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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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The Christian Mystery
GA 97

XIV. Early Initiation and Esoteric Christianity

17 March 1907, Munich

To consider just two ideas that are part of the Christian view—sinning against the holy spirit 120Matthew 13: 13 & 32; Mark 3: 28 & 29; Luke 12: 10. and the idea of grace—and let them be illuminated for us from their depths, we have to know a little about the basic issues and movements of Christianity. You know from other lectures that behind the usual teaching about Christianity lies an esoteric Christianity. You also know that the gospels themselves give hints of such a Christianity, simply in the words: ‘When the Lord was speaking to the people he would speak in parables, but when he and the disciples were among themselves he would expound those parables to them.’ 121Matthew 13: 10-13, 34-36; Mark 4: 33 & 34. There simply was the teaching given to people who were not yet able to understand so much, so that one could only hint at things, being unable as yet to go deeper with them, and the teaching that was meant for initiates. Paul, the great disseminator of Christianity, taught like this speaking to the people, as we know from his epistles. Apart from the teaching he gave for the people, in an external way, Paul also taught esoterically. External history does not know that Paul founded the esoteric school in Athens that was under the guidance of Dionysius. In this esoteric school of Christianity, intimate pupils were given the occult knowledge you are now getting to know through the science of the spirit.

Scholars do not know much about the teaching Paul's esoteric companions gave to intimate pupils in Athens at that time. People even speak of a false Dionysius, saying that it cannot be proved that anything he taught was ever written down. The individual who taught these things in the 6th century was therefore called pseudo-Dionysius. Only people who do not know how such intimate teachings were handled in those times can say such things. In our day and age everyone rushes things into print. In the old days, the most sacred truth would be preserved from publication. Teachers would first take a look at the individual to whom they would tell it. It was taught person to person, and to people who were truly able to know its value. The teachings of esoteric Christianity were thus also passed from one individual to another, with some written down later, in the 6th century. It was customary for the leader of such a school to bear the name Dionysius, and so the leader also had that name in the 6th century, which was the name of his great predecessor in Athens, who was Paul's friend.

Let us consider the two concepts—sinning against the holy spirit, or really blaspheming against the holy spirit, and the concept of grace—as they were truly taught in Athens.

To get to the original meaning of Christianity we must go far back in the history of human evolution and understand that the coming of Christ Jesus brought something completely new in the evolution of the human mind and spirit. Paul's own initiation shows this most clearly. The situation where someone like Saul had a sudden enlightenment and became completely convinced of the truth of Christianity would not have been possible before the coming of the Christ. We have spoken of the nature of initiation here on earth before the coming of the Christ on previous occasions. Let us do it again, so that we may know what the spirit of truth truly is in Christian terms. To understand what went on in the ancient initiation centres we must briefly call to mind the nature of the human being.

You know about man having seven aspects. The physical body is made of the same materials as the lifeless matter in the physical world. The ether body calls these powers to life, and at every moment in our lives actively counters the decomposition of the physical body. It is only at death that the ether or life body leaves the physical body. A crystal holds its substance together of its own accord; the living body decomposes as soon as it is left to itself. There truly is a fighter against death in him at all times. Death comes when he ceases to fight. The third member is the astral body, the conscious awareness body. The fourth is the I, and through it man is the crowning glory of creation. In all occult teachings the human being was seen to have these four members. In the Pythagorean school every pupil first had to be taught this, and he could only be introduced to the higher wisdom once it had become inner conviction. He thus had to make this vow: ‘I vow by all that has been deeply imprinted in our hearts—the sacred fourfoldness, the spiritually sublime symbol, the source and origin of all creativeness in nature and in spirit.’

Even the most undeveloped human being has these four members. Human beings evolve through different incarnations, becoming more and more perfect because the I works on these three members of human nature. In the astral body it first of all works on everything that advances civilization, all logical, scientific learning that serves to take us beyond the animal level. That is the work of the I in the astral body. In every human being who has developed, whose I has been working on the astral body, that body divides in two—the part that is given and the part which has only been made by the I. This latter part, which grows larger and larger as the human being advances, is called manas or spirit self. In Christian esotericism this part is called the holy spirit, in contrast to the spirit that is the unpurified and unhallowed part of the astral body. This, then, is the fifth principle.

