The Festivals and Their Meaning:
Ascension and Pentecost
III. World-Pentecost: the Message of Anthroposophy
17 May 1923, Christiania
When we look back over the history of human evolution, events of major or minor importance which have influenced the life of the whole of mankind stand out in strong relief. The greatest of all these events is that known as the Mystery of Golgotha, whereby Christianity became an integral part of the evolution of humanity. In the age when the Mystery of Golgotha took place, man's conception of it was quite different from that of later times. In our present age a new understanding, a new conception, must arise. It is the task of Anthroposophy to promote an understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha that is in keeping with the spirit of our epoch.
We must cast our minds back to earlier ages when human consciousness was altogether different from that of to-day. Three or four thousand years ago, men were instinctively conscious that before coming down into a physical body on the earth they had lived in the spiritual world. Every individual in those times knew that within him was a being of soul-and-spirit, sent down by the Divine Powers into earth-existence. Men's consciousness of death, too, was different, for, in that they were able to look back in remembrance to their pre-earthly existence as beings of soul-and-spirit, they knew that the part of them that had lived before this earthly life would also live on beyond death.
In those days there were schools of learning which were at the same time religious institutions — the Mysteries, as they are called — where men received instruction on what it was within their power to know concerning their pre-earthly life. Thereby they came to realise that before their earthly existence they had lived among stars and among spiritual Beings, just as on earth they were living among plants and animals, mountains and rivers. Man said to himself: “Out of the world of the stars I have descended to existence on earth.” He knew, too, that the stars are not merely physical, that every star is peopled by spiritual Beings with whom he had been connected before descending to the earth. He knew also that on laying aside his physical body at death he would return to the world of the stars, that is to say, to the spiritual world. He regarded the sun as the star of supreme importance — the sun with its Beings, of whom the most exalted was the One known as the sublime Sun-Spirit.
From the Mysteries the teaching came to men that before they descend to the earth the sublime Sun-Being gives them the power whereby they are able to return in the right way after death into the spiritual worlds of the stars. The teachers in the Mysteries said to their pupils and these pupils in turn to other men: “It is the spiritual power of the sun, the spiritual light, which bears you on beyond death and which accompanied you when you descended, through birth, into earthly existence.” [Cp. John I, 9.]
Many were the prayers, many were the lofty teachings given by the teachers in the Mysteries in order to glorify and describe the sublime Sun-Spirit. These teachers in the Mysteries said to their pupils and they in turn to all humanity, that when man has passed through the gate of death he must enter, first, into the sphere of the lesser stars and their beings, and then rise above the sun. This he cannot do if the power of the Sun-Being is not bestowed upon him. Thus the hearts of men who understood this were aglow with ardour when they offered their prayers to the Spirit of the sun who gives them immortality. The hymns and devotional exercises dedicated to the sun had a particularly strong influence upon man's feeling and upon his whole life of soul. He felt himself united with the God of the universe when he participated in sun-worship.
Among the peoples where these customs prevailed, special rites and ceremonies were enacted in connection with this veneration of the sun. The ritual consisted, as a rule, in an image of the god being laid in the grave and after some days taken out again, as a sign and token that there is a god in the universe — the Sun-God — who ever and again awakens men to life when he succumbs to death.
In enacting this ritual, the officiating priest said to his pupils, and they then repeated it to others: “This is the sign and token that before you came down to the earth you were in a spirit-realm that is the abode of the Sun-God. Look up to the sun which radiates light! Whatever you see is only the outward revelation of the Sun-Being. Behind its radiance is the eternal Sun-God who ensures immortality for you.” Thus those who received this teaching knew that they had come down from spiritual worlds into the earthly world, but that they had forgotten the world where dwells the Sun-God. But the priest told them: “Through your birth you have departed from the realm of the Sun-God. When you pass through death you shall find that realm again through the power that he, the Sun-God, has laid in your hearts.”
