The Apocalypse of St. John
21 June 1908, Nuremberg
In the last lecture we showed how the Apocalypse of John prophetically points to the cycle of human evolution lying between the great upheaval upon our earth which the legends of various peoples describe as a flood, and geology the glacial period on the one hand, and that event which we designate as the War of All against All on the other. In the epoch between these two events lies everything prophetically referred to in the Apocalypse — that book which reveals to us the beings of past ages in order to show what is to fire our will and our impulses for the future. We have also seen how we ourselves, in the spiritual movement to which we belong, should consider the words of the so-called fifth letter as a summons to action, to work. We have seen that we ought to follow that Being with the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars. Then we saw how, through this spiritual movement, the next age is prepared which is represented by the community of Philadelphia, the age when — among all those who have under-stood the word of the summons — there is to be that brotherly love over the whole earth which is described in the Gospel of John. Afterwards another age, the seventh, will follow, which the writer of the Apocalypse describes by saying that on the one hand there is placed all that is bad in the community representing the seventh age, that is lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, that could not warm to the spiritual life and hence must fall away, and on the other hand those who have understood the word of invitation, those who will form his following who says, “I am the Amen,” that is: I am he who unites in himself the goal of the human being, who contains the Christ principle in himself.
Now let us keep for a later occasion all that could be added in further explanation of the several letters and in justification of the several names of the cities. To-day we shall pass on in our studies to that which presents itself to the pupil when he advances to the next stage of initiation. We were confronted by the seven sub-ages of the present cycle of humanity, and we have said that this entire cycle with its seven sub-ages is itself a small cycle contained in a longer period also containing seven epochs. Our epoch, which embraces seven ages, was preceded by the Atlantean epoch, during which were prepared the races whose echoes still exist. When the seventh age of our present epoch is at an end,it will be followed by another epoch again consisting of seven parts. The present epoch is preparing indirectly for the following one, so that we may say, our age of civilization will gradually pass over into one of brotherly love, when a comparatively small part of humanity will have understood the spiritual life and will have prepared the spirit and attitude of brotherly love. That civilization will then again divide off a smaller portion of human beings who will survive the event which will have such a destructive effect upon our epoch, namely, the War of All against All. In this universal destructive element there will be everywhere individuals who lift themselves above the rest of warring humanity, individuals who have understood the spiritual life and who will form the foundation for a new and different world in the sixth epoch.
Something similar also took place during the transition from the fourth epoch to ours. When one who with spiritual vision can review the course of time has passed back through the ages we have considered, the Graeco-Roman, the Babylonian-Egyptian, the ancient Persian and the ancient Indian and beyond the time of the great flood, he comes into the Atlantean epoch. We need not now consider it in detail but we must at least under-stand how this Atlantean civilization passed over into our own. There, too, the greater part of the Atlantean population was not sufficiently mature to develop farther, it was incapable of coming over into our epoch. A smaller part, living in a region near to our present Ireland, developed to the highest flower of the civilization of Atlantis and then journeyed towards the East. We must clearly understand that this was only the principal stream. There were always peoples who emigrated from the West to the East, and all the later peoples of Europe, of northern and central Europe, proceeded from the stream which then went from the West to the East. Now that most advanced part of the Atlantean population was under the guidance of a great leader of humanity and eventually settled down as a very small tribe of chosen individuals in Central Asia. From this point the colonists migrated to the various regions of civilization mentioned, to ancient India, to Persia, Egypt, Greece, etc.
You might now be inclined to say: Is it not an extremely bitter thought that whole bodies of peoples remain immature and do not develop their capacities; that only a small group becomes capable of providing the germ for the next civilization? This thought will no longer disquiet you if you distinguish between race-development and individual soul-development, for no soul is condemned to remain in one particular race. The race may fall behind; the community of people may remain backward, but the souls progress beyond the several races. If we wish to form a true conception of this we must say that all the souls now living in bodies in civilized countries were formerly incarnated in Atlantean bodies. A few developed there in the requisite manner, and did not remain in Atlantean bodies. As they had developed further they could become the souls of the bodies which had also progressed further. Only the souls which as souls had remained backward had to take bodies which as bodies had remained at a lower stage. If all the souls had progressed, the backward races would either have decreased very much in population, or the bodies would be occupied by newly incoming souls at a low stage of development. For there are always souls which can inhabit backward bodies. No soul is bound to a backward body if it does not bind itself to it.
