5 May 1910, Berlin
Allow me to begin today's lecture with a personal recollection. As a quite young man, I once had a slight experience of the kind which seem unimportant and yet can yield pleasant memories again and again in later life.
I was attending a course of university lectures on the history of literature. 49Held by his teacher and friend Karl Julius Schröer, 1825–1900. Cf. also Rudolf Steiner's remarks in the lecture of 29th October 1914 in Berlin, in: Aus schicksaltragender Zeit, Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach, Switzerland. (GA 64) The lecturer began by considering the character of cultural life in the time of Lessing, with the intention of going on to discuss various literary developments during the later eighteenth century and part of the nineteenth. His opening words were deeply impressive. In order to characterise the chief innovation which appeared in the cultural life of Lessing's time, he said: “Artistic consciousness acquired an aesthetic conscience.” His lecture showed that what he meant by this statement — we need not now ask whether it was justified — was roughly as follows:
All the artistic considerations and intentions connected with the endeavours of Lessing and his contemporaries were imbued with a deeply earnest wish to make something more of art than a mere appendage to life or a mere pleasure among others. Art was to become a necessary element in every form of human existence worthy of the name. To raise art up to the level of a serious human concern, worthy to be heard in the concert of voices which speak of the great and fruitful activities of mankind — such was the aim of the pioneer thinkers of that period. That is what the lecturer wanted to say when he emphasised that an aesthetic conscience had found its way into the artistic and literary life of those times.
Why was this statement important for a soul seeking to grasp the riddles of existence, as reflected in one or another human mind? Because a conception of art was to be ennobled and given expression in a way that left no doubt as to its importance for the whole character and destiny of human life. The serious nature and significance of artistic work were intended to be placed beyond discussion, and it is indeed true that the experiences denoted by the word “conscience” are such that all the situations to which they apply are ennobled. In other words, when “conscience” is spoken of, the human soul recognises that the word refers to a most valuable element in its own life, and that to be without this element would indicate a serious deficiency.
How often has the significance of conscience been brought out by the words, no matter whether they are taken literally or metaphorically: “When conscience speaks in the human soul, it is the voice of God that speaks.” And one could scarcely find anyone, however unprepared to reflect on higher spiritual concerns, who has not formed some idea of what conscience is. Everyone feels vaguely that whatever conscience may be, it is experienced as a voice in the individual's breast which determines with irresistible power what is good and what is bad; what man must do in order to gain his own approval and what he must leave undone if he is not to despise himself. Hence we can say: Conscience appears to every individual as something holy in the human breast, and that to form some kind of opinion about it is relatively easy.
Things are different, however, if we glance briefly at man's history and his spiritual life. Anyone who is trying to look more deeply into a spiritual situation of this kind will surely wish to consult those in whom a knowledge of such matters may be presupposed — the philosophers. But in this case, as in so many others of wide human concern, he will find that the explanations of conscience given by various philosophers are very different, or so it seems, though a more or less obscure kernel is similar in all of them. But that is not the worst of it. If anyone were to take the trouble to inquire what the philosophers of ancient and modern times mean by conscience, he would be met with all sorts of very fine phrases and also by many that are hard to understand, but he would find nothing of which he could say beyond question that it reflected his feeling: that is conscience.
Of course it would lead us too far if I were to give you an anthology of the various explanations of conscience that have been given over the centuries by the philosophical leaders of mankind. But we may note that from about the first third of the Middle Ages and on through mediaeval philosophy, whenever conscience was spoken of, it was always said to be a power in the human soul which was capable of immediately declaring what a man should do and what he should leave undone. However, these mediaeval philosophers say also that underneath this power of the soul there is something else, something of finer quality than conscience itself. A personality often mentioned here, Meister Eckhart, 50See notes 14 and 13. tells of a tiny spark that underlies conscience; an eternal element in the soul which, if it is heeded, declares with unmistakable power the laws of good and evil.
