The Gospel of John
VI. The “I AM”
25 May 1908, Hamburg
We have already pointed out in these lectures that in the words of Christ-Jesus to Nicodemus, we must recognize a conversation between Christ and a personality who is able to perceive what can be beheld outside of the physical body by means of higher organs of cognition if developed to a certain stage. For those who understand such things, this is clearly and distinctly indicated in the Gospel wherein it is stated that Nicodemus came to Christ-Jesus “in the night,” meaning in a state of consciousness in which the human being does not make use of his outer sense organs. We shall not enter into the trivial explanations which have been presented by different people concerning these words, “in the night.” You know that in this conversation the problem is one of rebirth of the human being “out of water and Spirit.” These are very important words concerning rebirth which the Christ speaks to Nicodemus in the 4th verse of the 3rd Chapter:
Nicodemus said unto Him: — How can a man be reborn when he is old?
Jesus answered: — Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.
We have already said that these words must be carefully weighed and we should keep definitely in mind that the words of a religious document of this kind must be taken in a literal sense on the one hang, but on the other we must first discover and understand this literal meaning. The words are often quoted, “The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life!” Those who quote these words often employ them in a very peculiar manner. They find in them a license for reading into them their own phantasy, which they call the “spirit of the thing,” and then they say to someone who has taken the trouble to learn the letter before coming to the spirit: “What have we to do with the letter? The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” One who speaks in this manner, stands about on the same level with a man who would say: “The spirit is what truly lives, but the body is something dead. Therefore let us destroy the body, then will the spirit become alive.” Whoever speaks in this way does not know that the spirit is formed gradually, that the human being must use the organs of his physical body for reception of what he experiences in the physical world, which he then raises into spirit. First we must know the letter, then we can kill it; likewise, when the spirit has drawn everything it can out of the human body, the latter falls away from the human spirit.
There is something extraordinarily profound just in this very chapter of the Gospel of St. John. We can only enter into the meaning of it, when we follow human evolution still further back than we have already in our consideration of the Gospel up to the present. Today we must trace the human being back into still more remote periods of the earth's evolution.
In order that you may not, at the very beginning, be too much shocked at what I shall have to say about these early human states, I should like to lead you back once more to the ancient Atlantean epoch.
We have already called attention to the fact that before that great cataclysm of our earth, a memory of which is retained in the sagas of the Flood, our human progenitors lived out there in the west in a region which no longer exists, but which now forms the bed of the Atlantic Ocean. This continent which is called the ancient Atlantis harbored our forefathers. When we examine the later epochs of this Atlantean period of human evolution, we find, even in these epochs of the far distant past, that at least the form of the human being was not so very much unlike his present one. However, if we should go back to the earliest periods of this Atlantean continent, we would find the human form quite different from that of the present. We can go still further back.
Before the Atlantean age, the human being lived in a land which, in the language of today, is called Lemuria. This continent also perished through great changes on our earth. It occupied approximately the region which now lies between southern Asia, Africa, and Australia. When we examine the human forms which lived in Lemuria, as they present themselves to clairvoyant sight, we find them very different from those of present day humanity, and it is not necessary that I describe them to you in detail nor those of the early Atlantean period. Although you have already had to endure a great deal in the descriptions of Spiritual Science, nevertheless the forms of these ancient Lemurians, fundamentally so different from the present forms, would appear to you quite improbable. However, we must in a certain respect describe them, although quite superficially if we wish to understand what has happened to the human being in the course of the earth's evolution.
