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The Christian Mystery
GA 97

V. The Gospel of John

3 February 1907, Heidelberg

Christian theologians are calling the gospel of John into question today.53E.g. Strauss, David Friedrich (1808–74), German theologian, Leben Jesu (life of Jesus) 1835, translated into English by George Eliot in 1846; Renan, Ernest (1823–92), French philologist and historian, Vie de Jésus (life of Jesus) 1863; Hamack, Adolf von(1851–1930), Das Wesen des Christentums (the nature of Christianity) Leipzig 1901. They say the first three gospels, the synoptic gospels according to Matthew, Mark and Luke, are consistent in the way they speak of Jesus. Any variations between them are considered unimportant. It is said that on the basis of the synoptic gospels one can have a consistent idea of Jesus. The gospel of John differs greatly from them, speaking of the founder of Christianity in a very different tone and apparently a very different way. It is therefore considered less credible. The synoptics, people say, were intended to tell the life of Christ, whilst the writer of John's gospel lived at a later period and wrote a kind of hymn to express how he felt. Theologians see John's gospel as the fictional work of a believer. The times have gone when a theologian like Bunsen54Bunsen, Christian KarlJosias, Baron (1791–1860), Prussian diplomat, theologian and scholar, author of works on history and theology. might write: ‘If the gospel of John does not tell the historical truth, Christianity simply will not be tenable.’ It is the task of spiritual science to show the significance of John's gospel again to the people of today.

There is another reason why present-day theologians give preference to the synoptics over John's gospel. If one takes the content of these three gospels, having thrown out the miracles, one has the image of an exalted human being, but someone who is no more than an exalted human being. According to the gospel of John, however, Jesus was more than just a highly developed human being. He was a universal spirit incarnated in an earthly body. The synoptics speak of Jesus of Nazareth, the gospel of John is about the Christ.

The introduction to John's gospel refers to an all-encompassing cosmic principle, the logos, which incarnated in Jesus of Nazareth: ‘In the beginning was the logos.’ People do not want to know about a sublime spirit descending. They only believe in highly developed human beings and not that a god ever lived on earth. It is because of this that people have gradually lost their relationship to the gospel of John over the last centuries. This lecture will be about the way people relate to the gospel of John.

If you read John's gospel the way you read any other book, to find out what it says, you are reading it very much the wrong way. John's gospel is not a book in the sense one generally takes a book to be. It is a book of life.

Let me say first of all that in all deeply religious documents every word has been put there with profound intention. This may be illustrated by considering the question: ‘What is the name of Jesus' mother according to John's gospel?’ Everyone will say: ‘Mary’. But this cannot be shown from John's gospel. Jesus' mother is first mentioned in the story of the wedding at Cana, but she is not named: ‘On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee and the mother of Jesus was there.’55John 2: 3-5. She is mentioned again and not named as one of the three women who stood by the cross: ‘But beside Jesus' mother and his mother's sister, Mary, the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.’56John 19: 25. Here it is not his mother but her sister who is called ‘Mary’. It is unlikely that both sisters would be called Mary, and we therefore have to assume that Jesus' mother had a different name.

Another example is this. The writer of John's gospel or the individual who is otherwise always called John, is always only referred to as ‘the disciple whom the Lord loved’. ‘When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing there, he said to his mother: Here is your son.’57John 19: 26 This is deeply important if we are to understand the questions we meet when we take the gospel of John in a spiritual sense.

Until a few centuries ago, the gospel of John was considered to be a book of meditation. It had to become inward experience if one wanted to have inner understanding of Jesus. It was for priests who wished to behold the secrets of Christianity. Hundreds of people have truly done this, and hundreds of them have gained the fruit of it. To penetrate to the Christian mysteries one had to let one's soul mature solely with the aid of John's gospel. People had to know, however, that the first lines had magic powers. The pupil had to let them come alive in his soul for a quarter to half an hour every morning, never speculating on them but purely to absorb their power. This was meditation. Someone who lived with the first lines of John's gospel in this way for months, for years, would realize their special power, for the eyes of the spirit would open for him. Those lines are live powers capable of waking dormant faculties. The pupils would then have living astral visions of the images given in the gospel. The first words of it served to give people this experience. Their power was greater in the past than it is today. People have changed more than one tends to think.

People did not read in the 13th century, when printing had not yet been developed. Reading has changed humanity a great deal. Even the most devout individual today has no idea of the riches of feeling people then had. Today we must give different meditations to people who want to progress.

