Cologne, April 10, 1909
Goethe, 35Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) was Germany's greatest poet. Early in his academic career, Steiner spent several years editing Goethe's scientific writings, and during his lifetime he did not tire of extolling Goethean perception and thinking. The main seat of the Anthroposophic movement in Dornach, Switzerland, is still called the “Goetheanum.” Steiner gave several lecture cycles on Goethe's great poem Faust. These have been published as Faust, der strebende Mensch, Vol. I, and Geisteswissenschaftliche Erläuterungen zu Goethe's “Faust” Vol. II (Rudolf Steiner Verlag: Dornach, 1974). one of the most inspired spirits in modern times, knew how to depict in a touching way the strength and the power of sounds at Easter — the sound of the Easter bells. When his character Faust, the representative of striving humanity, has reached the outer limit of earthly existence, he seeks death. Goethe, however, also makes clear to us how the sounds of Easter bells, similar to the brightness of Easter itself, can conquer the thought and the impulse of death in Faust's heart.
The inner impulse of the sounds of Easter that Goethe places before us is the same impulse that passed through the entire development of humanity. In the not too distant future, human beings will understand through a renewed absorption in spiritual things how our festivals are intended to connect the human soul with everything that weaves into and lives in the universe. Then people will feel in a new way how their souls expand with joy during these first days of spring and understand the manner in which the sources of spiritual life can liberate us from the material world and from the narrowness of an existence that is tied to material things.
Especially during Easter will the human soul feel most fervently how an unshakable faith is being poured into it, which indicates that there is a well of the eternal, divine existence deep inside every human being. This fountainhead removes us from all constrictions and allows us to be one with the source of universal existence without losing ourselves. We can find a new life in this source at any time, provided we are able to rise to its knowledge through illumination. That which constitutes the true essence of Easter is nothing but an external sign of the Christian Mystery, the most profound experience mankind has ever had. And thus, we feel at this time of the year as if the external festivities and the manifestations of Easter were a symbol of the truths that human beings were able to discover only at the beginning of evolution, as well as a symbol of the knowledge that was available to them exclusively from the depths of the Holy Mysteries. What we call Easter was widely celebrated by ancient peoples, and wherever it was celebrated, it grew out of the Holy Mysteries. And everywhere such celebrations conjured up the notion and the conviction that the life that is lived in the spirit can conquer death, because death resides in the material world. In whatever way the human soul became convinced of this truth in ancient times, the substance of this conviction was ultimately derived from the very core of the Holy Mysteries.
However, the progression of human evolution consists precisely in the fact that the secrets formerly known only to holy places and to the Mystery Centers are now increasingly accessible to all of humanity and will eventually become common knowledge. In today's and tomorrow's festivities we will therefore observe, and attempt to present, how this notion — this feeling — was at first confined to the few in ancient times but has increasingly gained ground in the course of human development and is now known to an ever increasing number of people. Today let us look back into the past so that tomorrow we will be able to describe the feelings people in our time have toward Easter.
Our Christian Easter is only one among humanity's many forms of celebrating Easter, and what the sages of mankind had to say about conquering death through life was a result of the strongest convictions and sprang from the deepest wells of wisdom. These insights were built into the Easter symbols, and we find there elements that are designed to awaken in us an understanding of Easter, of the resurrection feast of the spirit. A beautiful and deep oriental legend tells us the following.
Shakyamuni, the Buddha, was a great oriental teacher who made many oriental regions happy with his deep wisdom. Since this wisdom had sprung from the primeval wells of spiritual existence, it warmed the hearts of humanity and filled them with utter bliss. Shakyamuni preserved for later ages that ancient wisdom of the divine-spiritual worlds that had beatified the hearts of human beings when they were still able to look into the divine world. The Buddha had one great disciple, Kashyapa, who was able to understand his teachings, whereas his other disciples were more or less incapable of grasping the comprehensive wisdom taught by Buddha. He was one of the initiates most profoundly in tune with the teaching of Buddha and one of his most important successors. The legend tells us that when it was time for Kashyapa to die and when, because of his maturity, he was ready to enter the state of Nirvana, he went out to a steep mountain and hid in a cave. There his body remained after his death in an imputrescible state; only the initiates knew about this secret and about the location of Kashyapa's body. However, Buddha himself had once predicted the coming of Maitreya-Buddha, his great successor who was to become the new teacher and leader of humanity and who, when he had reached the zenith of his preordained earthly existence, would seek out the cave of the illumined Kashyapa to touch his imperishable corpse with the right hand. Then from the heavens a fire would stream down in which Kashyapa's body would be transported to the spiritual world.