The relation between soul-development and race-development is preserved to us in a wonderful myth. Let us imagine race following race, civilization following civilization. The soul going through its earth mission in the right way is incarnated in a certain race; it strives upward in this race, and acquires the capacities of this race in order next time to be incarnated in a higher one. Only the souls which sink in the race and do not work out of the physical materiality, are held back in the race by their own weight, as one might say. They appear a second time in the same race and eventually a third time bodies in similarly formed races. Such souls hold back the bodies of the race. This has been wonderfully described in a legend. We know, indeed, that man progresses further in the fulfilment of the mission of the earth by following the great Leaders of humanity who point out the goals to be attained; if he rejects them, if he does not follow them, he must remain behind with his race, for he cannot then get beyond it. Let us think of a personality who has the good fortune to meet a great Leader of humanity, let us suppose such a personality confronting Christ Jesus himself, for example; he sees how all his deeds are evidence for leading humanity forward, but he will have nothing to do with this progress, he rejects the Leader of humanity. Such a personality, such a soul would be condemned to remain in the race. If we follow this thought to its conclusion such a soul would have to appear again and again in the same race, and we have the legend of Ahasuerus who had to appear in the same race again and again because he rejected Christ Jesus. Great truths concerning the evolution of humanity are placed before us in such a legend as this.
We must distinguish between soul-development and race-development. No soul is undeservedly obliged to remain in an old body, no soul will undeservedly remain in a body belonging to our age. Those who hear the voice which calls them to progress will survive the great period of destruction — the War of All against All — and appear in new bodies which will be quite different from those of the present day. For it is very short-sighted if one thinks of the Atlantean bodies of men as being like the present bodies. In the course of thousands of years the external physiognomy changes and after the great War of All against All man will have quite a different form. To-day he is so formed that in a certain sense he can conceal the good and evil in his nature. The human physiognomy already betrays a good deal, it is true, and one who understands this will be able to read much from the features. But it is still possible to-day for a scoundrel to smile most graciously with the must innocent man and or taken for an honest man; the reverse is also possible; the good impulses in the soul may remain unrecognized. It is possible for all that exists in the soul as cleverness and stupidity, as beauty and ugliness, to hide itself behind the general physiognomy possessed by this or that race. This will no longer be the case in the epoch following the great War of All against All. Upon the forehead and in the whole physiognomy it will be written whether the person is good or evil. He will show in his face what is contained in his inmost soul. What a man has developed within himself, whether he has exercised good or evil impulses, will be written on his forehead. After the great War of All against All there will be two kinds of human beings. Those who had previously tried to follow the call to the spiritual life, who cultivated the spiritualizing and ennobling of their inner spiritual life, will show this inward life on their faces and express it in their gestures and the movements of their hands. And those who have turned away from the spiritual life, represented by the community of Laodicea, who were lukewarm, neither warm nor cold, will pass into the following epoch as those who retard human evolution, who preserve the backward forces of evolution which have been left behind. They will show the evil passions, impulses and instincts hostile to the spiritual in an ugly, unintelligent, evil-looking countenance. In their gestures and hand-movements, in every-thing they do, they will present an outer image of the ugliness in their soul. Just as humanity has separated into races and communities, in the future it will divide into two great streams, the good and the evil. And what is in their souls will be outwardly manifest, they will no longer be able to hide it.
If we look back and see how humanity has hitherto developed on the earth, we shall find that this development of the future just described is quite in harmony with it. Let us look back to the origin of our earth after Saturn, Sun and Moon and a long interval had passed. The earth then emerged anew out of the cosmic darkness. At that time, in the first part of the earth development, there were no other creatures upon the earth besides man. He is the first-born. He was entirely spiritual, for embodiment consists in a densification. Let us imagine a body of water suspended in space which, through a certain process, partially crystallizes into ice, first a small part and then the same process continually repeated. And now let us imagine that the small pieces of ice which have crystallized fall from the body of water, so that they are now separated from the whole mass. Now, because each small piece of ice can only grow larger so long as it is in the whole body of water, when it has separated from this it remains at the same stage. Let us imagine a portion of the body of water separated in the form of very small pieces of ice; let us imagine that the freezing of the water continues and at the next stage more water assumes the form of small lumps of ice; these again fall out, and so on, till finally a very large part is crystallized out of the mass of water and takes the shape of ice. This last has taken the most out of the mother-substance of the water; it has been able to wait the longest before separating.