It would also be necessary to translate John's gospel properly,58Rudolf Steiner had translated John 1:1 -14 for a lecture he gave in Munich on 27 Oct. 1906 (in German in GA 94). See also lecture of 2 Dec. 1906 in this volume. so that it may once again be what it used to be for people.

In the origin was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was a god.

This was with God in the origin.

All that exists has come into being through it, and nothing that has come into existence has done so except through it. In it was life, and life was the light of mankind. And the light shone into the darkness, but the darkness did not comprehend it.

There came to be a man, sent by God, and his name was John. He came to witness, that he bear witness of the light, that all might believe through him.

He was not the light, but a witness of the light.

For the true light, that illumines all men, was to come into the world. It was in the world, and the world came into being through it, but the world did not know it.

It came into individual human beings (it came to the I-people); but the individual human beings (the I-people) did not receive it.59The manuscript of Rudolf Steiner's translation into German is in the Archives in Domach (No. NZ 3477). The words in parentheses were added by him at a later stage.

At the time of the Lemurian race, the human soul entered into its first human incarnation. Before then it rested in God; human beings were not yet I-endowed.

This inner vision—what happens when someone gains insight into the world of the spirit? Everyday people live between waking and sleep, the latter at most broken up by dreams. Human beings consist of physical body, ether or life body, astral body and I. These four members are together when people are awake. The physical body is a sum of physical apparatuses, the eye a camera obscura, the ear a stringed instrument. The ether body enters into these, vitalizing them and conveying the sensations to the astral body—the bearer of pleasure and pain, drives, desires and passions—and then also to the I. In sleep, the physical and ether bodies lie in the bed, the astral body with the I is lifted out. The ether body stays with the physical body and vitalizes it; vital functions continue without interruption in sleep. Colours, sounds, pleasure and pain are in deep darkness, as it were, with the individual not aware of them.

There are as many worlds as the human being has sense organs to perceive. Without eyes no light. If man had an organ for electricity he would perceive it just as he now perceives light, for instance.

In sleep, a human being lives in the astral or also in the devachanic world, but is not sentient of it. A change will only come if he works consistently to develop higher organs. Light then begins to dawn around him. In sleep, he is sentient of a space around him that is filled with objects. Something happens to him the way it does to someone born blind who has an operation. Astral and spiritual sense organs develop, he sees the world of the spirit, and sleep no longer makes him unconscious. Later the world of the spirit around him begins to sound. He hears the Pythagoreans' music of the spheres, something people nowadays think is a metaphor. Goethe knew exactly what it was. In his prologue to Faust he said:

The sun proclaims its old devotion
In rival song with brother spheres,
And still completes in thunderous motion
The circuits of its destined years.60Karl Julius Schröer wrote in his Faust commentary: ‘The ancient Germans believed that a sound could be heard as the sun rose (Tacitus, Germania 45). In one of the Songs of Ossian translated by Goethe it says: “Where the sun sings as he rises.” The Pythagoreans held the view that the law of physics according to which heavenly bodies move and are held, is expressed in sounds that are the harmony of the spheres.’

This cannot be taken to be mere words but must be taken literally. One hears the sun sound forth when one hears the music of the spirit. In part 2 of Faust, Goethe wrote:

Resounding now for ears of spirit
The new day is already being born.61Here Karl Julius Schröer again referred to the ancient Germans and to Ossian, continuing: ‘Goethe probably had the passages 5, 749 and 8, 393 in the Iliad in mind. The Horae, guardians of Olympus, guard, open and close the gate of heaven. Those passages do, however, say: Heaven's gate crashed open of its own accord which the Horae were guarding.’

The world of the spirit thus first comes during sleep for human beings, but they must also be able to take the experiences they have had in their sleep into the everyday world. They must find the things they first discover in sleep among the physical objects they know when awake. This comes with further training.

When the first lines of John's gospel had had their effect, and the gospel's images arose before the mind's eye, the pupil would be assisted in developing certain feelings. After some further exercises the teacher would ask him to develop the following feeling, doing this for a long time: ‘If the plant that grows in the soil were to consider the rock on which it is growing it would have to say to it: "You, stone, belong to a lower realm than I do, but I could not exist without you." It would have to bend down to it and thank it in all humility for making life possible for it. In the same way every higher class of human beings must bend down to the lower class and thank it. Every individual who is at a higher level owes his existence to the one who is lower than he is. This is a feeling you must firmly establish in your soul, for hours every day, for weeks and for months.’