It was known to the initiated priests of these Mysteries that the sublime Sun-Spirit of whom they spoke to the worshippers is the same Being as He who would later be called the Christ. But before the Mystery of Golgotha the priests could speak to this effect only: “If you desire to know something of the Christ, you will seek in vain on the earth; you must be lifted to the secrets of the sun. For only outside and beyond the earth will you find the mysteries pertaining to the Christ.”
Relatively speaking, it was not difficult for men at that time to accept such teaching because they had an instinctive remembrance of the realm of the Christ whence they had descended to the earth. But human nature is involved in a process of evolution and this instinctive remembrance of pre-earthly, spiritual life was gradually lost. Eight hundred years before the Mystery of Golgotha there were only a very few in whom any instinctive remembrance of pre-earthly life still survived.
Let us picture for a moment the passing of a man through death. — He passes out into the starry universe, gradually reaching spheres from which he beholds the stars — and even the sun — from the other side. From the earth we see the sun in the way to which we are accustomed here. When, after death, we pass into the cosmic expanse and see the sun from the other side, we see it, not as a physical orb, but as a realm of spiritual Beings.
Long before the Mystery of Golgotha took place, men had been able to behold the Christ in the sun from the other side, both before their birth and after their death. The teachers in the Mysteries were able to recall this vision of the Christ to their pupils, and to awaken in them the realisation: “Before I came to the earth, I beheld the sun from the other side.” — This was so in times long preceding the Mystery of Golgotha.
Then came the age — beginning about eight hundred years before the Mystery of Golgotha — when it was no longer possible to quicken in men the remembrance that before they came down to the earth they beheld the Christ from the other side of the sun. And now the teachers in the Mysteries could no longer say to men: “Look up to the sun and behold the revelation of Christ!” — for men would not have understood these words. It was as if men on the earth had been quite forsaken by the Christ-power, were no longer able to kindle to life within them any remembrance of the spiritual worlds.
Then, for the first time, there came upon men what may be called the fear of death. When in earlier times they saw the physical body die, they knew: As souls we are of the kingdom of Christ and do not die. — But now men were greatly troubled as to the destiny of the immortal, eternal being within them. It was as though the link between themselves and the Christ had been severed. This was because they were no longer able to look up into the spiritual worlds, and in the earthly realm the Christ was nowhere to be found.
Then, at the time when men could no longer find the Christ on yonder side of the sun in the super-earthly world, out of infinite grace, out of infinite mercy, Christ came down to the earth in order that men might find Him there. Something happened then in the evolution of worlds that has no parallel with anything within the range of human knowledge. For in the spiritual world, the Beings above man — the Angeloi, Archangeloi, Archai, up to the very highest Divine Beings — only pass through transformation, metamorphosis. They are not born, neither do they die. In the Mysteries of those times it was said: “Men alone know birth and death. The gods know metamorphosis only; they do not know birth and death.”
And so, since men could no longer reach Him, Christ came to them on earth. In order that this might be achieved, it was necessary that He, as a god, should undergo what no god had ever previously undergone, namely, birth and death. Christ became the soul of a man, Jesus of Nazareth, and passed through birth and death. That is to say: for the first time a god trod the path which leads through human death.
The essential truth of the Mystery of Golgotha is that it is not a mere human affair; it is a Divine affair. It was a resolve of the divine world that the sublime Sun-Being Himself should unite His destiny with mankind so completely as to pass through birth and death. Since then, men have been able to look to that which happened on Golgotha and so to find the Christ on the earth — to find Him who would otherwise have been lost to them because the heavens were no longer within reach of their consciousness.
In those who were the first to share in the secrets of Golgotha, the apostles and disciples of Christ, a last vestige remained of an instinctive consciousness of what had come to pass. These men knew: The Being who was formerly to be found only by those able to look up in spirit to the sun, can be found here and now if men rightly understand the birth, life and suffering of Christ Jesus. There were, then, at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha, a few who knew that He who, as the Christ, was in Jesus of Nazareth, is the sublime Sun-Being who has come down to the earth.