It is the same in evolution. The lowest animals were unable to wait, they left their spiritual mother-substance too early and hence have remained behind at an earlier stage of evolution. Thus the gradually ascending grades of lower beings represent backward stages in evolution. Man waited until the last; he was the last to leave his spiritual divine-mother-substance and descend as dense substance in fleshly form. The animals descended earlier and therefore remained at that stage. We shall see the reason for this later. At present we are interested in the fact that they descended and have remained at earlier stages of evolution. What, therefore, is an animal form? It is one which, had it remained united with the spirit from which it proceeded, would have developed up to our present humanity. But the animal forms have remained at a standstill; they have left the spiritual germ; they have separated themselves and are now degenerating. They represent a branch of the great tree of humanity. In ancient times man had the various animal natures within him, as it were, but then separated them off one after another as side branches. All the animals in their different forms represent nothing else than human passions which condensed too early. That which man still possesses spiritually in his astral body, the several animal forms represent physically. He kept this in the astral body until the latest period of earth existence, and hence he could progress the furthest.
Man still has something within him which must separate itself from the universal evolution as a descending branch, as the other animal forms have done. That which man has within him as tendency to good and evil, to cleverness and stupidity, to beauty and ugliness, represents the possibility of an upward progress or a remaining behind. Just as the animal form has developed out of progressing humanity, so will the race of evil with the horrible faces develop out of it as it progresses towards spirituality and reaches the later goal of humanity. In the future there will not only be the animal forms which are the incarnated images of human passions, but there will also be a race in which will live what man now hides within him as a portion of evil, which to-day he can still conceal but which later will be manifest. Let us make clear the chief thing that will appear by an illustration that may perhaps seem strange to you.
We must understand that this separation of the animal forms was actually necessary to man. Each animal form which separated in bygone times from the general stream signifies that man had then progressed a step further. Imagine that all the qualities distributed throughout the animal kingdom were in man. He has purified himself from them. Through this he was able to develop higher. If we take a muddy liquid and allow the gross matter in it to settle to the bottom, the finer part remains at the top. In the same way the grosser parts which man would have been unable to use for his present condition of development have been deposited in the animal forms. Through man having cast out of his line of development these animal forms — his elder brothers, as it were — he has reached his present height. Humanity has risen by throwing out the lower forms in order to purify itself and it will rise still higher by separating another kingdom of nature, the kingdom of the evil race. Thus mankind rises upward. Man owes every quality he now possesses to the circumstance that he has rejected a particular animal form. One who with spiritual vision looks upon the various animals knows exactly what we owe to them. We look upon the lion form and say, “If the lion did not exist in the outer world, man would not have had this or that quality; for through his having rejected it he has acquired this or the other quality.” This is the case too with all the other forms in the animal kingdom.
Now the whole of our fifth epoch of human evolution (including the various stages of civilization from the ancient Indian to our own), really exists in order to develop intelligence and reason and all that belongs to them. Nothing of this existed in the Atlantean epoch. Memory was present and also other qualities, but to develop the intelligence and what pertains to it — the turning of the attention to the outer world — is the task of the fifth epoch. If we direct our spiritual vision to the surrounding world and inquire, “To what do we owe the fact that we have become intelligent; what animal form have we put forth from ourselves in order to become intelligent?” curious and grotesque as it may appear, it is nevertheless true to say that if there were not around us the animals which belong to the horse nature, man would never have been able to acquire intelligence.
In former times men were aware of this. All the intimate relations existing between certain races of men and the horse originate from a feeling which may be compared with the mysterious feeling of love between the two sexes, from a certain feeling of what one owes to this animal. Hence when the new civilization arose in the ancient Indian age, it was a horse that played a mysterious role in religious ceremonial, in the worship of the gods. And all customs connected with the horse may be traced back to this fact. If you observe the customs of ancient peoples who were still clairvoyant such as, for instance, the old Germans, and notice how they placed horse-skulls in front of their houses, this leads you back to the fact that these people were aware that man has grown beyond the unintelligent condition by separating out this form. There was a profound consciousness that the acquisition of cleverness is connected with it. You need only remember the Odyssey and the wooden horse of Troy. Such legends contain deep wisdom, much deeper than our science contains. Not without reason is such a type as the horse employed in legend. Man has grown out of a form which once contained within it that which is now embodied in the horse; and in the form of the centaur, art still represented man as connected with this animal in order to remind him of the stage of development out of which he had grown, from which he had struggled free in order to become the present human being.