Let us suppose, for example, something in reality quite impossible, but we shall assume it for the sake of an understanding. Let us suppose that with your present senses, which of course you did not at that time possess, you could look into the latter part of the Lemurian and the first part of the Atlantean epochs of human evolution, and observe the surface of the earth in its various parts. If you should expect to be able to find the human being upon the earth by means of this physical sense perception, you would be greatly disappointed. At that time he did not exist in a form which you would be able to see with your present physical senses. It would appear to you as though certain regions of our earth's surface, already resembling islands, protruded out of the rest of the still fluidic earth, which was either surrounded by sea-water or enveloped in vapour. But those regions which thus protruded like islands were not yet dry land like our present solid earth, but soft earth masses in the midst of which fiery forces played. These island regions were continually being thrown up and then again submerged by the volcanic forces of that time. In short, there was still in the earth an element active in fire; all was still actively in a state of flux, continually changing. In certain regions which already existed, and which had been cooled to a certain degree, you would find precursors of our present animal world. Here and there you would have observed grotesque shapes; you would have found strange forms, forerunners of our reptiles and amphibians. However, you would have been able to see nothing of the human being, because at that time he did not possess a physical body dense and solid enough to be seen. You would have had to seek him elsewhere, as it were, in the masses of water and vapour. It would be, perhaps, as though you were to swim out to sea at the present time and could see there not much more of certain lower animals than a soft, slimy mass. You would then find the human physical form of that time embedded in the regions of aqueous vapour. The further back we go, the more attenuated and like his vapoury, watery environment do we find the human form of that period. Not until the Atlantean period does it begin to condense, and were we able to follow with our eyes the whole of evolution, we should be able to see how, out of the water, this human being becomes condensed, gradually descending upon the surface of the earth. As a matter of fact, it is true that the physical human being set foot upon the ground of our earth's surface relatively late. From this region of water and air, he gradually descended, crystallizing out of it. We have now obtained a sketchy picture of a human being who is not distinguishable from his environment, who consists of the same element in which he lives. When we follow very far back in the evolution of the earth, we find that this human body becomes more and more tenuous.
Now let us go back to the very beginning of our present earthly planet. We know that it arose out of the ancient Moon. This ancient Moon we have called the “Cosmos of Wisdom.” At a certain stage of its evolution, this ancient Moon did not contain what we would call solid earth, and we must understand very clearly that the physical conditions were quite different on the embodiment of our planet which just preceded our present Earth. If you follow back as far as the ancient Saturn condition, you must not imagine that it would appear as our earth now appears, that you would find rocks upon which you could walk, and trees which you could climb. None of all this existed at that time. If you had approached ancient Saturn during the middle period of its evolution from far out in cosmic space, you would not, perhaps, have seen any special cosmic body moving about, but you would have been able to detect something very strange, namely, that you had come into a region where you felt as though you had crept into an oven. The only reality of this Saturn state was that it possessed a different degree of warmth from its environment. In no other way could it have been perceived. Occultism does not, like the present ordinary physics, distinguish three conditions of matter only, but it discerns still others. The physicist declares that at present there are solid, fluidic and gaseous bodies. Saturn, however, was not yet even gaseous. Our gaseous state is much denser than the densest state on Saturn. In occultism, we distinguish also the state of warmth which is not simply a state of matter in vibration, but a fourth substantial state. Saturn consisted only of this warmth and if we proceed from Saturn to the Sun, we experience a condensation of that ancient fiery planet. The Sun is the first gaseous embodiment of our planet; it is the first gaseous or airy body. The ancient Moon-state then condenses still further; it is a fluid body which only later, when the sun departs from it, assumes a more dense condition. The actual middle condition, however, while it is still united with the sun, is the fluidic state. All that we today call mineral earth, the mineral, rocks, surface soil, all this did not exist on the ancient Moon. This appeared for the first time upon our Earth, crystallizing itself out of it.
When the Earth commenced its evolution, it began by first repeating once more all the various earlier conditions. Every substance and every being in the cosmos always repeats earlier conditions at the beginning of any new stage of evolution. Thus our Earth passed quickly through the Saturn, Sun and Moon states. When it was passing through the Moon evolution, it consisted of water, mixed with vapour — not like our present water, but a watery, that is to say, a fluidic condition of substance. The fluid state was its densest condition. This watery sphere which swam about in cosmic space was not like the water of the present, but water mixed with vapour, in other words, something gaseous and something fluidic permeating each other, and within this we find the human being. He could exist in this watery sphere, because no solid substance had yet been precipitated. Of the present human being, only his ego and his astral body were present. This ego and astral body did not yet feel themselves as separate entities, but as though embedded within the body of divine spiritual beings. They did not yet feel themselves severed from a being whose body is the water-vapour earth. Then within these ego-endowed astral bodies, enclosures were formed, very tenuous, fine human germs. This is shown in the first diagram.
