The Christmas Mystery, Novalis, the Seer
This lecture is known under the following titles: The Christmas Mystery, Novalis as Seer, The Christ Being, Past, Present, and Future. This lecture first appeared in English in The Anthroposophical Quarterly, Volume 12, 1980, No. 4.
22 December 1908, Berlin
Translated by D. S. Osmond
Individuals appear in the world from time to time who are able to see in direct vision what has been realised through Feeling by thousands upon thousands of souls and hearts in the course of the centuries. But in the modern age only those who are familiar with the findings of spiritual ‘clear-seeing’ know that the effects of the event of Mystery of Golgotha on evolution are always perceptible to the true seer.
The entire spiritual sphere of the Earth was changed through what took place at Golgotha. And ever since then, if the eye of the soul has been opened through contemplation of this Event, the seer beholds the presence of the everlasting power of the Christ in the spiritual sphere of the Earth. Other men are impressed by the power of the impulse proceeding from the Mystery of Golgotha and the great truths connected with that Event; they realise, too, that since then the human heart has been able to experience something that could never previously have been experienced or felt on the Earth. But to a seer this is perceptible reality.
The young German poet Novalis became a seer — we might almost say ‘miraculously’ — by the grace of divine-spiritual Powers. Through a deeply shattering event which made him aware, as if by a stroke of magic, of the connection between life and death, his eyes of spirit were opened and as well as a great vista of past ages of the Earth and Cosmos, the Christ Being Himself appeared before him. He was able to say of himself that he was one who with the eyes of spirit has actually seen what is revealed when ‘the stone is lifted’ and the Being who has furnished earthly existence with the proof that life in the spirit will forever overcome death, becomes visible.
In the case of Novalis we cannot really speak of a self-contained life in the ordinary sense, for his was like a remembrance of an earlier incarnation. The Initiation conferred upon him as it were through Grace, brought to life within him his achievements and experiences in earlier incarnations; there was a kind of consolidation of intuitions and insights that had been his in a previous life. And because he looked back through the ages with his own awakened eyes of spirit, he was able to affirm that nothing in his life was comparable in importance with the experience of having discovered Christ as a living reality. Such an experience is like a repetition of the happening at Damascus, when Paul, who had hitherto persecuted the followers of Christ Jesus and rejected their proclamation, received in higher vision the direct proof that Christ lives, that He is present, and that the Event of Golgotha is unique in the whole process of the evolution of humanity. Those whose eyes of spirit are open can themselves behold this Event, for in truth Christ was not only present in the Body that was once His dwelling-place. He has remained with the Earth; through Him the Sun-Power has united with the Earth.
Novalis speaks of the revelation that came to him as ‘unique’ and he maintains that only those who with their whole soul are willing to relate themselves with this Event are men in the true sense. He rightly says that the ancient Indian, with his sublime spirituality, would have allied himself with Christ had he but known Him. Not out of any dim inkling or blind faith, but out of actual knowledge, Novalis says that the Christ whom he has seen with eyes of spirit is a Power pervading all beings. This Power can be recognised by the eye in which it is working. The eye that beholds the Christ has itself been formed by the Christ-Power. The Christ-Power within the eye beholds the Christ outside the eye.
These are truly wonderful words! Novalis is also aware of the stupendous truth that since the Event of Golgotha the Being we call Christ has been the planetary Spirit of the Earth, the Spirit by whom the Earth's body will gradually be transformed. A wonderful vista of the future opens out before Novalis. He sees the Earth transfigured; he sees the present Earth in which the residue of ancient times is still contained, transformed into the Body of Christ; he sees the waters of the Earth permeated with Christ's Blood, and he sees the solid rocks as Christ's Flesh. He sees the body of the Earth gradually becoming the Body of Christ; he sees the Earth and Christ miraculously made one; he sees the Earth in future time as a great organism enshrining man, an organism whose soul is Christ.
