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The Karma of Materialism
GA 176

5. Christ and the Present

28 August 1917, Berlin

How can one approach the Christ impulse, how does one come near the Being of Christ? In one form or another this question is asked again and again—and rightly so. People feel a need to ask this all-important question which must be approached from many aspects as we have done in our anthroposophical studies. Just as a photograph of a tree taken from one angle does not convey its full shape, so one aspect or indeed several do not exhaust the many-sidedness of a spiritual reality. All we can hope is that we shall come near it by approaching it from as many aspects as possible.

It is essential to realize that seeking Christ is deeply connected with the nature of the human ‘I’ and is therefore something inward and intimate. The special nature of the human ‘I’ comes to expression in the way we use the word ‘I.’ All other words are applicable to other things whereas the word ‘I’ can never refer to anything except to the one who speaks it. Because of the inner relationship between the Being of Christ and the human ‘I’ the Christ Being has for us the same intimate character as our own ‘I.’ All the impulses of feeling and will which stir within us when we contemplate the Mystery of Christ are actual means by which we draw near the Christ. It is through feeling- and will-filled contemplation of Christ that we have reason to hope we may find Him. At present it is of particular importance to pay attention to mankind's historical evolution especially in relation to the Event of Christ. Historically, the present is a significant moment in time. Few are aware of its full implication; it is therefore all the more important to be mindful of man's historical development in relation to every issue of significance.

We know that man's inner development, the whole configuration of his soul life was different before and after the Mystery of Golgotha. Various aspects of this difference have already been described. Some fifty or sixty years ago there was more feeling for spiritual knowledge, more people concerned themselves with higher questions. The inclination to do so has since waned. To illustrate this we can turn to the writings of a psychologist such as Fortlage17Arnold Rudolf Karl Fortlage 1806–1881 German Philosopher who, up to the sixties of the 19th Century practiced in Jena and other cities. We still find in his writings a remarkable description of human consciousness to which, I may add, modern philosophers take great exception.

Fortlage said, in (1869), that human consciousness is related to death, to dying, and as we, in the course of life, develop consciousness we are actually slowly and gradually developing those forces which, at the moment of death, confront us all of a sudden. In other words Fortlage sees the moment of death as an immensely enhanced act of consciousness. One could say that he sees consciousness as life which gradually develops into death. It is not life as such which develops death, but the consciousness in man develops death forces and death itself is enhanced consciousness compressed into a moment. This statement by a psychologist—condemned as I said by modern philosophers as unscientific—is immensely significant.

It is important to realize that despite the significance of this statement in relation to man's present soul life, that is his present consciousness, it is not true for every period of man's evolution. If we go back thousands of years before the Mystery of Golgotha no one with deeper insight would have spoken like that. Our present consciousness, which is normally devoid of all former atavistic clairvoyance, does owe its existence to slow death. But this was not the case at the time of the ancient atavistic clairvoyant consciousness which disappeared as the time of the Mystery of Golgotha approached. Words are always inadequate for describing such matters. Nevertheless it can be said that this ancient consciousness was engendered by a surplus of spiritual life over man's organic life. Now we find ourselves within a surplus of organic life which is gradually dying. Our consciousness at present is due to the fact that, in returning to the body upon waking, we are overwhelmed by a body which is subject to death, which is progressively dying. The fact that we are overwhelmed by it enables us to develop our present day-consciousness which is an object consciousness.

In ancient times before the Mystery of Golgotha things were different. Man then had a surplus of spiritual life which was not altogether extinguished when, on waking, he returned to the body. This surplus of spiritual life expressed itself as atavistic clairvoyance. But as the time of the Mystery of Golgotha approached this surplus decreased ever more. At the time of the Mystery of Golgotha, in the case of most people, a balance had been reached between man's inner life of soul and the organic life of his body. After the Mystery of Golgotha the organic life gradually gained the upper hand. One can also express it by saying that before the Mystery of Golgotha man gained knowledge through the forces of birth; after the Mystery of Golgotha he gains knowledge through the forces of death. This again illustrates the significance of the Mystery of Golgotha as the turning point in human evolution.

The ancient clairvoyant consciousness; i.e., the consciousness related to birth began to wane. Slowly and gradually man lost the spiritual world from his consciousness. Whereas formerly everyone was able to experience the spiritual world a time began, about a thousand years before the Mystery of Golgotha, when gradually only those who were initiated in the Mysteries were able to do so. This explains a remark made by Plato, referred to in my book Christianity as Mystical Fact. Plato who knew of this secret, declared that only those initiated in the Mysteries were humans in the true sense, all others were souls submerged in mire.—Rather a horrible statement but not an arbitrary one: it refers to the situation I have just described which arose out of necessity in human evolution.

