The Christian Mystery
I. The Christian Mystery
9 February 1906, Düsseldorf
When we speak of human development in Christian mysticism, we have to consider that the way to higher development in the spirit was always strictly laid down in advance. For gnostic Christian development, the individual had to withdraw from outer civilization. The whole was so strict that it could not be done by someone who was involved in the outside working world. But anyone can achieve a great deal by even approximately taking this way. The Christian way demands a considerable level of development. It differs from all other ways in that those who follow it cannot gain insight into reincarnation and karma on their own.
Reincarnation was accepted belief in esoteric Christianity, but did not form part of exoteric Christianity. There was a particular reason why it was not part of Christian teaching in the past.
You only need to go back a few thousand years to come to a time when the teaching of reincarnation and karma was more or less world-wide. It was only somewhat less well known among peoples of Semitic origin. Apart from this it would be found everywhere in those times. People oppressed by their destiny would say to themselves: ‘This is one of many lives. In this life I am preparing things that will have their reward in a later life.’ People were always looking up to higher worlds in those days. This was the same everywhere, and thus also among Chaldean wise men who were priests. The stars were to them a reflection of a soul and a spirit, they were the bodies of spirits. The whole of cosmic space was filled with living spiritual entities for them. They would speak of the laws that governed the movements of the stars as the will of the spirits embodied in the sun and the planets. Life in those days was a matter of continually turning to the spirit in your inner life. The work people did on earth then was primitive, but their penetration of the universe in the spirit had reached a high level. So one would see sublime spiritual views side by side with a primitive material civilization.
The age which followed was to pay increasingly more attention to outer material civilization, conquering the globe for material civilization, as it were. Human beings were meant to concentrate on physical life. The thinking of the Chaldean priests, the followers of Hermes and those of the holy Rishis was directed to the life of the spirit. Repeated earth lives were a factual reality to them. Then humanity had to let this go of this for a while. All human beings were meant to go through one incarnation when they did not know about repeated earth lives. This was in preparation as early as 800 years before Christianity came, and it is gradually dying down again now in our time. Today, those familiar with occult streams know that Christianity, too, must return to the teaching of reincarnation and karma.
This is evident from the Mount Tabor Mystery, 1 Tradition going back to Origines, and probably also 2 Peter 1,18, makes Mt Tabor the place where the transfiguration took place. See Rudolf Steiner's lectures given in Bern on 10 Sept. 1910 (The Gospel of St Matthew, GA 123, tr. D. Osmond, M. Kirkcaldy. New York: Anthroposophic Press 1985) and in Basel on 22 Sept. 1912 (The Gospel of St Mark, GA 139, tr. C. Mainzer, S. C. Easton. New York: Anthroposophic Press 1986). See also Matthew 17, 1-9; Mark 9, 2-9; Luke 9, 28-36. an event that took place ‘on the mountain’. ‘On the mountain’ is a key phrase signifying that the master was taking his disciples into the innermost sphere to teach them the most occult things. It says ‘the disciples were taken out of themselves’, which means that they were taken into higher worlds. Elijah, Moses and Jesus appeared to them. This means that space and time had been overcome. Moses and Elijah, who were no longer on earth, appeared to them in their devachanic condition. The name Elijah means ‘the way of God’, the goal. The word el, meaning ‘god’ is found in elohim, Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, and also in Bel. 2Bel was another name for Marduk, the chief Babylonian god, meaning ‘god’, or simply ‘lord’. The name Moses signifies truth. Moses is the occult term for truth. Jesus means ‘life’ The Christ himself, standing in the middle, is life. This was written in the mental plan in letters of brass, as it were: ‘The way, the truth and the life’. The disciples said: ‘Let us put up tabernacles here.’ This means they were chelas of the second degree. The Lord also said: ‘Elijah is come already, and they knew him not. Tell this to no man until I am returned again.’ He was speaking of reincarnation. John the Baptist was Elijah. The return refers to the return of Christ Jesus. 3 See also Steiner R. Das Ereignis der Christuserscheinung in der ätherischen Welt. GA 118. Some of the lectures appear in The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric, tr. B. Betteridge, D. Tatum, R. Pusch, M. de Ris, A. Wulsin. New York: Anthroposophic Press 1983. Understanding of this event can be prepared for with the anthroposophical view of the world.
