me that there is a blossom flowering above and beyond the exposition given. This remains as an unexplained residue left behind the written word, and this puts the Bible Commentators and those to whom they refer in a very awkward position, however well they may have accomplished their task in other respects. As a matter of fact they have only allowed the Lord and His Apostles to say precisely what the Commentators wish them to say, and this they have done in so clumsy, or perhaps we should say in so wonderful a way that for those who read them, things are made unnecessarily difficult to understand. The very large number of books comprising our exegetic literature deserve a serious reproach, in that they speak with so little clarity and polish concerning such incomparably important things, and such an incomparably important object. Who does not feel that this blame is deserved? The true Bible-reader receives an unequivocal impression that the words are right, just as they are, — that this is no meaningless scroll, from which our commentators must first cut away the wild branches before being able to penetrate the power of the thoughts contained therein. He feels that the accustomed methods of these gentlemen, of sweeping away the dust from these documents on account of their great age before they interpret them, only tends to brush away the imperishable spring-like brilliance which has shone in eternal youth for thousands of years. Let the masters of the Bible commentaries laugh as much as they will, it still remains a fact that there is something written between the lines of the Bible text which, with all their art, they are not able to decipher; yet that is above all what we ought to be able to read, if we wish to understand the altogether peculiar setting in which, in the Holy Scriptures alone, the now familiar thoughts of Divine manifested truth are to be found, in characteristic contra distinction to anything else of the kind. Our interpreters merely point out the figures standing in the foreground of the Scripture pictures; they completely leave out of account the background, with its wonderfully formed mountains in the far distance, and its brilliant dark-blue sky flecked with clouds. Yet from this falls on each one of us that quite unique and magic light which gives illumination, when we have understood what to us is truly an enigma. The peculiar basic thoughts and conceptions which, in the Scriptures, underlie the unexpressed assumptions, are lacking; and at the time there is a lack of soul, of the inner connection of the separate element of the Bible thoughts, which should organically bind them together. No wonder then that there are hundreds of passages in our Bible which thus remain un-interpreted and which are never properly understood, not understood completely in all the minute details of their features. No wonder there are so many passages of which a host of different interpretations have been given, and which have been ceaselessly in dispute for countless ages. No wonder at all; for they are certainly all wrong, because they are all inexact, only approximate, only giving the meaning as a whole, not in detail. We approach the Bible text with the alphabet of our own conceptions of God and the world, in all good faith, as though it was so obvious that it could not be otherwise: we take it, for granted that the Bible Commentator, who, as a silent observer is at the back of all he thinks and writes and illuminates, is of the same opinion. That is, however, an unfortunate illusion, of which we ought to have been cured by experiences long ago. Our key does not unlock, the right key had been lost, and until we find it again our investigations will find no green branch. We lack a fundamental conception of the Bible not expressly given in the text itself, but as long as we make researches without the system which can be found therein and which is not in our schools, the Bible must remain a half-closed book. We should study it with different fundamental conceptions from those we now cultivate as the only ones possible. No matter what these are, or where they are discovered, one thing is very certain from the whole concord of the melody of the Bible in its natural fulness, these conceptions must be more realistic and more “massive.” This is my own individual opinion, and while far from wishing to force it on those to whom it is foreign, I cannot but believe that Ötinger would understand me and assure me it was the same with him. Among all the many protestations that will be raised against me, I can still reckon one, if not many of my contemporaries, who will stand by me in this; I refer to the celebrated Dr. Beek of Tübingen.’
Ötinger hoped to be able to reach an understanding of the Bible on trying to arouse conceptions of a still living nature in the twilight days in which he and de Saint-Martin also lived: he hoped to make these living to himself, that he might enter into a living connection with the Spiritual World, and would then be able to understand the true language of the Bible. His assumption was practically this — that with mere abstract intellectual ideas it was impossible to understand the most important things in the Bible and especially in the New Testament. He believed that one can only hope to understand the Now Testament if one realises that it has proceeded from a direct vision of the Spiritual world itself, that no commentaries or exegesis are necessary; but that above all one ought to learn to read the New Testament. With this object he sought for a Philosophia Sacra. He did not mean this philosophy to be of the pattern of those that came after, but one in which was inscribed what a man may really experience, if he lives in contact with the Spiritual world.