In this sense, and out of his deep insight into occult truths, Novalis speaks of Christ as the Son of Man. Just as in a certain sense men are the ‘Sons of the Gods’, that is to say of the ancient Gods who through untold millions of years have moulded and shaped our planet, who have built the bodies in which we live and the ground upon which we move, so, by overcoming earthly things, man's task is to build, through his own powers, an Earth that will be the body of the new God, the God of the future. And whereas the men of old looked back to the primeval Gods, yearning to be united with them in death, Novalis recognises the God who in time to come will have as his body all that is best in us and that we can offer to Him. In Christ he sees the Being to whom humanity offers itself in order that this Being may have a body. He recognises Christ as the ‘Son of Man’ in this higher, cosmological sense. He speaks of Christ as the ‘God of the future’.
All these experiences and perceptions are so pregnant with meaning that they are well able to kindle the true mood of Christmas in our souls. And so we will let one who lived a brief life at the end of the eighteenth century, dying at the age of 29, describe the experiences associated with the greatest event in his life — the sublime vision of the Christ Being.
(Marie von Sivers (Marie Steiner) here recited a poem from the Spiritual Songs of Novalis.)
The Christmas Tree has not been the symbol of the Christmas Festival for any length of time. We shall find no poem on the Christmas Tree among, let us say, the works of a poet such as Schiller, although had such a custom existed in his day he would certainly have recognised its poetic possibilities and would not have found it difficult to write a poem on the subject. But in Schiller's time the Christmas Tree in its now familiar form was unknown. It is a young and quite recent institution. In earlier times men celebrated this festival in a different way. However far we look back into past ages, as long as one can speak of human beings in their present form or having the rudiments of that form, we shall everywhere find an institution that is akin to our Christmas Festival; we shall find it in constantly new forms among the widespread masses of the peoples and as an enactment in the highest Mysteries.
The very fact that the festival itself is so ancient and our present symbol of it so recent, is indicative of an element of eternity, of an eternal reality from which new forms ever and again spring forth. This Christ-Festival and all the feelings and experiences it symbolises, are as ancient as humanity on Earth. But man will always be able to find new symbols, symbols that are in keeping with the times, as outward forms of expression for this festival. Just as Nature herself is rejuvenated every year and her eternal forces bud forth in forms that are forever new, so it is with the symbols of Christmas piety; in their constant rejuvenation they betoken the eternal reality of this festival. And so in the solemnity of this Christmas hour we will bring a picture before our souls of what men on Earth have experienced at the time when we now celebrate Christmas.
As pupils of Spiritual Science we can send our thoughts back to ages in the far, far past, to begin with to the times when our souls were incarnated in Atlantean bodies, bodies very unlike those of today. In that epoch there were great Teachers who were also the Leaders of humanity. Men looked out upon a different world, where there was no bright sunlight to reveal to them in clear outlines the forms of objects in the kingdoms of Nature. Everything around them was as though swathed in mist — not only because much of Atlantis was actually covered with mist and fog through which the sunlight could not penetrate to the same extent as later on, but also because man's faculty of perception had not yet developed to the stage where external objects appeared in clear outline. When men woke in the morning they saw everything around them in divine Nature swathed in mist and surrounded by auric colours, and when they went to sleep at night they passed into a spiritual world without falling into the oblivion and unconsciousness of sleep today.
When men went to sleep in the days of Atlantis, they beheld the divine-spiritual Beings who were their companions; they beheld those divine Beings who were once experienced as realities and who in later times were preserved as memories in different regions of the Earth, bearing different names: Wotan, Thor, Baldur, in Middle Europe; the names of Zeus, Pallas Athene, Ares, and so forth, were given to those divine figures who had once been visible to man's eyes of soul in old Atlantis. But in Atlantean times the divine worlds were no longer the highest, creative worlds whence man had come forth in the age of Lemuria. Our souls were once born from the womb of divine Beings of whose sublimity and majesty there can be only a dim inkling today. These same divine Beings sent forth the cosmic orbs and all the forces surrounding us. Man was within the womb of divine Beings whose outward expressions we behold in the celestial bodies; they were the Beings who flash through the air in lightning and thunder, whose expressions are the plants and animals and whose sense-organs are the crystals. All the warmth that streams to us, all the forces in play around us — all this constitutes the body of divine-spiritual Beings from whom man has come forth.
The more deeply man descended to the Earth, the more closely he united with material substances, the more he membered into himself the substances of the Earth, the less capable he became of beholding the great Gods.
