The Fifth Gospel
1 October 1913, Christiania
The theme on which I propose to speak in these lectures seems to me of peculiar importance in view of present conditions. At the very beginning let me emphasise that there is no element of sensationalism or anything of that kind in the choice of the title: The Fifth Gospel. For I hope to show that in a definite sense and one that is of particular importance to us in the present age, it is possible to speak of such a Fifth Gospel and that in fact no title is more suitable for what is intended.
Although, as you will hear, this Fifth Gospel has never yet been written down, in future times of humanity it will certainly be put into definite form. In a certain sense, however, it would be true to say that it is as ancient as the other four Gospels.
In order that I may be able to speak about this Fifth Gospel, we shall have, by way of introduction, to study certain matters which are essential to any real understanding of it. Let me say, to begin with, that the time is certainly not very far distant when even in the lowest grade schools and in the most elementary education, the branch of knowledge commonly called History will be presented quite differently. It is certain — and these lectures should be a kind of confirmation of it — that in times to come the concept or idea of Christ will play quite a different and much more important part in the study of history, even the most elementary, than has been the case before. I know that such a statement seems highly paradoxical, but let us remember that there were times by no means very far distant, when countless human hearts turned to Christ with feelings of immeasurably greater fervour than is to be found to-day, even among the most learned Christians in the West. In earlier times these feelings of devotion were incomparably more intense. Anyone who studies modern writings and reflects on the main interests of people to-day will have the impression that enthusiasm and warmth of feeling for the Christ Idea are on the wane, especially so in those who claim an up-to-date education. In spite of this, I have just said that as this age of ours advances, the Christ Idea will play a much more important part than hitherto in the study of human history. Does this not seem to be a complete contradiction?
And now we will approach the subject from another side. I have already been able to speak on several occasions in this very town about the significance and the content of the Christ Idea; and in books and lecture-courses which are available here, many deep teachings of Spiritual Science concerning the secrets of the Christ Being and of the Christ Idea are to be found. Anyone who assimilates w hat has been said in lectures, lecture-courses and indeed in all our literature, will realise that any real understanding of the Christ Being needs extensive preparation, that the very deepest concepts and thoughts must be summoned to his aid if he desires to reach some comprehension of Christ and of the Christ Impulse working through the centuries. If nothing else indicated the contrary, it might possibly be thought that a knowledge of the whole of Theosophy or Anthroposophy is necessary before there can be any true conception of Christ. But if we turn aside from this and look at the development of the spiritual life of the last centuries, we are met from century to century by the existence of much profound and detailed knowledge aiming at a comprehension of the Christ and His revelation. For centuries and centuries men have applied their noblest, most profound thought in attempts to reach an understanding of Christ. Here too, it might seem as if only the most highly intellectual achievements of men would suffice for such understanding. But is this, in fact, the case? Quite simple reflection will show that it is not.
Let us, as it were, lay on one scale of a spiritual balance, everything contributed hitherto by erudition, science and even by theosophical conceptions towards an understanding of Christ. On the other scale let us lay all the deep feelings, all the impulses within men which through the centuries have caused their souls to turn to the Being called Christ. It will be found that the scale upon which have been laid all the science, all the learning, even all the theosophy that can be applied to explain the figure of Christ, will rapidly rise, and the scale upon which have been laid all the deep feelings and impulses which have turned men towards the Christ will sink. It is no exaggeration to say that a force of untold strength and greatness has gone forth from Christ and that erudite scholarship concerning Him has contributed least of all to this impulse. Truly it would have boded ill for Christianity if, in order to cleave to Christ, men had had to resort to all the learned dissertations of the Middle Ages, of the Schoolmen, of the Church Fathers, or even to what Theosophy contributes to-day towards an understanding of Christ. This whole body of knowledge would be of very little help. I hardly think that anyone who studies the march of Christianity through the centuries with an unprejudiced mind can raise any serious argument against this line of thought; but the subject can be approached from still another side.
Let us turn our thought to the times before Christianity had come into existence. I need only mention something of which those sitting here are certainly aware. I need only remind you of the ancient Greek dramas, especially in their earlier forms. When portraying a god in combat or a human being in whose soul a god was working, these dramas make the sovereignty and activity of the gods concretely and perceptibly real. Think of Homer and of how his great Epic is all inwoven with the workings of the Spiritual; think of the great figures of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle. These names bring before our mind's eye a spiritual life that in a certain domain is supreme. If we leave all else aside and look only at the single figure of Aristotle who lived centuries before the founding of Christianity, we find there an achievement which, in a certain respect, has remained unsurpassed to this very day. The scientific exactitude of Aristotle's thinking is something so phenomenal, even when judged by present-day standards, that it is said: human thinking was raised by him to an eminence unsurpassed to this day.
