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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Festivals of the Seasons

3. The Festival of Easter I

10 April 1909, Cologne

Goethe, the inspiring spirit of modern times, describes in a striking manner the power of the Easter bells. He describes how Faust, the representative of striving humanity, had come to the end of earthly life, and how the bells of Easter, the light of the Easter Festival, are able to conquer the impulse of death in the heart of this one who is seeking death. Goethe presented the development of humanity in the same way that he presents to us the impulse of the Easter bells. And when, in the not very distant future, humanity understands the close connection between the soul and all that lives and moves in the world, it will then also be known how the comprehension of the sources of life liberates us from the bondage of matter. At Easter-time mankind will learn something that will give it the unshakeable confidence that in man there dwells the source of Divine existence, uniting with the source of universal existence when we are able through this knowledge to rise to illumination. The nature of the Easter festival shows that humanity has known this deepest Christian Mystery as an external token; for the present festival of Easter is a symbol of what can only be found in the depths of the Sacred Mysteries. This festival was celebrated in the Sacred Mysteries of many lands in order to call forth the conviction that the life in Spirit is able to conquer the death in matter. In ancient times that which was able to give to man this conviction had to be announced from the Mysteries. But the progress consists in this being brought out of the Mysteries and becoming a possession common to all humanity. In this lecture and the next we shall try to show that this perception and conviction is making its way into ever-widening circles.

Since Easter is the festival of the resurrection of the human spirit we must gather together for serious study and try to rise to the greatest height of Spiritual Science.

Our Christian Easter festival is one of the forms of the universal Easter festival, and what the sages possessed as their strongest, deepest conviction was hidden in this Easter festival. A beautiful, profound, Eastern legend relates the following:

The great Teacher of the East, Sakya-Muni, the Buddha, blessed the countries of the East with his profound wisdom. Sakya-Muni preserved for later ages of humanity that which was the source of profound happiness when mankind was still able to see into the Divine world, viz., the Ancient Wisdom. Sakya-Muni had a great pupil, Kashiapa by name, and while the others did not comprehend the great wisdom that Buddha taught, Kashiapa did. When Kashiapa was about to die, he went to a mountain, hid himself in a cave and in this cave his body did not putrefy, but continued as it was. The Initiates alone know of this Mystery, for the body of the great Initiate rests in a hidden place. But Buddha said that when the Maitreya Buddha, the great Teacher and Leader of humanity would come, he would search out that cave, and with his right hand touch the corpse, and then a wonderful fire would descend from heaven and in this fire the body of the great Enlightened One would ascend. Thus this Easter legend also speaks of a resurrection, ‘a being withdrawn’ from earthly existence; it speaks of a victory, so that the forces of the earth have no power over the body, and when the great Initiate touches it with his hand, the supernatural fire will carry it up. Through this legend we shall be able to arrive at a deep understanding of the Easter festival; in it there is a hidden, a primeval wisdom which we shall only be able to approach gradually.

Why is not Kashiapa, like the Redeemer, the victor over death after three days? Why does the Eastern Initiate wait for a long time before he is withdrawn by the heavenly fire into heaven?

We shall gradually gain some idea of the wisdom contained in this. We must control our feelings in order to approach these great truths in all their warmth and fire at such festivals.

For present humanity there stand on the horizon two truths which are intimately connected with one another, two important points for the humanity that is developing and making efforts at the present stage of evolution. These are first, the burning thorn-bush of Moses (Exodus iii) and secondly, the fire that appears on Sinai (Exodus xix) amidst lightning and thunder and announces to Moses, ‘I AM THE I AM’ (Exodus iii, 14). Who is this Being? One who understands the message of Christianity also understands who this Being is who appears to Moses amidst lightning and thunder and gives the ten Commandments. The Gospel of St. John tells us that Moses foretold Christ Jesus (John v, 45 & 46) and, therefore, the power in the burning bush was the Christ. No other Divinity could be imagined when the words were uttered, ‘I AM THE I AM’. He governs invisibly, announcing Himself beforehand in the fiery lightning upon Sinai. And he alone understands the New Testament who knows that the God announced by Moses is the Christ. The God Who was to bring redemption to mankind made Himself known in a form derived from the fiery element in nature; for therein fives the Christ.

The same Being holds sway throughout the whole of the Old Testament and then He appeared visibly through the Event of Palestine.

Whom did the ancient Hebrew people reverence in reality? Those belonging to the Hebrew Mysteries were aware that they reverenced Christ; they recognised Christ in the statement: ‘Say to my people “I AM THE I AM.”’ And even if it were only known that God makes Himself known in fire, that would have been sufficient to enable one to recognise that the God in the burning bush and the God of Sinai is the same as the One who brought about the Mystery of Golgotha through His descent into the human body.

There is a mysterious connection between the fire that is enkindled externally and the warmth of the blood. It has often been said that man is a microcosm; but one must also know the external process that corresponds to each inward process. We shall have to enter deeply into spiritual science if we wish to recognise the meaning of the Easter festival. Here we come in touch with a deep mystery, a great truth.

