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Karmic Relationships IV
GA 238

Lecture VIII

19 September 1924, Dornach

During the past weeks we have been seeking to understand more and more what it means to say that the present age stands in the sign of the dominion of Michael. Thus we were led last time to show how the karma of a human being may work itself out in reality. We showed how difficulties of karma may even go so far that a human being cannot find the way between death and a new birth to live through all that is necessary for the weaving of karma by partaking in the events of the starry world.

So long as our conception is really limited to what happens here in the physical life on earth it is of course difficult for us to receive what we must receive if we are to take the idea of karma in real earnest. But we are living in the age of great decisions and great decisions must take place to begin with in the spiritual field. And in the spiritual field they will be rightly prepared, if out of the deeper anthroposophical spirit, single human beings have the courage to take their study of the spiritual world in real earnest—so much so that they can receive what is brought from the spiritual world and make use of it to understand the phenomena of the outer, physical life.

Hence for a number of months past I have not recoiled from bringing to you detailed facts out of the spiritual life, facts well fitted to enable you to understand the spiritual configuration of the present time.

To-day I will bring forward a few more things as it were to illustrate what I shall then have to say next Sunday, probably in conclusion, showing the whole karma of the spiritual life of the present time in its connection with the tasks and aims of the Anthroposophical Movement.

To begin with, however, I shall bring forward to-day certain facts whose connection with our main subject you will not at once perceive. Nevertheless you will recognise at once how deeply they characterise the spiritual life of the past. Many of these things will seem strange and far-fetched, but life in its totality bears many a paradox, seen from an earthly point of view.

The examples I shall choose to-day are not ordinary ones. For as a rule, a succession of earthly lives is not a continuous succession of historic personalities. It is not generally such that the continuous chain would be visible at all to superficial observation. Nevertheless there are certain successive earthly lives such that if we describe them one after another, we are at the same time giving descriptions of history.

It is seldom the case in such a high degree. But if we do find individualities for whom it is the case, if we can point to the several incarnations as to historic personalities, such an individuality enables us to learn a very great deal about karma. I have already given isolated cases of this kind as you know.

To-day I will tell you about a personality who lived at the end of the first Christian century. Already at that time he was a philosopher. As a philosopher he was most evidently one of the Sceptics, that is to say, he was one of those who really think nothing in the world is certain.

He belonged to that sceptical School which though it already saw the dawn of Christianity, stood altogether on the ground that it is impossible to gain certain knowledge, and above all that it is quite impossible to say with certainty whether a Divine Being could assume a human form or the like.

This individuality—his name in that incarnation is of no great importance, he was a certain “Agrippa”—this individuality in his incarnation in that time, gathered up into himself as it were, the whole of Greek Scepticism. Indeed if we use the word not in a contemptuous sense, but as a technical term, he was one whom we should even call a Cynic. I mean a Cynic not in his conception of life, for in that he was a Sceptic, but a Cynic in his way of taking things. For he was really very fond of making light and joking about most important things that met him in the world. In that life Christianity passed him by, leaving no trace. But a certain mood remained with him as he passed through the gate of death. This mood was not so much a result of his scepticism, for that was his philosophic conviction, a thing that one does not carry very far after one's death. But it lay in the deeper habits of his soul and spirit as an easy-going way of taking important events of life, a certain mischievous delight when things in the world which look important turn out to be not quite so important. This fundamental mood he carried with him into the life after death. Now as I told you yesterday, having passed through the gate of death, man first enters a sphere which leads him by and by into the region of the Moon, where there is the colony of the primeval wise Teachers of mankind. They had once lived on Earth though not in a physical body, nor had they taught in the way we conceive the teaching of later times. They had wandered over the Earth in an etheric body only. And their teaching was such that one man or another who was to receive instruction from them in the Mysteries felt it like an indwelling of these wise Beings of primeval times. He had the feeling: the wise Being has been with me just now. And as an outcome of this indwelling he then felt an inner inspiration. Such was the manner of the teaching given to a human being in those times.

We are referring to the most ancient time of earthly evolution, when the great primeval Teachers wandered upon Earth in their etheric bodies. Then, if we may put it so, they followed the Moon which had already separated as a heavenly body from the Earth. And it is their region which the human being passes, like the first station in his cosmic path of evolution after death. It is they who explain the laws of karma to him, for they have to do with all the wisdom of the past.

Now when the above-mentioned personality, the philosopher“Agrippa,” came into that region, it happened that there dawned upon him most intensely, the meaning of a former incarnation. The characteristic of that former incarnation which now made so great an impression on him as he looked back after death, was this, that in it he had still been able to see a very great deal of how the cults of Asia Minor and Africa proceeded out of the ancient Mysteries.

