12 December 1910, Munich
Many of the lectures I have given over the years in anthroposophical groups to friends — some of whom are sitting here today — have dealt with the gospels of John, Luke, and Matthew. 1See Rudolf Steiner, The Gospel of St. John, vol. 103 in the Collected Works, repr. (Hudson, NY: Anthroposophic Press, 1988), The Gospel of St. John and Its Relation to the Other Gospels, The Gospel of St. John and Its Relation to the Other Gospels, vol. 112 in the Collected Works (Spring Valley, NY: Anthroposophic Press, 1982), The Gospel of St. Luke, vol. 114 in the Collected Works, repr. (London: Rudolf Steiner Press, 1988), and The Gospel of St. Matthew, vol. 123 in the Collected Works, repr. (London: Rudolf Steiner Press, 1985). In those lectures, we have tried to recreate in our minds the great event in Palestine, the Mystery of Golgotha, from three different angles — in three different ways, so to speak. We hope these lectures could establish an ever-increasing appreciation of this unique event in our souls. I have already pointed out that we have four gospels because their authors were inspired occultists and each wanted to represent this great event from one perspective only, just as we take pictures or photograph external objects from only one point of view. When we then take the pictures from various angles and combine them, looking at all of them together, we can have the actual reality before our souls. Thus, each of the evangelists gives us the opportunity to consider the great event of Palestine from one particular standpoint.
The Gospel of Saint John gives us an insight into these events from a perspective we may call a revelation of the highest human and occult aims, as well as of the highest world principle. In Saint Luke's Gospel, on the other hand, we are given an insight into the secrets surrounding the personality of Jesus of Nazareth — the Solomon and Nathan Jesuses — up to the moment when his inspiration through the Christ took place. As you know from my lecture cycle on the Gospel of Saint Matthew — if you missed the lectures you can read them later — this gospel shows how the physical body in which Christ was to be incarnated for three years was prepared in the Hebrew people.
In a certain way, the Gospel of Saint Mark leads us to the highest summits of the spiritual-scientific, Christian world view. It gives us the opportunity to look into many things that are imparted to us through the gospels but are not touched upon in the same way by the other evangelists. Today, therefore, I have set myself the task to speak about this gospel.
We must be aware that it is necessary to consider many things that the superficial world of our time does not really want to look at. If we want to understand Saint Mark's Gospel in all its depth, we must familiarize ourselves with the different way of expressing things that prevailed at the time when Christ Jesus walked the earth. Do not take it amiss, then, if in order to convey what I have to tell you, I paint it in strong colors.
We express what we want to say in language, which is to bring out what lives in our souls. The expression of soul content in language differs from one epoch of human development to another. In the Hebraic epoch, the ancient Hebrew sacred language provided a wonderful way of expressing things. It was very different from our way of clothing the secrets of the soul into words. When a word was spoken in old Hebrew, it contained not merely an abstract idea, as it does today, but a whole world. The vowels were not written because the speaker expressed his innermost being through his way of vocalizing, whereas the consonants contained the description — the picture, so to speak — of what was outside. We can say that when the Hebrews wrote, for example, what corresponds to our B, they always felt something like a picture of outer conditions, something that formed a warm, hut-like enclosure. The letter B always evoked the image of something that can enclose a being like a house; the letter could not be pronounced without this image living in the speaker's soul. When A was vocalized, there was always something of strength and force, even of radiating power, living within it. That is how the soul lived on; the spiritual-psychological content flowed out with the words, soared into space, and touched other souls. Obviously, language was then a far more living affair and entered more fully into the secrets of existence than our contemporary language.
That is the light in the picture I mentioned. The shadows are in our having become, to a great extent, philistines. Our language expresses only abstractions and generalities, and we no longer even notice this — so our language at bottom expresses only the philistine. It could not be otherwise in an age when people begin to write literature long before they have any spiritual content to express, when an infinite amount of printed material goes to the general public, when everyone thinks he must write something, and when everything can be a subject to write about. I have even seen authors turning up at the founding of our society out of curiosity, hoping to find material for a novel in it and looking for protagonists that can be dished up in the popular style.