When all human beings have been through an incarnation where they knew nothing of reincarnation and karma, reincarnation will be taught again. In the innermost circles of Christianity reincarnation was, however, always accepted as a truth. This can be seen wherever initiates taught by doing things. An example is the Trappist Order. 4 Cistercian monks with strict observance of the rule which requires absolute silence, hard work in the fields, a vegetarian diet. Established in 1664 at La Trappe Monastery in northwest France Keeping an absolute vow of silence in one life they become excellent speakers in later incarnations. The opposite of what happens in one incarnation thus prepares for a very special gift in the next. Ardent speakers were to be created by withholding speech.
The external teaching in one age thus was that human beings should hold on to the feeling that life on earth was exhausted with this one life. They were to say to themselves: ‘A whole eternity will depend on what happens in this one life’. A radical form of this was the dogma of eternal punishment in hell. The earth would not have been conquered if the teachers of Christianity had not given this to humanity. The great teachers have never presented absolute truth but only what was right for humanity at the time. They never teach the ultimate truths but only what is right for a particular age. It would not have been right to teach reincarnation in that age. What the science of the spirit teaches is also not the ultimate truth. The anthroposophical view of the world must be taught now because it is right for this time. The people who now hear the teaching of spiritual science will hear the truth in a very different way in a later incarnation. Within three thousand years we shall learn something that belongs to a higher realm because we have previously gone through anthroposophy. This is the spiritual side of it. But all things of the spirit must also have a counter image in the physical world. The spirit who appeared in the Christ prepared the way for this several centuries beforehand.
To have people think one incarnation was the one and only one, it was necessary that something cut off the brain from the higher principles in man, from atma, buddhi, manas and from knowing about reincarnation. Humanity was given wine for this purpose. In earlier time, all temple rituals used water only. Then the use of wine was introduced, and a divine spirit—Bacchus, Dionysus—became the representative of wine. John, the most deeply initiated disciple, showed the significance of wine for inner development in his gospel. At the Wedding at Cana, 5 John 2,1-11. See R. Steiner's lecture in Kassel on 2 July 1909 in The Gospel of St John in Relation to the Other Gospels (GA 112). Tr. S. & L. Lockwood. New York & London: Anthroposophic Press & Rudolf Steiner Press 1948. 2nd edition rev. by M. St Goar New York: Anthroposophic Press 1982. water was changed into wine. Wine prepared human beings so that they no longer knew anything of reincarnation. At that time, the water for the offering was changed into wine and we are now again in the process of changing the wine into water. Anyone wishing to reach higher regions of existence must refrain from taking even a drop of alcohol now.
Every line in the gospel of John reflects a profound experience in the single individual and in the whole of humanity. Jesus said: ‘I have come to initiate this period in evolution.’ Paul, an initiate, called the Christ the inverse Adam. 61 Cor 15, 5. See R. Steiner's lecture given in Karlsruhe on 19 Oct. 1911 From Jesus to Christ (GA 131). Tr. H. Collison and D. Davy. London: Rudolf Steiner Press 1973. Adam was the first human being to appear in this form, and with this the spiritual human being was put into incarnation on earth. Two ways were open to him. He could take what the gods gave or gain something new for himself. That is the story of Cain and Abel. 7 See lectures given in Berlin on 10 June 1904, 22 May and 23 Oct, 1905 in The Temple Legend (GA 93). Tr. J. Wood. London: Rudolf Steiner Press 1985. Also the lecture given in The Hague on 27 March 1913 in The Effects of Esoteric Development (GA 145), tr. A. H. Parker. London: Rudolf Steiner Press 1978. Abel took the animals that were there. Cain worked to produce his offering. Bread was produced through the work of Cain. Bread has always been something man has worked for himself. Working to produce bread, man has fallen into sin. Cain slew his brother. Doing his own work man fell into sin, he fell into matter.
The inverse Adam is Christ Jesus who ascends again. He has to pay for this with his blood. This had to be done once by a person. The bread and the wine have their representative in the person of the Christ, in his body and blood. The Lord had to take Cain's deed on himself: This is my body, this is my blood. 8Matthew 26, 26 & 28. Redemption has to be brought about by hallowing that which is on earth. The wine represented this at the last supper, and through this the blood was related to the wine.
The gospels exist not only to teach, they are also books of life. The stories told in them are not just external events but inner human experiences. Christian yoga consists in entering wholly into the gospels in a living way, making this the whole life of one's own soul.
