Background to the Gospel of St. Mark
XI. Kyrios, The Lord of the Soul
12 December 1910, Berlin
In several lecture-courses given over the years in the different Groups and attended by many of the friends here to-day, we have endeavoured to study the Gospels of St. John, St. Luke and St. Matthew and the great event in Palestine, the Mystery of Golgotha, from three different points of view.
One result of these studies should have been to establish in our souls a growing realisation of the greatness of this unique event. We have understood that the reason why there are four Gospels is that their authors, writing as inspired occultists, each wished to describe the great event from a special angle, just as a photograph of an object is taken from a particular side. By combining the pictures, each taken from a different angle, an idea of the reality can be obtained. Each of the Evangelists makes it possible for us to study one aspect in particular of the great event in Palestine.
The Gospel of St. John gives us insight into the great events in Palestine by opening out a vista of the highest human goals and at the same time of the sublime realities of the spiritual worlds.
The Gospel of St. Luke unveils the mysteries connected with the personality of Jesus of Nazareth, with the Solomon Jesus and the Nathan Jesus, until the moment when the Christ descends into him.
The Gospel of St. Matthew, as those of you who heard the lectures will know and others will be able to read, shows how the bodily nature in which the Christ was to incarnate for three years was prepared by mysterious processes connected with the racial stock of the ancient Hebrew people.
In a certain respect the Gospel of St. Mark can lead us to supreme heights in our study of Christianity and give us insight into many matters communicated by the other Gospels but in a less dramatic way. And so this evening I will take the opportunity of saying something in reference to the Gospel of St. Mark.
We must realise how necessary it is to study many subjects with which superficial modern thought has no inclination to concern itself. If we are to understand the Gospel of St. Mark in its depths we must acquaint ourselves to some extent with the very different character of the language in which men expressed themselves at the time when Christ Jesus was on the Earth. Let me try to convey to you what I mean by using contrasts as it were of light and shadow.
We make use of language to express what we want to say and to reveal what lives in our souls. It is in the way in which language is used as a means of expressing the inner life of soul that the several epochs in the evolution of humanity differ radically from one another. If we go back to the ancient Hebrew epoch and to the wonderful modes of expression used in the temple-language, we find that there was a quite different way of clothing the secrets of the soul in words — a way undreamed of nowadays. In the old Hebrew language only the consonants were written, the vowels being inserted afterwards; and when a word was uttered the echoes of a whole world reverberated in it — not, as is the case to-day, some more or less abstract concept. The reason why the vowels were not written was that they were an indication of the speaker's inmost being, whereas the consonants were intended to depict external objects or conditions. For example, whenever an ancient Hebrew wrote the letter B — or what corresponded to our present B — it always evoked in him a sense of warmth and a picture of some outer condition, in this case something in which one could be enclosed, as in a shelter or a house. The sound B could not be uttered without this feeling as an accompaniment. Again, the sound A (ah) could not be uttered without conveying the impression or image of something inwardly powerful, of a radiating force. The content of the soul thus projected into words streamed out into space and into other souls. Language was therefore much more alive, much more related to the secrets of existence than is the case nowadays.
This is one side — the light side I wanted to convey. But there is also the other side — the shadow side — constituted by the fact that in the use of our language we have to a great extent become utterly shallow. Our language expresses only abstractions, generalisations. People no longer have any feeling about this but it could not be otherwise in times when language is used, even for literary purposes, before writers have any spiritual content to convey, when enormous masses of printed matter circulate everywhere, when everyone feels that he must write something and nothing is considered unsuitable as subject-matter. When our Society was founded I discovered that certain authors were attaching themselves to it simply out of curiosity, in the hope of finding material for their novels. Why, they thought, should they not find characters among the Members who could be portrayed in their stories? So it behoves us to realise that our language nowadays has become abstract, commonplace and vacuous and there is neither a sense of its holiness nor, as was once the case, a feeling of responsibility towards its use. That is why it is so extraordinarily difficult to put into modern words the great facts proclaimed by the Gospels. People cannot understand that our modern language is empty when compared, for example, with the fulness of meaning implicit in a word of the ancient Greek language. When we read the Bible to-day we are reading something that in comparison with the original wording has been sifted not once but two or three times, and it is not the best but the worst that has remained. It does, of course, seem natural to quote from modern versions of the Bible, but we go astray most disastrously of all when we quote the Gospel of St. Mark in its modern rendering.