Now in this Christian time in his super-sensible life, this individuality went once more, with great intensity, through all that he had once undergone on earth in connection with many a decadent system of the Mysteries in Asia Minor. And so it came about that he now saw supersensibly, how in the ancient Mysteries the Christ had been expected (you must remember what I said, that in his life on earth he had not been touched by Christianity).

Now the Mysteries which he had witnessed—I mean the cults that proceeded from the Mysteries—had already grown external. He had in fact received the impressions of cults and religious institutions which were transmitted in the first centuries A.D., in a Christianised metamorphosis of course, to Roman Christianity. Please observe very carefully what I now mean. The point is that in this region after his death, there was prepared in this individuality an understanding for the external features of the cults and clerical institutions which had formerly been Pagan but were arising again in the first Christian centuries and passing over into the clearly defined Roman cult and ceremony with all the ecclesiastical conceptions that were connected with it.

Now this brought about in him a very peculiar spiritual configuration. In the further course of the life between death and a new birth we see him again, elaborating his karma most especially in the region of Mercury, so that he is able to see many things, not in an inward sense but in the sense of being gifted with outward intelligence. He gains a wide sweep of vision for many facts and relationships.

As we follow this individuality further, we find him again on earth. We find him as the Cardinal who carried on the Government of Louis XIV when Louis XIV was still a child, Cardinal Mazarini. We may study the Cardinal in all his greatness and splendour and with the external conception of Christianity into which he finds his way so readily, so naturally, under the woman who was Louis XIV's guardian.

He absorbs of Christianity all the external institutions, the Christian cult, the Christian pomp and grandeur. For him all these things are surrounded, as it were, with an Eastern glamour as of Asia Minor. Indeed we may say he rules Europe like one who in a former incarnation had strongly absorbed the character of Asia Minor.

But in this life Cardinal Mazarini did indeed have occasion to be more powerfully touched by the facts and circumstances. You need only remember that it was the time of the Thirty Years' War. Remember all the things that took place proceeding from Louis XIV. There was indeed a peculiar quality in this Cardinal Mazarini. He was a great statesman with a wide sweep of vision, yet on the other hand in the midst of a certain noise and confusion. We might say that he was intoxicated by his own deeds so that they seemed deeds of magnificent skill, but not coming out of the depths of the heart.

Now this life took a peculiar course in passing through the time between death and a new birth. We can actually see how in passing again through the region of Mercury, all that this personality had done was dissolved as in a cloud of mist. But there remained with him the ideas he had absorbed about Christianity and all he had undergone by way of scepticism in relation to knowledge. These things were transformed in his life between death and a new birth.“Science can never lead us to the final truths.” An intense feeling for knowledge of which there was a suggestion already in his former passage through Mercury, came and passed away again. And there was karmically developed in his life a peculiar mentality. It was a mentality which held fast with great tenacity to penetrating ideas which he had passed through before. But while he held fast to them, he could evolve for his next life on earth very few concepts with which to master and express them. As this personality passes through the life between death and a new birth one has the feeling: Whatever will he try to do in his next incarnation? Is there anything with which he is really united? One has the feeling: he may be more or less intensely united with all kinds of things and yet again with nothing. All the antecedents are there: the preceding life of scepticism, followed by his intense life in a Christianity with all its external details along the paths by which one becomes a Cardinal. All these things are deeply embedded in him. He will become a man rich in knowledge, yet able to come forward with concepts by no means profound. Moreover the map of Europe which he once ruled over is as though blotted out. One does not know how he will find his way to it again. What will he do with it? He will be altogether at a loss with it.

Yes, my dear friends, we have to enter into such things as these; we have to study what was undergone in passing through the life between death and a new birth in order that we may not err; in order that at length exact and true knowledge may be the outcome.

This personality is re-born in the approaching age of Michael, showing, if I may put it so, a strangely double countenance. He cannot be quite a statesman, nor quite a cleric, but is drawn strongly in both directions. I am referring to Hertling, who became Chancellor of the German Reich at a great age. In karmic sequence he had to use up in this way the remnants of his Mazarini nature. All the peculiar qualities with which he came to Christianity, and entered into it, came forth again in his Christian professorship at the present time.

By this example you may see in what strange ways the men of the present time built up their present individualities in past existences.

Anyone who did not research, but merely thought things out, would of course come to absolutely different conclusions. But we only understand karma when we can take these most extreme cases and connections, seeming almost paradoxical in the world of sense. They are there none the less in the spiritual world, even as that other fact is there, which I have often mentioned—I mean that Ernst Haeckel, who so violently fought against the Church, is the re-incarnation of Abbot Hildebrand, who became Pope Gregory the Great. Here we see how indifferent a matter is the external content of a man's belief or theory in earthly life, for all these things are his thoughts. But if you study Haeckel, especially in connection with what he was as Abbot Hildebrand, as Gregory—(I believe he too is included among these pictures from Chartres)—you will see that there is in fact a real dynamic sequence.

