Donate books to help fund our work. Learn more→

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Karmic Relationships III
GA 237

5. Spiritual Conditions of Evolution Leading Up to the Anthroposophical Movement

11 July 1924, Dornach

The members of the Anthroposophical Society come into the Society, as indeed is obvious, for reasons that lie in their inner life, in the inner condition of their souls. And as we are now speaking of the karma of the Anthroposophical Society, nay of the Anthroposophical Movement altogether, showing how it arises out of the karmic evolution of members and groups of members, we shall need to perceive the foundations of this karma above all in the state of soul of those human beings who seek for Anthroposophy. This we have already begun to do, and we will now acquaint ourselves with certain other facts in this direction, so that we may enter still further into the karma of the Anthroposophical Movement.

Most important in the soul-condition of anthroposophists, as I have already said, are the experiences which they underwent in their incarnations during the first centuries of the founding of Christianity. As I said, there may have been other intervening incarnations; but that incarnation is above all important, which we find, approximately, in the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, or eighth century A.D. In considering this incarnation we found that we must distinguish two groups among the human beings who come to the Anthroposophical Movement. These two groups we have already characterised. We are now going to consider something which they have in common. We shall consider a significant common element, lying at the foundation of the souls who have undergone such lines of evolution as I described in the last lecture.

Looking at the first Christian centuries, we find ourselves in an age when men were very different from what they are today. When the man of today awakens from sleep, he slips down into his physical body with great rapidity, though with the reservation which I mentioned here not long ago, when I said that this entry and expansion into the physical body really lasts the whole day long. Be that as it may, the perception that the Ego and the astral body are approaching takes place very quickly. For the awakening human being in the present age, there is, so to speak, no intervening time between the becoming-aware of the etheric body and the becoming-aware of the physical. Man passes rapidly through the perception of the etheric body—simply does not notice the etheric body,—and dives down at once into the physical. This is a peculiarity of the man of the present time.

The nature of the human beings who lived in those early Christian centuries was different. When they awoke from sleep they had a distinct perception: “I am entering a twofold entity: the etheric body and the physical.” They knew that man first passes through the perception of the etheric body, and then only enters into the physical. Thus indeed, in their moment of awakening they had before them—though not a complete tableau of life—still very many pictures of their past earthly life. And they had before them another thing, which I shall describe directly. For if man enters thus, stage by stage, into that which remains lying on the couch, into the etheric and physical bodies,—the result is that the whole period of waking life becomes very different from the experiences which we have in our waking life today.

Again, when we consider the moment of falling asleep nowadays, the peculiar thing is this:—when the Ego and astral body leave the physical and etheric, the Ego very quickly absorbs the astral body. And as the Ego confronts the cosmos without any kind of support, being unable at its present stage to perceive anything at all, man as he falls asleep ceases to have perceptions. For the little that emerges in his dreams is quite sporadic.

This again was not so in the times of which I am now speaking. The Ego did not at once absorb the astral body; the astral body continued to exist, independently in its own substance, even after the human being had fallen asleep. And to a certain extent, it remained so through the whole night. Thus in the morning the human being awakened not from utter darkness of unconsciousness, but with the feeling:—“I have been living in a world filled with light, in which all manner of things were happening.” Albeit they were only pictures, something was taking place there. It was so indeed: the man of that time had an intermediate feeling, an intermediate sensation between sleeping and waking. It was delicate, it was light and intimate, but it was there. It was only with the beginning of the 14th century that this condition ceased completely in civilised mankind.

Now this means that all the souls, of whose life I was speaking the other day, experienced the world differently from the man of the present time. Let us try to understand, my dear friends, how those human beings—that is to say you yourselves, all of you, during that time—experienced the world.