In primeval times man had as yet no faculty for cognising the material world; he could neither see with eyes nor hear with ears; pictures that were not pictures of minerals, animals or plants but of divine-spiritual Beings above him, surged through his soul. In later ages he lived more and more on the physical plane, learning through the outer sense-organs to know the physical world. In the days of Atlantis, sight on the physical plane alternated with a form of clairvoyance that had remained as a relic of the ancient state of sublime spirituality in which man once had lived. But the Gods he was still able to behold on the astral plane when by night he enjoyed the bliss of living as a spiritual being among other spiritual beings, were lower in rank than the highest Gods.
As the physical plane grew clearer, man's vision on the spiritual planes grew dim. But in ancient Atlantis there were Initiates who as well as imparting the deeper teachings concerning the Gods of old whence men had come forth, proclaimed a truth which they presented in somewhat the following way.
‘Look at the seed of a plant; see how this seed develops into a plant. It grows, sends forth leaves, sepals, blossom and fruit. One who observes the plant in this way can say to himself: I look back to the seed; the seed is the creator of the leaves and the blossom I see before me, and this blossom holds within it the seed of a new plant; the blossom forms itself into a new seed. And one can also look into the future.’ — Thus did the great Atlantean Initiates speak to their pupils and through their pupils to the whole people. They said: ‘You can look back to the seeds of the Gods whence men have come forth. The spiritual and physical realities you see around you are all leaves that have sprung from the seeds of the primeval Gods. See in them the forces of those divine seeds even as the forces of the seed from which the plant has come forth can be seen in its leaves. But we are able to point to something more: in future times there will spread around man something that will be akin to the blossom of a plant, something that has, it is true, issued from the ancient Gods but — as the blossom ripens a seed — contains a seed in which the new God unfolds!’
The world is born of Gods — such was the ancient teaching. That the world will give birth to a God, to the great God of the future — such was the prophecy made by the Initiates of Atlantis to their pupils and through them to the people. For like all Initiates, those of Atlantis saw into the future, foresaw the great events of the future. Their vision reached beyond the time of the great Atlantean flood, beyond that stupendous happening whereby the face of the Earth was changed. They foresaw the civilisations that would arise in the future, in the land of the holy Rishis, in the land of Zarathustra; they foresaw the ancient Egyptian culture founded by Hermes, the conditions heralded and inaugurated by Moses, the happiness prevailing in Greece, the might and strength of Rome. All this the Atlantean Initiates saw in advance, and their vision extended to our own time and even beyond it. And to their intimate pupils they imparted hope, saying to them: ‘True, you must leave the spirit-lands where now you dwell, you must be ensnared in matter, you must clothe yourselves in sheaths woven from physical substances. There will come a time when you must labour on the physical plane, when it will seem as though the ancient Gods have vanished from your ken. But your eyes will be able to turn to where the new star can appear to you, to where the new seed comes to life, where there will spring forth the new God of the future, the God who has waited through the ages in order to appear in humanity at the right and proper time!’
When the Atlantean Initiates wanted to explain to their pupils and to all the people why man was destined to descend into the vale of Earth, they said to them that all souls would at some future time see and experience the One who was to come, who was still hidden from their sight, dwelling in a realm invisible to physical eyes as well as to the eyes of spirit which while man was still resting in the womb of the Gods, had gazed upon Him.
Then came the Atlantean flood. In a comparatively short time the face of the Earth was changed, and after the migrations of the peoples from West to East, the great post-Atlantean civilisations arose, beginning with that of ancient India.
The great Teachers in that epoch, the seven holy Rishis, taught their pupils, and indeed all the Indian people, of the reality of a spiritual world, for their life was now lived on the physical plane and they needed so to be taught. Their eyes could now see only the outer form of the physical world as the expression of the Spiritual, but the Spiritual itself they could not see. Yet there lived in the soul of every Indian something that can be called a dim remembrance of what the soul had once experienced among Gods in the age of old Atlantis. This remembrance aroused a yearning of such intensity for what had been lost, that the soul could establish no close relationship with the physical plane, could only regard it as maya, illusion, unreality. Nor could souls have endured such conditions on the physical plane had not the Rishis, filled with the fire of spiritual inspiration, been able to teach them of the glories of the ancient world that had departed from them. The teachings given by the Rishis concerning the Cosmos are still very little understood today; they were teachings based on a primeval wisdom, because the Rishis were initiated into what man had experienced when he was still within the womb of the Gods.
