Our bookstore now ships internationally. Free domestic shipping $50+ →

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

The Gospel of St. John (Basle)
GA 100

Lecture VI

21 November 1907, Basle

One of the most significant mysteries in all occult schools, including that of Dionysius, is the Mystery of Number. None save those who can decipher the secret of Number can read an occult writing. There is always deep meaning behind it, wherever in religious documents numbers are mentioned. In the School of Pythagoras, also the Mystery of Number played an important part. Although it is true that the letter killeth, one must, nevertheless in explaining occult writings, attach a certain value to the letter, otherwise there is danger of explaining into the writing the spirit one wants to have in it. In St. John's Gospel we find various numbers which have a secret significance. In our last lecture we spoke of the three women who stood by the cross; the virgin mother Sophia, Mary, and Mary Magdalene. We will now consider another secret of number.

In the course of His conversation with the woman of Samaria, Christ Jesus said to her: “Thou hast has five husbands; and he whom thou now has is not thy husband.” (John 4:18) And again, in the story of the healing of the man who had been ill for thirty-eight years, the five occurs: the pool of Bethesda had five porches. (John 5:2) We will now look somewhat more closely into the significance of this mystical number five. Let us consider the human being in connection with the evolution of humanity. As we saw in yesterday's lecture, man consists of nine parts, which may, from another point of view, be reduced to seven. These several principles of man gradually unfold in the course of the evolution of man. They are not all developed in the average man of the present day; he has only developed as far as to the Spiritual Soul. The Spirit Self is only just beginning to unfold. Let us go back to the period in human evolution when man learned to say “I” consciously to himself. Before that period there was the old Atlantean epoch, when men still possessed the old dim clairvoyant forces. In the parts of Atlantis corresponding to present-day Ireland there lived a people which had so progressed in evolution that the etheric head and the physical head coincided. This people was at that time the most advanced, and it was destined to become the bearer of the evolution of the future. A very advanced Being led this group towards the East, through present-day Russia to Central Asia, to the region of the present desert of Gobi. There a colony was founded, and from this centre colonists were sent forth in various directions who spread the culture fostered in this centre. This took place about the time when Atlantis was being gradually submerged; present-day Africa and Europe gradually emerged out of the waves.

Another group of Atlanteans travelled towards the West and formed the original population of present-day America, where they were found by the Europeans when America was rediscovered. Another group wandered to the north of Europe. All these groups preserved their clairvoyant remembrances in old sagas, myths and legends. When these sagas and myths are rightly understood they throw light upon much that is still dark in the history of humanity. But we must not go to work pedantically in explaining these sagas and myths; we must know how clairvoyant experiences and the power of phantasy co-operated in a complicated manner to produce these old legends.

During the period when the Ego first shone out in the personality, man lived to a much higher degree in his environment than he did later. He perceived the outlines of the objects and beings around him less clearly than he did their inner qualities and their attitude towards him,—whether they were useful or harmful, friendly or hostile. The more the ego became enclosed within the human personality the more did the clairvoyant capacities diminish while the forms in the outer world, appeared more and more clearly before the physical eyes. If we picture this fact clearly, we can easily comprehend that the entrance of the Ego produced a mighty change. Previously man had not seen his own body; he now began to describe it as his Ego. Towards the end of the Atlantean Epoch Atlantis was a land of cloud, it was covered with dense volumes of mist. There were no alternating periods or rain and sunshine, and there was no phenomenon such as the rainbow; this could only appear after the Atlantean Epoch, when the masses of mist dispersed. This event has remained alive in the folk consciousness as the legend of Wotan, who journeys over the bridge with his he-goats, and in the story of Noah and the Ark.

