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Three Lectures on Easter and Pentecost
GA 224

II. The Mystery of Pentecost and the Ascension

7 May 1923, Dornach

Evolving humanity has placed before it mighty pictures gathered from out all the various systems of religion, for the full comprehension of which a kind of esoteric comprehension is necessary.

In the course of recent years the four Gospels have been interpreted to you from the Anthroposophical point of view, and in order to do this we made use of esoteric Anthroposophical knowledge to bring the profounder contents of these into the light of day. As a rule the contents of the Gospels are presented in pictures, the reason for this is that pictures do not require to be communicated in such a narrow rationalistic way as do conceptions and ideas. Many people hold the opinion as regards ideas and conceptions that once they have accepted an idea they understand everything concerned with it. With pictures, that is with imaginations, such an opinion does not hold. Pictures or imaginations act in a living way; one might say they act almost as living beings. We learn to know a living being — a man, for instance — from one side or from another, but ever and again we must learn to know him from some new side. We are not satisfied with definitions intended to cover the whole case, but endeavour to arrive at characteristics that build up a picture from various sides, turning this more and more into knowledge of the man.

I would like to call up two pictures before your souls to-day, pictures that you are already well acquainted with, and explain certain things connected with them. One is the picture which the Disciples of Christ Jesus present to us as the Ascension, telling how looking upwards they saw the Christ floating in the clouds. This picture is usually accepted so that the Christ is seen traveling heavenwards, having forsaken the earth, and the Disciples are left, as it were, to themselves; earthly humanity for whom the Christ passed through the Mystery of Golgotha is therefore left to itself after His journey heavenwards.

It might easily be thought that in a certain sense this contradicts the reality of the Mystery of Golgotha. We know indeed that through this Mystery the Christ decided actually to unite His Being with the being of the earth, and from that point of time onwards to remain in permanent connection with earthly evolution. One might therefore see the stupendous picture of the Ascension set, as it were, in opposition to that which is revealed to esoteric vision in connection with the Mystery of Golgotha, as regards the union of the Christ with the being of the earth and with humanity.

We will endeavour to-day to dispel this apparent contradiction with the help of true spiritual facts.

The second picture that I would like to call up before your souls is that in which, ten days after the Ascension, when the Disciples were gathered together, fiery tongues came down upon the head of each of them so that they felt moved, as the popular expression has it, to speak in different tongues. What this really means, however, is that from now on it was possible for each human heart — whatever the faith to which it might have previously adhered — to realise the Mystery of Golgotha.

These two pictures we desire to call up before your souls to-day, in order to contribute somewhat (it naturally cannot be much) towards their elucidation.

We know that human evolution did not begin upon the earth, but that this evolution was preceded by the Moon evolution, this by the Sun evolution, and this in its turn by the Saturn evolution, as is told in my book, “An Outline of Occult Science.” We know further that during the Sun evolution man evolved downwards as far as to the physical body, that this body was at that time essentially a body of warmth, that means a sum of differentiations and activities of warmth, as described in my book; man was, as it were, imbedded in and surrounded by soul and spirit.

We know also that during the Sun evolution man acquired a body of air, during the Moon evolution a more or less fluid body, and that only during earthly evolution did he acquire his solid true earth-body.

Now let us recall the course of earthly evolution. This proceeded, as you already know, in seven succeeding epochs. The first was to a certain extent a repetition of the Saturn evolution, the second of the Sun evolution, the third was a repetition of the Moon evolution. This has been named the Lemurian epoch. With these four epochs the actual evolution of the earth was set agoing, and, as you know, we are now living in the fifth epoch which will be followed by a sixth and a seventh.

The central point of earthly evolution falls within the middle of the fourth — the Atlantean epoch. At the present time, therefore, the earth has passed its culmination, the actual centre of its evolution. From this you must conclude that the earth is already in a declining evolution, and I have frequently remarked that this is in entire agreement with the conclusions of materialistic geology.