The upper part of the diagram is intended to represent the astral body and ego which, insensible to outer perception, were embedded in the water-earth sphere; these draw from themselves the first germ of the physical body which together with the ether body was in a very rarefied condition. This then took form out of this watery earth-water sphere. If you were to follow this clairvoyantly, you would see the first germ of the physical and ether bodies surrounded by the astral body and ego as shown in the first figure. That part of you — namely, your physical and ether bodies — which at present lies in bed when you sleep, formed in its very first beginnings in this Earth-state the first human germ still wholly enveloped by the astral body and the ego. The watery vapour mass then densified, and the astral body with the ego gave the impulse to this first human germ to become a part of this primal water-earth. (We cannot now follow further the evolution of the animals and plants.) The next thing that occurred was the condensation of the water, and, in a certain sense, air and water appeared. No longer were vapour and water mixed together, but water and air were separated from one another. As a result, the human corporeality — physical and ether bodies — again became somewhat more densified and because the air had separated from the water, it became airy and took into itself the fiery element. Thus what was formerly watery now became aeriform. The physical ether human germ now consisted of air permeated by fire; the astral body and ego enveloped it and all this moved about in what remained of the water, fluctuating back and forth alternately in water and air.
We thus have before us the human being of that time, whose incipient state has reached even the density of air and has been made incalescent by fire. This has become the same human being who lies sleeping in bed today. To each of these human fire-beings belong an astral body and an ego, but they are completely embedded within the bosom of the Godhead, that is, they do not yet feel themselves individualized.
You must meditate deeply upon these things, for these conditions are so different from the present conditions of the earth, they seem shocking and unbelievable. Now you will ask: — What is the fire element which you have indicated there in the air? The fire which human beings possessed at that time still exists within you. It is the fire that pulses through your blood, it is the heat of the blood. What is left over from the ancient air also lives on within your organism. When you inhale and exhale, you have air within your otherwise solid body which flows in and out of it. When you inhale deeply, the air is then taken up into the blood and this is the reason for the warm air-breath. Imagine this air permeating the whole body, penetrating into all its parts. Now, think away all that is solid and fluid and picture only the form that remains, the form of a human being who has just inhaled; that means that he has driven the oxygen into the outermost parts of the body. A form remains which is very similar to the human, but which, however, consists only of air. The air which streams through the human being takes on the exact form of the body. A kind of shadow body remains consisting of air permeated with warmth. That is the kind of human being you were at that time; you did not then have the form which you now possess, but the physical and ether bodies were enveloped by the astral body invested with the ego. This condition continued on into the Atlantean period. Those who yield to the illusion that in the earliest epochs of Atlantis men walked about as they do today, are quite in error. The human creature first descended out of the airy sphere into the denser region of matter. There were at that time upon the earth only the animals who could not hold back their incarnation in physical form, thus they remained at the animal stage, since the earth was not yet mature enough to yield up its substance for the physical human form. Therefore the animals remained in lower forms because they could not hold back their descent into matter.