We must be aware, then, that our language has become abstract, empty, and philistine, in contrast to the way it was when people still thought of language as something holy, something that must be handled responsibly, and through which God would speak. That is why it is so infinitely difficult to squeeze the tremendous facts imparted to us by, and resounding in, the gospels into modern words. Why shouldn't people these days believe that everything can be expressed in contemporary language? They cannot understand that this language is empty of what even the Greeks expressed with one word. Furthermore, reading the Bible today, we find something that, compared to its original content, has been sifted once, twice, even thrice, but in such a way that not the best but only the worst remains. It is therefore rather cheap to refer to the modern wording of the Bible. We go most astray, however, when we turn to the Gospel of Mark as we have it in the Bible today.
In the translation by Weizsäcker, which is generally considered excellent — and because it is considered so excellent nowadays, we can assume that it is not all that good — the first lines of the Gospel of St. Mark are rendered as follows:
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, behold, I send my messenger before thee, who shall prepare the way for thee; listen how it calls in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.
Honest people must really admit that if Weizsäcker begins the Gospel of Saint Mark like this, they do not understand a single word of it; those who claim to understand this are fooling themselves. People who work honestly will not be able to understand the lines, “Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way; the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” For they express either a triviality or something that cannot be understood. The concepts that make it possible to understand what Isaiah says here must first be acquired. For Isaiah pointed to the great, tremendous event that was to be the most significant event in human evolution. What was he really referring to?
Based upon what we already know, we can say what Isaiah prophesied. We can say that in ancient times humanity had a kind of clairvoyance that allowed people to grow into the divine-spiritual world with their soul forces. But what really happened when people grew thus into the spiritual world? They ceased to make use of the I, insofar as they had developed it at that time. Instead, they used their astral body, with its forces of vision and seership — whereas the forces rooted in the I were gradually awakened in the process of perceiving the physical world. It is the I that uses the senses as instruments. When the ancients sought enlightenment about the world, they employed their astral bodies. They saw and perceived in their astral bodies. Further evolution consisted in the transition from the use of the astral body to the use of the I. In regard to the I, the Christ impulse was the most intense impulse. If Christ is taken into the I in the sense of St. Paul's words, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me,” then the I will have the power to grow into the spiritual world through its own efforts. Formerly, only the astral body could do this.
Thus, we can say of human evolution that human beings formerly used their astral body as an organ of perception, but gradually lost the ability to develop organs of perception in the astral body. As humanity approached the time of the Christ event, it entered an evolutionary stage in which people had to realize that their astral body was less and less able to see into the spiritual world. The astral body's connection to the spiritual world came to nothing, and the I was not yet forceful enough to get any enlightenment from the outer world. That was the time when Christ drew near.
Now in the evolution of humanity, certain great steps forward are gradually prepared before they actually take place. This was the case with the Christ impulse, but there had to be a transition. The development I just described could not have gone so far that human beings would have seen their astral body gradually becoming dulled toward the spiritual world and would have felt an utter desolation and dreariness in themselves until the I would have been kindled later through the Christ impulse. Things were not to turn out that way. Rather, a few individuals developed so far that through a particular influence from the spiritual world they saw with the astral body something similar to what people were to see and know later through the I. In other words, the I was prepared in the astral body.
Indeed, it is through the I and its development that human beings have become earthly beings. The astral body really belonged to the ancient moon when the angels, the Angeloi, were at the human stage. The angels were human on the old moon; we are human beings on the earth. On the old moon, human beings appropriately used their astral body, and everything else was just preparation for the evolution of the I. The beginning of our earth evolution was a repetition of our moon evolution on a higher level. After all, had we remained limited to the astral body, we could never have become fully human. Only angels on the moon could become human in the astral body. Therefore, just as Christ lived in earthly human beings in order to inspire the I in them, so for the preparation of the I there had to be prophets from the angels of the moon, the moon-humans, to inspire the astral body so that the I-hood of human beings could be prepared. A prophet could have characterized it in the following way. “There will come a time in human evolution when humanity will be ripe for the development of the I. Only the angels of the moon were raised to the highest in their astral bodies, but for human beings to be prepared for this I-hood, certain people on earth had to be so inspired through grace and under exceptional conditions that they could work as angels even though they were humans. They were angels in human form.”