Four things are absolutely necessary for Christian yoga to be at all possible. The first is simplicity. This is a Christian virtue. You have to understand that we have many experiences in life that make us lose our lack of bias. Almost every human being is biased. The only unbiased answers to questions come from children. But they are childish, because the children lack knowledge. We must learn to be wise and unbiased in the life of experience, as unbiased as children. This is called simplicity in Christian terms.
The second virtue we have to acquire is that as a Christian mystic we have to rid ourselves of something many people have, and that is inner satisfaction in religious exercises. We must devote ourselves to those exercises not for personal satisfaction but because the training we follow demands it. All pleasure in religious exercises must cease.
The third virtue is even more difficult. It calls for absolute refusal to ascribe anything whatsoever to our own skills and efficiency. Instead we must learn to ascribe it all to the divine power, the merit of God who works through us. Without this you cannot be a Christian mystic.
The fourth virtue to be achieved is patient acceptance of whatever may come upon us. All cares, all fear must be put aside, and we must be prepared to meet what comes, be it good or ill.
If we do not develop these virtues up to a certain level we cannot hope to be Christian mystics. This preparation then enables us to go through the seven stages on the road of the Christian mystic. 9See lectures given in Paris by Rudolf Steiner on 1 June 1906 (An Esoteric Cosmology, GA 94, Spring Valley: St George Publications 1978) and in Kassel on 7 July 1909 in The Gospel of St John in Relation to the Other Gospels (see Note 5).
The first stage is the washing of the feet. It is putting the words ‘to be lord you must be the servant of all’ 10John 13,16. into practice. We must understand that we do not owe anything we are to our own self. We have to take account of everything other people and the world around us have made of us and reflect on this deeply. We are then able to see that we are connected with the whole of our environment. Having gained strength through the four virtues—simplicity, refusal to feel satisfaction at religious exercises, refusal to ascribe skills to ourselves and patient acceptance of whatever comes—we also gain strength to do the ‘washing of the feet’, as it is called, which is to look in gratitude on everything given to us from outside, everything that has raised us higher, and bow down before it. We must transform everything we feel into nothing but gratitude to those who have given it all to us. And so we must kneel before those because of whom we are, what we are. Christ Jesus knelt before his disciples for without them he could not have been what he had become. Christ Jesus had the disciples as a precondition just as a plant has the mineral world and an animal the plant world as a precondition. He, the Lord, became the servant of all. If we thus learn to lower ourselves and develop a feeling of profound gratitude, then much that exists by way of outer social form drops away and we can go through the next stage.
To do without strength from outside we must have strength inside. When we have come to be the last, we go to the father. This is called ‘the way to the father’, and we are then intimately bound up with this original strength and power. It can only be found through personal experience. We must learn to bear all pain. That is the second stage, the scourging, the second stage in Christian mysticism. The self then is sustained by itself.
To bear contempt is a yet higher stage, the third stage. One must learn to bear finding no regard among people at all. All the strength one needs must be found in the higher life. That is to wear the crown of thorns. We must learn to stand erect when the world despises us and casts derision on us. When a person has got to this point his own body has become alien to him. He has lowered himself has learned to bear pain, to bear contempt. Now the body is something he no longer lives in; his soul floats around it. This is the crucifixion, the fourth stage. It is followed by the stage where one's own body has become wholly object, as if one were tied to an alien piece of wood. Then being apart has ceased for us. It is the mystic death on the cross—the fifth stage.
The sixth stage is reached when the human being has become one with all that exists on earth, embracing it all with his feeling, experiencing the whole earth as his body. That is the entombment. The individual has then reached the point known as ‘being at one with the planet’ in initiation science. He then feels himself to be no longer apart. Man can only exist on this earth. A few hundred miles away from it and he must die, shrivel up as a hand shrivels up when it is cut off the body. The earth is then the body of the human being. We must be entombed in it. Through this condition man gains the conscious awareness of the earth. There follows the seventh stage, the resurrection. The individual has become one who is raised from the dead. This condition can only be understood by someone whose thinking no longer depends on the physical brain as its instrument.
Human beings can go through these seven stages by bringing the gospel of John, from the 13th chapter onwards, to life in themselves again and again—the washing of the feet, the path of wanting to serve, bowing down in humility before all; second stage the scourging; third stage the crown of thorns; fourth stage the crucifixion; fifth stage the mystic death on the cross; sixth stage the entombment; seventh stage the resurrection. These are the seven stages of the inner Christian mystery that have been outwardly presented on the plan of world history.
Christian monks lived through these experiences over and over again in the gospel of John, for the whole of their lives. This was the source of the strength they needed.