In his book, “The Face of the Earth,” Ed. Suess says that the solid earth on which we walk to-day actually belongs to an earth that is dying; it was in middle-age during the Atlantean epoch, and was then full of inward life. At that time no such formations were to be found as the stones we have to-day, which can be broken in pieces; minerals were active within the earth then in the same way they are active to-day within an animal organism, where, when the animal organism is sick they reveal themselves in all kinds of deposits; when the animal organism is sound the only deposit formed is that of the bones. To-day these have still an inward life; they have not that content of death, that tendency to become pulverised and to perish as is the case with the rocks of our mountains. The crumbling of rocks is simply a sign that the earth is already in a process of disintegration — of death.

This, as I have said, is a piece of knowledge already known to ordinary materialistic geology. To this Anthroposophy has to add that the earth has been in a process of declining evolution ever since the middle of the Atlantean epoch. As belonging to the earth we have, however, to reckon all that appertains to the earth — the plants, the animals, and, above all, physical humanity. Physical man belongs to the earth, and as the earth is in a declining process of its evolution, so also is the physical body of man in a declining process of evolution. Expressed differently — esoterically — this means the following: By the middle of the Atlantean epoch all that was originally implanted within the warmth-body of Saturn had attained completion. The human physical body had really reached completion at that time, since when its evolution has tended downwards. Evolution does not progress evenly; a certain phase of development appears earlier in one race or people, and later in another.

When the age drew near in which the Mystery of Golgotha took place, the evolution of the human physical body was such that all humanity was faced with the prospect of not being able any longer to incorporate on the earth. This meant that they could no longer have a share in the declining evolution of the earth.

A fact well known in the schools of initiation, and that can naturally be known also to-day, was that about the time of the Mystery of Golgotha the human physical body had reached such a state of decline that the men incorporated at that time or who were about to be incorporated shortly afterward, and until about the fourth century, were confronted with the danger of having the earth become barren and empty and of finding it impossible in the future to descend from spiritual worlds or to form bodies for themselves out of physical earthly substances. This danger existed, and men would have actually been obliged to fail in their earthly destiny.

The co-operation of Lucifer and Ahriman had brought things to such a pass at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha that man would have died out on the earth, but by what was accomplished through this great Mystery he was saved from the forces of destruction. The invigorating forces of which the physical body had need were imparted to it once more, so that man was enabled to continue his further evolution on earth, to come down from the realms of the soul and spirit and again enter into and dwell in physical bodies. This was the result, the entirely real result, of the Mystery of Golgotha.

I have already indicated that these are the lines along which the results of this Mystery are to be found; among other courses of lectures I spoke of this in lectures given in Karlsruhe, in a cycle entitled, “From Jesus to Christ.” This stirred up great enmity because it contained many truths which people wished should remain veiled, but which had to be spoken of from a sense of esoteric duty. It is certainly the truth that enmity was directed towards Anthroposophy from many directions just because of this course of lectures. Well, that was an actual result from one side.

The same fact can naturally be expressed in many ways, and in that lecture I did express it differently; what I have explained to-day is the same only taken from a different side. It was the case, therefore, that because of the Mystery of Golgotha the powers of growth, and the development of physical humanity were kindled anew.

Through this it became possible for man to receive an impulse when in the state of sleep which otherwise he could not have received. The whole of human evolution takes place within the conditions of sleeping and waking. In sleep the physical body and etheric body remain behind; from the moment of falling asleep until awaking the astral body and ego are independent of them. During this state of independence in sleep the active penetration by the Christ-force occurs in those men who, because of the soul-content they have acquired, are fittingly prepared for the state of sleep. It is in the state of sleep that penetration by the Christ-force mainly occurs.