Until the fourth century after the Mystery of Golgotha there were always some who knew that Christ, the Sun-Being, and the Christ who had lived in Jesus of Nazareth were one and the same. It is deeply moving to learn from Spiritual Science of the fervent prayers of men in the early Christian centuries: “Thanks be to the Christ-Being from whom we should perforce have been separated, had He not come down from spiritual worlds to us here on earth!”
After the fourth century A.D. the human mind could no longer comprehend that the Christ, who ensures immortality for men, was the sublime, divine Sun-Being. From that time until our own day there have been only the external words of the Gospels, telling of the Mystery of Golgotha. Nevertheless, these words of the Gospels worked throughout the centuries with such power that they turned men's hearts to the Mystery of Golgotha.
To-day, however, we are on the threshold of an age when, having acquired great knowledge about the secrets of nature, men would be wholly estranged from the Gospel tidings if a new path to Christ were not opened. Anthroposophy would fain open this path by leading men again to knowledge of the spiritual world. For the Christ Event can only be understood as a spiritual Fact. Those who are incapable of this do not understand the Christ Event at all.
With the help of anthroposophical knowledge we can carry ourselves back in imagination to the time when Christ Jesus walked in Palestine and lived through His earthly destiny. We can look into the hearts of the disciples and apostles who realised with their intuitive knowledge: “The Being whose abode in former time was the sun, has come down to the earth, has dwelt among us. He who has dwelt among us as Christ Jesus, He who has walked the earth, was once to be found only in the realm of the sun.” — Therefore these disciples said to themselves: “Out of the eyes of Jesus of Nazareth the light of the sun rays forth to us. Out of the words of Jesus of Nazareth streams the power of the warmth-giving sun. When Jesus of Nazareth moves among us it is as though the sun itself is sending its light and power into the world.”
Those who understood this, said: “Moving among us in the form of a man is the Sun-Being, who in earlier times could be reached only when man's gaze was directed upwards from the earth to the spiritual world.” And because the disciples and apostles knew this, their attitude to Christ's death was also true and right, and they could remain disciples of Christ Jesus even after He had passed through death on the earth.
Through Spiritual Science we know that when the Christ had departed from the body of Jesus of Nazareth, He moved in a spirit-body among His disciples and gave them further teaching. A power had been given to the apostles and disciples which enabled them still to receive the teaching of Christ when He appeared to them in this spirit-body. This power however, departed from them after a certain time. There was a point in the lives of the disciples of Christ Jesus when they said among themselves: “We have seen Him but we see Him no longer. He came down from heaven to us on earth. Whither has He gone?”
The point of time when the disciples believed they had again lost the presence of Christ is commemorated in the Christian festival of the Ascension, which preserves in remembrance the disciples' conviction that the sublime Sun-Being who had walked the earth in the man Jesus of Nazareth had vanished from their sight. At this happening there fell upon the disciples a sorrow such as cannot be compared with any other sorrow on earth. When in the ritual of the Sun Cult in the ancient Mysteries, the image of the god was laid in the grave and lifted out only after a period of days, the souls of those participating in the ceremony were filled with sorrow at the death of the god. But this sorrow was not to be compared in magnitude with the sorrow that filled the hearts of Christ's disciples. All knowledge that can truly be called great is born from pain, from inner travail. When through the means for the attainment of knowledge described in anthroposophical spiritual science one tries to tread the path into the higher worlds, the goal can be reached only by experiencing pain. Without having suffered, suffered intensely, and thereby having become free from the oppression of pain, no man can come to know the spiritual world.
During the ten days following the Ascension, the suffering of Christ's disciples was beyond all telling, because Christ had vanished from their sight. And out of this pain, out of this infinite sorrow, there sprang that which we call the Mystery of Pentecost, the Whitsun Mystery. Having lost the sight of Christ in instinctive, external clairvoyant vision, the disciples found it again in their inmost being, in their feelings, in inner experience — found it through sorrow, through pain.
Once again let us look back to earlier times. — Before the Mystery of Golgotha men had some remembrance of pre-earthly existence. They knew that in this pre-earthly existence they had received from Christ the power to attain immortality. But now, at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha men knew that through their own human power they were not able to look back into the spiritual world, into pre-earthly existence.