The I can also work into the denser ether body. This also happens in the ordinary way, but unconsciously. It has been said on a number of occasions that distinction must be made between work on the astral body and the ether body. With regard to their rate of progress, the astral body may be said to be like the movement of the minute hand compared to the ether body's hour hand. When a person opens up to the impression of a sublime work of art, this will transform both the life body and the conscious awareness body. Every great impulse in the arts has this effect. The most powerful effect comes from the religious impulses which the founders of religions have given to the world; they give the I its orientation towards the eternal. The clairvoyant eye can see it when the ether body of a human being becomes increasingly more beautiful and pure.

The part of the human ether body made spiritual by the I is called the buddhi or life spirit; it is transformed life body. In Christian esoteric teaching this part, which has been transformed by the I, is called the Christos. The fifth principle of essential human nature is the holy spirit, the sixth principle the Christ, the inner Christos.

Reference has already been made to the fact that occult training has always been available and that people could become initiates and then gain direct insight into the world of the spirit. This results from a higher transformation of the ether or life body. You therefore also need to understand that higher training is not just a matter of taking in concepts and things that are taught. Occult training means to transform the qualities of the life body. Someone who has transformed his temperament has done a great deal more than he would have done by taking in an infinite amount of knowledge.

An even higher transformation comes only with advanced training. Here the individual purifies and cleanses his physical body. What do we know of the human physical body? Dissection in an anatomical institute does not reveal the laws that govern it, the inner control of it. There is, however, a way to look into oneself and understand the movements of nerve strands, of pulse beat and the flow of respiration, so that one can consciously influence them. When someone is also able to transform his physical body in occult training, as it is called, the transformed dense body is called atman, for one begins by regulating the breathing process. 122The German for breathing is Atmen. Translator The seventh principle of essential human nature is atman, called the father in Christian esoteric teaching.

This is how one first comes to the holy spirit, which is the transformed astral body, then through the holy spirit to the Christ, which is conscious awareness of the ether body, and through the Christ to the father, conscious awareness of the physical body.

Once you have understood how these seven aspects of human nature are related, you will also understand the nature of initiation in early times, before the Christ, and how it was after Christ Jesus had come to earth. When a person is asleep, only the physical and the ether body lie in the bed, the astral body is outside. When a person dies, he leaves behind his physical body, and the part of the physical body he has already transformed is lifted out—powers, not matter. It is very little indeed which he takes with him, but it is the element which will serve to shape the new physical body when the individual incarnates again. Materialism calls this the ‘permanent atom’. 123A theory established by the theosophist Charles Webster Leadbeater. See Annie Besant and C. W. Leadbeater's Occult Chemistry. First of all the part of the physical body which the individual has transformed departs, the ether body departs, the conscious awareness body departs and the I. After some time the part of the ether on which the individual has not yet been working separates off. The human being then goes into kamaloka, the place of purification. After some time the part of the astral body on which the I has not yet been working also separates off. A time comes when the human being only retains the parts of the three bodies which the I itself has worked through. This goes through the realm of the spirit. It is the core of man's eternal essence, which will grow all the more the I has been working on the bodies.

The holy spirit is the eternal spirit in man. The Christ is the eternal part of the life body, the father the eternal aspect of the physical body. These three go with the human being through all time, being the part of him that is eternal.

Before Christian times, initiation was such that the pupil would first be prepared for everything occult science was able to offer, up to the point where he was familiar with all the concepts and ideas, all the habits and feelings that are needed for living in the higher worlds and be able to have perceptions in them. Then came the ‘resurrection’, as it was called, taking three and a half days and three nights. For this the temple priest used his arts to put the individual artificially into a death-like sleep for three and a half days. Normally the physical and the ether body remain connected in sleep, but the art of the priest who performed the initiation caused the ether body of the initiand to be lifted out of the physical body for this period, leaving only a loose connection between the physical body and the other bodies. It was a deep trance sleep. The initiand's I lived in the higher worlds during this time. The pupil knew his way about there because he had been given knowledge of the higher world. The priest would guide him. To begin with, the priest had to free the ether body of the lethargic physical body so that he might guide the pupil into the worlds of spirit. Human beings would not have been able to rise into those higher worlds in a fully conscious state. They had to be lifted out of that state.

The initiand would experience magnificent, tremendous things there, but he would be entirely in the hands of the priest. Another person had control over him, and that was the price that had to be paid for entering into the higher worlds. You can imagine what he would be afterwards, if you remember that he was able to know his eternal principle on this occasion. He was rid of the part of his finite nature, of his physical body, which was of no use to him when he wanted to move in higher worlds. Such an individual would be a ‘knower’ after this, able to bear witness from personal vision of life's victory over death. Those were the initiates who could bear witness. The ether body had to be lifted out of the physical body to meet the Christos in the human being. Those initiates were able to say: ‘I know from personal experience that there is a part of the human being that is eternal, continuing through all incarnations. I know this; I have had living experience of this eternal core of my self.’ To gain this prize, they had to enter into three days of total dream sleep.