In modern times, we encounter once more the most varied accounts of conscience, including some which make a peculiar impression, for they clearly fail to recognise the serious nature of the divine inner voice that we call conscience. There are philosophers who say that conscience is something that a man acquires when, by extending continually his experience of life, he learns what is useful, harmful, satisfying and so on for himself. The sum of these experiences gives rise to a judgment which says: “Do this — don't do that.”
There are other philosophers who speak of conscience in terms of the highest praise. One of these is the great German philosopher, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, who pointed above all to the human ego not the transient personal ego but the eternal essence in man — as the fundamental principle of all human thought and being. At the same time, he held that the highest experience for the human ego was the experience of conscience, 51See J.G. Fichte, Die Bestimmung des Menschen, 1800, Book 3: Glaube. when a man hears the inward judgment: “This you must do, for it would go against your conscience not to do it.” The majesty and nobility of this judgment, he believed, could not be surpassed. And if Fichte was the philosopher who laid the strongest emphasis on the power and significance of the human ego, it is characteristic of him that he ranked conscience as the ego's most significant impulse.
The further we move on into modern times, and the more materialistic thinking becomes, the more do we find conscience deprived of its majesty — not in the human heart, but in the thinking of philosophers who are more or less imbued with materialism. One example will be enough to illustrate this trend.
In the second half of the 19th century, there lived a philosopher who for nobility of soul, harmonious human feelings and generous breadth of mind must rank with the finest personalities. I mean Bartholomew Carnieri: 52Bartholomew Carnieri, 1821–1909. Cf. his characterisation of conscience in the introduction to Der moderne Mensch. Versuch einer Lebensführung, Stuttgart, 1904. he is seldom mentioned now. If you go through his writings, you find that in spite of his fine qualities, he was deeply imbued with the materialistic thinking of his time. What, he asks, are we to make of conscience? Fundamentally, he says, it is no more than the sum of habits and judgments instilled in us during early youth and strengthened by the experience of life. These influences, of which we are no longer fully conscious, are the source of the inner voice which says: “This you must do — this you must not do,”
Thus the origin of conscience is traced back to external influences and habits, and even these are confined to a very narrow range. Some even more materialistically-minded philosophers of the 19th century have gone further still. Paul Ree, 53Paul Ree, 1849–1901. Die Entstehung des Gewissens, Berlin, 1885. for example, who at one time had great influence on Nietzsche, wrote on the origin of conscience. His book is interesting as a symptom of the outlook of our times. His ideas — allowing for some inevitable distortion of details in any brief sketch of them — are roughly as follows. Man, says Paul Ree, has developed in respect of all his faculties, and therefore in respect of conscience. Originally he had no trace of what we call conscience. It is gross prejudice to hold that conscience is eternal. A voice telling us what to do and what not to do did not exist originally, according to Ree. But in human nature there was something else which did develop — something we can call an instinct for revenge. This was the most primitive of all impulses. If anyone suffered at the hands of another, the instinct for revenge drove him to pay back the injury in kind. By degrees, as social life became more complicated, the carrying out of vengeance was handed over to the ruling authorities. So people came to believe that any deed which injured another person had by necessity to be followed by something that had previously been called vengeance. Certain deeds which had bad results had to be requited by other deeds. In the course of time, this conviction gave rise to an association of certain feelings with particular actions, or even with the temptation to commit them. The original urge for revenge was forgotten, but a feeling became ingrained in the human soul that a harmful action must be paid for. So now, when a man believes he is hearing an “inner voice”, this is in fact nothing but the voice of vengeance, changed into an inward form. Here we have an extreme example of this kind of interpretation — extreme in the sense that conscience is portrayed as a complete illusion.
On the other hand, we must admit that it is going much too far to assert, as some people do, that conscience has existed as long as human beings have been living on the earth; in other words, that conscience is in some sense eternal. Since mistakes are made both by those who think more spiritually about it, and by those who regard conscience as a pure illusion, it is very difficult to reach any agreement on the subject, although it belongs to our everyday inner life, and indeed to a sacred part of it.