The very degree by which the oriental legend differs from what we know as the content of the Easter story affords us an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of Easter. Only through a gradual approach can we grasp the primeval wisdom contained in this legend. We could begin by asking why Kashyapa — in contradisctinction to the Savior in the Christian report of Easter — does not conquer death after three days; or we might ask why the corpse of the oriental initiate remains in this imperishable state for such a long period of time until it is finally moved upward to the celestial spheres by a miraculous fire.
Today we can only allude to the hidden depths of such things, and only little by little can we get an idea of the wisdom expressed in such profound legends. It is especially important at festivals such as Easter to keep a modest and respectful distance and to gradually raise our consciousness to the heights of wisdom by engaging ourselves in the ritual of celebration. We must not give in to the temptation of wanting to grasp the meaning of these legends quickly with our dry intellect. No, these truths can be approached and ultimately understood only by gradually attuning our perceptive sensibilities and feelings to them. Only after this ripening process can we grasp the great truths with the zeal and full warmth of our sensibilities.
For today's humanity, two closely related truths shine as mighty lights and emblems on the horizon of the spirit — important points of reference for a developing humanity that is striving within the spiritual realm. The first emblem is the burning bramblebush of Moses, and the second is the fire appearing under lightning and thunder at Sinai from which Moses received the pronouncement of the “I am the I am.” 36Exodus 3:14 Who is that spiritual being in the two apparitions announcing himself to Moses?
Anyone who understands the Christian message in a spiritual sense will also understand the words that announce to Moses the Being in the burning bramblebush, and later in the fire on Mt. Sinai — the Being who places the Ten Commandments before his soul. The writer of the Gospel of St. John tells us that Moses prophesied the Coming of Christ Jesus, and the Evangelist John expressly lets him point to those places in the Bible where the force in the burning bramblebush and later in the fire at Sinai announces Himself as the Being who was later to be named “the Christ.” No godhead other than the Christ is intended to be introduced by the words “I am the I am.”
The God who later appeared in the human body and who confronted mankind with the Mystery of Golgotha reigns invisibly after He had announced Himself earlier in the fire element in nature, in the burning bush, and in the lightning fire of Sinai. And you can understand the Old or the New Testament only if you know that the God proclaimed by Moses is the Christ who was supposed to walk among people. That is how the God who is supposed to bring salvation to human beings announces Himself in a way as no being in human form would. He announces Himself in the fiery element of nature, the element in which Christ is living. His divine essence makes itself known in many forms. The same Divine Being that reigns throughout all of antiquity now makes His visible appearance through the Event in Palestine.
Let us look back to the Old Testament and ask ourselves whom the ancient Hebrews actually revered. Who is their God? The members of the Hebrew Mystery Centers knew it; they worshiped the Christ and recognized Him as the speaker of the words, “Tell my people: I am the I am.” But even if nothing of this were known, the very fact that God, within our cycle of humanity, announced Himself in the fire would be sufficiently authentic evidence to the person capable of seeing into the deep mysteries of nature that the God of the burning bramblebush is identical with the God who announced Himself on Mt. Sinai. He came down from spiritual heights in order to fulfill the Mystery of Golgotha through His descent into a human body. For there is a mysterious connection between the fire that ignites the elements of nature out there and the fire that pulsates through our blood in the form of body temperature. We have often emphasized in our Spiritual Science that the human being is a microcosm juxtaposed to the large world, the macrocosm. Therefore, when we perceive things in the right way, the inner processes of a human being must correspond to processes taking place outside in the universe. For every inner-process we must be able to find the corresponding outer process, but to understand the meaning of this requires that we enter deep shafts of Spiritual Science. We are touching here the fringe of a deep mystery, of a truth that answers this question: What in the external macrocosm corresponds to the origin of human thought within us?
Human beings are the only creatures on earth who really think, and through their thoughts they are able to experience a world that extends beyond the earth. The manner in which thoughts flash up in the human being has no parallel in any other creature on earth. What is taking place within us when a thought is ignited, when either the simplest or the most enlightening thought flashes into our minds? To answer this question, let us say that the ego and astral body are simultaneously activated within us when we let our thoughts pass through our souls. Our blood is the physical expression of our ego, and that which in our nervous system is called “life” is the physical expression of our astral body. Not a single thought would flare up in our souls if ego and astral body did not work in concert, thus giving rise to a commensurate, interdependent functioning of the blood and of the nervous system. The future science of human beings will some day be amazed at today's scientific theory, which holds that thoughts originate solely in the nervous system. This belief is incorrect because the process responsible for the origination of thoughts must be seen as a dynamic interaction between blood and nervous system.