Something else was connected with this. This form of initiation also involved something else. The further back we go, the more are we able to see it. I characterized it before by saying that in very early times they had close marriage compared to our distant marriage. In all nations there were small communities that were interrelated. People would marry within their community, and it was considered immoral to go outside your small community. Marriages were always between blood relations. Close marriage only changed gradually to become distant marriage. Special measures were actually needed for initiations, with a careful selection made on the basis of previous incarnations to get the best possible blood mixture. Out of such a tribe would be born the one who was able to go through high-level initiations. With blood relations it is particularly easy to lift the ether body out of the physical body. It is not at all easy with distant marriages. Whole generations of priests saw to it that the blood was preserved in a quite specific way.

Human life is complicated and does not always follow a straight path. We need to enter more deeply into the riddles of existence. The principle of close marriage was abandoned more and more, with the tribe gradually expanding to be a nation. With the Israelites we can see how the tribal principle was taken up completely and raised to become the community of a nation. The Christ opened up this prospect further, into a distant future: ‘Anyone who does not leave father and mother, wife, children, brother and sister and also his personal life cannot be my disciple.’

Harsh but true, these words indicate the way Christianity was going. Within a national community one would say: ‘That is my brother, born within this nation.’ In the brotherhood of humanity, which encompasses the whole of humanity, we say: ‘You are a human being, therefore you are my brother.’ That is the most profound principle of Christianity. All the narrow-mindedness of the other kind of relationship must be torn apart, with a common bond bringing together one human being with another. This also tore apart the ancient initiation principle which had been based on blood relationship.

The new initiation principle, which was no longer tied up with any physical property, can be seen in the case of Paul himself. He was initiated in the light, not in temple darkness. This could not have happened at an earlier time. If we consider this we can see the tremendous change that came with Christ Jesus. It had been prepared for by Moses, Zarathustra, Buddha and Pythagoras and was brought by Christ Jesus.

We thus see the principle applied for the first time also in Christian initiation schools that the human being was taken into higher worlds not by withdrawing him from the physical body but in full conscious awareness and in his physical body. This was the case in the Christian esoteric schools. Among the ancients, on the other hand, the strict authority of the initiating temple priest had to be accepted by the initiand. It was only possible to rise to those worlds by submitting wholly to the power of such an initiator.

The principle of compulsive authority also came to expression in the general social life. The priests were the rulers. All rules of government, all authority structures came from those who had the power to initiate. This was possible when community was blood-based in both tribe and nation. The ending of the old initiation principle meant the beginning of a completely different authority—independent authority based only on trust. ‘You must believe the one whom you trust’ is the highest Christian idea to which one rises, with each being a brother to the other, and someone in a higher position given recognition as someone one trusts.

‘Watch and pray’ is the Christian principle. The new initiation takes place in the waking state. ‘You will know the truth, and the truth shall set you free’ 124John 8: 32 are profound Christian words. They signify a prospect opening out into the future of Christianity. Christianity is only at the beginning of its evolution.

Consider the intense relationship between the teacher who was the initiator in the old temple sleep and his pupil receiving his final initiation in three and a half days. The relationship was one we cannot even imagine today. The relationship between a hypnotist and his subject gives us a faint idea of the way in which the initiating temple priest would awaken first the holy spirit and then the Christos. The pupil would mirror the holy spirit and the Christos of the teacher; they had merged, a clairvoyant could observe the process. For those three days, teacher and pupil were identified with one another. The teacher's I lived on in all his pupils, deeply fused during those three days. Consider the social pyramid, with the people below, above them the initiates, above them the teachers of the initiates. One spirit flowed down through all levels. Much lives on in people who were initiated in this way, also alien things.

With the principle of Christianity, individual nature gained validity. Hence the principle of Christian initiation that pupils must never fuse with the teacher in this way. They must not become one person in the initiation process. The holy spirit must arise, be awakened, in the I of each individual. This has become the principle of Christian initiation. It is also shown in symbolic form in the miracle of Pentecost in the Acts of the Apostles. 125Acts 2: 4. The possibility for initiation was given in that they all began to speak in different tongues. The teacher respects the individual nature of the other; he enters into the pupi's heart but does not take it out of his physical body.