The next thing that occurred was the division of the human being, in respect of his physical body, into airy, warmth and fluid parts. This means, in an occult sense, that he became a water-man. You may say that the human being was previously already a water-man. But that would not be quite correct. Previously the earth was a watery sphere, and within it — although only in a spiritual state — were astral body and ego. They swam about in the water as spiritual beings; they were not yet individualized. Now we have for the first time reached the point where we could have found the physical human body contained within this water, but in a sort of jelly fish formation. If you had swum out into this primeval sea, you would have found in it, condensed out of the water, forms which would have been transparent to you. This is the way these human beings appeared in the beginning. First they had a water body and at the same time their astral body and ego continued to remain deeply embedded in the divine, spiritual beings. At that time, when the human being possessed this watery body the apportioning of his states of consciousness was very different from what it became later on. The separation into unconscious night and conscious day did not exist as it does now, but then, when the human being was still embedded in the beings of the divine-spiritual world, he had a dreamy astral consciousness. When, during the day, he dipped down into his fluidic, physical body, this was night to him and when he was again out of his physical body, he beheld the dazzling, astral light. When he plunged into the physical body in the morning, there all was dull and dreary and a sort of unconscious state began. Gradually, however, the present physical organs were formed in his physical body and with these he gradually learned to see. Day consciousness became brighter and brighter, and he was thereby cut off from the divine matrix. It was only toward the middle of the Atlantean period that this human creature was dense enough to become flesh and bone. After the cartilage had solidified, the bones then gradually appeared. At the same time the earth also became more solid and the human being then descended upon the surface of the earth. Thus that consciousness which he had possessed in the divine-spiritual world gradually disappeared, and he became more and more an observer of the outer world, preparing himself thereby to become a true earth dweller. In the last third of the Atlantean period, the human form became more and more like the present one.
Thus literally and truly the human being descended from spheres which we must designate water-vapour, water-air spheres. As long as he remained in the water-air sphere, his consciousness possessed the faculty of a clear astral perception, because whenever he was outside of the physical body he was above in the presence of the gods, but by virtue of the densification of the physical body, he cut himself off, as it were, from the divine substance. Like something that had acquired a shell, he slowly severed himself from his earlier connections, when he ceased to be watery and gaseous. As long as he was fluidic and airy in form, he remained above with the gods. He was not able to develop his ego, for he had not yet released himself from the divine consciousness. Because he descended into physical matter, his astral consciousness became ever more darkened. If we wish to characterize the significance of this evolutionary process, we may say that formerly, when the human being was still living with the gods, his physical and ether bodies were fluidic and gaseous in form, and were only gradually, simultaneously with the solidification of the earth, condensed to their present material form. That is the descent, but just as he has made this descent, so will he also ascend again. After he has had the experiences that are to be had in solid substance, he will again mount into those regions where his physical body will be fluidic and gaseous. He must bear within him the consciousness that if he wishes to unite himself again consciously with the gods, his true existence will be in those regions from which he has sprung. He has become condensed out of water and air and he will again become diffused into them. He can only spiritually anticipate this condition today by gaining within his inner nature a consciousness of the future state of his physical body. Only by becoming conscious of it today, however, will he gain the power to do so. When we have acquired this consciousness, our earthly goal will have been reached, our earthly mission attained. What does that mean? It means that human beings were at one time born, not of flesh and earth, but of air and water and that they must later be truly re-born in the Spirit, of air and water.
In the linguistic usage of those epochs in which the Gospels were written, (which we should also study), “Water” was called water; but “Pneuma,” which is now used for “Spirit,” was then called “Air.” It had at one time exactly that meaning. The word “Pneuma” should be translated “Air” or “Vapour,” otherwise a misunderstanding arises. Thus we should interpret the words in the conversation with Nicodemus in the following manner: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and air he cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.”
The Christ is pointing to a future condition into which the human being will develop, therefore in this conversation we have before us a deep mystery of our evolution. We have only to understand the words correctly and employ them in the manner Anthroposophy can teach us. In the common language of every day, we still have remains of this former usage, when volatile substances are spoken of as spirit. Originally the word “Pneuma” meant air. You can see that it is very important for words to be understood in a very accurate and exact sense and to be carefully weighed. Then out of this very literal meaning arises the most wonderful spiritual interpretation.