The memory of the land of mist has been preserved in the northern name, Niffelheim, Nobelheim—home of cloud. And the northern peoples have also preserved the memory of the coming of the Ego into the human personality in the Saga of the Niebelungen. In that saga the Ego is represented by the symbol of gold. The gold was once dissolved in the water; then it condensed into the ring, the treasure of the Nibelungen. The Ego, which had hitherto been distributed over the whole world, condensed into the firm human form. In Wagner's version of this legend we can see very clearly the unconscious perception of the creative artist. Wagner was not fully conscious of what he created in his work, an unconscious knowledge guided him. For example, Wagner may have characterised the Ego awakened to consciousness, by the organ notes which sound throughout the whole overture of the opera, “Rheingold.”

Over in the Far East the first post-Atlantean civilisation arose, a civilisation to which the ancient Vedas still bear witness. The first impulse for this civilisation was given towards the south in the old Indian Civilisation. The reports of this fact are preserved in the old Indian legends and in the religious records, and they can be read by one who is clairvoyant. Many statements that are apparently contradictory prove to contain the deepest truth. The men of this civilisation had preserved clear remembrances of the former old clairvoyance, and they still longed for it, for they looked upon it as a valuable possession which they had lost. They were still so filled with the reality of the spiritual world that they looked upon the physical as maya, illusion. Hence they sought to regain this lost treasure by turning away their gaze from all that is earthly and continually directing it to the spiritual. This is the origin of the Yoga exercises, which seek to lead the pupil into the spiritual world by diminishing the consciousness. They desired to return to the old dreamy state; they sought the path which would lead them back into the Paradise they had lost.

Throughout the whole of the Atlantean Epoch man had only perceived the outer world in dim, unclear outlines; the Atlantean lived chiefly in the spiritual world. To the spiritual investigator the whole of the post-Atlantean Epoch signifies but a gradual conquest of the physical plane. The men of the first post-Atlantean civilisation, the Indian had little feeling for what was outside in physical nature; for the Initiates it was an absolute illusion, and they strove to get away from it and reach the only reality, the spiritual world.

The second was the old Persian civilisation. The Persian was already closer to the outer world than was thg Indian. He learned to distinguish especially between good and evil, represented by the Gods Ormuzd and Ahriman; he strove to unite himself with the former in order to combat the latter. The Earth was for him a place for work, in order to embody the Spirit in physical existence.

The third age of civilisation was the Egyptian-Assyrian-Chaldean-Babylonian, and here, again, man made a further step forward in the conquest of the physical plane. To the Persians the world was physically an undifferentiated field for work; in the Egyptian civilisation man began to apply his knowledge and make it useful. He applied his knowledge of Geometry and divided the land; he directed his gaze to the stars, and laid the foundations of Astronomy.

The fourth was the Graeco-Latin age of civilisation. Hitherto man had occupied himself in applying his science to the things of the outer world; he now began to embody his own inner being, his specifically human nature, in matter. His own form reappeared in his works of art, and in his epics and dramas he described his own psychic qualities. The Romans developed the idea of citizenship, and so the State and Jurisprudence arose.

In the fifth age of civilisation, in which we are now living, man has gone still further in the mastery of the outer world. In our age the Spirit has descended most deeply into matter. This descent had to come if humanity was to progress; only when the Spirit has descended fully into matter can its reascent begin. In our age we have a great development of science, and with its aid we can control the various forces of nature. In ancient times, when men ground their corn in a most primitive way between two stones, they did not need to expend much mental power to satisfy their simple needs, but things are quite different now. Think of the immense expenditure of mental effort necessary to satisfy the material needs of the modern man. We have locomotives, steamships, telephones, electric light. An immense amount of mental power has been embodied in matter in these things, but the spiritual interests of men here pass entirely into the background. Thus we see that the whole development of humanity in the post-Atlantean Epoch has signified a descent of the human spirit into matter. But the purpose of this descent is the conquest of matter, this great opponent of the Spirit; for after the deepest descent, an ascent to conscious, spiritual life must now begin.

The course of human history in the post-Atlantean Epoch may be represented by the curved line in the following diagram.








Indian Age.

Persian Age.

Egyptian Age.


Our Own Age

Descent of the Spirit.


Etheric body.

Astral body.

Sentient soul

Intellectul soul
Advent of Christ.