Remember how it is above all important for present-day humanity that the holy spirit and the Christos are developed independently. There you can see that this human individual nature only came to be considered to be independent with this principle of Christianity. It was Christianity which finally and truly freed the human individual, and because of this, Christianity means that our relationship to truth and wisdom must be entirely different now.

In earlier times, the spirit of wisdom ruled because it was centralized. With humanity shattering it became decentralized, but egotism also arose. The more the principle of distant marriage came to apply, the greater had to be the power of the element that would bring human beings, who were now independent, together again. What is this element? Consider the things we learn today in the elementary parts of our science of the spirit and then go back in history, and you will find that this knowledge was possessed only by small groups, finally only the very summit, which then ruled on the principle of compulsive authority. We are approaching a time when wisdom will be more and more among the people. It will be a means of creating the great brotherhood of humanity.

Two individuals investigating the realm of the spirit will never have different opinions about one and the same thing. If they do, one opinion will be wrong. Wisdom is a single whole, and there can be no difference. The more individual people grow, the more must they be given wisdom; this will bring them together. Today we are in a state of transition. The principle of the point of view comes to an end as wisdom progressively develops. The more individual humanity becomes, the wiser must it grow. That is the spirit of wisdom which Christ Jesus promised to his people. The sun of wisdom draws all individual points of view to itself, as the sun does all plants.

The spirit that will make human beings free is the holy spirit. A Christian must never sin against it. Those who do, sin against Christianity itself, against the promised spirit who alone can bring individual human beings together.

In the gospels we read of Christ Jesus driving out demons. 126E.g. Luke 4: 33 & 34. Demons will only exist for as long as man is unfree, so long as he has not taken up this spirit of wisdom. Man is literally loaded with all kinds of spirits that flow in and out of his lower members. We call them apparitions, spectres, ghosts, demons. 127See Steiner R. Theosophy of the Rosicrucian (GA 99). 22 May–6 June 1907. Tr. M. Cotterell, D. Osmond. London: Rudolf Steiner Press 1981. To make a rather commonplace comparison—it is like maggots moving in and out of a cheese. When he stood there as the spirit who drives out demons, Christ Jesus showed himself to be the spirit of freedom. You can only drive out demons by pitting one spirit against another, the spirit of freedom against all other spirits.

Now let us briefly think of those earlier communities of tribe and nation. How could those people be brought together, not having become free individuals? Imagine everyone sitting in this room has become free, with the spirit of truth living in all of them. Will we ever be in dispute, ever be in discord? No, for when only the spirit unites us there are no points of view. In earlier times external laws had to prevail to keep people together. Two people who know the spirit of truth will feel drawn to one another of their own accord. And so we have the law at the beginning of human evolution, and in the end, peaceful, harmonious collaboration that comes from inside. In Christian esoteric teaching this is called ‘grace’, the opposite of ‘law’. Nothing but the ability to feel with another individual, being completely at peace in doing so—that is the most profound concept of Christianity.

The astral body filled with the holy spirit is the same for all. The spirit of truth is the same in all. Think of this spirit in an individual in whom the Christos has also been awakened, the principle active in the life body as life spirit. When every human being lets his ether body be filled with this feeling, every heart will have a feeling for the unified spirit, for individuals brought together in common wisdom. And what you then feel inside you is caritas, grace.

It was brought by the one who at the beginning of our era had the whole Christos in himself in the individual, the Christos who was the first to fulfil the whole principle of humanity. Christ Jesus made himself the principle that is to live in every single human being. Through him the spirit has come into the world that is freedom, independence, and peaceful cooperation. ‘Come to life again in Christ; let the spirit of discord die!’ Paul said. 128Paraphrase. See Ephesians 2:4-6; 4:3. Man may sin against everything that is not in this very spirit. If he were to sin against this spirit of common humanity, if he were to deny it, he would no longer be a Christian.

Man must progress to the point where he has conscious knowledge of the spirit. As he develops more and more, his conscious awareness body is transformed into the holy spirit. Because of this, sinning against the holy spirit is unforgivable.

The transformation of the ether body occurs unconsciously in the uninitiated. For as long as a human being is not initiated, he can only commit the sin that cannot be forgiven in his astral body. The initiate also must not sin against the physical and the ether body. These sins may be forgiven those who are not initiated. This is done with the help of those who guide the human race.