Just as today, we who wish to throw the light of Natural Science on the researches of Spiritual Science, can no longer speak like de Saint-Martin; neither can we speak of the Gospels as did Ötinger or still less like Bengel. The edition of the New Testament brought out by Bengel will still be of use; but for the Apocalyptics of which he thought so much, a man of our day has no use at all. In this, Bengel laid great stress on calculation; he reckoned out the periods of history by this means. One number he held of special importance. This alone of course is sufficient to make the man of modern ideas look upon Bengel as a lunatic, a fantastic or a fool; for according to his reckoning, the year 1836 was to be of special importance in the development of humanity! He made profound calculations! He lived in the first half of the eighteenth century, so that he was a century removed from 1836. He reckoned this out in his own way by considering things historically. But if one goes more deeply, into things and is not so ‘clever’ as the modern mind, one knows that our good Bengel was only six years out in his reckoning. His error was caused by a false rendering of the year of the founding of Rome, and this can easily be proved. What he had meant to arrive at with his calculation was the year 1842, the year we have given for the materialistic crisis. Bengel, the teacher of Ötinger, referred to that profound incision in time; but, because in his search for massive conceptions he went too far and thought too massively, he reckoned that in the course of external history -something very special would take place, something like a last day. It was only the last day of the ancient wisdom
Thus, my dear friends, we see at no very distant date from our own times, the decline of a theosophical age; yet today, if an historian or philosopher writes about these persons at all, he devotes at most a couple of lines to them, and these as a rule tell one very little. None the less these persons had in their day a very far reaching, profound influence. If today anyone tries to disclose the meaning of the second part of Faust and finds it as given in the many commentaries, we cannot be surprised that:
‘He who clings to shallow things alone
Must find his hopes all disappear,
He digs with eager hands for treasure
But only finds the poor earth-worms.’
In this second part of Faust there is an enormous amount of occult wisdom and rendering of occult facts, though expressed in truly German poetic form. All this would be inconceivable if it had not been preceded by that world of which I have given you only the two principal examples. The man of today has no idea of how much was still known of the Spiritual world but a short while ago, comparatively speaking, and of how much of this belief has been shed only in the last few decades. It is certainly extremely important once in a way to fix our attention on these facts, because we, who learn to read the gospels now with the help of what Spiritual Science can give us, are only just beginning to learn over again to read the Scriptures. There is a very remarkable sentence in Ötinger. In his writings we find it quoted over and over again, though never understood. This sentence alone should suffice to make a man who has insight say: Ötinger is one of the greatest spirits of mankind. That sentence is: ‘Die Materie ist das Ende der Wege Gottes.’ (Matter is the end of Gods path). It was only possible for a very highly-developed soul to have given such a definition of matter, corresponding so clearly to what the Spiritual Scientist also knows; such a definition was only possible from one who was in a position to understand how the Divine Spiritual creative-forces work and concentrate to bring about a material structure such as man, who in his form is the expression of an enormous concentration of forces. If you read what takes place at the beginning of the conversation between Capesius and Benedictus in the second Mystery Play, and how the relation of the Macrocosm to man is there developed, which causes Capesius to fall ill, you will be able to form an idea of how these things can be expressed according to our present Spiritual Science, translated into our words. This is the same as Ötinger expressed in his significant saying, which can only be understood when we rediscover it: ‘Matter is the end of God's path.’ Even here it is the case, as in the words of de Saint-Martin, that we can no longer speak in such words today. Anyone using them must be fond of preserving that which today can no longer be understood.
Not only have our conceptions undergone a great transformation, but our feelings too have very greatly changed. Just think of a typical man of modern times, one who is really a practical example of his age, and imagine what his impressions would be were he to take up de Saint-Martin's: Des erreurs et de la liberte and come upon the following sentence. ‘Man is preserved from knowing the principle of his external corporeality; for if he were to become acquainted with it, he could never for very shame look at an uncovered human being.’ In an age in which the culture of the nude is even encouraged on the stage, as is done by the most modern people, one could, of course, make nothing of such a sentence. Yet just think: a great philosopher, de Saint-Martin, understanding the world, tells us that a higher feeling of shame would make one blush to gaze upon a human form — to de Saint-Martin this seemed absolutely comprehensible. You will have observed that I wanted first of all to call your attention today to something extremely significant, which has now disappeared. Besides that, I wanted to call to your notice the fact that at that time a different language was spoken from the one we now speak. We are obliged to speak differently. The possibility of thinking in the way corresponding to that language has vanished. Both in Ötinger and de Saint-Martin we find that things were not thought out to their end; but they could be thought out further. They can be further discussed; though not with a modern thinker. I might go even farther, and say: We need not go into these things today when studying the Riddles of the world, for we must understand ourselves through the conceptions of our own day, not through former ones. For that reason I always lay so much stress on the necessity of connecting all our Spiritual scientific work with modern ideas. It is a remarkable phenomenon, that no matter how much we now try to fall back into those former ideas, yet they are not played out; they show in themselves that a vast deal more could be arrived at by thinking further along those lines. Because we today hold the curious belief that people have always thought just as we do today, we have no conception how closely those conceptions were connected with universal consciousness. The typical man, to whom I have already referred, thinks as follows: ‘I call the white powdered particles in the salt-cellar, salt.’ Now this man is wen aware that salt is called by a different name in different languages, but he assumes that it has always represented what we see it to be today. That, however, is not the case, even the most uneducated peasant in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and much later still, had a much more comprehensive conception of ‘Salt;’ he had a conception of which de Saint-Martin's was but a more concentrated form; he had not the present materialistic idea, and when he spoke of Salt he meant something connected with the Spiritual life. Words were even then not so material as they are today, they did not refer to a direct, separate substance.