Here we arrive at an important occult concept that is indispensable to the occult understanding of human evolution. It is naturally easy to say that all is Maya, but that is an abstraction. We must really take it seriously and be able to say, “A human being stands before me, but he or she is Maya. Who knows, he or she may not really be human. Perhaps the humanness is only an outer veil employed by quite another being, not a human one, to bring about something that cannot yet be effected by humanity.” I have indicated something of this in my The Portal of Initiation. 2Rudolf Steiner, The Portal of Initiation: A Rosicrucian Mystery Drama (Blauvelt, NY: Steinerbooks, 1981).
Such an event occurred when the individuality who lived in Elijah was reborn in John the Baptist. An angel entered his soul and used his body and soul to do what would have been impossible for a human being to accomplish. An angel lived in John who had to announce the true I that was to live in Jesus of Nazareth. It is extremely important to know that John the Baptist is only Maya and that an angelic messenger lived in him. This is found also in the Greek version of the Bible: “Behold, I send my messenger [i.e., Angeloi or angel].” Thus, a profound cosmic mystery connected with John the Baptist was prophesied by Isaiah. As we have seen, Isaiah characterized John as Maya or illusion, but in truth John encompassed the angel who had to announce what humanity really was to become through receiving the Christ impulse. Angels proclaim beforehand what humanity is to become later. So, this passage in the Bible should really read, “Behold, what gives I-hood to the world sends the angel before thee to whom I-hood will be given.”
Now we go on to the third sentence. What does it mean? Here we must call to mind the whole historical world situation. What happened after the astral body gradually lost the ability to extend its forces like tentacles to look clairvoyantly into the spiritual world? Formerly, when the astral body became active, it could see into the spiritual world. This possibility gradually disappeared, and it became dark within human beings. While they could spread their astral body over all the beings of the spiritual world in former times, now they were alone in themselves. Their souls now lived in solitude. That also is in the Greek text. “Behold, what speaks in the solitude — or, if you like, wilderness — of the soul when the astral body could no longer extend out to the divine spiritual world. Listen to what calls in the wilderness and loneliness of the soul.”
What is it that announces itself? Here, we must be clear about the meaning of one particular word when it is used in reference to spiritual or soul phenomena. This was true, above all, in Hebrew, but also in Greek. The word is Kyrios. To translate it as “the Lord,” as is usually done, produces absolute nonsense. What does this word mean? In ancient times everyone who spoke this word knew it meant something that was connected with the progress of the human soul. People knew that the word Kyrios referred to secrets of the soul.
Looking at the astral body, we see that our soul has three distinct forces we call thinking, feeling, and willing. The soul thinks, feels, and wills. These are the three forces working in the soul. They are the serving forces in the soul. Formerly, they had been the lords of humanity, and human beings had been subject to them and had to wait for their thinking, feeling, or willing to be called into action. As human beings evolved, however, these soul forces became subject to the Kyrios, the Lord of the soul forces, the I. When the term Kyrios referred to the soul, nothing else was understood by it than the I. This I no longer believed that the divine spiritual thinks, feels, and wills in it, but “I think, I feel, I will.” The Lord makes himself felt in the forces of the soul. “Prepare yourselves, you human souls, to follow paths that lead you to let the strong I — Kyrios, the Lord — awaken in your souls. Listen to the call in the solitude of the soul. Prepare the force or direction of the Lord of the soul — the I. Make open his forces!” That is roughly how this passage should be translated. “Open up, so that the I can enter and does not become the slave of thinking, feeling, and willing. Open up its forces!” When you translate these words, “Behold, the I sends its angel before you that is to give you the possibility of understanding the calls in the solitude of the astral soul: Prepare the directions of the I, and open the forces for it,” you then have a meaning in these significant words of the prophet Isaiah and a reference to the greatest event in human evolution. You then understand that Isaiah speaks of John the Baptist, that he points out that our soul solitude longs for the approach of the Lord in the soul, the approach of the I. The words have force and weight only when we understand them this way.