A glance over the philosophers will show that in earlier times even the best of them thought of conscience differently from the way in which we are bound to think of it today. For when we say that conscience is a voice speaking out of a divine impulse in the breast of the simplest man, saying, “This you must do — that you must leave undone” this is somewhat different from the teaching we find in Socrates 54Socrates, 470–399 B.C. and in his successor, Plato. 55Plato, 427–347 B.C. They both insist that virtue can be learnt. Socrates, indeed, says that if a man forms clear ideas as to what he should and should not do, then gradually, through this knowledge of what virtue is, he can learn to act virtuously.
Now one could easily object, from a modern standpoint, that things would go badly if we had to wait until we had learnt what is right and what is wrong before we could act virtuously. Conscience speaks with elemental power in the human soul and is heard by the individual as saying “This you must do, and that you must leave alone”, long before we learn to form ideas concerning good and evil and thus begin to formulate moral precepts. Moreover, conscience brings a certain tranquillity to the soul on occasions when a man can say to himself: “You have done something you can approve of.” It would be bad — many people might say — if we had to learn a lot about the nature and character of virtue in order to arrive at an agreed estimation of our behaviour. Hence we can say that the philosopher to whom we look up as a martyr of philosophy, whose death crowned and ennobled his philosophical work — I mean Socrates — sets before us a concept of virtue which hardly tallies with our view of conscience today: and even with later Greek thinkers we always find the assertion that perfect virtue is something that can be learnt, a doctrine not in keeping with the primitive, elemental, power of conscience.
How is it, then, that so pre-eminent and powerful a person as Socrates is not aware of the idea of conscience that we have today, although we feel whenever we approach him, as Plato describes him, that the purest morality and the highest degree of virtue speak through his words? The reason is, that the ideas, concepts and inward experiences which feel today as though they were innate, were in fact acquired laboriously by the human soul in the course of time. When we trace the spiritual life of humanity back into the past, we find that our idea of conscience and our feeling for it were not present in the same way in ancient times, and therefore not among the Greeks. Conscience, in fact, was born. But nothing about the birth of conscience can be learnt by the easy methods of external experience and scholarship, as Paul Ree, for example, tried to do. We have to go more deeply into the matter if we are to gain enlightenment for the human soul.
Now our task in these lectures has been precisely to illuminate the constitution of the soul, with the aid of the light that comes from raising the soul to higher levels of knowledge. The whole life of the soul has been described, as it reveals itself to the inner eye of the seer: the eye which does not gain knowledge of the sense-world only, but looks behind the veil of the sense-world into the region where the primary sources, the spiritual foundations of the sense-world are to be found. And it has repeatedly been shown — for example in the lecture, “What is Mysticism?” — that the consciousness of the seer opens the way into deeper regions of the soul, over and above the soul-life we experience in everyday life. We believe that even in ordinary life we come to know something of this deeper level when we look into ourselves and encounter the experiences of thinking, feeling and willing. But it was pointed out also, that in ordinary waking consciousness the soul reveals only the outer aspect of the spiritual. Just as we have to penetrate behind the veil that is spread over the sense-world if we are to discover the underlying causes of these appearances as they are revealed behind everything we see and hear and our brain apprehends, so we must look behind our thinking, feeling and willing, and thus behind our ordinary inner life, if we are to get to know the spiritual background of our own lives.
From these starting-points, we set out to throw light on the life of the human soul in its many interwoven branches. We saw that it must be conceived as made up of three members which must be distinguished but not — please note — treated as quite separate from one another. We named these three members the sentient soul, the intellectual soul and the consciousness soul, and we saw how the ego is the unifying point which holds the three members together, plays on them as though on the strings of an instrument, causing them to sound together in the most varied ways, harmonious or dissonant. This activity of the ego developed by gradual stages, and we shall understand how our present-day consciousness and soul-life have evolved from primeval times if we glance at what man can become in the future, or even today, if from within the consciousness soul he develops a higher, clairvoyant form of consciousness.