And now for a moment we will take a strange hypothesis, but one that will help us to understand what will be said in these lectures. We will imagine that there were no Gospels at all to tell us anything about the figure of Christ, that the earliest records presented to man to-day in the form of the New Testament were simply not in existence. Leaving on one side all that has been said about the founding of Christianity, let us study its progress as historical fact, observing what has happened among men through the centuries of the Christian era ... In other words, without the Gospels, without the story of the Acts of the Apostles, without the Epistles of St. Paul, we will consider what has actually come to pass. This, of course, is pure hypothesis, but what is it that has really happened?
Turning our attention first of all to the South of Europe in a certain period of history, we find a very highly developed spiritual culture, as represented in Aristotle; it was a sublime spiritual life, developing along particular channels through the subsequent centuries. At the time when Christianity began to make its way through the world, large numbers of men who had assimilated the spiritual culture of Greece were living in the South of Europe. If we follow the evolution of Christianity to the time of Celsus — that strange individual who was such a violent opponent of Christianity — and even on into the second and third centuries after Christ, we find in Greece and Italy numbers of highly cultured men who had absorbed the sublime Ideas of Plato, men whose subtlety of thought seems like a continuation of that of Aristotle. Here were minds of refinement and power, versed in Greek learning; here were Romans who added to the delicate spirituality of Greek thought the element of aggressive personality characteristic of Roman civilisation. Such was the world into which the Christian impulse made its way. Truly, in respect of intellectuality and knowledge of the world the representatives of this Christian impulse seem to be uncivilised and uneducated in comparison with the numbers and numbers of learned Romans and Greeks. Men lacking in culture make their way into a world of mellowed intellectuality. And now we witness a remarkable spectacle. Through these simple, primitive people who were its first bearers, Christianity spreads comparatively quickly through the South of Europe. And if with an understanding of the nature of Christianity acquired, let us say, from Theosophy, we think of these simple, primitive natures who spread Christianity abroad in those times, we shall realise that they knew nothing of these things. We need not think here of any conception of Christ in His great cosmic setting, but of much simpler conceptions of Christ. Those first bearers of the Christian impulse who found their way into the world of highly developed Greek learning, had nothing to bring into this arena of Greco-Roman life save their own inwardness, their personal connection with the Christ Whom they so deeply loved; for this connection was as dear to them as that with their own kith and kin. Those who brought into the Greco-Roman world in those days the Christianity that has continued to our own time, were not well-informed theosophists, were by no means highly educated people. The Gnostics who were the learned theosophists of those times had, it is true, risen to sublime ideas concerning Christ, but even they contributed only what must be placed in the rising scale of the balance. If everything had depended upon the Gnostics, Christianity would certainly not have made its victorious headway through the world. It was no highly developed intellectuality that came over from the East, causing the comparatively rapid decline of the old Hellenic and Roman culture. There we have one side of the picture.
We see the other side when we consider men of intellectual distinction, beginning with Celsus — the opponent of Christianity who even then brought forward all the arguments that are still valid to-day — down to Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher on the throne. We think of the Neo-Platonists with their subtle scholarship, whose ideas make those of philosophy to-day seem mere child's play, so greatly do they surpass them in loftiness and breadth of vision. Thinking of all the arguments against Christianity brought from the standpoint of Greek philosophy by these men of high intellectual eminence in the world of Greco-Roman culture, the impression we get is that they did not understand the Christ Impulse. Christianity was spread by men who understood nothing of its real nature; it was opposed by a highly developed culture incapable of grasping its significance. Truly, Christianity makes a strange entry into the world — with adherents and opponents alike understanding nothing of its real nature. And yet ... men bore within their souls the power to secure for the Christ Impulse its victorious march through the world.
And now let us think of men like Tertullian who with a certain greatness and power entered the lists on behalf of Christianity. Tertullian was a Roman who, so far as his language is concerned, may almost be said to have re-created the Latin tongue; the very certainty of aim with which he restored to words a living meaning lets us recognise him as a personality of real significance. But if we ask about his ideas, there is a very different story to tell. In his ideas and thoughts he gives very little evidence of intellectual or spiritual eminence. Supporters of Christianity even of the calibre of Tertullian do not accomplish anything very considerable. And yet as personalities they are potent — these men like Tertullian, to whose arguments no highly educated Greek could attach much weight. There is something about Tertullian that attracts one's attention — but what exactly is it? That is the point of importance.
Let us realise that a real problem lies here. What power is responsible for the achievements of these bearers of the Christ Impulse who themselves do not really understand it? What power is responsible for the influence exercised by the Church Fathers, including even Origen, in spite of all their manifest ineptitude? Why is Greco-Roman scholarship itself unable to comprehend the essential nature of the Christ Impulse? What is the reason of all this?
