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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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The Principle of Spiritual Economy
GA 111

V. Results of Spiritual Scientific Investigations of the Evolution of Humanity: II

31 March 1909, Rome

What happened at Golgotha as a germinal event has undergone a slow and gradual development. This mystery built the bridge from the past to the future because the soul life of humanity underwent a profound metamorphosis. This becomes especially clear when one looks at two great individuals who prepared the way for Christianity: St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. To understand these two men properly, it will be necessary to look at the old mystery centers where the highest knowledge was taught. Not to do this would make it impossible to gain a thorough understanding of these personalities.

As we know, all nations or peoples in the past had the so-called mystery centers. Here we shall point out only their most basic features and refer to them henceforth as “Mysteries.” First of all, these were institutions in which the church and school were subsumed. They taught first of all the origin of creation and its continuation, but their teaching was not a dull doctrine like the modern doctrine of creation, but rather a body of knowledge that culminated in clairvoyant perception. In the true Mysteries there was no separation between belief and knowledge. They were divided into higher and lower Mysteries, with the latter describing the evolution of the earth in magnificent images, so that everything was permeated by art and beauty. Art, religion, and knowledge all derived from the same source.

The individual who wanted to advance further was given elementary and general exercises. What today we call theosophical knowledge was then only a preparation. This was followed by exercises similar to the ones we have described in recent lectures, although they were conducted in a different manner and were not Christian or Rosicrucian in nature. This is how the astral body was organized for many years. Then the following happened, something that is no longer necessary today because of changed conditions: When the hierophant saw that the astral body of the person to be initiated had matured sufficiently, a death-like state was induced in the subject for a period of three and a half days so that the body was similar to that of Lazarus. This was also the occasion when the etheric body, together with the other two higher bodies, was almost completely removed from the physical body. The disciple during these three and a half days had a vision of the spiritual world and experienced a state of illumination that enabled him to reach into the highest regions and perceive everything that is related to past and future. After the three and a half days, the disciple was awakened and was then able to relate what was happening in the higher spheres. He had been able to see that Christ, the leading Spirit in our evolution, would be lying in the grave for three and a half days. It is this fact that makes the Mysteries historical reality.

The Mystery of Golgotha was the culmination of what was happening in the lower Mysteries because earlier presentiments became fact in it. Whereas the “I” of the disciple had earlier been successful in changing the astral body through exercises of the imagination, the Mystery of Golgotha brought about a metamorphosis of the etheric body. Whatever was changed in the astral body became manas, or spirit self—the actual spirit, the higher “I.” On the other hand, whatever part of the etheric body was changed constituted buddhi, or life spirit. Then the disciple could also try to change his physical body, and this resulted in atma: Atmung,32The German noun forms Atem and Atmung mean breath and breathing, respectively, whereas the verb for “to breathe” is atmen. so called because in reality the transformation of the physical body was attained through special breathing exercises. Only through the formation of buddhi can the human being recognize and perceive Christ as spiritual essence.

Why was it necessary to remove the astral body first? Had the astral body continued to be tied to the physical body, it would not have had the strength to imprint certain impressions onto the ether body. The Christ has liberated us from this three and a half day test, and it is through Him that the exercises mentioned above have become possible without intercession by the hierophant. We see the first example of this in Saul when he became Paul. What happened to him on his way to Damascus must be interpreted as something similar to an initiation. The reason that he needed only a few minutes for it was that he had attained a certain maturity in the preceding life. The line between the connecting point in the present life and the one in the previous incarnation, in which a certain learning experience took place, may be interrupted by several intermediate incarnations, and it is also possible for such a previous learning experience not to surface until late in the present life. This explains why the conversion of Saul, that is his connecting himself with his previous development, took place at a relatively mature age. In addition, Paul did not have to project himself into higher worlds in order to perceive the Christ, as would have been necessary for other initiates of the pre-Christian era. After all, Christ did remain on earth as He was intimately united with its astral body. Had a clairvoyant observer perceived the events from another star, he would have been able to see the tremendous transformation that the Mystery of Golgotha had brought about.

To gain knowledge in ancient times, everything had to be learned and understood in the Mysteries, but things are different in more modern times, as the lives of St. Augustine and Thomas of Aquinas prove. Before these men lived, it would have been futile to talk about the spiritual hierarchies because one who was not initiated was not able to perceive them. We can attribute this inability to gaze into the spiritual world to the fact that the Mysteries had ceased to exist six hundred years before Christ, and initiations no longer took place after that. The schools of philosophy took the place of the genuine Mysteries, and philosophy itself took the place of the initiation. However, philosophy was not always as abstract a system as it is today; on the contrary, especially in the beginning it was more or less completely reminiscent of the Mysteries. Aristotle33The works of the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 B.C.) became the basis of medieval scholasticism and had a decisive influence on Catholic theology. was the last from whom we have such a philosophy, but the resonance of the Mysteries was already reduced to a bare minimum in his philosophy. After Aristotle, things went so far as to make people forget that every philosophy must be traced back to the wisdom of the Mysteries. What came later is only an infiltration of abstract terms, similar to the construction of a thatched roof.