Try now to picture to yourselves that at the time in which the scene of the Ascension is presented to us the Disciples had become so far clairvoyant that they could behold that which is the real mystery of earthly evolution. It is true that the mysteries of the evolution of the earth pass by the normal consciousness of mankind; men cannot know whether at a certain moment something of the highest importance for human evolutions has taken place or not. Many things occur thus that the ordinary consciousness is not aware of. The real meaning of what is presented to us in the scene of the Ascension is that the Disciples of Christ became capable at that moment of observing something which took place, as it were, “behind the scene,” which was of the greatest import to earthly evolution. What they saw, revealed to them in pictures — in far perspective — what would have happened if the Event of Golgotha had not taken place. It rose before them in spiritual bodily form, and this is what would have happened: —

The etheric body that is in man would have followed its forces of attraction — for the ether body is continually attracted not towards the earth, but towards the sun. We are so constituted as men that our physical bodies have the heaviness appertaining to the earth, and our ether bodies the lightness appertaining to the sun. The ether body strives continually towards the sun. If the human physical body had become what it must have become had there been no mystery of Golgotha, then the etheric body would have followed its urge towards the sun. In this case, humanity as earthly humanity, would naturally have ceased to exist.

In the sense in which it has often been spoken of here, the sun was the dwelling place of the Christ up to the time of the Mystery of Golgotha. The ether body of man in that it strives towards the sun strives therefore towards the Christ.

Now, call up before you the picture of the Ascension: Before the eyes of the Disciples the Christ rises heavenwards. This means that before the eyes of the Disciples' souls was conjured forth the vision of how the etheric nature of mankind in its upward striving unites itself with the power, with the Impulse of Christ. Therefore, the Disciples saw how at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha man was faced with the danger of seeing his ether body attracted cloud-wards — towards the sun, but also how the Christ held that which then strove heavenwards, together. This picture has to be understood aright. It is really a warning. The Christ was already united with the earth, but He belongs to those forces in man which actually strive towards the sun, which desire for ever to leave the earth. It is the Christ Who holds men firmly to the earth.

In the picture of the Ascension which thus arose before the soul-eyes of the Disciples there was revealed what would have happened had the Mystery of Golgotha not taken place.

Suppose that this Mystery had not taken place, and that a certain number of people had become clairvoyant to the same degree as the Disciples were at that moment, these would have seen how the ether bodies of certain people left the earth for the sun. They would have known that this was the path the ether body would take; that the earthly-etheric nature of man would withdraw to the sun.

But now, the Mystery of Golgotha had taken place; the Christ had saved the earth from this flight towards the sun. In this sunward tendency which was restrained by the Christ, the fact is clearly demonstrated that the Christ has remained united with the humanity of the earth. Something else is also demonstrated by it, namely, that through the Mystery of Golgotha the Christ had actually introduced a cosmic event into earthly evolution. The Christ came down from spiritual heights, and in the man Jesus of Nazareth united Himself with humanity; He passed through the Mystery of Golgotha, and has associated His evolution with the evolution of the earth. It was a deed which was done for the whole of humanity.

Try to grasp this fact correctly: — The Mystery of Golgotha was accomplished for humanity. Clairvoyant vision must ever behold how the etheric forces of humanity that constantly seek to separate from the earth are united with the Christ; and how the Christ is able to hold them back for earthly evolution. This is of great importance to humanity. But now consider the following: —

Let us suppose that only a handful of people had been able to rise to the knowledge and the understanding of such facts as were connected with the Mystery of Golgotha, and that there was a large number, as was actually the case, who did not recognise the importance of this event. In that case the earth would have been inhabited by a small number of true followers of Christ, and a very large number of people who did not recognise the true content of the Mystery of Golgotha. How would it have been with these people? What would have been the connection of these people to the Mystery of Golgotha when they did not recognise what it was; or rather, what connection would the Mystery of Golgotha — the deed of Christ — have had to these people

Now, my dear friends, the Deed of Christ on Golgotha is an objective fact, and does not depend in its cosmic aspect on whether man believes in it or not.

The essential thing in an objective fact is the fact itself. When an oven is warm it is not cold just because a number of people believe it to be cold.