Spiritual soul

Spirit Self

Life Spirit

Period of true Christianity

It is the power of Christianity which is to bring about the ascent. The Star of Christianity appeared in the fourth age of civilization, long before the deepest point in the descending curve had been reached. Christ Jesus appeared as the great Personality Who brought to humanity the power which would enable it later to rise to the Spirit. All the former ages of civilisation can also be looked upon as a preparation for Christianity. In the fifth age of civilisation Christianity has to withstand the severest testing, for materialistic thought darkens and hides the spiritual truths of Christianity. In the sixth age Christianity will unite humanity into a great bond of brotherhood, and Spiritual Science or Anthroposophy must be looked upon an the messenger of this coming age, for it is preparing the way for the spiritualising of humanity. The teachings given to mankind in Christianity are so profound, so full of wisdom, that no religion of the future will be able to displace or supplant Christianity. It will be possible for Christianity to adapt itself to all the forms of civilisation in the future.

We must now study another side of the evolution of humanity. The physical body underwent a special development in the Atlantean Epoch, and when Atlantis was submerged beneath the waves man possessed approximately the same form he now has. Then began the development of the more spiritual principles. In the Indian Age the etheric body was especially developed. In that first age of civilisation the Indians were very receptive to the spiritual life, and this was connected with a special development of the etheric body.

We may remark that our present European civilisation is very different from the present Indian and also from the old Indian, and so it is comprehensible that the paths to be followed by the Indian and the European to the spiritual life must be different. The Yoga exercises that are suited to the Indian and helpful to him are unsuitable for the European. The methods of initiation arranged by the Masters are carefully adapted to the stage of development reached by humanity at a particular time, for a method which is excellent at a certain stage, may be positively harmful at another stage. It is not without reason that various religions have appeared in the course of time; although there is a kernel of truth that is common to them all, the various expressions of this truth are conditioned by the differences in the several ages of civilisation. A tree is, from root to flower, a complete whole, and yet the root requires a different food from that needed by the leaves and flowers; so also the humanity of the various ages of civilisation requires a different religion and method of initiation.

In the Persian civilisation the astral body was specially developed. In the Egyptian-Assyrian-Chaldean-Babylonian civilisation the Sentient Soul was developed; in the Graeco-Latin civilisation the Intellectual Soul, and in our own age the Spiritual Soul. In the sixth age the Spirit Self, as yet is only in a germinal condition, will be developed. It needs the mighty power of the Christ Spirit to enable this germ to develop, and true Christianity will only be there when the Spirit Self has been developed. Then humanity prepares itself to receive the Life Spirit. At first but a number of human beings will unfold this force within them; they will, however achieve a wonderful spiritual life. Christianity is now only at the beginning of its development; those who are now preparing to develop the Spirit Self within them will in the next age make this deeper and more spiritual Christianity more and more accessible to humanity.

We see how in the third age, a relatively small body of people, the Hebrews, prepared the conditions which made the appearance of Christ possible; how in the fourth age the power of Christ penetrated into the physical; how in the fifth age humanity sank most deeply into the physical world; now, after humanity has gained the mastery over this physical world, it will gain a still greater power and capacity in the sixth age to receive into itself the spiritual life which the Christ Spirit has brought. Christ appears as the firstborn, the man who is far ahead of his time, who has already reached the stage which the rest of humanity will only reach in the sixth age. The fifth is the most material age in the evolution of humanity.

The Spiritual feelings form the basis of the conditions of the body, and a constitutional disease is the expression of some spiritual aberration. Leprosy, the terrible disease of the Middle Ages, was an expression in the physical of the fear of the Huns which possessed the people of Europe at that time. The Huns were decadent descendants of the Atlanteans. Their physical bodies were still healthy, but their astral bodies were already infected with the substances of decay. Fear and terror form an excellent fostering soil for the decaying substances of the astral plane, hence these decaying substances living in the degenerated descendants of the Atlantean peoples could take root in the astral bodies of the European peoples and from thence they produced leprosy in the physical bodies of later generations.