You know that at the very beginning of the Gospel of St. Mark, in Weizsacker's supposedly excellent translation — although as might be guessed from the high reputation it enjoys to-day, it is anything but excellent! — these words are found:
“As it is written in the prophet Isaiah: Behold I send my messenger before you who shall prepare the way before you. Listen how the voice is heard in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”
[The words in the English Authorised Version are: ‘As it is written in the Prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’]
When we read a passage like this it would be self-deception to pretend that we understand it; if we are honest we shall admit that it is utterly incomprehensible to us. The passage is either of no significance or it says something we cannot understand. The first thing to do, then, is to assemble concepts enabling us to grasp the meaning of this saying of Isaiah. Isaiah was referring to the event which was to be of supreme significance for the evolution of humanity. What has already been said gives some indication of what Isaiah was foretelling in these words.
In ancient days man was endowed with a kind of clairvoyance and through the forces of his soul was able to rise into the divine-spiritual world. When this happened he was not using his Ego, his ‘I’, at the stage of development it had then reached; he was using his astral body which contained the powers of seership, whereas the forces rooted in the Ego were only gradually being awakened by perception of the physical world. The ‘I’ uses physical instruments, but in earlier times, if a man were seeking revelation, he used his astral body, seeing and perceiving through it. The process of evolution itself consisted in the transition from use of the astral body to use of the ‘I’. The Christ Impulse was to be the most powerful factor in the development of the ‘I’. If the words of St. Paul: ‘Not I but Christ in me’ are fulfilled in the ‘I’, then the ‘I’ is able to grow into the spiritual world through its own forces, whereas formerly this was possible only for the astral body.
This, then, is how evolution proceeded: Man once used his astral body as an organ of perception, but the astral body became less and less able to serve that purpose. When the time of Christ's coming was drawing near, it was losing its power to see into the spiritual world. Man could no longer be united with that world through his astral body and the ‘I’ was not yet strong enough to reveal it. That was the state of things when the time of Christ's coming was approaching.
In the course of human evolution the important steps which are eventually to take place have always to be prepared in advance. This was so in the case of the Christ Impulse too; but there was necessarily a period of transition. There could be no sudden change from the time when man felt his astral body becoming unreceptive to the spiritual world, becoming barren and desolate, to a time when the ‘I’ was kindled into activity through the Christ Impulse. What happened was that as the result of a certain influence from the spiritual world a few human beings were able to experience in the astral body something of what was later to be seen and known by the ‘I’. Egohood was prepared for, anticipated as it were in the astral body. It was through the ‘I’ and its development that man became Earth-Man in the real sense. The astral body properly belonged to the evolutionary period of the Old Moon, when the Angels were at the human stage. Man is at the human stage on the Earth. On the Old Moon it was appropriate for man to use his astral body. Everything else was merely preparation for the development of the ‘I’. The earliest stages of Earth-evolution proper were a recapitulation of the Old Moon-evolution, for man could never become fully man in the astral body; on the Old Moon it was only the Angels who could reach the human stage in the astral body. And just as the Christ lived in earthly man in order to inspire his ‘I’, so there were Angels who, having reached the human stage on the Old Moon, prophetically inspired man's astral body as a preparation for Egohood. A time was to come in human evolution on the Earth when man would be ready for the development of the ‘I’. On the Old Moon the Angels had developed to the highest stage, but as we have heard, only in the astral body. Now, in order that man might be prepared for Egohood, it was necessary that in exceptional conditions, and through grace, certain individuals should be inspired to work on the Earth as Angels; although they were men, the reality was that Angels were working in and through them.