The disciples of Christ therefore turned their thoughts to all that their memory had preserved concerning the Event of Golgotha. And out of this remembrance, and the suffering it evoked, the vision arose in their souls of that which man had lost because he no longer possessed the faculty of instinctive clairvoyance. The men of old had said: “Before we were born on earth we were together with Christ. From Him we have the power which leads to immortality.” And now, ten days after they had lost the outer sight of Christ, the disciples said: “We beheld the Mystery of Golgotha, and this gives us the power to feel again the reality of our immortal being.” — This is expressed symbolically by the tongues of fire at Pentecost. Thus, in the light of Spiritual Science, the Pentecost-secret reveals to us that the Mystery of Golgotha has replaced the Sun-Myth of the ancient Mysteries.
It was Paul who, through the revelation that came to him at Damascus, realised with particular clarity that Christ was the Sun-Being. As a pupil of the ancient Initiates in the Mysteries, Paul's first firm conviction had been that Christ is to be found only when, by means of clairvoyance, man reaches the spiritual world. Therefore he said: “This sect declares that the Sun-Being has lived within a man, has passed through death. This cannot be, for only above and beyond the earth is the Sun-Being to be seen.” — As long as Paul's belief was based upon knowledge acquired by him in the Mysteries, he was an opponent of Christianity. But through the revelation at Damascus Paul realised that without being transported into the spiritual world, man can behold the Christ, and therefore that He had in very truth descended to the earth. From this moment he knew that the disciples of Christ Jesus spoke the truth; for the sublime Sun-Being had now come down from the heavens to the earth.
Had Christ not appeared on the earth, had He remained the Sun-God only, humanity on the earth would have fallen into decay. Increasingly men would have come to believe that material things alone exist, that the sun and the stars are material bodies. For men had forgotten altogether that they themselves had descended from a pre-earthly existence, from the spirit-world of the stars.
Only for a time, however, can mankind hold to the conviction that everything is material. If all human beings were to believe, let us say for a century, that everything is material, they would lose the strength of the spirit within them and would become decrepit and sick. This would in fact have been the lot of mankind if Christ in His infinite mercy had not come down from the spiritual world to the earth.
You will say: Yes, but there are many who do not want to know anything of Christ, who do not believe in Him. How is it that these human beings have not become decrepit, weak and sick? The answer is that Christ appeared on the earth at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha not merely in order to give teaching to men but to make the fact of His appearance effective on the earth. He died for all men. The physical nature of every human being, including those who have not believed in Him, has been rescued and restored through the Deed of Golgotha. Ever since that time a man might be a Chinese, a Japanese, a Hindu, with no desire to know anything of Christ, — nevertheless Christ died for all men.
In the future it will not be the same, inasmuch as knowledge will become a much more decisive factor for man than hitherto. More and more it will become a necessity in the evolution of mankind for all human beings to acquire some knowledge of spirit-being and of spiritual life. Such a knowledge as will lead all mankind into the world of spirit is the goal striven for by anthroposophical Spiritual Science.
Moreover this knowledge can give a new understanding of Christ, in the sense that, where Anthroposophy is rightly understood. Christ can be presented in a way that is comprehensible to all men. Christianity, as it has hitherto been proclaimed, may have been carried to Africa or to Asia. A few, maybe, have professed their belief in Christ, but the great mass of the people have rejected the teaching, for they could not understand what the missionaries were saying.
What kind of religion had these people? They had religions which had originated among themselves and were understood only by the particular people to whom some particular place or personality was sacred. As long as the god of the ancient Egyptians was worshipped at Thebes, the people had perforce to journey to Thebes in order to worship in the sanctuary of this god. While Zeus was worshipped at Olympia, the people had perforce to journey to Olympia in order to worship him. In like manner the Mohammedan must journey to Mecca. Even in Christendom itself an element of this has remained.