The diving down into the etheric and physical body took place in distinct stages. And the effect of this was that throughout his waking life man looked out upon Nature differently. He saw not the bare, prosaic, matter-of-fact world of the senses, seen by the man of modern times, who—if he would make any more of it—can only do so by his fancy or imagination. No, when the man of that time looked out, upon the world of plants, for instance, he saw the flowering meadow land as though there were spread over it a slight and gentle bluish-red cloud-halo. Especially at the time of day when the sun was shining less brightly (not at the height of noon-tide), it was as though a bluish-red light, like a luminous mist with manifold and moving waves and colours, were spread over the flowering meadow. What we see today, when a slight mist hangs over the meadow (which comes of course from evaporated water),—such a thing was seen at that time in the spiritual, in the astral. Indeed every tree-top was seen enveloped in a cloud, and when man saw the fields of corn, it was as though bluey-red rays were descending from the cosmos, springing forth in clouds of mist, descending into the soil of the earth.

And when man looked at the animals, he had not merely an impression of the physical shape, but the physical was enveloped in an astral aura. Slightly, delicately, and only intimately, this aura was seen. Nay, it was only seen when the sunshine light was working in a rather gentle way;—but seen it was. Thus everywhere in outer Nature man still perceived the spiritual, working and weaving.

Then, when he died, the experience he had in the first days after passing through the gate of death—gazing back upon the whole of his past earthly life—was in reality not unfamiliar to him. As he looked back upon his earthly life directly after death, he had a distinct feeling. He said to himself: Now I am letting go that quality, that aura from my own organism, which goes out into all that I have seen of the aura in external Nature. My etheric body goes to its own home. Such was man's feeling.

Naturally all these feelings had been much stronger in more ancient times. But they still existed—though in a slight and delicate form—in the time of which I am now speaking. And when man beheld these things directly after passing through the gate of death, he had the feeling: “In all the spiritual life and movement which I have seen hovering over the things and processes of Nature, the Word of the Father-God is speaking. My etheric body is going to the Father.”

And if man thus saw the outer world of Nature differently owing to the different mode of his awakening, so too he saw his own outer form differently than in subsequent ages. When he fell asleep the astral body was not immediately absorbed by the Ego. Now under such conditions the astral body itself is filled with sound. Thus from spiritual worlds there sounded into the sleeping human Ego,—though no longer so distinctly as in ancient times, still in a gentle and intimate way,—all manner of things which cannot be heard in the waking state. And on awakening man had the very real feeling: It was a language of spiritual Beings in the light-filled spaces of the cosmos in which I partook between my falling asleep and my awakening.

And when man had laid aside the etheric body a few days after passing through the gate of death, to live henceforth in his astral body, he had once more this feeling: “In my astral body I now experience in a returning course all that I thought and did on earth. In this astral body in which I lived every night during my sleep,-herein I am experiencing all that I thought and did on earth.” Moreover, while he had carried into his awakening moments only a vague and undetermined feeling, he now had a far clearer feeling. Now in the time between death and a new birth, as in his astral body he returned through his past earthly life, he had the feeling: “Behold in this my astral body lives the Christ I only did not notice it, but in reality every night my astral body dwelt in the essence and being of the Christ.” Now man knew, that for as long as he would have to go thus backward through his earthly life Christ would not desert him, for Christ was with his astral body.

My dear friends, it is so indeed, whatever may have been one's attitude to Christianity in those first Christian centuries, whether it was like the first group of whom I spoke or like the second, whether one had still lived as it were with the more Pagan strength, or with the weariness of Paganism, one was sure to experience—if not on earth, then after death—the great fact of the Mystery of Golgotha; Christ who had been the ruling Being of the Sun, had united Himself with what lives as humanity on earth. Such was the experience of all who had come in any way near to Christianity in the first centuries of Christian evolution. For the others, these experiences after their death remained more or less unintelligible.

Such were the fundamental differences in the experience of souls in the first Christian centuries, and afterwards. Now all this had another effect as well. For when man looked out upon the world of Nature in his waking life, he felt this world of Nature as the essential domain of the Father God. All the spiritual that he beheld living and moving there, was for him the expression, the manifestation and the glory of the Father God. And he felt: This world, in the time when Christ appeared on earth, stood verily in need of something. It was the need that Christ should be received into the substance of the earth for mankind. In relation to all the processes of Nature and the whole realm of Nature, man still had the feeling of a living principle of Christ. For indeed, his perception of Nature, inasmuch as he beheld a spiritual living and moving and holding sway there, involved something else as well. All this which he felt as a spiritual living and moving and holding sway,—hovering in ever-changing spirit-shapes over all plant and animal existence,—all this he felt so that with simple and unbiased human feeling he would describe it in the words: It is the innocence of Nature's being. Yes, my dear friends, what he could thus spiritually see was called in truth: the innocence in the kingdom of Nature. He spoke of the pure and innocent spirituality in all the working of Nature.

