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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Background to the Gospel of St. Mark
GA 124

XIII. The Voice of the Angelos and the Speech of the Exousiai

2 February 1911, Berlin

Let us take as a starting-point these words in St. Mark's Gospel: ‘Behold I send my Angel (messenger) before thee who shall prepare thy way before thee. The voice of one preaching (crying) in the wilderness.’ In the original text the words are: It is a voice of one crying in the solitude.

Anyone who reads these words with an open mind will at first be at a loss for an explanation. He will regard them more or less as a phrase or at most as allegorical. For what would be the point of preaching in a wilderness? It would be usual, surely, to go where there are plenty of people, not into a wilderness!

In the light of Spiritual Science the depth of the wisdom contained in every word of the Holy Scriptures is revealed in this passage. We shall find that every word in the original text is at its proper place, and moreover is only then intelligible.

What is meant by the words: ‘I send my Angel before thee, who shall prepare thy way before thee’? We know that the Bible is here referring to John the Baptist. But to understand why the word ‘Angel’ is used we must go back to conditions in an earlier period of our Earth's evolution and consider what ranks of Beings belonged to it. We know that on our physical Earth too there is a certain hierarchical order of which the mineral kingdom is the lowest stage; then come the plant and animal kingdoms and, at the highest stage, man. Beyond man is the hierarchy of the Angels, Archangels and Archai (Spirits of Personality, or Principalities); then the hierarchy of the Exousiai (Spirits of Form, or Powers), the Dynameis (Spirits of Movement, or Mights, also Virtues), and the Kyriotetes (Spirits of Wisdom, or Dominions); then the highest hierarchy of Thrones, Cherubim and Seraphim.

All these hierarchies too are involved in a constant process of evolution. Just as we are nowadays passing through the human stage of evolution on the Earth, the Angels passed through the human stage (though in a different form from ours) during the Old Moon evolutionary period, the previous condition of our planet. They are therefore a stage ahead of us. Just as one of our tasks on Earth is to lead and guide our children, so the task of the Angels is to lead and guide humanity. But because it is impossible for them to incarnate in the forms of earthly existence, to be able to help us they must allow their wisdom to flow into the bodies of the purest, most highly developed men, in order that the divine truths may be proclaimed to humanity through their mouths. In such a case we may say: the Angels clothe themselves in maya.

This becomes still more intelligible if we go back to times of remote antiquity and picture the seven Rishis of India. If we had looked at their outer forms we should have seen simple men, perhaps peasants. The essential core of their being was concealed within them. Clairvoyantly, however, we should have seen them in flaming auras, from which warmth radiated into their surroundings. But in order that the greatest cosmic wisdom might penetrate into them it was necessary for all the seven to be together. Divinity played upon them as if they were a scale of seven tones. The language they spoke would have seemed to us nothing but unintelligible sounds.

It is hardly possible nowadays to form any idea of the nature of language in those ancient times because our own, by contrast, is a conglomeration of lifeless ideas which we employ to reach a logical conclusion. In the days of the Rishis it was the sound that caused pictures to rise up before the inner eye. What, then, was the original source of language? The wise men, the sages, of ancient times, brought it down from the stars. For them the Zodiac was the script of the Godhead in the heavens. The zodiacal constellations created the consonants, the planets created the vowels, and according to how the planets altered their courses in the Zodiac the sages interpreted the various meanings of the heavenly wisdom.

The bodies of the Rishis were maya, enshrining the inmost core of Divinity.

If we direct the light gained from Spiritual Science upon the words of the Bible, all the bleakness with which materialists are so prone to invest them, disappears. We understand the real meaning of the words which say that God sent an Angel in advance, to prepare the way of the one who was to come. The Angel is a more highly developed Being of the hierarchy of the rank immediately above man, a Being who sheathed his spirit in the maya of a human body — in this case in the body of John the Baptist, the reincarnated Elijah. If we are to understand the words of the Bible truly, it is only a matter of shedding the right light upon them and interpreting them literally.

Theologians are baffled by the words about the voice of a preacher in the wilderness, the voice of one crying in the wilderness. What can this mean?

John the Baptist baptised with water. In this baptism the whole body was plunged into the Jordan as part of the rites of Initiation. Why was this done? Because the etheric body of a spiritually developed man was to be loosened for a short time from the physical body; the man then experienced what one who is dying experiences when his etheric body is loosened from the physical. A picture of his present incarnation back to his birth is unrolled before him in all detail as a kind of panorama and he feels and knows that outside his body of flesh he is a spiritual being.

Anyone who had returned to his physical body after this experience during baptism was henceforth inwardly different from other men: he felt as if he were standing alone with this expansion of knowledge, separated from the rest of humanity; he felt that men could no longer understand him, that he was isolated, as it were in a ‘wilderness’, in solitude. And in this state of deepest inner isolation he became aware of the ‘voice of one crying’ — his Angel. In this case the guiding Angel was clothed in the person of John the Baptist. That is the meaning of the passage in the Bible about the voice calling, or crying, in the wilderness.

Later in St. Mark's Gospel, where Christ is proclaiming the highest wisdom in the schools, the words are: ‘And they were astonished at His teaching: for He taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes.’ What does speaking ‘with authority’ mean? Just as Angels are the guides of individual men and Archangels of whole peoples, so there are other, still higher Beings who are the guides of the forces and powers of nature. These are the sources upon which men of genius draw to create their masterpieces. The works of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, give expression to the powers of nature.

To picture where these powers of nature are made manifest let us imagine that we are standing on the heights of a Swiss mountain. If we are fortunate enough to be there at sunrise, we shall be overwhelmed by the magic and sublimity of this spectacle of nature, and we shall feel pervaded through and through by the mighty forces radiating from it and revealing to us the power of Almighty God. We watch how from the glimmering grey of dawn the first delicate colours of the rising sun appear, how the peaks of the snowcapped mountains are suffused with rosy mauve, and our eyes are dazzled by this spectacle of greater and greater brilliance. We see how the rays call forth colours which seem to stream from every side, filling more and more of the space around us, until finally the sun appears in all its splendour, kindling life and radiating warmth into the lowest valleys. In this majestic manifestation of nature we are actually beholding the confluence of spiritual forces and these forces are the Beings of the Hierarchies we have learnt to know as the Exousiai, the Powers, or Spirits of Form. In the original text the words are: ‘He taught as the Exousiai teach.’ Christ spoke with the powers of these Beings. In John the Baptist it was the Angel, the Being of the rank immediately above man, who spoke. In Christ it was the Exousiai, who as I have said, speak through events of nature. It was their forces in the body of Christ which enabled Him to teach ‘with authority’.

John the Baptist had received the highest Initiation connected with the constellation of Aquarius. In old maps of the Zodiac the sign depicting Aquarius is a man stooping down with the arms held in a particular position. This illustrates the words in St. Mark's Gospel: ‘There cometh after me one mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose.’