If the pupil did this, a spiritual image would finally appear before his eyes that would be the same for everyone. He would see twelve people of a lower order sitting around him and he would wash their feet. The teacher would then say: ‘Now you have inner understanding of the 13th chapter of John's gospel, the washing of the feet.’ Apart from this image seen in the spirit there would also be physical symptoms which again were the same for almost all of them. The pupil would feel as if there was water washing around his feet.

He then had to develop a second feeling, again for weeks and months. When all the pain and hardships of life beset me, I want to develop the strength to withstand them. When he had developed this inner feeling a new vision would arise. He would see himself being scourged. This vision again would be the same for everyone. The outer symptom would be a stinging and itching sensation over the whole body that continued for a long time. He would then have to develop a third feeling. It is not enough to bear the hardships of life: ‘The best you have in you may have scorn and derision poured on it. Remain upright in spite of this.’ When the pupil had developed this feeling a third vision would appear: He would see himself wearing the crown of thorns. The external symptom would be a severe headache.

He then had to develop another feeling. ‘All people say “I” to the body they bear. Your body must be no more important to you than any other object. You must feel your body to be something alien to you.’ When the pupil had gone through this, the vision of the crucifixion would come, and externally the stigmata of the Christ on hands and feet and on the right side of the chest—not the left, as is usually said. These symptoms would come again on many occasions at times of meditation.

The teacher would then say to the pupil: ‘You will now experience the mystic death.’ This can only be described in approximate words. The pupil's experience would be that the whole of existence was extinguished for a moment; all objects had gone, were hidden behind a veil. The veil would then rip apart from top to bottom and the pupil would look into the world of the spirit. Before this there was something else. Before he knew mystic death, the pupil would have visions of all the evil that may exist in the world; he had to descend to hell before he experienced the mystic death.

In the sixth stage the pupil would begin to feel that his body no longer was something that belonged to him. His conscious awareness expanded to embrace the whole earth. When this had been developed it would be called the entombment. The seventh stage can no longer be described in earthly terms. It was resurrection and ascension to heaven. This state is beyond anything a human being can think of.

The gospel of John describes these seven stages. Someone who had gone through them all would recognize Jesus as he had lived on earth. The gospel of John is the way of coming to know Christ Jesus. It was therefore given to those who wanted to grow wise as a book to help their development, not as a book of devotions. Every part of it can become living experience.

Details: The revelation of this truth is a stage in human evolution that cannot be compared with any other. The following came into the world with Jesus: Man already had four members when he first incarnated, but he developed further. Let us consider an undeveloped human being. His astral body would still be the way it was when he received it. Let us compare it with the astral body of an average European or that of an idealist such as Schiller62Schiller, Johann Christoph Friedrich von (1759–1805), German writer, poet and playwright. or a highly developed individual such as Francis of Assisi.63St Francis of Assisi (1182–1226), Pater Seraphicus, see R. Steiner's lectures given in Berlin on 15 Feb. 1909 (in The Principle of Spiritual Economy, GA 109) and 22 March 1909 (in The Deed of Christ and the Opposing Spiritual Powers, GA 107). The average European no longer obeys every drive. He will reject some, and also put other feelings in their place—moral laws. The I has been working on the astral body. His astral body consists of two parts—the unpurified part, which is still the way it was when he received it, and the purified part. In Schiller, the purified part was already large, compared to the unpurified. And the astral body of a Francis of Assisi consists of the purified part only. This purified part of the astral body is called the spirit self or manas, and the human being then has five principles to his essential nature.

Human beings can work on their ether bodies in the same way. Religious and artistic feelings work on the ether body and create the life spirit, buddhi, out of it. If someone is able to gain control of the physical body, the part of it which he has made spiritual is the atman. The process is exceedingly slow in external evolution. In Greece the buddhi was called Chrestos, and most people today have only the first beginnings of this. The greatest power given to our age to develop the buddhi came with the Christ. He made it possible to develop the sixth principle, the buddhi, in the whole of humanity. He made humanity spiritual.

The seventh principle is that of the father. The holy spirit develops manas, the Christ the sixth principle, and when this has been extensively developed for a whole race, the power that has lain hidden in it emerges, and that is the sixth principle. All human beings who are part of that race will then have reached the sixth stage of initiation, which is the entombment.