What thus took place in bygone times in order to lead to present humanity will be repeated at a higher stage in the future. It is not the case, however, that this would in the future have to run its course in the physical world. Those who become clairvoyant at the boundary between the astral and the devachanic planes can see how man continually purifies and develops that which he owes to the separation from the horse nature. He will accomplish the spiritualizing of the intelligence. After the great War of All against All he will elevate to wisdom, to spirituality, that which to-day is merely reason, merely cleverness. This will be experienced by those who then will have reached the goal. The fruits of that which was able to develop in humanity in consequence of the separation of the horse nature will be manifested.
Now let us imagine one who clairvoyantly looks into the future of mankind. What will he see, what will it show him? Everything which man has prepared throughout the seven ages of civilization (for his soul was incarnated in the past civilizations and will again be incarnated in the future ones) will be there in a following age, and survive the great War of All against All into the more spiritual epoch. In each age he took what could be taken up. Think how your soul lived in the ancient Indian civilization! You then received the wonderful teachings of the Holy Rishis; although you have forgotten them you will re-member them again later. Then you progressed further from one incarnation to another. You have been able to learn what the Persian, the Egyptian and the Graeco-Roman civilizations made possible. All this is within your soul to-day, but it is not yet outwardly manifest in your countenance. You will live further into the age of Philadelphia and into the age which will be led by the “Amen.” And a community of people will develop more and more who will manifest in their countenances what has been prepared in the various ages of our epoch. What is already working in your soul, that which you received in the Indian age, will appear in your physiognomy in the first sub-age of the epoch following upon the great War of All against All. And that which a man acquired in the ancient Persian age will change his countenance at the second stage. And so on, stage after stage. The spiritual teaching, which you who now sit here receive and unite with your souls, will bear its visible fruit in the epoch after the great war. You are now uniting with your soul that which the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars give. You carry it home. No one will read it in your faces to-day, nor even after centuries; but it will come after that great war. In the sixth epoch there will come a fifth age and then you will bear the image of it in your face; on your forehead will be written what you have now worked out, what are now your thoughts and feelings.
So step by step, after the great war, will issue and reveal itself all that is now hidden in the soul. Let us imagine the beginning of the great war; the soul which has heard the call which from age to age the Christian principle has uttered, will live on after all that is indicated in the “letters.” What these ages can give has been given throughout seven ages. Let us imagine how the soul waits, how it waits on. It is sealed seven times. Each age of culture lays one seal upon it. Within you is sealed what the Indians wrote in the soul; within you is also imprinted what the Persians, the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans have written in the soul, and what our own age of civilization inscribes in it. The seals will be unloosed, that is, the things written there will be outwardly revealed after the great War of All against All. And the principle, the power, which brings it about that the true fruit of our ages of civilization shall be made manifest in the countenance, is to be found in Christ Jesus. Seven seals of a book must be opened. What is this book? Where is it?
We will explain what a book is according to the Bible. The word “book” occurs in the Bible only seldom. This must not be overlooked. If you search in the Old Testament you will find the word in Genesis (Gen. v. I): “This is the book of the generations of man; When God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; and he created him male-female, and blessed him, and called his name Adam.” You may then open where you will, you will only find the word “book” again in the first Gospel (Matt. i. 1). “This is the book of the generation of Christ Jesus, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham begat Isaac, and Isaac begat Jacob,” etc. Again generations are enumerated. That which flows through a long series is enumerated. And again the expression “book” appears here in the Apocalypse of John. It appears where it is said that the Lamb alone is worthy to open the book with the seven seals. The expression “book” has always the same significance, it is never used otherwise. We only need to understand the records literally. A book in our present sense is not intended. The Domesday book or register of landed property had the old signification of the word “book.” The word “book” is used where something is entered consecutively, where one thing depends upon another, where a possession is registered so that it may be handed down from generation to generation. In such a record we are dealing with something whereby a foundation is made for that which is handed on by heredity. In the Old Testament the word “book” signifies a document in which are recorded the generations transmitted through the blood. It is there used in no other sense than that the generations are recorded. It is used afterwards in the first Gospel in the same way for the recording of the lineage. Hence what follows consecutively in time is written in a “book.” By a book nothing else is ever intended than the recording of what follows in time, that is to say, approximately in the sense of a chronicle, a history. The book of life which is now laid down in humanity, in which from age to age is written in the “I” of man that which each age supplies, this book which is written in the soul of man and which will be unsealed after the great War of All against All, this book is also meant here in the Apocalypse. In this book there will be the entries made by the various ages of civilization. Just as through the generations the entries were made in the genealogical tables of the old books, so it is here, only that in this case that which man spiritually acquires is written down. And as he acquires through intellectuality what it is possible to acquire in our age, the gradual progress of this development will be represented imaginatively by the symbol which corresponds with this quality. By having passed through the Indian age in a frame of mind in which he turned away from the physical world and directed his gaze towards the spiritual, man will, in the first age after the War of All against All, gain the victory over the things of sense. He will be the victor by acquiring what was written in his soul in the first age. Further, that which appeared in the second age, the conquest of matter by the ancient Persians, will appear in the second age after the War of All against All; the sword here signifies the instrument for the over-coming of the external world. That which man acquired in the Babylonian-.Egyptian age, when he learned how to measure everything correctly is seen in the third age after the great war, as that which is represented by the scales. And the fourth age shows us what is the most important thing, that which man acquired in the fourth age of our epoch through Christ Jesus and his appearance on earth; the spiritual life, the immortality of the “I.” All that is not fit for immortality, that which has to die, falls away; this must appear for the fourth age.