Now let us try for a little while to direct our spiritual glance toward another fact of evolution. Let us once more look back to the time when the human astral body with the ego was immersed in the matrix of a common divine astral substance. As you follow this evolutionary course, you find that development took place in such a way that it is possible to describe it schematically. In the beginning, your whole astral being was embedded in the common astral substance and through the processes which we have just described, the physical and etheric enclosed it like surrounding shells. Thus individual human beings became separated from the general astral substance as detached parts. It was as though you had a fluid substance here before you and were dipping out parts of it. The detachment of the individual human consciousness from the divine consciousness runs parallel with the formation of the physical body. Thus we may say that the further we progress, the more we see how the separate individual human beings enclosed in the shell of the physical body, develop themselves as parts which are severed from the common astrality. It is true, the human being had to pay for this becoming independent by the darkening of his astral consciousness. Therefore he looked out from the sheath of his physical body and beheld the physical plane. The ancient clairvoyant consciousness, however, gradually disappeared.
Thus we see coming into existence the human inner being, an independent individual human inner being which is the bearer of the ego. When you observe the sleeping human being of the present, you have before you in the physical and ether bodies, which have remained behind in bed, what these sheaths, formed during the course of the ages, have produced through condensation. What had previously separated from the common astral substance returns to it each night in order to receive strength from it. Of course it does not enter so deeply into this divine substance as it did at that time, otherwise it would be clairvoyant. It retains its independence. This, then, is the independent individuality that came into existence in the course of evolution.
It may be asked, to what is this independent individual human being indebted for its very existence, this inner being that seeks its strength outside the physical and ether bodies? It is indebted to the physical and ether human bodies which were gradually formed in the course of evolution. They gave birth to that which dipped down into the physical senses and looked out into the physical world during the day, but which at night sank down into a state of unconsciousness, because it had severed itself from that condition in which it previously existed. In occult language, the part remaining in bed is called the real earth-man. That was “man.” And that part in which the ego remained day and night, that part born out of the physical and ether bodies was called the “child of man” or the “son of man.” The “son of man” is the ego and astral body, born out of the physical and ether bodies in the course of earthly evolution. The technical expression for this is the “son of man.”
Then comes the question, for what purpose did Christ Jesus come to earth; what was imparted to the earth through His Impulse? The “son of man” who had severed himself from existence in the bosom of the Godhead and had broken away from his earlier connections, and in place of which developed a physical consciousness will come again to a consciousness of the spirit through the force of the Christ Who appeared upon the earth. He will not only perceive in his physical environment with physical senses, but by means of the force of his own inner being of which he is now unconscious, a consciousness of his divine existence will flash up within him. Through the force of the Christ Who came upon the earth, the son of man will again be raised to his divine estate. Previously, after the manner of the ancient Mystery initiation, only chosen individuals could perceive the divine-spiritual world. In ancient times there was a technical expression for this. Those who could look into the divine-spiritual world and could become witnesses of it were called “serpents.” Those men of ancient times who were initiated into the Mysteries in this way were “serpents.” The “serpents” were the forerunners of the deed of Christ Jesus. Moses showed his mission by lifting up before his people the symbol of the elevation of those who could perceive in the spiritual worlds; he lifted up the serpent. What these chosen few had then become, now every “son of man” could attain through the force of the Christ present upon the earth. This the Christ expresses in his further conversation with Nicodemus when He says: — “Just as once upon a time Moses lifted up the serpent, even so will the son of man be lifted up.” Throughout, Christ Jesus made use of the technical expressions of that age. First the literal sense of the expressions must be discovered, then the true meaning can be understood; this is also identical with the Anthroposophical teaching. Therefore, in ancient times only a prophecy of the “I AM” teaching could gain a footing. Only on the outer authority of the initiated could the people hear something of the power of the “I AM” which should be enkindled in every “son of man.” But we are quite sufficiently informed about this.
We have seen what the “I AM” signifies in the Gospel of St. John and can ask whether this “I AM” in the course of time has been imparted to humanity. Has it been gradually proclaimed? Did the Old Testament prophetically point to and prepare for what was brought to mankind as an impulse through the descent of the incarnated “I AM?”