But the other thing, which he felt inwardly—feeling when he awakened that in his sleep he had been in a world of light and sounding spiritual being—of this he felt that good, and evil too, might there prevail. In this he felt, as it sounded forth from the depths of spiritual being, good spirits and evil spirits too were speaking. Of the good spirits he felt that they only wanted to raise to a higher level the innocence of Nature and to preserve it; but the evil spirits wanted to adulterate with guilt this guiltlessness of Nature. Wherever such Christians lived as I am now describing, the powers of good and evil were felt through the very fact that as man slept the Ego was not drawn in and absorbed into the astral body.

Not all who called themselves Christians in that time, or who were in any way near to Christianity, were in this state of soul. Nevertheless there were many people living in the southern and middle regions of Europe, who said: “Verily, my inner being that lives its independent life from the time I fall asleep till I awaken, belongs to the region of a good and to the region of an evil world.” Again and again men thought and pondered about the depth of the forces that bring forth the good and the evil in the human soul. Heavily they felt the fact that the human soul is placed into a world where good and evil powers battle with one another. In the very first centuries of Christianity, such feelings were not yet present in the southern and middle regions of Europe, but in the fifth and sixth centuries they became more and more frequent. Especially among those who received knowledge and teachings from the East (and as we know such teachings from the East came over in manifold ways), this mood of soul arose. It was especially widespread in those regions to which the name Bulgaria afterwards came to be applied. (In a strange way the name persisted even though quite different peoples inhabited these regions). Thus in later centuries, and indeed for a very long time in Europe, those in whom this mood of soul was most strongly developed were called ‘Bulgars.’ ‘Bulgars’—for the people of Western and Middle Europe in the later Christian centuries of the first half of the Middle Ages—Bulgars were human beings who were most strongly touched by this opposition of the good and evil cosmic spiritual powers.

Throughout Europe we find the name ‘Bulgar’ applied to human beings such as I have characterised. Now the souls of whom I am here speaking, had been to a greater or lesser degree in this very mood of soul. I mean the souls who in the further course of their development beheld those mighty pictures in the super-sensible ceremony, in which they themselves actively took part,—all of which happened in the spiritual world in the first half of the 19th century. All that they had lived through when they had known themselves immersed in the battle between good and evil, was carried by them through their life between death and a new birth. And this gave a certain shade and colouring to these souls as they stood before the mighty cosmic pictures.

To all this yet another thing was added. These souls were indeed the last in European civilisation to preserve a little of that distinct perception of the etheric and the astral body in waking and sleeping. Recognising one another by these common peculiarities of their inner life, they had generally lived in communities. And among the other Christians, who became more and more attached to Rome, they were regarded as heretics. Heretics were not yet condemned as harshly as in later centuries. Still, they were regarded as heretics. Indeed the others always had a certain uncanny feeling about them. They had the impression that these people saw more than other folk. It was as though they were related to the Divine in a different way through the fact that they perceived the sleeping state differently than the others among whom they dwelt. For the others had long lost this faculty and had approached more nearly to the condition of soul which became general in Europe in the 14th century.