Thus everything that has been prepared throughout the ages of this present epoch comes out consecutively in the next, and it is indicated by the symbol which corresponds with the intelligence. If we read about the opening of the first four seals in the sixth chapter of the Apocalypse of John, we shall see that what is revealed expresses stage after stage in a mighty symbolism, what will in the future be revealed. “And I saw, and behold a white horse” — this indicates that the spiritualized intelligence comes forth. “And he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him; and he went forth to conquer, and he conquered. And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, ‘Come and see.’ And there went out another horse that was red. And to him that sat thereon was given power to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another.” (That that might be destroyed which is not worthy to take part in the ascent of humanity.) “And to him was given a great sword. And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, ‘Come and see.’ And I beheld, and lo, a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, ‘A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny.‘” “Measure” and “penny” to indicate what humanity learned in the third age; the fruits are carried over and unsealed. And in the fourth age Christ Jesus came to conquer death, and the manifestation of this achievement is seen. “And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, ‘Come and see.’ And I looked and behold a pale horse; and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.” “Behold a pale horse” — this all falls away, falls into the race of evil; but that which heard the call, which overcame death, partakes in the spiritual life. Those who have understood the “I Am” and his call are those who have overcome death. They have spiritualized the intelligence. And now what they have become can no longer be symbolized by the horse. A new symbol must appear for those who have understood to follow the call of him who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars. They now appear under the symbol of those who are clothed in white garments, who have put on the robes of the immortal, eternal, spiritual life.
We are then further told how all that appears which goes upward to good and that which goes downward to evil. This is clearly expressed. “And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain because of the word of God and because of the testimony which they held; and they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou judge and not avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto then, that they should rest yet a little season, until there came to them their fellow-servants and their brethren, who should be killed as they were” — will be killed as to the external form and live again in the spiritual. How is this expressed?
Let us realize what according to Anthroposophy becomes of the external sense world. How have we described the seven stars? We went back to Saturn and showed how the physical human body originated, how it was constructed out of warmth. We then saw how the Sun appeared; we drew a mental picture of it. The sun is for us not merely a physical sun; it is the bringer of life which in the future of humanity will appear as the highest form of spiritual life. The moon is to us the element which retards the rapid march of life and slows man down to the necessary pace. Thus we see spiritual powers in sun and moon. And the knowledge we acquire through Anthroposophy also appears rightly symbolized in a future age; to our spiritual. vision the sun and moon appear as the forces which have constructed man. Symbolically the external physical sun and the external moon disappear, they become like a human being, but in an elementary form! “And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood.” All this is the symbolical fulfilment of what we are seeking in spiritual life. Thus we see that what is being prepared in this epoch is prophesied in significant pictures for the next epoch. We now carry invisibly within us the transformation which we take in hand with the sun and moon when the physical changes into the spiritual elements. When spiritual vision is directed toward the future, the physical disappears and the symbol of the spiritualizing of humanity appears before us.
To-day we have pointed out in somewhat bold features what the seven seals and their unveiling in the Apocalypse should say to us. We must go still deeper into the subject, and then much of what might seem improbable to us to-day will become quite clear. We have, however, already seen how the mighty pictures described by the seer regarding the present and future development of humanity are arranged in a necessary order; how this goes on into the future and thereby gives us stronger impulses to live into the future and to do our share in the spiritualizing of human life.