A cheerfull or a sad face tells us that the soul is cheerful or is sad; the outer reveals the inner, everything brings the soul to revelation. If you think of the earth as the body of an ensouled being, then the souls of human beings have merged with the soul of the earth when their bodies have merged physically with the earth. The soul in the earth could be just as the human soul is in the human body. Man takes his food from the body of the earth and tramples it underfoot. Jesus said: ‘He who eats my bread has lifted up his heel against me.’

Older writings often have keywords, specific terms for particular things. Thus a master going to the inner sanctuary with his pupils is ‘going up the mountain’. The sermon on the mount was for the pupils only: ‘And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain ... his disciples came to him.’64John 13:18. Sermon on the mount—see also the lecture given in Stuttgart on 19 Jan. 1907, in this volume.

In the same way ‘temple’ refers to the physical body. It is usually referred to as our lower nature. Is it truly low in relation to the astral body? The fact is that the physical body is much more highly developed than the astral body today. Later on, of course, the astral body will be much more highly developed than the physical body. Consider the thigh bone, where maximum strength is given using the minimum of material. Or consider the heart, which is so wisely organized that it resists continuous attacks from the astral body for decades.

It was said that when an initiate's astral body loosened and came to conscious awareness: ‘He has gone out of the temple.’ The Christ speaks of the temple in the gospel of John: ‘Then they took up stones to throw at him. But Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.’65John 8: 59. He also spoke in this sense of cleansing the temple and destroying it and rebuilding it in three days.

How the Christ came into the world may be seen as follows. The sixth principle, the buddhi, is born of the fifth when this has reached its highest point, of the spirit self or manas or, to use the name the Greeks had for the fifth principle, Sophia. All gnostics who accepted the meaning of the gospel of John called the mother of Jesus ‘Sophia’.

With the appearance of Jesus the earth received the sixth principle. The life spirit united with humanity. For this to be accomplished, the Sophia had to be fully mature first. When the life spirit unites with humanity, humanity is the Sophia. This is given as a parable in the story of the wedding at Cana.

The Lord let the gospel of John be revealed by the disciple whom he loved. That is always the name given to the first and favourite pupil of a master. In the gospel of John, reference to the disciple whom the Lord loved is first made in chapter 11, where he speaks of the raising of Lazarus. In those days, a pupil would spend three days in the temple to be initiated. Not only his astral body but his ether body, too, would be loosened. He therefore died, as it were, and was raised again at the end of the three-day period. The Lord initiated the disciple whom he loved, and the raising of Lazarus signifies this.

The disciple who stood by the cross was therefore again Lazarus, and the same initiate also wrote the gospel of John. To make it all harmonize, the disciple whom the Lord loved is not mentioned before the raising of Lazarus in chapter 11. This was the view held in all gnostic and Rosicrucian schools. It is a view that will be held again.

The gospel of John is a book full of secrets, full of powers offered to humanity.

Questions and Answers

What is the ‘causal body?’

When people die today, the ether body separates from the physical body together with the astral body and the I. The ether body still stays with the higher members for a time, and during this first period after leaving the physical body a person's whole last life lies spread before him like a vast tableau. This is because the ether body supports not only the vital functions but also memory. In life it was limited by the physical brain and unable to function fully. As soon as the physical barriers have gone, the complete memory spreads before the human soul. This continues until the ether body separates from the astral body and I after a few days. It is only the ether substance which separates, however. The memory picture is taken along. The individual keeps this essence of the ether body, and the sum of such essences from all lives on earth is the causal body.

How should we regard the celebration of the last supper in the gospel of John, and especially bread being given to Judas, the betrayer?

A specific part of the old form of initiation consisted in the pupil being taken to the temple, and in a ‘three-day death’, which meant that the ether body was also loosened and taken through astral and devachanic experiences. One of these was that every part of the body became a human figure. There were twelve parts, and the pupil would see twelve figures, with himself the thirteenth, the soul of the twelve.

Sensuality has brought egotism and this must be overcome. This was an important part of the teaching for medieval initiands. At that time, a teacher might have said something like the following to a pupil. ‘Look at the plant, it chastely holds the fruiting organs up to the sun. A fruit can only develop if the flower is kissed by the sun. Man is an upside-down plant. The animal is between the two. The cosmic soul goes through plant, animal and man. The cosmic soul is crucified on the cross which is the earth. Man's substance is interwoven with desires. His flesh is lower than the flesh of a plant. Later, man will be without desire again and chastely offer himself to the rays of the spiritual sun.’ The principle known as the holy grail arises, which is a bringing forth in the spirit.