I chose the above example in order that you might see how present individualities carry the past into this present time.

If you will afterwards observe the features of the Monk Hildebrand, who became Gregory the Great and whom you know from history, you will see how wonderfully the soul-configuration of Haeckel is contained in this countenance of Hildebrand, of Gregory the Great.

I will now take another example, which will probably be of great and deep value to you all. Though I almost shudder to speak of it in any easy way, yet I cannot but choose it, for it leads so infinitely deeply into the whole spiritual texture of the present time.

I will now mention another personality, of whom as I said, I almost shudder to speak in this way. And yet he is infinitely characteristic of all that is carried from the past into the present and of the way in which this happens. I have often referred—and it will be known to you from external history—to the Council of Nicæa, which was held in the 4th century, where the decision was made for Western Europe as between Aryanism and Athanasianism, and Aryanism was condemned.

It was a Council in which the important personalities were imbued with all the high scholarship of the first Christian centuries, and brought it forth. They did indeed dispute with deep and far-reaching ideas. For in that time the human soul still had quite a different mood and constitution. It was as a matter of course for the human soul to live directly within the spiritual world. And they were well able to dispute with real content and meaning as to whether Christ was the Son, of the same essence with the Father, or only of like essence with the Father. The latter was the standpoint of Aryanism. To-day we will not go into the dogmatic differences of the question. We will only bear in mind that it was a question of immensely deep and sharp-witted controversies, which were, however, fought out with the peculiar intellectualism of that time. When we to-day are clever and sharp-witted we are so as human beings. Indeed to-day, as I have often said, almost all men are clever. They are really dreadfully clever—that is to say, they can think. Is it not so? It is not saying much, but it is a fact that they can think: I may indeed be very stupid and still be able to think ... but the fact is the men of to-day can think. In those times it was not so. It was not that men could simply think, but they felt their thoughts as inspiration. He who was sharp-witted felt himself gifted by the grace of God, and his thinking was a kind of clairvoyance. It was still so even in the 4th century A.D., and those who listened to a thinker still had some feeling of the living evolution of his thought. Now there was present at the Council of Nicæa a certain personality who took an active part in these discussions, but at the end of the Council he was in a high degree disappointed and depressed. His main effort had been to bring forward the arguments for both sides. He brought forward weighty reasons both for Aryanism and for Athanasianism. And if things had gone as he wished, undoubtedly the result would have been quite different. Not a wretched compromise, but a kind of synthesis of Aryanism and Athanasianism would have been the outcome.—One should not construct history in thought, but this may be said by way of explanation.—It would probably have been a very much more intimate way of relating the divine in the inner being of man to the divine in the universe. For, in the way in which Athanasianism afterwards evolved these things, the human soul was very largely separated from its divine origin. Indeed, it was thought heretical to speak of the god in the inner being of man.

If, on the other hand, Aryanism alone had won the day, there would of course have been much talk of this god in the inner being of man. But it would not have been spoken of with the necessary depth of reverence, and above all, not with the necessary inward dignity. Aryanism alone would indeed have come to regard man at every stage as an incarnation of the god who dwells within him. But the same may be said of any animal, indeed of the whole world, of every plant, of every stone. This conception only has real value if it contains at the same time the active impulse to rise ever higher and higher in spiritual development, for then only do we find the god within. The statement that there is a divine within us at any and every stage of life can have a meaning only if we take hold of this divine in a perpetual upward striving of the self, by whom it is not yet attained.

But a synthesis of the two conceptions would undoubtedly have been the outcome if the personality to whom I now refer had been able to gain any decisive influence at the Council of Nicæa. He failed. Deeply dissatisfied, he withdrew into a kind of Egyptian hermitage, lived a most ascetic life, and was deeply imbued at that time in the 5th century with all that was the real spiritual substance of Christianity during that age. Indeed he was probably one of the best informed of Christians in his time, but he was not a wrangler. This is evident from the very way in which he came forward at the Council. He spoke as a man who quietly weighs and judges all aspects of the question, and is yet deeply enthusiastic for his cause, though not for this or that one-sided detail. He spoke as a man who—I cannot say was disgusted, that would not be the true expression—but as a man who felt his failure with extraordinary bitterness, for he was deeply convinced that good would only come for Christianity if the view for which he stood won its way through.

Thus he withdrew into a kind of hermitage. For the rest of his life he became a hermit, following however, in response to the inner impulses of his soul, a quite definite course of the inner life. It was that of investigating the origin of the inspiration of thought. His mystic penetration was in the effort to perceive whence thinking receives its inspiration. It became one great longing in him to find the source of thinking in the spiritual world, until at length he was filled through and through with this longing. And with this longing he died, without having reached any real conclusion, any concrete answer during that earthly life. No answer was forthcoming. The time was after all unfavourable.