Now when these human beings—who had the distinct perception of the astral and the etheric body—passed through the gate of death, then also they were different from the others. Nor must we imagine, my dear friends, that man between death and a new birth is altogether without share in what is taking place through human beings on the earth. Just as we look up from here into the spiritual world of heaven, so between death and a new birth man looks down from that world on to the earth. Just as we here partake with interest in the life of spiritual beings, so from the spiritual world one partakes in the experiences of earthly beings upon the earth. After the age which I have hitherto been describing there came the time when Christendom in Europe was arranging its existence under the assumption that man has no longer any knowledge of his astral or his etheric body. Christianity was now preparing to speak about the spiritual worlds without being able to presume any such knowledge or consciousness among men. For you must think, my dear friends, when the early Christian teachers, in the first few centuries, spoke to their Christians—though they already found a large number who were only able to accept the truth of their words by external authority—nevertheless the simpler, more child-like feeling of that time enabled men to accept such words, when spoken from a warm and enthusiastic heart. And of the warmth and enthusiasm of heart with which the men of those first Christian centuries could preach, people today, where so much has gone into the mere preaching-of-words, have no conception. Those however who were still able to speak to souls such as I have described today,—what kind of words could they speak? They, my dear friends, could say: “Behold what shows itself in the rainbow-shining glory over the plants, what shows itself as the desire-nature about the animals,—lo, this is the reflection, this is the manifestation of the spiritual world from which the Christ has come.” Speaking to such men about the truths of spiritual wisdom, they could speak, not as of a thing unknown, but in such a way as to remind their hearers of what they could still behold under certain conditions in the gently luminous light of the sun: The Spirit in the world of Nature. Again when they spoke to them of the Gospels which tell of spiritual worlds and spiritual Mysteries or of the secrets of the Old Testament, then again they spoke to them not as of a thing unknown, but they could say: “Here is the Word of the Testament. It has been written down by human beings, who heard, more fully and clearly than you, the whispered language of that spiritual world in which your souls are dwelling from the time you fall asleep till you awaken. But you too know something of this language, for you remember it when you awaken in the morning.” Thus it was possible to speak to them of the spiritual as of something known to them. In the conversation of the priests or preachers of that time with these men, something was contained of what was already going on in their own souls. So in that time the Word was still alive and could be cultivated in a living way.

Then when these souls, to whom one had still been able to speak in the living Word, had passed through the gate of death, they looked down again upon the earth, and beheld the evening twilight of the living Word below. And they had the feeling that it was the twilight of the Logos. “The Logos is darkening”—such was the underlying feeling in their souls. After their life in the 7th, 8th or 9th century (or somewhat earlier) when they had passed through the gate of death again and looked down upon the earth, they felt: “Down there upon the earth is the evening twilight of the living Logos.” Well may there have lived in these souls the Word: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. But human beings are less and less able to afford a home, a dwelling place for the Word that is to live within the flesh, that is to live on upon the earth.” This, I say again, was an underlying mood, it was indeed the dominant feeling among these souls, as they lived in the spiritual world between the 7th or 8th and the 19th or 20th century, no matter whether their sojourn there was interrupted by another life on earth. It remained their fundamental underlying feeling: “Christ lives indeed for the earth, since for the earth He died; but the earth cannot receive Him. Somehow there must arise on earth the power for souls to be able to receive the Christ.”

Beside all the other things I have described, this feeling became more and more living in the souls who had been stigmatised during their earthly time as heretics. This feeling grew in them between their death and the coming of a renewed revelation of the Christ—a new declaration of His Being.

In this condition of their souls, these human beings—disembodied as they were—witnessed what was happening on earth. It was something hitherto unknown to them, nevertheless they learned to understand what was going on, on earth below. They saw how souls on earth were less and less taken hold of by the spirit, till there were no more human beings left, to whom it was possible to speak such words as these: ‘We tell you of the Spirit whom you yourselves can still behold hovering over the world of plants, gleaming around the animals. We instruct you in the Testament that was written out of the spiritual sounds whose whispering you still can hear when you feel the echo of your experiences of the night.’ This was no more.

Looking down from above they saw how different these things were now becoming. For in the development of Christendom a substitute was being introduced for the old way of speaking. For a long time, though the vast majority to whom the preachers spoke had no longer any direct consciousness of the Spiritual in their earthly life, still the whole tradition, the whole custom of their speech came down to them from the older times,—I mean, from the time when one knew, as one spoke to men about the Spirit, that they themselves still had some feeling of what it was. It was only about the 9th, 10th or 11th century that these things vanished altogether. Then there arose quite a different condition, even in the listener. Until that time, when a man listened to another, who, filled with a divine enthusiasm, spoke out of the Spirit, he had the feeling as he listened that he was going a little out of himself. He was going out a little, into his etheric body. He was leaving the physical body to a slight extent. He was approaching the astral body more nearly. It was literally true, men still had a slight feeling of being ‘transported’ as they listened. Nor did they care so very much in those times for the mere hearing of words. What they valued most was the inward experience, however slight, of being transported—carried away. Men experienced with living sympathy the words that were spoken by a God-inspired man.