This is a concept of great importance, without which there can be no understanding of human evolution in line with that of occultism. It is easy enough to say simply that everything is maya, but that is a mere abstraction. We must be able to say: Yes, a man is standing in front of me, but he is maya — indeed who knows if he is really a man? Perhaps what seems to be a human figure is only the outer sheath; perhaps some quite other being is using this sheath in order to accomplish a task that is beyond man's capacity. — I have given an indication of this in The Portal of Initiation.
Such an event in the history of humanity actually took place when the Individuality who had lived in Elijah was reborn as John the Baptist. An Angel entered into the soul of John the Baptist in that incarnation, using his bodily nature and also his soul to accomplish what no human being could have accomplished. In John the Baptist there lived an Angel whose mission was to herald in advance the Egohood that was to be present in its fulness in Jesus of Nazareth. It is of the greatest importance to realise that John the Baptist was maya and that an Angel, a Messenger, was living in him. This is indeed what the Greek says: Lo, I send my Messenger. The Messenger is an Angel. But nobody pays attention to what is actually said here. A deep mystery, enacted in the Baptist and foretold by Isaiah, is indicated. Isaiah foretold that the future John the Baptist would be maya — in reality he was to be the vehicle for the Angel, the Messenger who was to proclaim what man will become if he takes the Christ Impulse into himself. Angels announce in advance what man will later become. The passage in question might therefore be translated: Lo, the bestower of Egohood sends his Messenger (Angel) before you to whom Egohood is to be given.
Let us now see if we can discover the meaning of the third sentence. We must first try to picture the conditions prevailing in man's inner life when the astral body had gradually lost the power to send out its forces like feelers and to see clairvoyantly into the divine-spiritual world. Formerly, when the astral body was activated, man was able to look into that world, but this faculty was disappearing and darkness spreading within him. He had once been able to expand his astral body over all the beings of the spiritual world, but now he was inwardly desolate, inwardly isolated — the Greek word is ἔρημος. At that time the human soul lived in isolation, in desolation. This is what the Greek text tells us: Lo, a voice seems to speak in the desolation of the soul — call it ‘wilderness’ of the soul if you like — when the astral body can no longer expand into the divine-spiritual world. Hear the cry in the wilderness, in the desolation of the soul!
What is it that is being proclaimed in advance? First of all we must be clear about the meaning of the word Kyrios, when it was used in Hebrew but also still in Greek in reference to manifestations of the soul and spirit. To translate it simply as ‘the Lord’, with the usual connotation, is sheer nonsense. In ancient times everyone using the word Kyrios knew perfectly well that its meaning was connected with the development of man's soul-life and its mysteries. In the astral body, as we know, are the forces of thinking, feeling and willing; the soul thinks, feels and wills. These are the three forces working in the soul but they are actually its servants. In earlier times man was under their domination and he obeyed them, but as his evolution progressed these forces were to become the servants of the Kyrios, the Ruler, the Lord — in short, of the ‘I’. Used in relation to the soul, the word Kyrios actually meant the ‘I’. At this stage it would no longer be true to say: ‘The Divine-Spiritual thinks, feels and wills in me’, but rather: ‘I think, I feel, I will.’ The passage should be rendered more or less as follows. — Prepare yourselves, you human souls, to move along those paths that will awaken the Kyrios, the powerful ‘I’ within you; listen to the cry in the solitude of the soul. Make ready the path (or way) of the ‘I’, the Lord of the soul. Open the way for his forces so that he may no longer be the slave but the Ruler of thinking, feeling and willing. Lo, the power that is the ‘I’ sends his Angel before you, the Angel who is to give you the possibility of understanding the cry in the solitude of the astral soul. Prepare the paths of the ‘I’, open the way for the forces of the ‘I’. — Such is the meaning of these significant words of the prophet Isaiah; they point to the greatest of all events in the evolution of humanity. You will now understand the sense in which he speaks about the future John the Baptist, indicating how man's soul in its solitude longs for the coming of its Lord and Ruler, the ‘I’. Such is the real meaning of this passage and in this sense it is to be understood.