The first step forward is characterized by the Mystery of Golgotha. Up to this time the human faculties, for example reason, were little developed. Human beings could not make any progress because their minds were bound to their sense organs, and the time when the mind could develop independently was not yet at hand. What happened at Golgotha could not be grasped just by using one's mind. However, when Christ left the material world, innumerable copies of His etheric and astral body came into being; these were destined to be woven into the bodies of human beings suited to disseminate Christianity. One of them was Augustine, who descended to the physical plane for a new incarnation and wanted to form a new etheric body for himself. It was then that one of the copies of the etheric body of Christ was woven into his own etheric body, and this is how it became possible for him to find in himself the sources of his doctrine about the true form of Christian mysticism. But because he had received only the etheric body of Christ, his ego was subjected to error, and it was possible for him to succumb to his passions. And this is how Augustine developed his ego, but also committed errors and went through all stages of doubt in regard to Christ's teaching. What we see in him is a sort of higher materialism because even in those days people fell into the mistake of wanting to materialize everything. Only the person who frees himself or herself from this tendency will understand spiritual things. When Augustine finally found the spirit of Christianity in the words of John and Paul, the etheric body of Christ began to work in him, for he speaks not of the physical body but of the etheric body, which is the same as what he calls “soma.” In speaking of the “sense,” he refers to the astral body, and he says of the ego that it can rise in him through purification. The transformation of the astral body he calls “laying hold of the truth,” and that of the etheric body he delineates as “being joyful and enjoying spiritual things.” Finally, his term for the highest degree of spiritualization is “the vision.” The writings of Augustine are a good preparation for us because they present the inner development of a mystic. One can clearly recognize the moment in which he enters the spiritual world. Augustine is the best interpreter of Paul's letters.

Now let us look at another great representative of Christianity: Thomas Aquinas. Comparing him with Augustine, we see that he was not caught up in the errors of Augustine and that, beginning with his childhood years, he did not experience doubt or lack of faith. This is not surprising because judgment and conviction reside in the astral body, and Christ's astral body was woven into his own. The implantation of any principle into the human body can take place only when an external event changes the natural course of things. When Thomas was still a child, lightning struck nearby and killed his little sister. This seemingly purely physical event made him suitable to receive into his own astral body that of Christ.

Thomism coincides with the time when the human mind as we know it began to develop. The strongest impulse of this formative process came from Arabism, a truly intellectual science. Whereas before the old sages knew why they were able to gaze directly into the spiritual world, the new philosophy could make good use of Aristotle because he was one of the first great thinkers who preferred intellectual work to the wisdom of the Mysteries. The latter disappeared complete with the purely intellectual speculation of Arabism. Such speculation could at best culminate in a pantheism of rational concepts, but it could not conceive of more than this idea of a unified whole. Now, Thomas adopted the intellectual science accessible to him, but he left revealed knowledge intact and made use of dialectics in order to understand it.

The New Testament contains everything of revealed knowledge, so that Thomas had only to add the finely polished science to the explanations. Scholasticism, which is not much appreciated these days, made this intellectual science possible; but by using progressive dialectics, Thomas also made it possible for human beings to elevate themselves again to the divine idea. Scholasticism comes from the Greek scole and therefore means “paying attention,” but was erroneously translated as scuola, school. The scholastic system was the most perfect web of logic, and it enabled Thomas to think anew the pre-creational divine thoughts, freed from error and delusion as they can be conceived of only in monastic seclusion far away from the noise of the world.

Human beings are eager to comprehend quickly, to adopt an idea and make it their own, and to simplify everything. But the divine is not that simple! With Thomas Aquinas, human thought rises to new heights. Being no less a mystic than a scholastic, Thomas was able to give us such vivid descriptions, similar to those of the seer Dionysius the Areopagite34Dionysius the Aeropagite is said to have been the first Bishop of Athens, Greece, in the first century A.D. Tradition has made him a martyr and Acts 17:34 tells of his conversion by Paul. because he saw the spiritual hierarchies and thus he was able to solve the most difficult problems during his long nightly meditations in front of the altar. Therefore, we find combined in him the qualities of the mystic and of a brilliant thinker who is not influenced by the senses. No important concepts were added after him, not even the term “evolution,” which, by the way, can already be found in Aristotle's writings and is perhaps even better described there.

We have already stated before that the New Testament contains everything. Specifically, it also contains the seed of mysticism, and we have seen how this seed has ripened and how an infinite number of treasures have been unearthed from the Gospels. Nowadays, we have theosophy; later there will be other spiritual waves, and new treasures will be found in the Gospels. The revelation of John concludes the future of the earth.

Today I have tried to show you how the liberation of the intellect was the first stage of Christianity. This is only one leaf, but others will grow on the mighty plant of Christianity, one after the other. The blossom will be the total beauty of the earth, renewed through Christianity, and the fruit will be the new world for which today's earth is the preparation.

As Christ taught, is still teaching, and will be teaching to the end, He can be found by those who seek Him.