But if Christianity is rightly understood, men know that the sun shines upon all men, it shines upon Thebes, upon Olympia, upon Mecca; physically, the sun can be seen in the same way everywhere. So too, the sublime Sun-Being, the Christ, can be worshipped spiritually everywhere. Anthroposophy will reveal to men that the Being who before the Mystery of Golgotha could be reached only by instinctive, super-earthly faculties, can be reached since the Mystery of Golgotha through a power of knowledge acquired on the earth itself.
Men will again understand the meaning of the words: The kingdoms of heaven have come down to the earth — and they will no longer speak in vague, mystical terms of the ‘kingdom of a thousand years.’ They will understand that the Being who was formerly to be found on the sun is now to be found on the earth. They will say: “Christ came down to the earth and since the Mystery of Golgotha He dwells among men in the sphere of the earth.” They will be able to feel ever and again what the disciples experienced as the Whitsun Mystery: Christ Himself has come down to the earth.
A power that guarantees immortality for men is dawning in our hearts, but words of Christ, such for example as: “I am with you always, even unto the end of earthly days” must be taken in true earnestness and their deep truth understood. If words such as these are understood in all their spiritual depths, man will also wrestle through to the knowledge that Christ was not only present at the beginning of our era. He is forever present. He speaks to us provided only that we are willing to listen to Him.
But this means that through Spiritual Science we must again learn to perceive a spiritual reality in everything that is of a material nature — a spiritual reality behind stones, plants, animals, human beings, behind clouds, stars, behind the sun. When through what is material we again find the Spirit in all its reality, we also open our soul to the voice of Christ who will speak to us if we are willing to hear Him.
Anthroposophy is able to affirm the reality of the Spirit behind the whole of nature. It may therefore also affirm that the Spirit is at work throughout the earthly history of mankind, that the earth itself first acquired meaning through the Mystery of Golgotha.
Before the Mystery of Golgotha the meaning of the earth was contained in the realm of the Sun; but since the Mystery of Golgotha it inheres in the Earth itself.
This is what Anthroposophy would fain bring to mankind as a perpetual Whitsun Mystery. And when, prepared by Anthroposophy, men are ready to seek again for the spiritual world, they will find Christ as an ever-present reality, in the way that is needful and right for our age. If in this age men do not turn to spiritual knowledge, they will lose Christ. Until now, Christianity did not depend upon knowledge. Christ died for all men. Verily He has not belied them. But if in our day men reject knowledge of Christ, then they belie Him.
As it has been possible for us to be together this year at the time of the Whitsun Festival, I wanted to speak to you of the Christ Mystery in relation to Pentecost. People often speak of Anthroposophy as if it were at variance with Christianity. But if you truly receive into yourselves the spirit of Anthroposophy, you will find that it will again open the ears, the hearts and the souls of men to the Mystery of the Christ.
Anthroposophy would wish its destiny to be one with the destiny of Christianity. This requires that men to-day shall turn, not merely to dead words which speak to them of Christ, but to knowledge which leads them to the light wherein is contained the living Christ — not the historical figure who centuries ago dwelt on the earth — the Christ who lives now and will live through all future time among men, because He who was once their God has become their divine Brother.
And so among our thoughts at Whitsun, let this too be included: that through Anthroposophy we will seek the way to the living Christ, realising that the first Whitsun Mystery can thereby be renewed in every Anthroposophist, and that with knowledge of Christ Himself dawning in his heart, he will feel inwardly warmed and enlightened through the fiery tongues of a Christian understanding of the world.
May our way to the Spiritual through Anthroposophy be at one and the same time the way to Christ through the Spirit.
If, even in small numbers, men make solemn avowal of this, the Whitsun Mystery will take firmer and firmer root in many human beings living at the present time and particularly in the future. Then there will come that which humanity so sorely needs for its redemption and salvation; then the healing Spirit will speak to a new faculty of understanding in men — the Spirit by whom the sickness of human souls is healed, the Spirit sent by Christ. And then will come that which is a need of all mankind: WORLD-PENTECOST!