But from the 9th, 10th, or 11th, and towards the 14th century, this vanished altogether. The mere listening became more and more common. Therefore the need arose to make one's appeal to something different, when one spoke of spiritual things. The need arose somehow to draw forth from the listener what one wanted him to have as a conception of the spiritual world. The need arose as it were to work upon him, until at length he should feel impelled even out of his hardened body to say something about the spiritual world. Thus there arose the need to give instruction about spiritual things in the play of question and answer. There is always a suggestive element in questions. And when one asked: What is baptism? Having prepared the human being so that he would give a certain answer; or when one asked: What is Confirmation? What is the Holy Spirit? What are the seven deadly sins?—when one trained them in this play of question and answer, one provided a substitute for the simple elemental listening. To begin with this was done with those who entered the Schools where this was first made possible. Through question and answer, what they had to say about the spiritual worlds was thoroughly brought home to them. In this way the Catechism arose.

We must indeed look at such events as this. For these things were really witnessed by the souls who were up there in the spiritual world and who now looked down to the earth. They said to themselves: something must now approach man which it was quite impossible for us to know in our lives, for it did not lie near to us at all.

It was a mighty impression when the Catechism was arising down upon the earth. Very little is given when historians outwardly describe the rise of the Catechism, but much is given, my dear friends, when we behold it as it appeared from the super-sensible: “Down there upon the earth men are having to undergo things altogether new in the very depths of their souls; they are having to learn by way of Catechism what they are to believe.” Herewith I have described a certain feeling, but there is another which I must describe to you as follows:—We must go back once more into the first centuries of Christendom. In those times it was not yet possible for a Christian simply to go into a church, to sit down or to kneel, and then to hear the Mass right through from the beginning—from the “Introitus”—to the prayers which follow the Holy Communion. It was not possible for all Christians to attend the whole Mass through. Those who became Christians were divided into two groups. There were the Catechumenoi who were allowed to attend the Mass till the reading of the Gospel was over. After the Gospel the Offertory was prepared, and then they had to leave. Only those who had been prepared for a considerable time for the holy inner feeling in which one was allowed to behold the Mystery of Transubstantiation, only these—the Transubstantii as they were called—were allowed to remain and hear the Mass through to the end.

That was a very different way of partaking in the Mass. Now the human beings of whom we have been speaking (who in their souls underwent the conditions I described, who looked down on to the earth and perceived this strange Catechism-teaching, which would have been so impossible for them)—they, in their religious worship too, had more or less preserved the old Christian custom of not allowing a man to take part in the whole Mass till he had undergone a longer preparation. They were still conscious of an exoteric and an esoteric portion in the Mass. They regarded as esoteric all that was done from the Transubstantiation onward.

Now once more they looked down and beheld what was going on in the outer ritual of Christendom. They saw that the whole Mass had become exoteric. The whole Mass was being enacted even before those who had not entered into any special mood of soul by special preparation. “Can a man on earth really approach the Mystery of Golgotha, if in unconsecrated mood he witnesses the Transubstantiation?” Such was their feeling as they looked down from the life that takes its course between death and a new birth: “Christ is no longer being recognised in His true being; the sacred ceremony is no longer understood.”

Such feelings poured themselves out within the souls whom I have now been describing. Moreover they looked down upon that which became a sacred symbol in the reading of the Mass, the so-called Sanctissimum wherein the Host is carried on a crescent cup. It is a living symbol of the fact that once upon a time the great Sun-Being was looked for in the Christ. For the very rays of the Sun are represented on every Sanctissimum, on every Monstrance. But the connection of the Christ with the Sun had been lost. Only in the symbol was it preserved; and in the symbol it has remained until this day. Yet even in the symbol it was not understood, nor is it understood today. This was the second feeling that sprang forth in their souls, intensifying their sense of the need for a new Christ-experience that was to come.

In the next lecture, the day after tomorrow, we will continue to speak of the karma of the Anthroposophical Society.