Now, read in the Gospels how Christ says to His Disciples: ‘Ye are the salt of the Earth.’ Well now, if these words are read with the present meaning, we do not get the words spoken by Christ, for the word ‘Salt’ was then quite naturally understood as referring to the whole configuration of the soul A man may have a very broad mind on the subject, but that is not enough. To call forth in a man of today a like feeling, ‘Salt’ must be differently translated, This applies to many of the old records, but above all to the Scriptures. Many mistakes have been made in this very respect. So it is not difficult to understand why Ötinger made many historical studies, trying to get at what was concealed behind the value of words, and to get at the right feeling for them. Of course, at the present day a mind like his would be considered mad! He shut himself up in his laboratory, not merely for weeks but for whole months, making alchemical experiments and studying Cabalistic books, simply to find out how the words in a given sentence were to be understood; for all his strivings were directed to the meaning of the words of holy writ.
I have spoken of these things today to show that we must now speak in a different way, for we are standing at the dawn, as they then stood in the evening twilight; and I also want to approach them now from yet another standpoint. I should like to go back to the strange fact that according to the modern view of things, from which Spiritual Science as it develops must set itself free, it would appear useless to enter deeply into the nature of the ideas of the time of Bengel, Ötinger, de Saint-Martin, and others. For when we speak to educated people today we must speak of the metabolic body, of the rhythmic body, of the nervous system; we can no longer speak of the mercurial-body, of the sulphur-body and of the salt-body. For these conceptions, comprehensible to the age of Paracelsus, of Jacob Böhme, de Saint-Martin and Ötinger, would no longer be understood today. And yet it is not without value to study these things — and would not be so even if it were quite impossible to speak to the cultured today through these methods. I am willing to admit that it would not be wise to throw the old ideas of Mercury, Sulphur, and Salt into modern thought; it would not be well to do so, nor right. A man who can feel the pulse of his time would not fall into the error of wishing to restore those old conceptions, as is done in certain so-called occult societies which attach great weight to decorating themselves with old vignettes. Yet, none the less, it is of immense significance to re-acquire the language that is no longer spoken now; for de Saint-Martin, Ötinger, and in more ancient times Paracelsus and Jacob Böhme by no means exhausted it.
Why is this? Yes, why? The men of today no longer speak in that way; that language could fall into disuse and at the most one could study the historical phenomenon of how it was possible for an historic period not to live out its full life. How comes it about that there is still something remaining which might be carried further, but which has yet come to a standstill? How does this come about? What is the underlying cause? It might well be that if we could learn all there is to be learnt, even without including these conceptions, nobody would be able to understand us! Here, however, something comes to light which is of enormous significance. The living no longer speak of these conceptions and do not require to use them; but for the dead, for those who have passed through the portals of death, the language of these ideas is of all the more importance. If we have occasion to make ourselves understood by the dead or by certain other Spirits of the Spiritual world, we come to recognise that in a certain respect we need to learn that unexhausted language, which has now died out as regards the earthly physical life of the physical plane, It is just among those who have passed through the portal of death that what lives and stirs in these conceptions will become a living language, the current language for which they are seeking. The more we have tried to realise what was once thought, felt and understood in these conceptions, the better we are able to make ourselves understood to the Spirits who have passed the portals of death. It is then easier to have mutual understanding.
Thus then the peculiar and remarkable secret is disclosed: that a certain form of thought lives on this earth only up to a given point; it does not then develop further on the earth, but attains a further stage of perfection among those who pass into the intermediate life, between death and rebirth. Let no one suppose that all that is necessary is to learn what we can today about the formation of Sulphur, Quicksilver, (mercury is not Quicksilver) and Salt; these conceptions alone would not suffice for coming into relation with the dead through their language. But if we can take in these thoughts as did Paracelsus, Jacob Böhme, and especially the almost super-abundant fruitfulness of de Saint-Martin, Ötinger and Bengel, one perceives that a bridge is established between this world and that other. However much people may laugh at Bengel's calculations, which, of course, are of no tangible value to the external physical life, — to those living between death and rebirth they are of very great significance and meaning. For incisions in time such as that of which Bengel tried to calculate the date, and in which he was only six years out, are in that other world of very profound significance.
You see that the world here on the physical plane and the world of the Spirit are not so connected that one can form a bridge between them by means of abstract formulae; they hang together in a concrete way. That which in a sense, loses its meaning here, rises into the Spiritual world and lives on there together with the dead, while with the living it has to be succeeded by a different phase.