The consciousness soul in its ordinary condition enables us to grasp the external world perceived through our senses. If anyone wishes to penetrate behind the veil of the sense-world, he must raise his soul-life to a higher level. Then he makes the great discovery that something like an awakening of the soul can occur — something comparable to the outcome of a successful operation on a man blind from birth, when a hitherto unknown world of light and colour breaks in upon him. So it is with someone who by appropriate methods raises his soul to a higher level of development. A moment comes when those elements in our environment which we normally ignored, although they are swarming around us all the time, enter into our soul-life as a wealth of beings and activities because we have acquired a new organ of perception for them.
When someone achieves by training, a conscious seership of this kind, his ego is completely present throughout. This means that he moves among spiritual facts and beings, on which our sense-world is based, just as he finds his way among chairs and tables in the physical world: and he now takes up into a higher sphere of soul-life the ego which had led him through his experiences of sentient soul, intellectual soul and consciousness soul.
Let us now turn back from this clairvoyant consciousness, which is illuminated and set aglow by the ego, to the ordinary life of the soul. The ego is alive in the most varied ways in the three soul-members. If we have a man whose life is given over to the desires, passions and instinctive urges that arise from his sentient soul, we can say that his ego is hardly at all active; it is like a feeble flame in the midst of the surging waves of the sentient soul and has little power against them. In the intellectual soul the ego gains some freedom and independence.
Here man comes to himself and so to some awareness of his ego, for the intellectual soul can develop only in so far as man reflects upon and elaborates, in inner tranquillity, the experiences that have come to him through the sentient soul. The ego becomes more and more radiant and at last achieves full clarity in the consciousness soul. Then a man can say to himself: “I have grasped myself — I have attained real self-consciousness.” This degree of clarity can be activated by the ego only when it has reached the stage of working in the consciousness soul, after progressing from the sentient soul through the intellectual soul.
If, however, a human being can further rise in his ego to clairvoyant consciousness beyond the consciousness soul, comparable to yet higher soul-principles, we can well understand that the seer, looking back over the course of human evolution, should say to us: just as the ego rises in this way to higher states of soul, so did it enter the sentient soul from a subordinate condition. We have seen how the soul-members sentient soul, intellectual soul and consciousness soul — are related to the members of his bodily organisation — physical body, etheric and astral or sentient body. Hence you will find it understandable that as spiritual science indicates — the ego, before rising to the sentient soul, was active in the sentient body, and earlier still in the etheric and physical bodies. In those times the ego still guided man from outside. It held sway in the darkness of bodily life; man was not yet able to say “I” regarding himself, to find the central point of his own being within himself. What are we to think of this ego which held sway in the primeval past and built up man's exterior bodily organisation? Are we to regard it as less perfect, compared with the ego we bear within our souls today?
We look on our ego as the real inner focus of our being: it endows us with inner life, and is capable, through schooling, of endless progress in the future. We see in it the epitome of our human nature and the guarantor of our human dignity. Now when we were not yet aware of this ego, while it was working on us from out of the dark spiritual powers of the world, was it then less perfect, by comparison with what it is now? Only a quite abstract way of thinking could say so.
Consider our physical body; we look on it as having been formed out of the spiritual world in the primordial past as a dwelling for the human soul. Only a materialistic mind could believe that this human body had not been born originally from the spirit. Seen merely from an external point of view, the physical body must appear a miracle of perfection. What do all our intellectual ability and technical skill amount to, compared with the wisdom manifest in the structure of the human heart? Or take the engineering technique that goes into the building of bridges, and so forth — what is it compared with the construction of the human thigh-bone, with its wonderful crisscross of support members, as seen through the microscope. It would be sheer boundless arrogance for man to suppose that he has attained in the slightest degree to the wisdom inherent in the formation of the external physical body. And consider our soul-life, taking into account only our instincts, desires and passions — how do they function? Are we not doing all we can to undermine inwardly the wisdom-filled organisation of our body? Indeed, if we consider without prejudice the marvel of our physical organisation, we have to admit that our bodily structure is far wiser than anything we can show in our inner life, although we may hope that our inner life will advance from its present imperfection towards increasing perfection. We can hardly come to any other conclusion, even without clairvoyance, if we simply look impartially at the observable facts.