A thought flashes up in our soul when our blood, our inner fire, nervous system, and air cooperate in such a way. The origination of the thought inside our soul corresponds to rolling thunder in the cosmos. Likewise, when lightning flashes in the air, and when air and fire interact to produce thunder, this corresponds to the fire of our blood and the activity of our nervous system. This produces what one might metaphorically call an inner thunder that echoes in our thoughts, albeit gently, quietly, and imperceptibly. The lightning in the clouds corresponds to the fire and to the warmth in our blood, whereas the air outside, including all the elements it contains in the universe, corresponds to everything that passes through our nervous system. And just as lightning in its counterplay with the elements produces thunder, so the counterplay of blood and nerves produces the thought that flashes up in the soul. Suppose we looked out into the world that surrounds us, saw lightning flashing up in the air, and heard rolling thunder discharging itself. Then suppose that, as we looked into our soul, we sensed an inner warmth pulsating in our blood and felt the life that passes through our nervous system, a thought would flash up within us to tell us that both the external and the internal event were one.
That is really the truth! Although our thoughts take place within ourselves, the thunder rolling in the sky is not just a physical, material phenomenon. To assert that it was so would be nothing but materialistic mythology. However, individuals able to perceive that spiritual beings weave and radiate through material existence will look up to the sky, see the lightning, hear the thunder, and to them this will be a true and real indication of God's thinking in the fire, of His intention to announce Himself to us. That is the invisible God who weaves and radiates through the universe. His warmth is in the lightning, His nerves in the air, His thoughts in the rolling thunder; and it was He who spoke to Moses in the burning bramblebush and in the lightning fire of Sinai.
The elements fire and air in the macrocosm correspond to blood and nerves in the human microcosm. Thoughts in the human being are what lightning and thunder are in the macrocosm. By analogy, the God whom Moses saw and heard in the burning bush and who spoke to him in the lightning fire of Mt. Sinai appears as the Christ in the blood of Jesus of Nazareth. By thinking like a human being and by being in a human body, Christ's influence as the great model for human evolution extends into the far-distant future. And thus, two poles in the human evolution meet each other: the macrocosmic God on Mt. Sinai who announces Himself in thunder and lightning fire, and the same microcosmic God who is embodied in the human being of Palestine.
The sublime mysteries of humanity have been derived from the most profound wisdom. They are not invented legends, but a truth so profound that we need all the means available to Spiritual Science in order to unveil the mysteries that are woven around this truth. Let us ask what kind of an impulse mankind received through its great model, the Christ-Being, who descended to earth and united Himself with the microcosmic copies of the elements that are present in the human body.
Let us look back one more time to the prophecies of ancient cultures. All of them, back to the very distant past of the post-Atlantean era, probably knew what the course of human development would be. The Mystery Centers everywhere taught what is now proclaimed by Spiritual Science as follows: Human beings consist of four parts: the physical, the etheric, and the astral bodies, and the ego. They can rise to higher stages of development: through individual effort on the part of their ego, when they transform their astral body into spirit self — manas, when they transform their etheric body into life spirit—buddhi, and when they spiritualize the physical body into spirit man—atman. All the members of this physical body must be gradually spiritualized in our life on earth so that everything that makes human beings out of us through the influx of the divine breath is profoundly spiritualized. And because spiritualization of the physical body begins with the spiritualization of the breath — of the odem, the transformed, spiritualized physical body is called atma or atman, from which the German word for breath, atem, derives. The Old Testament tells us that the human being received the breath of life in the beginning of his earthly existence. Likewise, all ancient Schools of Wisdom perceived this breath of life as something that must gradually be spiritualized by the human being, and they saw atman as a deification of the breath — as the great ideal human beings must strive for — so that they will be imbued with the spiritual breath of air.