Why was John the Baptist able to be the bearer of the Angeloi? He could do this because he had had a certain initiation. Each initiation is specialized. Initiations are not just general, but specialized. Individuals who have a very special task need a particular kind of initiation. Now for everything that occurs in the spiritual world precautions have been taken so that the starry script in the heavens reveals spiritual facts. For example, people could have a sun-initiation and enter into the secrets of the spiritual world that is the realm of Ahura Mazdao, the world for which the sun is the external expression. There are, however, twelve different ways to be initiated into the secrets of the sun; each of these initiations was a “solar initiation,” yet different from the other eleven. Depending upon what a person has to accomplish for humanity, he or she receives an initiation that can be described as a solar initiation but, for example, one where the forces flow in as though the sun were standing in Cancer. This differs from the initiation where the forces flow in as though the sun were standing in Libra. This is how different specialized initiations were designated.
Individuals who have as important a mission as John the Baptist must be initiated in a very special way. Only then will they have the necessary strength to accomplish their mission in the world even in a rather single-minded way if circumstances require that. So, in order for John the Baptist to become the bearer of the Angeloi, he had to undergo the sun-initiation that can be called the initiation in the sign of Aquarius. The sun in Aquarius is a symbol for the initiation John the Baptist received to become the bearer of the angel. He received the force of the sun as it streams down when its relation to the other stars is characterized with the words, “The sun stands in the constellation of Aquarius.” That was the symbol. John had undergone the Aquarius initiation.
The constellation was given the name Aquarius because those who underwent this initiation had the power to do with human beings what John did as the Aquarian, the Baptist. Through immersion in water, he brought people to the point where their etheric bodies were freed sufficiently for them to gain the self-knowledge that allowed them to realize what was most important in their time. People were immersed and their etheric bodies were freed for a moment. Through baptism in the Jordan, people could feel the special importance of this epoch in the history of the world. Therefore, John underwent the baptism initiation. To express symbolically the flowing in of the rays from the constellation in which the sun stood, this sign was called Aquarius. In this way the name of the human capacity is carried over to the heavens.
Today many learned ignoramuses try to interpret spiritual events by bringing the heavens down to earth. They say, “Now, that indicates a forward movement of the sun.” These learned people, who really do not know anything, interpret human events from the heavens. However, it was the other way around. What lives in humanity spiritually was transferred to the heavens; the heavens were used as a means of expression. Thus, John the Baptist could say, “I have baptized you with water,” which was the same as saying, “I baptize you with water: I am endowed with the initiation of Aquarius.” That is what John could have said to his closest disciples. With our senses we see the constellation of Virgo opposite Aquarius, and from there the sun moves to Libra. However, in terms of initiation, the sun proceeds in the opposite direction, not as it appears to our senses. Thus, we have to look at the sun's path from Aquarius to Pisces. John could say, “Something will come that will no longer work in the way that corresponds to the sun's influence in Aquarius; instead, it will work in a way corresponding to the sun's effect in Pisces. One will come who will bring a higher baptism.”
When the spiritual sun rises higher, then the Aquarian baptism becomes a baptism with spiritual water. The sun ascends in the spiritual realm from Aquarius to Pisces, hence the well-known ancient fish symbol for the bearer of Christ. Through special spiritual influences, John had an Aquarian initiation. But the initiation that came about mysteriously through the Mysteries around Jesus, of which I have spoken several times, was a Pisces initiation. It resulted from the sun advancing to the next constellation, and Jesus of Nazareth was integrated into his time through being subjected first to a Pisces initiation.