For man was present when the Gods separated the Sun from the Earth and ordained the paths of the celestial orbs — but during his later earthly pilgrimage he had forgotten it!
This wisdom was taught by the Rishis. And something else too was taught to those who were the most advanced and able to feel its significance. To them it was said: ‘From the world in which man is now placed, the world he now sees as maya, there will spring the Being who cannot yet be visible in this world because the human soul has not reached the stage where it can unfold the power to know this Being. But He who is still beyond your world will appear!’ Vicva karman was the name of the Being proclaimed by the ancient Teachers of India as the great Spirit of the future. To the Indian people it was said: ‘You cannot see Him yet, any more than you can see in the blossom the seed of the new plant. But as truly as the blossom contains the seed, as truly does maya unfold the germinating power that will make life in the physical world a worthy existence. The Being known in later times as the Christ was proclaimed in advance by the Teachers of ancient India; they, in true humility, were his prophets. Their spiritual gaze could turn in two directions — back to that primeval wisdom according to which the world was fashioned, and forward into the future. And to men engaged in the daily tasks of life they proclaimed the coming of One whose power would penetrate into the depths of human hearts and stir human hands to activity.
There was no age when He was not proclaimed, whenever one can speak of human culture and human understanding. If in later times men have forgotten the proclamations, this is not the fault of the great Teachers of an earlier humanity.
Then came the ancient Persian civilisation of which Zarathustra was the Leader. To his intimate pupils, and again to all the people, Zarathustra proclaimed that in everything by which man is surrounded, in the forces streaming from the Sun and from the other celestial bodies to the Earth, in all that fills the airy expanse, lives a Being now revealed to man in veiled form only. — And to his Initiates, Zarathustra was able to speak of the great Sun-Aura, of Ahura Mazdao, of the God of Good. What he said to his pupils may be rendered in somewhat the following way. — ‘Look at the plant. It grows from the seed, develops leaves and blossom. But the plant is pervaded by a mysterious force which arises in the heart of the blossom as the new seed. What surrounds the seed will fall away; but the innermost force that can be perceived in the heart of the blossom enables you to feel that a new plant will arise from the old. If you ponder on the power and the force of the Sun's light, Feeling that in it you are beholding merely the physical expression of a spiritual reality and letting yourselves be inspired by the spiritual power of the Sun, then you will begin to understand the prophetic announcement of the Divine Fruit that is to be born from the Earth!’
When these intimate pupils had reached a very advanced stage, they were permitted, at certain times, to listen to teachings even more secret. And in consecrated hours Zarathustra spoke to them of One who would come when men were ready to receive Him into their midst with understanding. Mighty pictures of the One who would come were presented by Zarathustra to his pupils. To one pupil he could reveal the picture itself, to a second a kind of reflection only; to the others it was only possible to give a general picture of what would come to pass in the future. — Thus He who was called Christ was also proclaimed in the civilisation of Zarathustra in ancient Persia.
So also it was in Egyptian civilisation. Hermes too had his Egyptian Initiates and through them had proclaimed the Christ in a certain way to all the people of ancient Egypt. In the legend of Osiris may be seen a reflection of the proclamation of Christ.
What was it that the legend of Osiris conveyed to men? The legend is that in olden times the people were blessed in that Osiris ruled in the Land of Egypt in true union with Isis, his spouse. His evil brother, Set, or Typhon, resolved to destroy Osiris. To this end he built a chest in which Osiris was imprisoned, and cast it into the sea. Isis eventually found the chest but could not bring Osiris to life again on the Earth. He had been transported into higher realms and since then could be seen by men only after they had passed through the gate of death. To every Egyptian it was said: After death you can be united with Osiris as truly as your hand is united with you here on Earth. After death you can be part of Osiris and call him your own higher Self, but only provided you have merited this on the physical plane. After death you can be united with the God known to you as the Most High.