Let us for a moment imagine what would have happened had the Mystery of Golgotha not taken place: Evolution would have continued the way it was before, which means that more and more human beings on the earth would lose all direct connection with the spiritual world. Eventually humanity would no longer be able to incorporate the spirit; man's body would become larva-like consisting only of organic and etheric members. A long time ago men's souls would have been incapable of living in the bodies available; they would have hovered above them in the spiritual world. Only those souls who, in an earlier epoch had reached higher development, would be able to inspire their bodies from above. Consciousness of the spiritual world would have been possible only in the case of individuals receiving inspiration in the Mysteries. The human spirit itself would not inhabit the earth. In the mystery centers it would be possible to receive inspiration but Ahriman would battle against this. He would distort the inspirations thus preventing the larva-like human bodies from carrying out what was intended.

Because the human body, during its life between birth and death, overcomes a now comparatively weaker life of soul, it had to be made possible for the human soul to live again in a body which is subject to birth and death. This became possible only because a Being from the spiritual world, the Christ Being, united Himself with those earthly forces which came to dominate man's consciousness. What kind of forces are they? They are death forces, the very forces to which man now owes his consciousness! You will understand the far-reaching meaning of the Rosicrucian saying: In Christo Morimur, in Christ we die. These words express in a sense the very meaning of man's existence. They express what entered human evolution through the Mystery of Golgotha. They express what united itself with the death-bringing forces enabling them to become henceforth the basis for man's consciousness.

It may be asked why in these circumstances such a great number of people still do not acknowledge the Christ? All one can say about this is that so many and so far-reaching secrets are connected with this question that at present it is not yet possible to speak about them in a general way. But what I have just described is a fact of human evolution.

Let us now connect what has been said with the Mystery of Golgotha: Christ had incarnated in the body of Jesus of Nazareth; i.e., in a body subject to the same conditions as those to which human bodies in general were subject at that time. As a result of the pure hereditary conditions the body of Jesus of Nazareth was subject to conditions in which consciousness was gradually to emerge from the forces of death. What had to happen to give evolution so mighty a jolt that it would cause an equally mighty impulse to stream as a force into mankind's evolution, making consciousness arise from forces of death? The Christ-being, that lived for three years in and through the body of Jesus of Nazareth, spoke the secrets connected with human consciousness to this body. This could be done only at the moment of death, for it is only then that the entire secret connected with human consciousness is drawn together. Did not the Christ have to lead Jesus through death in order that this whole impulse of consciousness could stream into mankind? Indeed, it did! And death is also that moment when we too may hope to attain an intensified comprehension of Christ. This is because at that moment all the forces are present which have sustained our consciousness throughout life. We are adapted at the moment of death to absorb what is in fact the secret of our consciousness and to absorb with it the Christ Impulse. We are preparing ourselves to receive it when we seek not only to understand but to experience the reality of the Christ Impulse. However what meets us at death we can understand only when our organ for understanding is set free. That means that while the moment of death does indeed provide the condition for union with Christ, it is only when we are free of the etheric body that the astral body and ‘I’—the organization for understanding—can actually perceive this union.

Something else had to take place at the Mystery of Golgotha to bring about these conditions: After Christ had—in dying on Golgotha—entrusted to Jesus as it were the secrets of man's future consciousness, a momentous event had to occur: Jesus, in whom the Christ dwelt, rose to new life through the force of death. In other words, the Resurrection had to occur in order that we could understand that Resurrection when, a few days after death, we experience our ether body separating from us as explained by anthroposophical science. In this more inward death—i.e., the separation from the ether body a few days after death—we relive in a certain sense the Mystery of Golgotha. For it was life, that is, consciousness, which rose out of death: a living consciousness. At no time before the Mystery of Golgotha had this ever happened; life had always risen from life. Never before had there been a necessity to understand how life can come from death, only how life comes from life.—This is one of many approaches to the Mystery of Golgotha.

The fundamental issue of Christianity is the Resurrection. Anything calling itself by that name without having as its center a living concept of the Resurrection is no true Christianity. It is absolutely essential to understand that Christ, who united Himself with the forces of death, is the living Christ. Nothing else provides a true understanding of Christianity. Modern so-called Christianity which avoids the concept of the Resurrection is not Christianity. The essential need in mankind's evolution was the Death and Resurrection. The other events which took place at the Mystery of Golgotha are all an integral part of what has just been described.