This is sufficiently indicated in the Gospel of Saint Mark, but such things can only be shown in images. Christ Jesus draws together all those who are fishing, so his first apostles are all fishermen. The advancing of the sun from Aquarius to Pisces is obvious when John tells us, “I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” When Christ walked along the Sea of Galilee — which means, when the sun was so far advanced that one could see its counterpart coming up from Pisces — the fishermen Simon, Simon's brother, James, and James's brother, were inspired. This can be understood only when we look more closely at the way people expressed things at that time.
Our modern way of expressing ourselves is pedantic. If a person stands before us, we say there is a human being. If a second person stands before us, we again say there is a human being. A third, another, and so on, but we have merely Maya before us. If a being has two legs and a human countenance, then in our pedantic way of expressing ourselves we have only one term, “human being.” However, what is a human being to occultism? Nothing but Maya! He or she is about the same as a rainbow, which lasts only so long as the necessary relationships between rain and sunshine exist. When these relationships change, the rainbow disappears.
It is the same with human beings. A human being is only the streaming together of forces of the macrocosm, forces we find in the heavens, here or there in the macrocosm. Where we usually assume a human being somewhere on earth, there is nothing for the occultist. In fact, forces stream down from above and up from below and intersect. Then, just as the peculiar relationship of rain and sunshine produces the rainbow, so forces streaming out of the macrocosm from above and below result in the phenomenon that looks like a human being. People are nothing as they stand before us. In truth, they are a phantom, Maya, an illusion. It is the cosmic forces, intersecting where our eyes think they see a human being, that are real. Try to take the statement seriously that a human being is nothing as he or she stands before us. A human being is but the shadow of many forces. The being who reveals himself in a person can easily be elsewhere than at that point where the individual in question is walking around on two legs.
For example, consider three men, first, an ancient Persian whose work was plowing. He looked like an ordinary man but actually was one of the souls whose forces were nourished from this or that world, above or below. The second man was an ancient Persian official. He was formed by forces from another world that intersected in him. To know him, we must look at these forces. All of you sitting here are in your reality somewhere else, and only the forces of your real being radiate into this room. Our third example is a Persian of whom we have to say he was really a complete illusion, a phantom. What was there in reality? We must go all the way up to the sun to find the forces that nourished this phantom. There, among the mysteries of the sun, we find what can be called the Golden Star, Zarathustra. It radiates down, and here below stands a figure called Zarathustra. In truth, however, his being is not there at all. This is our third example.
Now, it is important to realize that in ancient times people were aware of the meaning of such designations. Names were not given as they are today. People were named according to what lived in them rather than on the basis of their external, illusory appearance. We must be quite clear about this. We can say that at the time of Christ people would have easily understood what was meant when John the Baptist was referred to as the angel of God. Such a statement would have taken account of what really happened there; it would have focused on the main thing and disregarded secondary considerations.
Let us assume people had spoken about Christ Jesus in the same way. How would they have had to speak of him if they had understood such things? They would not have dreamt of naming the physical body walking around among them Christ Jesus. Rather, the name was the sign that what was streaming down spiritually from the sun was received in a very special way at the point where this physical body was. As this body of Jesus wandered from one place to another, it made visible the sun force as it moves from place to place. This force could also move around alone, and at times it was said that Christ Jesus was in his “home,” that is, in his physical body, but what was in him moved on without his body. Particularly in Saint John's Gospel this expression is used in such a way that, at times, the writer speaks of this being moving purely spiritually exactly as though he were describing this sun force dwelling in a physical body.
It is therefore important that the deeds of Christ Jesus are always seen in relation to the physical sun, which is the external expression of the spiritual world that is received at the point where Christ's physical body is walking around. When Christ Jesus heals, for instance, it is the sun force that heals. However, the sun must be at the right place in the heavens: “That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.” It is important to indicate that this healing power can flow down only when the external sun has set but still works spiritually. And when Christ again needed a certain force for his work, he had to take it from the spiritual rather than from the physical, visible sun. “And in the morning, a great while before day, he rose and went out to a lonely place, and there he prayed.” Here, the path of the sun and the solar force is expressly indicated. It is this solar force that is at work here, and fundamentally Jesus is only the external sign, making the path of the sun forces visible to the physical eye.