Please remember that all that occurs in the course of the ages has been slowly and gradually prepared before-hand. Like the child in the mother's womb, all that was brought by Jesus-Christ had been slowly matured in the followers of the Old Testament through the ancient Mysteries. On the other hand what had been prepared in the followers of the Old Testament among the ancient Jewish peoples had grown to maturity among the ancient Egyptians. Among them were highly developed initiates who knew what was to come upon the earth. We shall now learn how the Egyptians, who were the third sub-race of the post-Atlantean root-race, developed by degrees the complete impulse of the “I AM,” and how they furnished, like the mother's womb, the outer structure for this “I AM,” but did not go far enough to give birth to the Christ Principle. Then we shall learn how at last the ancient Hebrew peoples separated from them.
Moses is represented to us as one chosen from among the people of Egypt to become the prophet of God, of the incarnated “I AM.” He prophesied the coming of the “I AM” to those who could understand something of It. He announced that for the words, “I and Father Abraham are one,” will be substituted these other words, “I and the Father are one,” which means, I and the spiritual foundation of the World are directly one. The followers of the Old Testament looked up to the folk group-soul in its plurality and in this group-soul, each individual felt sheltered as though within the Divine. Through Moses, an initiate of the old order, it was prophesied that the Christ would come; in other words, that there is a divine principle which is higher than the blood-principle flowing down through the generations. It is true, God has been active in the blood since the time of Abraham, but this blood-father is only the outer manifestation of the spiritual Father.
Moses said unto God, Who am I that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?
He said, I will be with thee: and this shall be a sign that I have sent thee: When thou hast brought forth my people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain.
And Moses said unto God: Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them: The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you, and they say unto me: What is his name? What shall I say unto them?
He had to announce prophetically a more exalted God, Who exists within the God of Father Abraham, but Who is at the same time a higher Principle. What is His name?
And God said unto Moses, I am the “I AM!”
Here is foretold the profound truth about the Word which later appeared incarnate in Christ-Jesus.
And he said: Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel: the “I AM” hath taught it to me.
This is the literal wording. In other words, this means that the “name,” that name which is the basis of the blood-name, is the “I AM” — and this “I AM” appears incarnate in the Christ of the Gospel of St. John.
And God said further unto Moses, Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, the Lord, God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob hath sent me unto you.
What has been seen only externally streaming through the blood, is in its deeper meaning, the “I AM.”
Thus was proclaimed what was later to enter the world through Christ-Jesus. We hear the name of the Logos, we hear Him at that time calling to Moses, “I am the I AM!” The Logos proclaims His name, that part of Himself which can be comprehended through the understanding, through the intellect. What is here proclaimed appears in the flesh as the Logos, is incarnated in Christ-Jesus.
Now let us consider the external sign of the flowing down of the Logos into the Israelitish people, as far as this can be grasped abstractly in thought. This outer sign is the “Manna” of the Wilderness. The word “Manna” is, in fact, (those who understand Spiritual Science know this) the same as “Manas” 1Note by translator. Dr. Steiner was giving these lectures to Theosophists who were familiar with the oriental terminology. By degrees he dropped this as the students became familiar with his own new occidental terms., the “Spirit-Self.” Thus there streams into that people which has by degrees acquired an I-consciousness, the first trace of the Spirit-Self. However that which lives and appears in Manas itself must be called by another name. It is not something that can be simply known, but it is a force which can be taken into oneself. When the Logos simply proclaimed His name, it could be understood and grasped with the intellect. But when the Logos became flesh and appeared among men, then it became a Force-Impulse which is not only a teaching and a concept, but exists in the world as a Force-Impulse in which humanity can participate. He then calls Himself no longer “Manna,” but the “Bread of Life,” which is the technical expression for Budhi or Life-Spirit.
The water transformed by the spirit, which was offered in symbolic form to the Samaritan woman, and the “Bread of Life” are the first heraldings of the influx of Budhi or Life-Spirit into mankind. Tomorrow we shall continue this discussion.