Is not this wise activity, which has built up the human body as a dwelling-place for the ego, bound to have something in common with the nature of the ego itself? Must we not think of this formative power as having the character of an immeasurably more advanced ego? We must say: Something related to our ego has worked during primordial times at building a structure which the ego could come to inhabit. Anyone who refuses to believe this may imagine something different, but then he must also suppose that an ordinary house, built for human habitation, has not been designed by a human mind but has been put together merely by the action of natural forces. One assumption is as true as the other. Thus we look back to a primordial past where a spiritual power endowed with an ego-nature of unlimited perfection worked upon our bodily sheaths. In those times our own ego was hidden in subconscious depths, thence it worked its way up to its present state of consciousness.
If we look at this evolution from the far-distant past, when the ego was hidden within its sheaths as though in the darkness of a mother's womb, we find that although the ego had no knowledge of itself, it was all the closer to those spiritual beings who worked on our bodily vehicles and were related to the human ego, but of incomparably greater perfection. Clairvoyant insight thus looks back to a far-distant past when man had not yet acquired ego-consciousness, for he was embedded in spiritual life itself, and when his soul-life, too, was different, for it was much closer to the soul-forces from which the ego has emerged. In those times, also, we find in man a primal clairvoyant consciousness which functioned dimly and dreamily, for it was not illumined by the light of an ego; and it was from this mode of consciousness that the ego first came forth. The faculty that man in the future will acquire with his ego was present in the primeval past without the ego. Clairvoyant consciousness entails that spiritual beings and spiritual facts are seen in the environment, and this applies to early man, although his clairvoyance was dreamlike and he beheld the spiritual world as though in a dream. Since he was not yet shone through by an ego, he was not obliged to remain within himself when he wished to behold the spiritual. He beheld the spiritual around him and looked on himself as part of the spiritual world; and whatever he did was imbued, for him, with a spiritual character. When he thought of something, he could not have said to himself, “I am thinking”, as a man might do today; his thought stood before his clairvoyant vision. And to experience a feeling he had no need to look into himself; his feeling radiated from him and united him with his whole spiritual environment.
Such was the soul-life of man in primordial times. From out of his dreamlike clairvoyant consciousness he had to develop inwardly in order to come to himself, and in himself to that centre of his being which today is still imperfect but will advance ever more nearly towards perfection in the future, when man with his ego will step forth into the spiritual world.
Now if light is thrown on those primordial times by means of clairvoyance in the way already described, what does the seer tell us concerning the human consciousness of those times when a man had, for example, committed an evil deed? His deed did not present itself to him as something he could inwardly assess. He beheld it, with all its harmfulness and shamefulness, as a ghostly vision confronting his soul. And when a feeling concerning his evil deed arose in his soul, the shamefulness of it came before him as a spiritual reality, so that he was as though surrounded by a vision of the evil he had wrought.
Then, in the course of time, this dreamlike clairvoyance faded and man's ego came increasingly to the fore. In so far as man found this central point of his being within himself, the old clairvoyance was extinguished and self-consciousness established itself more and more clearly. The vision he had previously had of his bad and good deeds was transposed into his inner life, and deeds once clairvoyantly beheld were mirrored in his soul.