The Mystery of Golgotha was the rescue from destruction of the physical body of humanity, independently of whether humanity believed in it or not. This Mystery was enacted therefore, for all men, even for those who did not believe in it. This fact must be grasped first of all. You, my friends, have thoroughly understood this point, that the Mystery of Golgotha took place in order to introduce fresh forces into the physical body of man, to renew humanity, to revive it on earth, as it were, to the degree necessary for its rejuvenation. This was done. The possibility was thereby given to mankind of finding bodies in which it could incarnate for a yet far reaching future period. All the same, men passed at first only as soul and spirit-beings, through such rejuvenated earthly bodies, they were able to appear again and again on earth. The Christ Impulse — which now was to have meaning for the spiritual part of man's being, not only for the physical body — was able to extend to the waking consciousness of man, but it could not extend to his sleeping condition of consciousness if the soul did not desire to take into itself knowledge of this Impulse.

We may therefore say: The Mystery of Golgotha would have taken place for the waking condition of man even if he had not accepted the knowledge of this Mystery; but it would not have taken place for his sleeping condition. The consequence of this would have been as follows: Men would certainly have continued to incarnate on earth, but sleep would have been such that their soul and spirit nature would necessarily have lost all connection with the Christ unless they had acquired knowledge of the Mystery of Golgotha.

Here you have the difference between those who did, and those who did not seek understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha.

The Christ had fulfilled His mission on earth as regards their bodies, as regards the possibility of life for them on earth — this He has done also for the heathen — but in respect of their soul and spirit-nature it was necessary that the Christ Impulse should sink into the souls of men also during the condition of sleep. In order that this might be, men had consciously to become acquainted with the content of the Mystery of Golgotha. The true spiritual result of the Mystery of Golgotha can therefore only proceed from a right recognition of what is contained therein. This means, that it must come to pass that men gain on the one hand knowledge of how the ether body strives continually sunwards and is held back by the Christ; on the other hand, how the spirit and soul-nature of man, his ego and astral body, must receive the Christ Impulse in the condition between falling asleep and waking; for this they must prepare themselves by gaining knowledge of these facts in their conscious waking state.

Let us call up before our souls the picture of the Ascension: the Disciples having become clairvoyant see the sunward tendency of the ether bodies of men. The Christ unites Himself with this tendency and restrains it. What this mighty picture represents is this — the saving of the physical and etheric part of man by the Christ.

The Disciples are astounded at what they see, they ponder deeply, sink deeply within themselves. Then in their souls dawns the knowledge that through the Mystery of Golgotha all that was done was, in the first case, for the physical and etheric nature of man. What then was done for the soul and spirit-nature? From whence does man receive power to take the Christ Impulse up into his ego and astral nature?

Through the Mystery of Golgotha the Christ Impulse has been consummated on earth in such a way that it can only be thoroughly understood by the powers of spiritual knowledge. No materialistic powers of understanding, no materialistic science can comprehend this Mystery. The soul must lift itself up to spiritual powers of understanding, to spiritual powers of vision and of feeling, before it can understand how the Christ Impulse united itself on Golgotha with the impulses of the earth. That this might come to pass, the Christ accomplished His Deed on Golgotha; and He completed it so that just ten days after the Ascension He sent to men the power whereby they were enabled to permeate their inner soul and spirit-nature, that is, their ego and astral body, with the Christ-Impulse.

The picture of Pentecost signifies this: The permeation of the soul and spirit of man with power by which he can understand the Mystery of Golgotha. The sending of the Holy Spirit.

The Christ accomplished His Deed for the whole of humanity. To individuals who are able to understand this Deed — to the individual human being, He has sent the Spirit, so that the individual soul and spirit can find access to that which was done for all humanity. By means of the Spirit man must inwardly — soulfully and spiritually — unite himself with the Mystery of Golgotha. Two pictures thus succeed each other in the story of human evolution. That of the Ascension tells us: The deed of Golgotha was consummated for the physical and etheric bodies of men generally. The individual must make it fruitful for himself by receiving into him the Holy Spirit. The Christ Impulse thus becomes individual for each one.