What is it in the outer world that corresponds to the origin of human thought? Through his thought man experiences a world, and in that form no other being experiences thought. What enkindles thought within us, the simplest as well as the most sublime? Two things co-operate within us when a thought passes through our mind, viz., the astral body and the ‘I.’ The physical expression of the ‘I’ is the blood; the physical expression of the astral body is in the nerves. And our thoughts would never flash through us unless there were this interplay of blood and nerves. In the interplay between blood and nerves (inner fire and inner air) we have thought. And this in the cosmos is the rolling thunder when the fiery lightning is enkindled. Imperceptibly to the external world there rings out as thought that which outside is lightning and thunder. The lightning is like the blood, the thunder like the thought; and as the lightning gives rise to the thunder, so the thunder corresponds to the thought produced by the soul. We see the lightning flash out in the air, we hear the thunder, and we feel the blood, we perceive the nervous system, we perceive the thought flash through us and say, ‘both are one.’ And when the thunder rolls above, it is not a material phenomenon alone; it is actual reality when a person looks up and sees the lightning and hears the thunder and says: God is now thinking in fire in the way He has to announce Himself to us; this is the invisible God Whose thoughts are in rolling fire—the God who spoke to Moses. Where would this God have to dwell if He wished to appear on the earth itself?

That which is in the macrocosm is also in the microcosm. The God whom Moses heard above appeared as Christ in the blood of Jesus of Nazareth. Christ appeared in the whole body of Jesus of Nazareth; He descended into the human form and thought as a man in the human body. And thus, the two poles meet, the macrocosmic God on Sinai and the same God microcosmically as a man incarnate in Palestine.

Truth, profound truth, is contained in the ancient Mystery-Wisdom. It is so deep that we need all knowledge to unveil this truth. And what an impulse did humanity receive through the descending Christ!

In ancient times the course of human development was very well known. It was known that man consists of four principles, the physical body, etheric body, astral body and the ‘I,’ and that he can rise to higher stages of existence through the transformation of his three lower bodies into Spirit Self, Life Spirit and Spirit Man. This physical body, in all its parts, has to be gradually spiritualised, so that that which has made man into man, the in-streaming of the Divine Breath, is spiritualised. And because this begins with the breath (Atem—Atman), the Old Testament says that at the beginning of his earthly existence man received the breath of life, which he has gradually to spiritualise. This can be seen in the whole of antiquity. Still more has to be spiritualised in man if he is to make the whole of his physical body living, viz., that which breath produces, the blood, the expression of the ‘I.’ It has to be laid hold of by an impulse that impels towards the spiritual. Christianity adds the Mystery of the blood, the Mystery of human fire, to the ancient Mysteries.

Regarding the human soul on earth in an earthly form the ancient Mysteries say:—Man’s spiritual being is enveloped by a physical body. It has to return again to the spiritual. As long as the human ‘I’ was not seized by an impulse that could be found on the earth, so long could religion not teach what may be called the self-redemption of the human ‘I.’ The great Avatars incarnate from time to time when mankind needs help. Thus Vishnu descends from time to time. One incarnation of Vishnu is Krishna, who explains what the nature of an Avatar is: He expresses what he himself is in the Bhagavad Gita: ‘I am the Spirit of Creation, its beginning, its middle and its end.’ The omnipotence of the Divine Being could not be described more beautifully—the Divine Being whom Moses saw in the element of fire, who not only weaves and moves through the world as a macrocosmic God, but who can also be found in the inner being of man. The Krishna-Being lives in all that bears the human countenance as a great ideal towards which the germ of man is developing. And when the breath can be spiritualised through the impulse of Golgotha, we have the principle of redemption through that which dwells within us: The Avatar Christ has redeemed us because He has the power for this, and thereby shows where the victory of the spirit over matter may be found.

Therefore, full redemption cannot be brought to Kashiapa until Maitreya Buddha comes for him. For only when the physical body is so spiritualised through Christ does it no longer need the cosmic fire, but the fire that seethes within man that brings about redemption. Thus we are able to illuminate legends such as these with the light that streams from Golgotha.

To begin with the world is dark. We may compare it to a dark room in which at first we can see nothing; we kindle a light and then all the splendour of the room appears. To begin with man strives in darkness; but when the true light burns, which comes from Golgotha, everything is illumined, even to the farthest future. To express this as a certainty is the purpose of the Easter festival. And when humanity can remember that through Spiritual Science it may really experience the most important symbols of the festival of Easter, the soul will feel itself expanded into an universe and will gradually rise to unite with all that lives there, ever more and more spiritually, from man to the universe. These are the sounds of the spiritual Easter bells, and when we hear them, all doubt about the spiritual world will vanish. Life in the spirit has claimed us again when we understand these spiritual Easter Bells.