Now what sort of forms were beheld in dreamy clairvoyance as the counterpart of man's evil deed? They were pictures whereby the spiritual powers around him showed how he had disturbed and disrupted the cosmic order, and they were intended to have a salutary effect. It was a counteraction by the Gods, who wished to raise him up and, by showing him the effect of his deed, to enable him to eliminate its harmful consequences. This was indeed a terrifying experience for him, but it was fundamentally beneficial, coming as it did from the cosmic background out of which man himself had emerged. When the time came for man to find in himself his ego-centre, the external vision was transferred to his soul in the form of a reflected picture. When the ego first makes its appearance in the sentient soul, it is weak and frail, and man first has to work slowly upon himself in order that his ego may gradually advance towards perfection. Now what would have happened if, when the external clairvoyant vision of the effects of his misdeeds had disappeared, it had not been replaced by an inward counterpart of its beneficial influence? With his still frail ego, he would have been torn to and fro in his sentient soul by his passions, as though in a surging boundless sea. What, then, was it that was transferred at this historic moment from the external world to the inner life of the soul? If it was the great cosmic Spirit that had brought the harmful effects of a man's deed before his clairvoyant consciousness as a healing influence, showing him what he had to make good, so, later on, it was the same cosmic Spirit that powerfully revealed itself in his inner life at a time when his ego was still weak. Having previously spoken to man through a clairvoyant vision, the cosmic Spirit withdrew into man's inner life and imparted to him what had to be said about correcting the distortion caused in the world-order. Man's ego is still weak, and the cosmic Spirit keeps a perpetual, unsleeping watch over it and passes judgment where the ego could not yet judge. Behind the weak ego stands something like a reflection of the powerful cosmic Spirit which had formerly shown to man through clairvoyant vision the consequences of his deeds. And this reflection is now experienced by him as conscience watching over him.
So we see how true it is when conscience is naively described as the voice of God in man. At the same time we see how spiritual science points to the moment when external vision became inward experience and conscience was born.
What I have now been saying can be drawn purely from the spiritual world. No external history is required; the facts I have described are seen by the inward eye. Anyone who can see them will experience them as incontestable truths, but a certain necessity of the times may lead us to ask: Could external history perhaps reveal something that would confirm, in this case, the facts seen by inner vision?
The findings of clairvoyant consciousness can always be tested by external evidence, and there is no need to fear that the evidence will contradict them. That could seem to happen only if the testing were inexact. But we will give one example that can show how external facts confirm the statements here derived from clairvoyant insight.
It is not so very long since the time when the birth of conscience can be seen to occur. If we look back to the fifth and sixth centuries BC, we encounter in ancient Greece the great dramatic poet Aeschylus, 56Aeschylus, 525–456 B.C., in his Oresteia trilogy. and in his work we find a theme which is especially remarkable for the reason that the same subject was treated by a late Greek poet in a quite different way.
Aeschylus shows us how Agamemnon, on returning from Troy, is killed by his wife, Klytemnestra, when he arrives home. Agamemnon is avenged by his son Orestes, who, acting on the advice of the gods, kills his mother. What, then, is the consequence for Orestes of this deed? Aeschylus shows how the burden of matricide calls forth in Orestes a mode of seeing which was no longer normal in those times. The enormity of his crime caused the old clairvoyance to awake in him, like an inheritance from the past. Orestes could say: “Apollo, the god himself, told me it was a just act for me to avenge my father upon my mother. Everything I have done speaks in my favour. But the blood of my mother is working on!” And in the second part of the Orestean trilogy we are powerfully shown how the old clairvoyance awakens in Orestes and how the avenging goddesses, the Erinyes — or Furies, as they were later called by the Romans — approach.
Orestes sees before him, in dreamlike clairvoyance, the effect of his act of matricide in its external form. Apollo had approved the deed; but there is something higher. Aeschylus wished to indicate that a still higher cosmic ordinance obtains, and this he could do only by making Orestes become clairvoyant at that moment, for he had not yet gone far enough to dramatise what today we call an inner voice. If we study his work, we feel that he was at the stage when something like conscience ought to emerge from the whole content of the human soul, but he never quite reached that point. He confronts Orestes with dreamlike, clairvoyant pictures that have not yet been transformed into conscience. Yet we can see how he is on the verge of recognising conscience. Every word that he gives to Klytemnestra, for example, makes one feel unmistakably that he ought to indicate the idea of conscience in its present-day sense; but he never quite gets that far. In that century, the great poet could only show how bad deeds rose up before the human soul in earlier times.