Something more has still to be added to the elucidation of the picture of the Ascension. Such spiritual vision as the Disciples had on the day of Ascension is always connected with something the man had already experienced in one or another of his states of consciousness. You are well aware that after death man experiences the going forth of his etheric body. With death he lays the physical body aside. For a few days he retains his etheric body, then it dissolves: it really is united with the sun-nature. This dissolution after death is really union with the sun-nature that permeates space, and within which the earth is also.

Ever since the Mystery of Golgotha men have actually been able to see this etheric body withdrawing and uniting with the Christ who has become its saviour and preserver for future earthly existence. So that actually since the Mystery of Golgotha every human being on dying has before his soul the picture which the Disciples saw, because of their exceptional soul condition, on the Day of Ascension.

For those who can participate in the mystery of Pentecost — who allow the Holy Spirit to draw near to them, this picture is the greatest comfort they can have after death; they now realise the whole truth of the Mystery of Golgotha, and this picture comforts them. What the picture of the Ascension says to them is this: Thou canst trust earthly evolution with all thy succeeding lives on earth, for through the Mystery of Golgotha the Christ had become the Saviour of earthly evolution. But to those who do not fill their ego and astral body consciously with the content of this Mystery, this picture may become a reproach, and it remains a reproach so long as they do not recognise that they must learn to understand it.

It is, as it were, an exhortation to them after death, which urges them: — Try in your next life, it seems to say, to acquire power by which you can understand the Mystery of Golgotha. It is natural that the picture of the Ascension should appear at first as an exhortation, for men can indeed strive in the succeeding life on earth to acquire these powers and so acquire an understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha.

Consider the difference between those who with inward powers of belief, of knowledge, and of feeling, believe in this mystery and those who do not. It is true that the Mystery of Golgotha took place generally, only for the physical and etheric bodies of men; but the sending of the Holy Spirit — Pentecost — shows how the soul and spirit of man can participate in the fruits of that Mystery only when a true recognition of the content thereof has been gained. It shows at the same time (because the content of the Mystery of Golgotha can only be grasped by spiritual understanding, not material understanding) that the true Pentecost is only understood when men also realise that the sending of the Spirit is a challenge to men to work themselves up gradually to a knowledge of the Spirit, for only through spirit-knowledge can the Mystery of Golgotha be grasped. The challenge contained in the Mystery of Golgotha is to the understanding of men.

That it was a deed performed for all men is revealed in the secret of the Ascension. These two things follow each other in the Christian interpretation of human evolution — the Ascension reveals the fact that Christ accomplished His deed for all men; it was a universal act; the Mystery of Pentecost lays on individuals the injunction to take into themselves the Impulse of the Mystery of Golgotha. We may, therefore, say with regard to these matters that Anthroposophy consists in this: That men should acquire a right understanding of the Mystery of Pentecost in its connection with the revelation of the Ascension. When we feel that Anthroposophy stands forth as a sort of elucidator more especially as regards these two spring festivals, we realise that to the many shades it already presents to us there is one more that must of necessity be added.

What has been said should tell something of the right tone of feeling that Anthroposophy can impart with regard to these two festivals. The pictures they call up before the souls of men are like living beings: we can learn to know them better and better.

When men can rise once more to filling the year with a spiritual understanding of such festival seasons, then the year will indeed become something concrete; it will acquire a spiritual cosmic content, and men will learn thereby to participate in cosmic existence already during earthly existence.

When the festival of Whitsuntide, which before all others is a festival of flowers, is felt aright, people go forth wherever flowers are springing, where they are opening under the influence of the sun — under the influence of the etheric-astral sun forces — and in the flower-decked earth men are aware that they have a reflection of that which they see condensed in the picture of the Ascension of Christ and in the tongues of fire that appeared above the heads of the Disciples. The opening heart of man may here be seen symbolised in the flowers which open to the sun, and that which comes down from the sun and gives to the flowers the necessary fruit-bearing power, we may see symbolised in the tongues of fire which poured forth their power on the Disciples.

By means of that self-same power, which through comprehension of this festival is able to evoke understanding of every festival, Anthroposophy can indeed work upon the hearts of men, and can impart to each one that tone of feeling which may haply prove to be the right one for these days of the Spring Festivals.