At the last supper in the gospel of John, lower self-seeking is represented by Judas, the betrayer. The disciple whom the Lord loved was leaning on his breast. The purified energy goes up to the heart which will be the organ for bringing things forth in the spirit in future. This can already be seen in the anatomy of the heart. The heart is an involuntary muscle and therefore should have smooth fibres. But it does not; it is striated the way voluntary muscles are. It is thus already pointing to a time when it will be a voluntary muscle.

When pupils woke from their initiation, the words ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani!’66Matthew 27: 46; Mark 15: 34.; ‘sabachthan’, is usually translated as ‘forsaken’. A similar-sounding word ‘shevachthani’ means ‘elevated’ or ‘glorified’. See lecture given in Basel on 12 Sept. 1910 (in The Gospel of St Matthew, GA 123). would be wrested from their lips, they mean ‘My God, my God, how you have transfigured me!’ These words given in the original text are easily changed to the other version, which is: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

The house where the last supper was taken was one of the initiation houses.

What did the transformation of water into wine at Cana mean?

The way modern theologians explain it, it is the transformation of the old testament into the new, which is to be the bubbling wine. Here in the north, Siegfried was the pre-Christian initiate who did not go beyond pre-Christian initiation. This is indicated by his vulnerable spot. Siegfried, invulnerable, was vulnerable at the point where the Christ bore the cross.

One individual will come who signifies the meaning of the earth. Water is the blood of this spirit. Water was known as ‘the blood of Christ’ in all the mysteries.

In the 8th century before Christ, the rites of Dionysus developed and with them also excessive drinking of wine. Wine was not known in Atlantean times. Today it has fulfilled its function. The appearance of the vine louse is a sign that wine has had its day. When it did not yet exist, all human beings had an awareness of the eternal core that goes from life to life. Belief in reincarnation was a consolation for an Egyptian worker who had to labour so hard that we cannot imagine it today. Those people did not drink wine. Drinking wine cuts human beings off from insight into the higher aspects. This had to happen at one time. If humanity had never had wine, they would have grown weary of the earth and that could not be allowed to happen. To develop civilization, human beings had to come to love the earth; they had to be cut off from their earlier incarnations and love only the one in which they were at the time. The whole of humanity once had to go through a period when they knew nothing of their higher principles and of earlier incarnations. Christianity did not teach reincarnation in public for two millennia; it was only taught to initiates, which is also what the Christ did when he asked them to tell no one about the things they had seen till he had come again,67Mark 9: 9. that is, until the sixth principle had slowly evolved. That time has now come. The whole of humanity has now gone through one incarnation where they were cut off from the higher world.

In earlier times marriage was among blood relations. A consequence of the change to marrying out of one's tribe was that clairvoyance was lost. Today marriage between blood relations would cause degeneration. In those early days, people not only remembered things from their own but also from their parents' lives. This inherited memory bore a name: Adam, Seth, Enoch. Apart from memories, good and evil things were also inherited—original sin.

To change this, general love of humanity had to replace the blood bonds. ‘He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.’68Luke 14: 26; Matthew 10: 37; Mark 10: 29.

Jesus also went to people not of his tribe, to the Samaritan woman. ‘Jews had nothing in common with Samaritans.’69John 4: 9. Christ Jesus came from Galilee, a country of the most mixed blood possible.

A spirit on a distant star looking at the earth would see the physical earth penetrated and surrounded by an ether and an astral body. If this spirit had observed earth evolution from Abraham to the present day it would have seen its colours change at the moment when the blood flowed from Christ's wounds. An initiation like that of Paul the apostle70John 4: 9. could not have happened before the coming of the Christ. This external initiation had become possible when the earth's whole astral body changed.

Question concerning the future of Christianity

Christianity has such infinite depths that it is quite impossible to see how it will develop. As a religion it is the last. It has all the potential for development. Theosophy merely serves Christianity.

The difference between the Christ and the other founders of great religions is that in the other religions people believe in what the founders taught, in Christianity people believe in what the Christ himself represents.

Healing influence of the ether body on the physical body

Mental diseases are partly due to the fact that the ether body does not have the power to influence certain parts of the physical body. If the ether body is too weak to control part of the body, this part will get sick. If you strengthen the ether body you have helped.