To one who was an Initiate, something more could be revealed. When he had undergone all the ordeals and testings, when he had received all the teachings that must precede vision of the higher worlds, then even during physical life between birth and death the picture of Osiris was revealed to him — the picture that came before other men only after death. The Being with whom the pupil of the Egyptian Initiates must feel himself united came before him when he was outside his body, when his ether-body, astral body and ego had been raised out of the physical body; and then, one who even in his lifetime had gazed upon Osiris could proclaim to the others:- Osiris lives! But never could it have been proclaimed in ancient Egypt: Osiris dwells among us! This was expressed in the legend by saying: Osiris is a king who has never been seen on the Earth! The ‘chest’ is nothing else than the physical body. The moment Osiris is laid in the physical body, the inimical forces of the physical world, forces that are not yet ready to receive the God, assert themselves with such strength that they bring the God to destruction. The physical world is not ready yet to receive the God with whom man must be united. ‘But’ — so spake those who could bear personal witness that Osiris lives — ‘although we say to you that the God lives in very truth, it is only the Initiate who can behold him, when he (the Initiate) is away from the physical world. The God with whom man must become one in his inmost being, lives, but he lives in the spiritual world. He alone who leaves the physical world can be united with the God!’
At the same time men were beginning more and more to love the physical world; for it was their task and mission to work in the physical world, to establish one culture after another in the physical world. To the same extent to which the eyes looked out with clearer vision, and intelligence was better able to fathom the happenings of the physical world, to the same extent to which man's knowledge increased, enabling him to make discoveries and inventions useful for the purposes of physical life — to that same extent it became constantly more difficult for him during life between birth and death to gaze into the spiritual world. He could hear from the Initiates that the God with whom he must be united, lives in very truth; but from the physical world he could bring little that would make definite communion with Osiris possible for him in yonder world. Greater and greater darkness spread over life in the world surmised by man to be the home of the God with whom he must become one.
Then came the age of Greece when with all their delight in the physical world, men achieved that marriage between spirit and matter which bore such glorious fruit on the physical plane. In the wonderful masterpieces of ancient Greece we have a picture of how, in the epoch when the Event of Golgotha was to take place, men were related to the spiritual world. It is difficult to conceive but it is true nevertheless, that the supreme achievement of architecture — the Greek temple — corresponds with the lowest point in man's relationship with the spiritual world.
Let us picture a Greek temple towering before us. In its forms, in its perfection and wholeness, it is the very purest, noblest expression of the Spiritual — so that it could once be said, and said with truth: the God himself dwells in the Greek temple. The God was present in the temple, for the lines woven by the material were everywhere in harmony with the spiritual order of the Cosmos and with the lines pervading the physical plane as the directions of space. There is no more beautiful, no nobler example of the interpenetration of the spirit of man and physical matter than a Greek temple. It is the unparalleled example of union between the higher worlds and physical matter.
Through their works of art and the principles expressed in their creation, the Greeks were able to make the ancient Gods come down among them. And even if the Greeks did not actually behold Zeus or Pallas Athene when they had so descended, nevertheless the Gods were there, drawn and enchanted into these works of art — the Gods who had once been visible to men and among whom they had lived in the times of Atlantis. Men were able to provide a glorious dwelling-place for the ancient Gods.
And now let us see what the Greek temple represents in another respect. Suppose clairvoyant consciousness has before it a Greek temple. What will now be said holds good even of the sparse remains still surviving of the Greek temple architecture.— Think of what happens when clairvoyant consciousness has before it a relic such as one of the temples at Paestum. The harmony of the lines presented by the columns and roof coverings can literally fill one with rapture. Such perfection is there that one can picture and feel the very presence of divinity in the physical structure itself. The same feeling can arise when Greek architecture is seen through the eyes of the physical body.
And now think of clairvoyant consciousness transported into the spiritual world. There it is as if a black screen were drawn across what is to be seen in the physical world; what is to be seen there is as though obliterated. Nothing of all these splendours of the physical plane can be carried over into the spiritual world. Supreme beauty — when such indeed it is — achieved on the physical plane, is obliterated in the spiritual world. And then we realise that it is no myth when, on meeting an Initiate, one who was a leading figure in Greece uttered the words: Better it is to be a beggar in the upper world than a king in the realm of the Shades! (Homer: Odyssey, Song XI, verse 488-491) — In Greece, where man could find such bliss in the physical world, souls entered a shadowy existence when they passed into the world of the dead. Splendour in the physical world — equivalent barrenness in the spiritual world.