One thought which is always problematic concerns the circumstances which led to the death of Christ Jesus.—I have often touched on this problem—on the one hand there is the feeling that the people must be condemned who brought death upon someone without sin, on the other there is the fact that if this death had not occurred Christianity would not exist. This means that Christianity with all its values has come into existence through a misdeed. The contradictory thought constantly forces itself upon man: If there had been no one criminal enough to put Christ to death there would be no Christianity. Yet we need Christianity!

Here we are touching on one of those issues in relation to which appeal must be made to understand what I recently termed “iron necessity.” During his earthly life man's thinking is adapted to the way he looks at things and he arranges life accordingly. All civic, political and other arrangements are based on human views. We live as a matter of course in conditions created by human beings, unconcerned as to whether the thoughts on which these arrangements are based come from God or from the devil. Whereas if we look back to conditions, as they generally were a long time before the Mystery of Golgotha, we find that in those ancient times man's thoughts, concerned with social arrangements, were received through atavistic clairvoyance. As we have seen, when the time of the Mystery of Golgotha drew near, man's body became more and more larva-like and as a consequence more and more accessible to ahrimanic influences. Therefore social and political institutions become more and more saturated with ahrimanic forces. It was inevitable for instance that the code of law should eventually become as it is now. It was also inevitable that an ahrimanic code of law should be particularly in evidence and concentrated, so to speak, at one particular spot on the earth at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha. Such circumstances did not prevail everywhere, but in one place the social structure was completely ahrimanic. Therefore the appearance of its very antithesis, the appearance of a God was for this society the most hateful thing that could happen, it had to be eliminated. This phenomenon, of necessity, accompanies all the others connected with the Mystery of Golgotha.

Two things in particular brought about this social structure. First, the kind of thoughts that had evolved out of Judaic law, were so saturated with ahrimanic forces that by means of them there was no possibility of grasping the fact that a God could come so close to man as was the case of Christ Jesus. This was something Judaic law had of necessity to reject. Secondly, the Romans were also responsible for the death of Christ Jesus; they were a powerful and efficient force in establishing the external side of the social structure. One cannot imagine a more powerful example than the social structure created by Roman Imperialism, particularly at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha. Yet at the moment the Mystery of Golgotha is enacted, Pilate, the representative of the strongest earthly power, proves a weakling when faced with spiritual power. He is incapable of coming to any insight or to make any decision about what is to happen.

So you see this is also a phenomenon connected with the Mystery of Golgotha—I have mentioned it before—that it took place at a time when mankind was least able to understand. In ancient times it would have been understood, but when it actually happened it was not. It must be realized that to understand this event a different approach is necessary.

One comes to realize that one must bring to the Mystery of Golgotha all the depths of one's thoughts and feelings; for example when one attempts to relate the Mystery of Golgotha to the secrets of human death and man's subsequent awakening in the astral body and ‘I.’ It is through thoughts, through contemplation that one draws near to this Mystery. It is of no use to express through empty words a general wish to reach union with Christ; what is needed is a concrete understanding of what the actual appearance of Christ in earth evolution means for one's own life. It is not without meaning that the same time span elapsed between the death and the resurrection of Christ Jesus as the one that elapses between our leaving the physical body and our leaving the ether body in death. There is an intimate bond between Christ's life on earth and the man of today living after the Mystery of Golgotha. It is now possible to say with greatest conviction: Christ came in order that man should not be lost to the earth. Had the Mystery of Golgotha not taken place man's body would have become larva-like, directed from above by his soul. Death would gradually have removed man from the earth altogether. Through the Mystery of Golgotha man's connection with the earth was restored. Through the Mystery of Golgotha the possibility of consciousness arising from death was created.

These things can be understood today, they are revealed to contemplation of the spiritual world; making them our own deepens our inner life. When we are faced with crucial events we are not helped by knowing in a general way that we are connected with something called “the Christ,” whereas our inner life is deepened and strengthened when we know quite concretely that we are intimately connected with that Being who actually experienced earthly life and went through the Mystery of Golgotha. In contemplating these things we feel our innermost being intimately connected with the historical events of Golgotha.

At the present time man is going through a crisis as far as understanding the Mystery of Golgotha is concerned. Last week I attempted to illustrate this crisis by means of a specific example. I wanted to show how a human being may make a thorough study of Christianity yet fail to find Christ. At present it is possible to belong to established Christian communities, perhaps to one which at present has an ever-increasing influence, without approaching Christ. This is a phenomenon which spiritual science must emphasize again and again. What must also be emphasized is that it is modern man's task to call up the inner forces of his soul which enables him to grasp spiritual-scientific thoughts. A certain power of soul must be called upon in order to make these thoughts inwardly living. Unless we do we shall make no progress, for it lies in the nature of present-day man that he should call upon this soul-force. A force which ought to be used, but is not, produces sickness in some form. Illness is caused not only through lack of something but also through overabundance of something. Numerous people who appear weak are in reality strong. Paradoxical as it may seem they are strong inwardly. Many who go about like weaklings dissatisfied with life, not knowing how to be—as they put it—“in tune with the infinite” are actually strong, but subconsciously. However, they are incapable of bringing their subconscious strength into consciousness because they have no inkling of what it is that clamours for recognition within them. As a consequence the subconscious rebels and causes instability. The aim of spiritual science is to make man conscious of what is stirring within him, of what is in fact striving to become conscious. A true and satisfying understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha is what above all wants to become conscious, a fact which often expresses itself in remarkable ways.