Then, passing through the gate of death, he underwent a peculiar experience. For several decades after his death he could still look back upon his earthly life, and he saw it forever coloured by that element to which he had come at last. He saw it forever in the atmosphere of that which, looking backwards, came immediately next his death. He saw the human being thinking.

Still this was no fulfilment of the question. And this is most important. There was as yet no thought in answer to the question. But though there was no answer, he was able, after his death, to look, in marvellously clear imaginations, into the cosmic intelligence of the universe. The thoughts of the universe he did not see. He would have seen them if his longing had reached fulfilment. He did not see the thoughts of the universe, but he saw in pictures the Thinking of the universe.

Thus there lived through the journey between death and a new birth an individuality who was as in a state of equilibrium between mystic imaginative vision and his former sharp-witted thinking—a thinking, however, in perpetual flow, that had not reached its conclusion.

In the elaboration of the karma, his mystic tendency won the day to begin with. He was born again in the Middle Ages as a visionary, a woman, who unfolded truly wonderful insight into the spiritual world. For a time, the tendency of the thinker fell entirely into the background; the quality of spiritual vision was in the foreground. For this woman had wonderful visions, while at the same time she gave herself up mystically to the Christ. Her soul was penetrated, with infinite depth, by a visionary Christianity. They were visions in which the Christ appeared as the leader of peaceful hosts, not quarrelsome or contentious, but like the hosts of peace, who would spread Christianity abroad by their very gentleness—a thing which had never yet been realised on earth. It was there in the visions of this nun. It was a deep, intensive Christianity, but it found no place at all in what afterwards evolved as Christianity in its more modern form. Nevertheless during her life this nun, the seeress, came into no conflict with positive dogmatic Christianity. She herself grew out of it and grew into a deeply personal Christianity, which was afterwards simply non-existent on the earth. And thus, if I might put it so, the whole universe then faced her with the question: how should this Christianity be realised in a physical body in a new incarnation? And at the same time, long after the seeress had passed through the gate of death, there came over her again the echoes of the old intellectualism, the inspired intellectualism. The after-echoes of her visions were now, if I might put it so, idealised through and through, filled with ideas.

Then, seeking for a new human body, this individual became the individuality of Solovioff, Vladimir Solovioff.

Read the writings of Solovioff!—I have frequently described the impression they make upon a modern man and have said it again in my introduction to the German edition of his works. You may well try to feel it in his writing. You will feel how much there lies between the lines, how much of a mysticism which we may often feel even sultry and oppressive. It is a Christianity quite individual in its forms of expression. It shows quite clearly how it had to seek for a pliable, in all directions supple body, such as can be obtained only out of the Russian people.

Looking at these examples, I think one may indeed preserve the holy awe and reverence before the truths of karma, which should indeed be held sacred and virginal in the inmost depths of life. For one who has a true feeling for the contemplation of the spiritual world, these deep truths are, verily, not unworthily unveiled. I mean this in the sense of what is so often said about the sacred veils of truth, of which people say that they should never be drawn aside.

Anthroposophy has been reproached again and again, notably in theological circles, for drawing aside the veil of sacred mystery from secret and mysterious truths, and thus making them profane. But the more deeply we enter into the esoteric portions of the anthroposophical conception, the more do we feel that there can truly be no talk of profanation. On the contrary the world itself will fill us with a holy awe when we behold the lives of man one after another in the marvellous working of former into later lives. We must only not be profane in our inner life or in our way of thinking and then we shall not make such objections.

Read the writings of Solovioff against the background of the previous nun, with her wonderful visions and infinite devotion to the Being of Christ. See that ancient personality going forth with deep and bitter feelings from the Council where he had brought forward such great and important things. Discover in the soul and in the heart of this individual what I may call the twofold background of Christianity, now in its rationalistic, but inspired rationalistic form, and now again in its visionary form of seership. See all this in the background, and of a truth the lifting of the veil will not profane the secret.

A German romanticist once had the courage to think differently from all others about the famous saying of Isis:“I am that which was, that which is, and that which is to come, and my veil has no mortal yet lifted.”—To which the German romanticist replied: Then we must become immortal, that we may lift the veil!—While others all took the saying as it stood.

When we discover the truly immortal within us, the divine and spiritual, then may we draw near to many a secret without profaning it, to many a secret to which, with a lesser faith in the divine in our own being, we might indeed not draw near.

And this indicates the spirit which should go abroad ever more and more under the influence of such studies as our last and as this present one. For these spiritual studies are meant to work upon the life and action of those who bear their karma, in the way I have described, into the Anthroposophical Society.