Let us now make two other comparisons with the experience aroused by a Greek temple. — Think of Raphael's Sistine Madonna, or Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper — works created after the Event of Golgotha and influenced by its mysteries. The sight of these pictures can fill the soul with rapture, and this is also true of clairvoyant consciousness.
When the eyes of clairvoyant consciousness rest upon these pictures on the physical plane and this consciousness then rises into the spiritual world, a man realises, although the physical is no longer seen: What I take into the spiritual world from the experience aroused by these pictures is not simply an echo of the physical; here there is not only the rapture I experienced at the sight of them, but now for the first time I realise all their glory; in the physical world I merely laid the seed of what I now experience in infinitely greater majesty and splendour! — When a man contemplates such pictures in which the mysteries connected with Golgotha are contained, he is laying the seed — but only the seed — for a greater knowledge in the spiritual world. What has made this possible? It has been made possible because the spiritual Power proclaimed so long in advance, actually appeared on the Earth. Mankind had succeeded in unfolding a blossom in which the seed of the God of the future could ripen. Through the Event of Golgotha something was communicated to Earth existence that man can not only take with him into the spiritual world but that in the spiritual worlds appears in higher glory and sublimity.
At the moment when the physical body of Christ Jesus died on Golgotha, Christ appeared among those who were living between death and a new birth. He could proclaim to them what none of the earlier Initiates, when they passed into the spiritual world, could have proclaimed. When the earlier Initiates — let us say of the Eleusinian Mysteries — passed from this physical world into the world of those living between death and a new birth, what would the Eleusinian Initiates have been able to say to those souls? They could have told them of happenings on the physical plane, but this would have caused them nothing but longing and grief. For their life had taken root entirely on the physical plane and in yonder world, where nothing physical could be found and darkness prevailed, souls could not share the Feeling which made a man of importance on the physical plane exclaim: Better it is to be a beggar on the physical plane than a king in the realm of the Shades! The Initiates who could bring such treasures to those living on the physical plane could have brought nothing to the souls then living in yonder world. Then came the Event of Golgotha. Christ appeared among the dead — and for the first time there could be proclaimed in the spiritual world an event of the physical world which forms the beginning of a bridge leading over from the physical into the spiritual world. When Christ appeared in the nether world it was as though light flashed through the spiritual worlds. For in the physical world itself incontrovertible proof had been furnished that the spiritual can forever conquer death! And thus it came to pass that man can also carry over with him into the spiritual world, experiences that come to him in the physical world.
This holds good of St. John's Gospel in an even higher degree and also of the other Gospels which tell of the Event of Golgotha. A man who studies the Gospel of St. John on the physical plane, experiences intellectual joy from the reading of this great record; but when he passes into the spiritual world he knows that what he was able to experience in the physical world was but a foretaste of what he can now perceive and behold. The fact of supreme importance is that man can now take his treasures with him from the physical plane into the spiritual world.
Since the Event of Golgotha the spiritual world has been illumined with an ever brighter, ever clearer light. Everything existing in the physical world has issued from the spiritual world. When he passed from the physical into the spiritual world, pre-Christian man could say: Here is the wellspring and origin of everything the physical world contains. What has come forth from the spiritual world are but the effects. But since the Event of Golgotha, man can say when he passes from the physical into the spiritual world: In the physical world too there is causality and what is experienced on the physical plane works over into the spiritual world.
And so it will continue — in ever-increasing measure. Everything proceeding from the work of the old Gods will die away and what will blossom forth will grow on into the future, as the workings of the God of the future. This is what will pass over into the spiritual world. It is just as when a man, looking at the seed of a new plant, says to himself: True, it has come forth from an old plant, from an earlier seed, but now the old has fallen away, has vanished, and now the new seed is there, the seed that will unfold into the new plant, the new blossom. — We too live in a world where leaves and blossom have issued from the seeds born of the ancient Gods. But more and more the new fruit, the Christ-fruit, is unfolding and everything else will fall away. What is wrought out here in the physical world will be of value for the future in so far as it is carried over into the spiritual world. Before the eyes of Spirit a world arises in the future, a world which has its roots in the physical as our world once had its roots in the spiritual. Just as men are the sons of the Gods, so, out of what men in the physical world experience by rising to an understanding of the Event of Golgotha, the body will be formed for those new Gods of the future, of whom Christ is the Leader. So do the old worlds live on into the new; the old dies utterly away, and the new springs into bud out of the old. But this could come about only because humanity was able to unfold a blossom for that spiritual Being Who was to become the God of the future.