Everything appears first of all in a spiritual way, and then it expresses itself later in the physical body. The nervousness of the people of the present day is the result of the materialistic frame of mind in our age. The wise Leaders of humanity know that if the high tide of materialism were to continue, great epidemics of nervous diseases would break out, and children would be born with quivering limbs. The Anthroposophical Movement was brought into the world to rescue humanity from the dangers of materialism. One who spreads materialistic thought and feeling among the people is preparing the way for these devastating diseases; and one who combats materialism is fighting for the health of the people
and its power to develop further. The individual can do but little towards his own health, for he is part of the whole body of humanity and draws the substances for his maintenance from the source that is common to all men: One who sees into the laws of human evolution must observe with a bleeding heart how the individual suffers, and how his suffering is but the expression of the spiritual and mental aberration of the whole of humanity. It is the task of Anthroposophy not so much to help the individual but, rather, to give to the whole of humanity the upward swing into the spiritual, and thereby to work for the bodily health of humanity.

In the sixth and seventh ages of civilisation the Spirit Self and the Life Spirit will develop through the power of Christ in those who rely upon Him, and at the same time these will gain healthy thought and feeling. Christianity brings health and healing, for the life force of Christ conquers all disease and death. The human body as a solid body has developed out of liquid substances. The five porches or halls which surround the pool of Bethesda signify the five ages which man has used to penetrate more and more deeply into the body, and in the end he has succumbed entirely to matter. Only after he has passed through these five ages can man be healed. One who has entered into these five halls cannot be healed unless the great Healer, the Christ, approaches him; but when this happens, there takes place what is described in the fifth chapter of St. John's Gospel. Thus the story of the man who had been ill for thirty-eight years is a prophetic announcement of what will take place in the sixth age, when man will no longer need any remedies, because he will be his own healer.

At the beginning of the Post-Atlantean Epoch the power of blood relationship was still very strong. When Christ said: “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple,”—these words refer to a stage of human evolution that will be reached in the sixth age. One common Spirit of humanity well then rule, in place of the nation and race spirits. Man will then no longer be the son of his tribe or nation, but the son of humanity, the “son of Man.” Here, again, Christ was the first to bear this name with right (John 3:13-14). He conducted Himself already at that time as men will conduct themselves when they are sons of Man.

This is expressed by Christ going to the Samaritan woman, to one who had nothing to do with the Jews. The element in man which makes his development possible is feminine (passive), as compared with the Spirit, which represents the fertilising, the male (active) principle. The result of this continuous activity of the male element upon the feminine principle is first of all the unfolding of the etheric body, then the astral body, the sentient soul, the intellectual soul and the spiritual soul. The Spirit Self then develops in the spiritual soul. This is indicated in Christ's conversation with the Samaritan woman in the words: “Thou has had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly.” (John 4:18.) The five husbands which the woman has had, are the five higher principles, which work upon the physical, and the sixth, the Spirit Self is no longer the husband in the old sense. The other five are lower passing stages of evolution, whereas the sixth, the Spirit Self, represents the Divine and Eternal. Thus, in His conversation with the Samaritan woman, we also see an announcement of the coming age by Christ Jesus.

While the five principles need to be purified from outside, the Spirit Self will keep man himself pure. The body of Christ is already filled with purity. He will also purify humanity; for this reason He approaches and purifies the Temple of the Holy Spirit, the body of man, from the lower principles attaching to him, and makes him capable of receiving the Spirit.

The explanations here given must not give rise to the idea that the descriptions in St. John's Gospel are to be looked upon as symbols only. In ancient times names were not given arbitrarily, they were strictly adapted to the person's character. It is true that the three women who stood by the cross of Jesus represented the three souls, the sentient soul the intellectual soul and the spiritual soul; but it is also true that these three persons stood there in the body at the foot of the cross. When we read St. John's. Gospel we look at the symbolical pictures of what will be realised on this Earth in the next age of civilisation; but we also see what actually took place at the beginning of our era. All the historical facts are presented by the wise powers that are guiding humanity as symbols of the future evolution of humanity.