Now we will pass over Sophocles and come to Euripides, 57>Euripides, c. 480–406 B.C., deals with this subject in Electra and in Orestes.< who described the same situation only a generation later. Scholars have rightly pointed out — though spiritual science alone can show this in its true light — that in Euripides the dream-pictures experienced by Orestes are no more than shadowy images of the inward promptings of conscience — somewhat as in Shakespeare. Here we have palpable evidence of the stages whereby the idea of conscience was taken hold of by the art of poetry. We see how Aeschylus, great poet as he was, cannot yet speak of conscience itself, while his successor, Euripides, does speak of it. With this development in mind, we can see why human thinking in general could work its way only slowly towards a true conception of conscience. The force now active in conscience was active also in ancient times; the pictures showing the effects of a man's deeds rose before his clairvoyant sight. The only difference is that this force became internalised; but before it could be inwardly experienced, the whole process of human development, which led gradually to the concept of conscience, had to take its course.
Thus we see in conscience a faculty which comes to the fore by degrees and has to be acquired by man's own endeavours. Where, then, should we look for this most intense activity of conscience? At that point where the human ego was beginning to make itself known and was still weak, that is something which can be shown in human development. In ancient Greece it had already advanced to the stage of the intellectual soul. But if we look further back to Egypt and Chaldea outer history knows nothing of this, but Plato and Aristotle were clairvoyantly aware of it — we find that even the highest culture of those times was achieved without the presence of an inwardly independent ego. The difference between the knowledge that was nurtured and put to use by the sanctuaries of Egypt and Chaldea and our modern science is that our science is grasped by the consciousness soul, whereas in pre-Hellenic times it all depended on inspirations from the sentient soul. In ancient Greece the ego progressed from the sentient soul into the intellectual soul. Today we are living in the epoch of the consciousness soul, which means that a real ego-consciousness arises for the first time. Anyone who studies the evolution of mankind, and in particular the transition from eastern to western culture, can see how human progress has been marked by ever-increasing feelings of freedom and independence. Whereas man had formerly felt himself entirely dependent on the Gods and the inspirations that came from them, in the West, culture first came to spring from the inner life.
This is especially evident, for example, in the way Aeschylus strives to bring about a consciousness of the ego in the human soul. We see him standing on the frontier between East and West, with one eye on the East and the other on the West, gathering from the human soul the elements that will come together to form the concept of conscience. He strives to give this new form of conscience a dramatic embodiment, but is not yet quite able to do so. Comparisons are apt to be confusing; we must not only compare, but also distinguish. The point is, that in the West everything was designed to raise the ego from the sentient soul to the consciousness soul. In the East the ego was veiled in obscurity and had no freedom. In the West, by contrast, the ego works its way up into the consciousness soul. If the old dreamlike clairvoyance is extinguished, everything else tends to awaken the ego and to evoke conscience as guardian of the ego as a divine inner voice. Aeschylus was the corner-stone between the worlds of East and West.
In the Eastern World men had retained a living awareness of their origin in the divine cosmic Spirit, and this made it possible for them to gain understanding of the event which took place a few hundred years after endeavours had been made by many — or Aeschylus for example — to find something that spoke as the voice of God within themselves. For this event brought to mankind the impulse which from all spiritual standpoints must be seen as the greatest impulse ever to enter into the evolution of the earth and man — the impulse we call the Christ-Impulse.
It was the Christ-impulse that first made it possible for humanity to realise that God, the Creator of things and of the external sheaths of man, can be recognised in our inward life. Only by understanding the divine humanity of Christ Jesus were men enabled to understand that the voice of God could be heard within the soul. In order that men should be able to find something of the divine nature in their own inner life, it was necessary for Christ to enter into the evolution of humanity as an external historical-event. If the Christ, a Divine Being, had not been present in the body of Jesus of Nazareth, if he had not shown once and for all that God can be discerned in our inner life, because he had once been present in a human body; if he had not appeared as the conqueror of death through the Mystery of Golgotha, men would never have been able to comprehend the indwelling of Divinity in the human soul.