But let us go further. The same spectacle stands out in still stronger relief when we study the course of history. As the centuries go by, Christianity spread over Europe, among peoples like the Germanic, with quite different ideas of religion and worship, who are, or at least appear to be, inseparable from these ideas and who nevertheless accepted the Christ Impulse with open hearts, as if it were part and parcel of their own life. And when we think of those who were the most influential missionaries among the Germanic peoples, were these men schooled theologians? No indeed! Comparatively speaking, they were simple, primitive souls who went out among the people, talking to them in the most homely, everyday language but moving their very hearts. They knew how to put the words in such a way as to touch the deepest heart-strings of those to whom they spoke. Simple men went out into regions far and wide and it was their work that produced the most significant results. Thus we see Christianity spreading through the centuries. But then we are astonished to find this same Christianity becoming the motive force of profound scholarship, science and philosophy. We do not undervalue this philosophy but we will focus our attention to-day upon the remarkable fact that up to the Middle Ages the peoples among whom Christianity spread in such a way that it soon became part of their very souls, had lived hitherto with quite different forms of thought and belief. And in no very distant future, many other features will be stressed in connection with the spread of Christianity. So far as the effect produced by this spread of Christianity is concerned, it will not be difficult to agree with the statement that there was a period when these Christian teachings were the source of fervent enthusiasm. But in modern times the fervour which in the Middle Ages accompanied the spread of Christianity seems to have died away.
And now think of Copernicus, of the whole development of natural science on into the nineteenth century. This natural science which since the time of Copernicus has become an integral part of Western culture, might appear to run counter to Christianity. The facts of history may seem, outwardly, to substantiate this. For example, until the 'twenties of the nineteenth century the writings of Copernicus were on the so-called Index of the Roman Catholic Church. That is an external detail, but the fact remains that Copernicus was a dignitary of the Church. Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake by the Roman Church but he was, for all that, a member of the Dominican Order. The ideas of both these thinkers sprang from the soil of Christianity and their work was an outcome of the Christian impulse. To maintain that these teachings were not the fruits of Christianity would denote very poor understanding on the part of those who claim to hold fast by the Church. These facts only go to prove that the Church did not understand the fruits of Christianity. Those who see more deeply into the roots of these things will recognise that what the peoples have achieved, even in the more recent centuries, is a result of Christianity, that through Christianity, as also through the laws of Copernicus, the gaze of the human mind was turned from the earth out into the heavenly expanse. Such a change was possible only within Christian culture and through the Christian impulse. Those who observe the depths and not merely the surface of spiritual life will understand something which although it will seem highly paradoxical when I say it now, is nevertheless correct. To this deeper observation, a Haeckel, for all his opposition to Christianity, could only have sprung from the soil of this same Christianity. Ernst Haeckel is inconceivable without the base of Christian culture. And however hard modern natural science may try to promote opposition to Christianity, this natural science is itself an offspring of Christianity, a direct development of the Christian impulse. When modern natural science has got over the ailments of childhood, men will perceive quite clearly that if followed to its logical conclusions, it leads to Spiritual Science, that there is an entirely consistent path from Haeckel to Spiritual Science. When that is grasped it will also be realised that Haeckel is Christian through and through, although he himself has no notion of it. The Christian impulses have given birth not only to what claims to be Christian but also to what appears on the surface to run counter to Christianity. This will soon be realised if we study the underlying reality, not merely the concepts and ideas that are put into words. As can be seen from my little essay on “Reincarnation and Karma,” a direct line leads from the Darwinian theory of evolution to the teaching of repeated earthly lives.
But in order to understand these things correctly we must be able to perceive the influence of the Christian impulses with entirely unprejudiced eyes. Anyone who understands the doctrines of Darwin and Haeckel and is himself convinced that only as a Christian movement was the Darwinian movement possible (although Haeckel had no notion of this, Darwin was aware of many things) — anyone who realises this is led by an absolutely consistent path to the idea of reincarnation. And if he can call upon a certain power of clairvoyance, this same path will lead him to knowledge of the spiritual origin of the human race. True, it is a detour, but with the help of clairvoyance an uninterrupted path from Haeckel's thought to the conception of a spiritual origin of the Earth. It is conceivable, of course, that someone may accept Darwinism in the form in which it is presented to-day, without grasping the life-principles which in reality are contained in it. In other words, if Darwinian thought becomes an impulse in someone who lacks any deep understanding of Christianity — which nevertheless lies in Darwinism — he may end by understanding no more of Darwinism than he does of Christianity. The good spirit of Christianity and the good spirit of Darwinism may alike forsake him. But if he has a grasp of the good spirit of Darwinism, then — however much of a materialist he may be — his thought will carry him back over the earth's history to the point where he recognises that man has not evolved from lower animal forms but must have a spiritual origin. He is led to the point where man is perceived as a spiritual being, hovering as it were over the earthly world. Darwinism, if developed to its logical conclusion, leads to this recognition. But if someone has been forsaken by the good spirit of Darwinism and happens to believe in the idea of reincarnation, he may imagine that he himself once lived as an ape in some incarnation of the planet Earth. [The reference here is to certain assertions made by the theosophists Annie Besant and C. W. Leadbeater.] Anyone who can believe this lacks all real understanding of Darwinism and of Christianity and must have been forsaken by the good spirits of both! For Darwinism, consistently elaborated, could lead to no such belief. In such a case the idea of reincarnation has been grafted into the soil of materialism. It is possible, of course, for modern Darwinism to be stripped of its Christian elements. If this does not happen, we shall find that on into our own times the impulses of Darwinism have been born out of the Christ Impulse, that the impulses of Christianity work even where they are repudiated. Thus we find that in the early centuries, Christianity spreads quite independently of scholarship or erudition in its adherents; in the Middle Ages it spreads in such a way that the Schoolmen, with all their learning, can contribute very little to it; and finally we have the paradox of Christianity appearing in Darwinism as in an inverted picture. Everything that is great in the Darwinian conception derives its motive power from the Christian impulses. The Christian impulses within it will lead this science of itself out of and beyond materialism.