Why was John the Baptist able to be the bearer of the Angel? It was because he had received a particular form of Initiation. Initiations are not all identical in character and individuals who have a definite mission to fulfil must undergo a special form of Initiation. Now the writing of the stars in the heavens is so ordered as to reveal the nature and facts of happenings in the spiritual world. Thus a man may receive the Sun-Initiation, which means that he is initiated into the mysteries of the spiritual world of Ahura Mazdao — the spiritual world of which the Sun is the outer expression. But there are twelve forms of the Sun-Initiation, each of which differs from the other eleven. A man will receive a particular form of Initiation according to the mission he is to fulfil for humanity. His Initiation, though still a Sun-Initiation, may be of such a kind that the forces stream in as they do when the Sun is standing, for instance, in the constellation of Cancer; and these forces will be very different in the case of an Initiation connected with the Sun in Libra. These are the expressions used to indicate specialised Initiations. Individuals chosen for a mission as lofty as that of John the Baptist must receive Initiation in the form that can give the strength necessary for the fulfilment of their mission. And so in order that he might become the bearer of the Angel, John the Baptist received the Sun-Initiation originating from the constellation of Aquarius. The Sun in Aquarius is the symbol for the form of Initiation received by John the Baptist in order that he might become the bearer of the Angel. He received the Sun-forces which flow when the Sun is standing in Aquarius — the Waterman. The sign was the symbol indicating that John the Baptist had received this particular Initiation. In actual fact the name Aquarius, or Waterman, was given to the zodiacal sign because those who had received that Initiation acquired the faculty which enabled John the Baptist, for example, to achieve what he did. When men were plunged under water, their etheric bodies were momentarily loosened and in that condition it was possible for them to perceive what action was of the greatest importance at that particular time. Baptism in the Jordan revealed to those who underwent it the momentous significance of that period in history. It was to this end that John had received the baptismal Initiation and because this was connected with the rays of the Sun streaming from its position in a particular constellation, the constellation too was known symbolically as the Waterman. The name of the constellation was derived from the human faculty connected with it, and not vice versa.
Nowadays many learned ignoramuses try to explain spiritual happenings of this character by bringing Heaven down to Earth, saying that such things are simply indications of the movement of the Sun through the Zodiac. These learned gentlemen, who fundamentally know nothing, explain events in humanity by reference to the heavens. In the case of John the Baptist, actually the opposite was true: the zodiacal sign was used to express something that had occurred on Earth and was then transferred to the Heavens.
John the Baptist could therefore rightly say: ‘I baptise you with water.’ This was the same as saying to his intimate disciples, as he might well have done, that he had received the Aquarius Initiation. The movement of the Sun through the Zodiac as seen with physical eyes is in the direction from Leo to Virgo; the spiritual movement is from Aquarius to Pisces. Consequently John the Baptist was able to proclaim something that would work as the forces of the Sun in Pisces and not in Aquarius; also that the Being who was to come would give a higher kind of Baptism than he himself was able to give. The spiritual Sun progresses from Aquarius to Pisces and when this happens the Aquarius Baptism becomes a Baptism with spiritual water — Pisces, the Fishes. Hence the ancient symbol of fishes for the Being who was the bearer of the Christ. Just as John, through very special influences, had received the Aquarius Initiation, so all the mysteries enacted around and in Jesus of Nazareth belonged to a Pisces Initiation. The Sun had moved forward, spiritually, from one zodiacal constellation to another, indicating that Jesus of Nazareth had passed through a Pisces Initiation.
All this is hinted at in St. Mark's Gospel but such things have to be presented in pictures. Christ Jesus draws to Himself those who are seeking that of which Pisces is the symbol. Hence His first disciples are all of them fishermen. The indication of the Sun's progression into Pisces is clear when we read the words of John the Baptist: ‘I have baptised you with water, but He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.’ And as Christ passes along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, that is to say, when the Sun has moved so far that its counterpart could be seen rising in Pisces, the fishermen known as Simon and Simon's brother, James and James's brother, are inspired to follow Him.