If anyone claims that this indwelling could be discerned even if there had been no historical Christ Jesus, he could equally well say that we should have eyes even if there were no sun. As against this one-sided view of some philosophers that, since without eyes we could not see the light, the origin of light must be traced to the eyes, we must always set Goethe's aphorism: The eye is created by light for light. 58See note 4. If there were no sun to fill space with light, no eyes would ever have developed in the human organism. The eyes are created by light, and without the sun there would be no eyes. No eye is capable of perceiving the sun without having first received from the sun the power to do so. In the same way, there could be no power to grasp and recognise the Christ-nature if the Christ-Impulse had not entered into external history. What the sun out there in the cosmos does for human sight, so the historical Christ-Jesus makes possible what we call the entry of the divine nature into our inner life.
The elements necessary for understanding this were present in the stream of thought that came over from the East; they needed only to be raised to a higher level. It was in the West that souls were ripe to grasp and accept this impulse — the West, where experiences which had belonged to the outer world were transferred to the inner life most intensively, and in the form of conscience watched over a generally weak ego. In this way souls were strengthened, and prepared to hear the voice of conscience now saying within them: The Divinity who appeared in the East to those able to look clairvoyantly into the world — this Divinity now lives in us!
However, what was thus being prepared could not have become conscious experience if the inward Divinity had not spoken in advance in the dawning of conscience. So we see that external understanding for the Divinity of Christ Jesus was born in the East, and the emergence of conscience came to meet it from the West. For example, we find that conscience is more and more often spoken of in the Roman world, at the beginning of the Christian era, and the further westward we go, the clearer is the evidence for the recognised existence of conscience or for its presence in embryonic form.
Thus East and West played into each other's hands. We see the sun of the Christ-nature rising in the East, while in the West the development of conscience is preparing the way for understanding the Christ. Hence the victorious advance of Christianity is towards the West, not the East. In the East we see the spread of a religion which represents the final consequence — though on the highest level — of the eastern outlook: Buddhism takes hold of the eastern world. Christianity takes hold of the western world, because Christianity had first created the organ for receiving it. Here we see Christianity brought into relation with the deepened element in western culture: the concept of conscience embodied in Christianity.
Not through the study of external history, but only through an inward contemplation of the facts, shall we come to knowledge of these developments. What I am saying today will be met with disbelief by many people. But a demand of the times is that we should recognise the spirit in external phenomena. This, however, is possible only if we are at least able initially to discern the spirit where it speaks to us in the form of a clear message. Popular consciousness says: When conscience speaks, it is God speaking in the soul. The highest spiritual consciousness says that when conscience speaks, it is truly the cosmic Spirit speaking. And spiritual science brings out the connection between conscience and the greatest event in the evolution of mankind, the Christ-Event. Hence it is not surprising that conscience has thereby been ennobled and raised to a higher sphere. When we hear that something has been done for reasons of conscience, we feel that conscience is regarded as one of the most important possessions of mankind.
Thus we can see how natural and right it is for the human heart to speak of conscience as “God in man”. And when Goethe says that the highest experience for man is when “God-Nature reveals itself to him”, we must realise that God can reveal himself in the spirit to man only if Nature is seen in the light of its spiritual background. This has been provided for in human evolution, on the one hand by the light of Christ, shining from outside, and on the other by the divine light within us: the light of conscience. Hence a philosopher such as Fichte, who studies human character, is justified in saying that conscience is the highest voice in our inward life. On this account, also, we are aware that our dignity as human beings is inseparable from conscience. We are human beings because we have an ego-consciousness; and the conscience we have at our side is also at the side of our ego. Thus we look on conscience as a most sacred individual possession, inviolable by the external world, whose voice enables us to determine our direction and our goal. When conscience speaks, no other voice may intrude.
So it is that on one side conscience ensures our connection with the primordial power of the world and on the other guarantees the fact that in our inmost self we have something like a drop flowing from the Godhead. And man can know: When conscience speaks in him, it is a God speaking.