This blossom that could unfold within it the seed of the God of the future could only be a threefold human sheath consisting of physical body, ether body and astral body, a sheath cleansed and purified by all that could be attained by man on Earth. And this sheath of Jesus of Nazareth who sacrificed himself in order that the Christ-Seed might be received, this blossom of manhood, represents the very purest essence that the spiritual endeavours of evolving mankind have been able to produce. Not until the earth was ready to bring forth her fairest blossom could the seed for the new God appear. And the birth of this blossom is commemorated in our Christmas Festival. In our Christmas Festival we celebrate the birth of the blossom which was to receive the Christ-Seed.
Christmas is a festival wherein men can gaze into the past and also into the future. For from the past has issued the blossom out of which unfolds the seed for the future. The threefold sheath of Christ was a product of the old Earth — woven and born out of the highest that it was in men's power to achieve. And no outer presentation of a mystery can make a more powerful impression upon us than the presentation of the mystery of how the fairest flower of humankind could spring from the purest calyx.
That mankind once issued from the womb of the Godhead, that man was once a spiritual being and descended into material existence — how can this be more beautifully presented than by indicating how the Spiritual gradually densifies, how man himself has densified out of the formless haze of the Spiritual? As a prophetic foreshadowing, the ancient Egyptian depicted the lion-headed Goddess, still wholly spiritual, belonging to the age when man was still hardly material, still resting as an etheric-spiritual being in the womb of the Godhead. Then, anticipating the later ‘Sistine Madonna’, we have the Egyptian portrayal of another female form: Isis with the child Horus. There we see how what is born from the clouds, that is to say from the Spirit, has densified into the calyx, into that which represents the human being developing an into the future. This conception, already foreshadowed by men of ancient time, we see in the Christian Madonna with the Child Jesus.
With supreme purity and delicacy, Raphael has breathed this mystery into form in his portrayal of the Madonna. A human being crystallises out of angels' heads and in turn brings forth Jesus of Nazareth, the blossom into which the Christ-Seed is to be received. The whole story of the evolution of humanity is contained in a most wonderful way in this picture of the Madonna. No wonder that as he stood before the Madonna, there arose in the one to whose words we have listened today, the glorious remembrance from the incarnation of which his last incarnation was again a remembrance, and who brought to life within himself all the sublime insight which this pictured mystery of mankind could awaken; no wonder that these feelings streamed to the being from whom Christ was born, to the figure who brought forth the calyx from which sprang the blossom that could allow the seed of the new God to ripen!
And so we see how in the supremely gifted Novalis, feelings free of all denominational bias quicken to life at the portrayal of this holy Mystery which was enacted at the first Christmas and is repeated at every Christmastide. It is the Mystery of the ancient Initiates, represented by the Magi, bringing their offerings to the new Mystery. The Wise Men, who are bearers of the wisdom of times past, make their offerings to that which is to go forward into the future, that which, in a human being, will one day harbour the power by which all worlds connected with the Earth are pervaded.
Novalis experienced the Christ Mystery, the Mary Mystery, in relation to the Cosmic Mystery, the light of which shone before his eyes of soul as it had shone at the first Christmas, when Beings who had not descended to the physical plane proclaimed the union between a cosmic and an earthly Power, which can become a reality in human hearts and in the Cosmos itself when the human heart unites with Christ. The Egyptian proclamation: ‘The God with whom you must be united dwells in the world that can be reached only after death’, holds good no longer. For now the God with whom man must be united lives among us here, between birth and death; and men can find Him when they unite their hearts and souls with Him in this world. Thus in the first Holy Night of Christendom the strain resounded:
Offenbarung durch die Höhen dem Gotte,
Ruhe und Stille durch die Erdenräume,
Seligkeit in den Menschen.
Revelation in the Heights to God,
Quiet and peace through all the Earth,
Blessed joy in Men.1This should be regarded as an approximate translation of the rather unusual rendering of the Christmas message.
Poems by Novalis (‘Marienlieder’) were recited by Marie von Sivers (Marie Steiner) at the end of this lecture.