How can we understand all this? We shall not understand it unless we go more deeply into the linguistic expressions used in those times. Our modern way of expressing ourselves is slovenly and banal. Thus when a human being is standing in front of us, we say: Here is a man — similarly when there are two or three. But what is there in front of us is only maya; if we see a being with two legs and a human face the only way of expressing what we see in our modern language is to say: That is a man. But what does occultism take this ‘man’ to be? In the form in which he stands before us he is nothing but maya — approximately as real as a rainbow in the sky. A rainbow is a reality only as long as the necessary conditions of rain and sunshine are present; as soon as the relation between sunshine and rain changes, the rainbow vanishes. It is exactly the same in the case of a man. He is only a confluence of forces of the Macrocosm; we must look for forces in the heavens, in the Macrocosm. For the occultist, what we assume on Earth to be a man is simply nothingness. The truth is that forces are streaming from above downwards and from below upwards, and they intersect. And just as a particular combination of rain and sun produces a rainbow, so do forces streaming together from above and from below out of the Macrocosm create a phenomenon, an illusory image, which we take to be a man. But the man we see before us is really nothing but maya. Where we think we see a man there are intersecting cosmic forces. You must take this quite seriously. The man as he stands before us is merely a shadow of many forces. But the being who manifests in the man may well be at a different place altogether from the point where the man with his two legs is standing.
Now think of three human beings. One is a peasant in ancient Persia, working his plough in the Persian countryside. He looks like a man, but in reality he is a soul whose forces are sustained by some world from above or from below, and if we are to have real knowledge of him we must ascend to the realm of these forces. The second man is possibly some kind of official in ancient Persia. He too is formed from another world through intersecting forces and again, if we are to know him in the real sense, we must ascend to the realm of those forces. Finally, think of a third Persian, or one of whom we should have to say even more emphatically: he is a veritable illusion, a phantom. To discover the truth about him we should have to ascend to the Sun to find the forces sustaining this phantom figure. There above, among the mysteries of the Sun, we should find what we might call the Golden Star — Zarathustra. Rays are sent down and on the Earth there lives the being we call Zarathustra, though his essential being is not there at all.
The important thing is to realise that in ancient times men were well aware of the significance of names. Names were not given as they are to-day but according to what was really living in a human being, apart altogether from the outer appearance. An old man at the time of Christ would have understood very well what was meant if someone had pointed to John the Baptist, saying: There is the Angel of God! The outer appearance would have been disregarded as a secondary consideration and attention paid only to the inner reality. — And now suppose the same mode of expression had been used in connection with Christ Jesus. What would have been said of Him in times when such things were understood? Nobody would have so much as dreamed of giving the appellation Christ Jesus to the body of flesh moving about the land; the body was regarded merely as the sign that what was streaming down spiritually from the Sun had gathered together at this particular point. And when this body — the body of Jesus — moved from one place to another it was simply that the Sun-force was being made visible. This Sun-force was able of itself to move from place to place, independently of a physical body. Occasionally, Christ Jesus was said to be ‘in the house’, that is to say, in the flesh; but the Being in the flesh also moved about without a body. In the Gospel of St. John, above all, the Evangelist often writes exactly as if the Sun-force were present in a body of flesh when in reality the Christ is moving from place to place purely in the spirit.