The Christian impulses have spread by strange channels — in the absence, so it appears, of intellectuality, learning, erudition. Christianity has spread irrespectively of the views of its adherents or opponents — even appearing in an inverted form in the domain of modern materialism. But what exactly is it that spreads? It is not the ideas nor is it the science of Christianity; nor can we say that it is the morality instilled by Christianity. Think only of the moral life of men in those times and we shall find much justification for the fury levelled by men who represented Christianity against those who were its real or alleged enemies. Even the moral power that might have been possessed by souls without much intellectual education will not greatly impress us. What, then, is this mysterious impulse which makes its victorious way through the world? Let us turn here to Spiritual Science, to clairvoyant consciousness. What power is at work in those unlearned men who, coming over from the East, infiltrated the world of Greco-Roman culture? What power is at work in the men who bring Christianity into the foreign world of the Germanic tribes? What is really at work in the materialistic natural science of modern times — the doctrines of which disguise its real nature? What is this power? — It is Christ Himself Who, through the centuries, wends His way from soul to soul, from heart to heart, no matter whether souls understand Him or not. It behoves us to leave aside the concepts that have become ingrained in us, to leave aside all scientific notions and point to the reality, showing how mysteriously Christ Himself is present in multitudinous impulses, taking form in the souls of thousands and tens of thousands of human beings, filling them with His power. It is Christ Himself, working in simple men, Who sweeps over the world of Greco-Roman culture; it is Christ Himself Who stands at the side of those who in later times bring Christianity to the Germanic peoples; it is He — Christ Himself in all His reality — Who makes His way from place to place, from soul to soul, penetrating these souls quite irrespectively of the ideas they hold concerning Him.
Let me here make a trivial comparison. How many people are there who understand nothing at all about the composition of foodstuffs and who are none the less well and properly nourished? It would certainly mean starvation if scientific knowledge of foodstuffs were essential to nourishment. Nourishment has nothing whatever to do with understanding the nature of foodstuffs. Similarly, the spread of Christianity over the earth had nothing to do with men's understanding of it. That is the strange fact. There is a mystery here, only to be explained when the answer can be found to the question: How does Christ Himself wield dominion in the minds and hearts of men?
When Spiritual Science, clairvoyant investigation, puts this question to itself, it is led, first of all, to an event from which the veils can really only be lifted by clairvoyant vision — an event that is entirely consistent with what I have been saying to-day. This above all will be clear to us: the time when Christ worked in the way I have described, is past and gone, and the time has come when men must understand Christ, must have real knowledge of Christ.
It is therefore also necessary to answer the question as to why our age was preceded by that other age when it was possible for the Christ Impulse to spread independently of men's understanding. The event to which clairvoyant consciousness points is that of Pentecost, the sending of the Holy Spirit. Clairvoyant vision, quickened by the power of the Christ Impulse, was therefore directed, in the first place, to this event of Pentecost, the sending of the Holy Spirit. It is this event that presents itself first and foremost to clairvoyant investigation carried out from a certain standpoint.
What was it that happened at the moment in the earth's evolution described to us, somewhat unintelligibly to begin with, as the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles? When with clairvoyant vision one investigates what actually happened then, an answer is forthcoming from Spiritual Science as to what is meant when it is said that simple men — for the Apostles themselves were simple men — began to utter in different tongues, truths which came to them from the depths of spiritual life and which none could have thought them capable of uttering. It was then that the Christian impulses began to spread, independently of the understanding of those human beings to whom they made their way. From the event of Pentecost pours the stream that has been described. What, then, was this event of Pentecost? This question presented itself to Spiritual Science and with the spiritual-scientific answer to it begins — the Fifth Gospel.