Whenever Christ is mentioned in Saint Mark's Gospel, the sun force is meant, which, in that epoch of human evolution, was especially active in Palestine. The sun force could be seen as Christ went from one place to another. We could just as well say that at that time, the spiritual force of the sun, as though focused in one point, went from one place to another. The body of Jesus was the external sign that made the movements of the sun force visible. The paths Jesus took in Palestine were those of the sun force come down to earth. If you trace his steps on a map, you have a diagram of a cosmic event: the influence of the sun force from the macrocosm on the land of Palestine. That macrocosmic aspect is what matters here. The writer of Saint Mark's Gospel points out this macrocosmic connection. He knew that the body serving as the vehicle of a principle such as that of Christ had to be overcome by its principle in a special way. Thus, this gospel points to the world whose existence behind the world of the senses Zarathustra had so powerfully announced; it points to that world as it works on our human world. Through Christ Jesus it was indicated how these forces now work on the earth. Therefore, a kind of repetition of the Zarathustra events had to occur in the body of the Nathan Jesus because it was in a certain way influenced by the individuality of Zarathustra.
Let us recall the beautiful legend about Zarathustra. At his birth, Zarathustra accomplished his first miracle when he showed his famous smile. Later, Duransarun, the king of the district where Zarathustra was born, resolved to murder him because of what some retrograde Magi had told him about the child. However, when the king attempted to stab the child, his arm was paralyzed. That was a second miracle. Then, because the king could not stab him, Zarathustra was left among the wild beasts of the desert. Thus, in earliest childhood Zarathustra experienced what we see when we look out into the world through our impurities. Instead of noble group-soul and higher spiritual beings, we see emanations of our wild fantasy. That is what is meant when we are told that Zarathustra was left among the wild beasts, but remained unharmed. That is the third miracle. The fourth occurred also among the wild animals, and so on. It was always the good spirit of Ahura Mazdao who served Zarathustra and ministered to him.
We find these miracles repeated in the Gospel of Saint Mark. “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness [Actually the word is solitude]. And he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to him.” This shows us that the body was prepared that was to be the focal point to receive what transpired in the macrocosm. What had happened to Zarathustra had to be repeated, among other things, the time he spent among the wild beasts. This body took in what came from the macrocosm.
Even the first lines of Saint Mark's Gospel take us into the greatest cosmic context. I wanted to show you that if we understand the words in the right sense — not in the sense of our modern philistine language but in that of the ancient languages where living worlds were behind each word — then the Gospel of Saint Mark comes alive again and receives new force. With our modern language, however, it takes many circumlocutions to find again what was simply present in the words in ancient languages. When we say that human beings live on the earth and develop their I, and that they formerly lived on the moon where the angels went through the human stage, we are expressing what lies behind the words, “Behold, I send my angel before human beings.” These words cannot be understood without prior knowledge of what spiritual science offers. People in our time should be honest and admit that the words at the beginning of Saint Mark's Gospel are incomprehensible. Instead, in petty pride they declare spiritual science a fantasy that reads all kinds of things into what they supposedly just know. However, they do not really know it.
Today the principle of rewriting sacred documents for each epoch, as was done in ancient Persia, is no longer practiced. Thus, the divine spiritual word, as presented in the Zend-Avesta, was transformed again and again. The Persian bible was rewritten seven times and what exists today is the last form. Anthroposophy has to teach people how necessary it is to rewrite the books containing the holy secrets in each epoch. For especially if we want to preserve the grand old style, we should not try to stay as close as possible to the ancient wording. That can't be done; the old words are no longer understood. Instead, we must try to translate the ancient wording into the immediate understanding of our time. That is what we have tried to do this summer with the Book of Genesis. You saw that many of the words had to be changed. Perhaps today you have got an idea of how the words must also be changed in the Gospel of Saint Mark.