That is why it is so important for the deeds of Christ Jesus always to be brought into relationship with the physical Sun — which is the outward expression for the spiritual world when gathered together at the point where the physical body is present. For example, when Christ Jesus performs an act of healing, it is the Sun-force that heals, but the Sun must be in the right position in the heavens. Thus: ‘At even, when the sun did set they brought unto Him all that were diseased ...’ and so on. It was important to indicate that this healing force can flow down only when the physical Sun has set and is working in a purely spiritual way. Again when Christ Jesus needs special power in order to do His works, He must draw it from the spiritual Sun, not from the physically visible Sun. ‘And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, He went out ...’ The path of the Sun and the power of the Sun are expressly indicated, furthermore that it is the Sun-force that is working, that Jesus is simply the external sign and that this path taken by the Sun-force could also become visible to the naked eye. Wherever St. Mark's Gospel speaks of the Christ, what is meant is the Sun-force which, in that epoch of Earth-evolution, worked with special strength upon the land called Palestine. Moreover the Sun-force, gathered into a focus, was moving from place to place, and the body of Jesus was the outward sign making the movement of the Sun-force visible to physical sight. The paths of Jesus in Palestine were the paths of the Sun-force that had come down to the Earth. If you trace the paths of Jesus to form a kind of chart you will have before you the indication of a cosmic happening — the Sun-force had penetrated into the land of Palestine. It is a macrocosmic process — that is the essential point. This is made especially evident by the writer of St. Mark's Gospel, who was well aware that a body which was the bearer of a principle such as the Christ-Principle must be entirely subservient to it. The Gospel therefore directs attention to the world so gloriously proclaimed by Zarathustra — the world which lies behind the material world and influences the life of man. Through Christ Jesus it was again made clear how the forces of this spiritual world work into the Earth. Hence in the body — the body of the Nathan Jesus as we have heard [See Lecture-Course on the Gospel of St. Luke, lectures IV–VII.] — which was influenced in a particular way by the Zarathustra-Individuality, it was inevitable that a kind of repetition should take place of happenings connected with Zarathustra.
We know some of the beautiful legends about Zarathustra. Almost immediately after his birth occurred the first miracle, that known as the ‘Zarathustra smile’. The second miracle was when Duransurun, the King ruling the district where Zarathustra was born, determined to murder the child about whom retrograde Magi had made certain statements. But when the King was on the point of stabbing the child his arm was paralysed. Finding that he could not use his dagger to do away with the child, he ordered him to be taken out into the wilderness and left among the wild beasts. This is the expression used to indicate that already in earliest childhood Zarathustra was destined to see what everyone is bound to see if his gaze has not been cleansed of impurities. Instead of the majestic Group-Souls and the higher spiritual Beings, he sees the emanations of his untamed fantasies. This is what is meant when we are told that Zarathustra was left in the wilderness among the wild beasts, but remained unharmed. This was the third miracle; the fourth was again connected with wild beasts. And always it was the good spirits of Ahura Mazdao who ministered to him.
These miracles are to some extent repeated in St. Mark's Gospel. ‘And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness’ (the word really means solitude). ‘And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him.’
It is made clear to us here that the body was being prepared to become a focus of macrocosmic processes. What had happened to Zarathustra had to be repeated in the encounter with the wild beasts. The body became the bearer of macrocosmic processes.
In its very first lines the Gospel of St. Mark presents us with a vista of majestic grandeur and my aim in this lecture has been to show you how this Gospel acquires new life and power if only the words are understood in their right sense — not in that of our commonplace modern speech but in the sense of ancient language, when whole worlds lay behind each word. Our modern language needs to be recast in many ways before it is possible to discover what the words of ancient languages contained. When we say that man lives on the Earth and develops his ‘I’, or that he was present on the Old Moon when it was the Angels who reached their human stage — all this must be borne in mind when we read: Behold, I send my Angel before men. These words cannot be understood without the preliminary knowledge communicated by Spiritual Science.
If people were really honest to-day they would admit that the words at the beginning of St. Mark's Gospel are unintelligible to them. But instead they adopt an arrogant attitude and maintain that Spiritual Science is so much fantasy and puts all kinds of complications into what would otherwise be quite simple. But the fact of the matter is that people to-day have no real knowledge; they no longer recognise the principle adopted, for instance, in ancient Persia, when the sacred records were re-written from epoch to epoch in order to be clothed in a new form suited to every period. In this way the divine Word was recast in the form of the Zend Avesta, then again recast, and what we have to-day is its latest form. The Persian scriptures were, in fact, re-written seven times. One of the tasks of Anthroposophy is to teach men how necessary it is that records in which sacred mysteries are clothed in words should be re-written from epoch to epoch. For if we want to preserve the sublime language of the ancient writings we should not attempt in our re-writing to adhere pedantically to the old words; we should rather try to translate them into words that are immediately intelligible in the present age. An attempt to do this was made in the summer in the lecture-course on Genesis, and you will have realised then how many of the words must be re-cast. The lecture today may have given you some idea of how the same principle applies to the Gospel of St. Mark.