But there is still more in the human being that has to be spiritualized. If the entire body is to be spiritualized, it is necessary not only that the breath be spiritualized but also that the blood—the expression of the ego that is constantly renewed by the breath — be spiritualized. The blood must be infected by a strong impulse toward the spiritual. Christianity has added to the ancient mysteries the mystery of the blood and of the fire that is enclosed in the human being. The ancient mysteries say that human beings have descended to earth in their present earthly form and physical corporeality from spiritual heights. Having lost their spiritual essence and having wrapped themselves into a physical corporeality, they must return to spirituality by casting off the physical sheath and by ascending to a spiritual existence.
The religions could not teach what one might call the self-induced salvation of the human ego as long as the ego, whose physical expression is in the blood, was not touched by an impulse now present on earth. And thus we are told how the great spiritual beings — the great avatars — descend and incarnate themselves from time to time in human bodies, especially when humanity needs help. These are beings who do not need to descend into a human body to enhance their own development because they have completed their own human development in an earlier cycle of the world. They descend for the sole purpose of helping human beings. For example, when mankind is in need of help, the great god Vishnu descends from time to time into an earthly existence. Krishna, one of the incarnations of Vishnu, speaks of himself and explains clearly what the essence of an avatar is. In the divine poem, the Bhagavad Gita, he himself explains what he is. Here we have the wonderful words that Krishna, in whom Vishnu lives as an avatar, says about himself: “I am the spirit of creation, its beginning, its middle, its end; I am the Sun among the stars, fire among the elements, the great ocean among the waters, the eternal snake among all snakes. I am the basis of everything.” 37Bhagavad Gita is a religious Hindu poem consisting of dialogues between Prince Arjuna and Krishna, who reveals himself as the avatara (incarnation) of Vishnu. The transcription of the quotation from the “Gita” is probably a contraction of several textual citations on pp. 452, 522, and 529, among others, of Bhagavad-gita AS IT IS. Complete edition (Collier Books: New York, 1974).
No words can proclaim more beautifully and more magnificently the all-embracing, omnipotent divinity. The godhead whom Moses saw in the elements of fire not only weaves and radiates through the macrocosmic world but also can be found inside the human being. That is why the Krishna-Being indwells in anything human as the great ideal to which the human core strives to develop itself from within. And if, as the wisdom of antiquity endeavored to do, the human breath can be spiritualized through the impulse that we absorb through the Mystery of Golgotha, then we have realized the principle of salvation through that which itself lives within us. All avatars saved mankind through the forces they caused to radiate from spiritual heights down onto earth. The avatar Christ, however, saved mankind by means of what He Himself extracted from the strength of mankind, and He showed us how the strength to be saved and to conquer matter through spirit can be found within ourselves.
Now we can see how even such an illuminate as Kashyapa could not yet be fully saved even though he had made his body imperishable. This body of his had to remain in the secret cave until the Maitreya-Buddha came to pick it up. Only when the physical body has been so spiritualized through the ego that the Christ-Impulse can stream into it does one no longer need the wonderful cosmic fire in order to attain salvation; what is needed for salvation is the fire raging in the blood of the inner human being. And that is why we can utilize the light that radiates from the Mystery of Golgotha in order to illuminate such a wonderfully profound legend as the one told about Kashyapa.
At first blush, the world appears to us dark and full of riddles, but we can compare it with a dark room containing many splendid objects that we are unable to see when we first enter. However, when we ignite a light, it illuminates the whole splendor of the objects in the room and everything else represented by these objects. The same can be true for the human being who strives for wisdom. The human being strives at first in the dark; looking in this world first to the past and then to the future, he or she can at first see nothing but darkness. However, once the light coming from Golgotha is ignited, everything from the farthest past to the remotest future becomes illuminated. Since everything material is born out of the spirit, the spirit will again rise from matter. To express this certainty is the meaning of today's celebration of Easter — a festival that is tied to the events of the world. Mankind must realize what it can attain through Spiritual Science: if the human soul, by gaining knowledge of the mysteries of existence, can acquire a lively feeling for the mysteries of the universe on important symbolic occasions such as Easter, then it will also feel something of what it means to live not simply in one's own narrow, personal existence but also in a symbiosis with the light of the stars, the splendor of the sun, and with everything that lives in the universe. The soul will become increasingly more spiritual as it feels extended into the universe.
The spiritual Easter bells echo their sounds through our hearts, indicating that we must pass from a human to a universal life through the resurrection. Hearing these spiritual Easter bells will make us lose any doubt we may have about the spiritual world, and we will then be sure that death in the material world cannot harm us. When we understand these spiritual Easter bells, we will return to the life in the spirit.