As I have pointed out there is on the one hand a need to understand the spiritual world and on the other a shrinking away from such knowledge. Many things show that the longing is there to find again the spirit, which however, cannot be found today without an understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha. That the longing is present is often emphasized by writers who are themselves as remote as possible from any real comprehension. In order to understand present-day life we must acquaint ourselves with these matters of which there are plenty of examples in everyday life. Those who have developed interest in spiritual science have the task to recognize the spiritual knowledge which should be impartial at present; they must also be able to recognize where there is a shrinking away from such knowledge. One must especially learn to recognize where there seemingly is a striving for the spirit—which indeed there is, though unconsciously—but in a spurious form while genuine spiritual science is not approached. That is why I do not hesitate to point to such obvious examples in present-day life.

Recently I was sent another article in which the writer describes just such an example of so-called spiritual striving. Someone the writer knew well told him—the way such things are usually conveyed these days—that he simply must hear Johannes Müller18Johannes Müller 1864–1949 German Philosopher speak. This gentleman felt that to hear Johannes Müller was an experience not to be missed. He further informed the writer that Johannes Muller is the principal of a psychiatric clinic and had founded what amounted to a new ethics, a new religion. However, at the word religion he suddenly plunged into a detailed Christology. At an incredible speed he developed his personal view of the life of Jesus after which he elaborated on liberal theology, the Warburg school of thought, and that of the Heidelburg school. He then went on to discuss Alexandrine poetry and Hegelianism and so on.—This is a prime example of the folly of many people who take an interest in whatever crops up and at the slightest opportunity reel it off at breakneck speed. The writer, listening to all this, thought no one could speak that fast except perhaps >Kainz19Josef Kainz 1858–1910 famous actor. and then only if he had to catch the last express train to Berlin after a theater performance. Nevertheless after this experience the writer goes to hear a lecture by Johannes Müller about the purpose of life.

Listening to this lecture the writer felt that Johannes Müller spoke about life's purpose as would a saint. The lecture dealt with how one ought to sacrifice oneself, how one should live for others, not for oneself and so on. Only one thing bothered the writer: the conversation he had with the fast-talking gentleman had led him to form a picture in his mind of Johannes Müller. He felt that if only Johannes Müller had looked like this mental picture he could have believed in him. However, Johannes Müller was nothing like what he had visualized. He describes his impression of Johannes Müller which I shall not spare you as it demonstrates how one sets about judging things nowadays. This is the writer's description: “On to the platform came a medium-sized, thick-set man with a short neck, bushy moustache, fresh complexion; the archetype of a thoroughly healthy citizen of a German provincial town. I could not avoid the idea that this man would be perfect as manager of some large toy factory in Nuremberg. The way he dealt with the audience reinforced this impression. His way of speaking was lucid, definite, friendly, calm, yet expressing strong inner participation in what he said. Everything was explained in simple terms with many repetitions and he never stopped till he had said all he wanted to say. He kept to his subject, spoke to the point and was obviously filled with earnest desire to serve the good. In short, ideally a town council should be composed of people like him. Similar things could be said about his subject; basically, Johannes Müller expressed what good German citizens would think about on special feast days.”

How does this impression compare with the writer's image of someone who spoke about self-sacrifice and living solely for others? He says: “The image I had formed of Johannes Müller had established itself so firmly in my mind that I was convinced he must be real. I had visualized someone with a pale face which he would support with a thin white hand, his sad brown eyes gazing into far distances. If this Johannes Müller had been on the platform saying in a soft voice: Believe me Ladies and Gentlemen, the purpose of life is sacrifice, then not only I, but everyone, would, at least for the moment, have had to agree.”

In other words if Johannes Müller had resembled the writer's preconceived notion the latter would have believed him. Very interesting! And why would the writer believe him? The reason is simple. This writer, unlike most people in the audience, has a critical mind. He judges with a certain shrewdness that a speaker with a pale face, liquid eyes and a melting look would have a right to speak about sacrifice. One would believe in him, for it would be clear that for such a man self-sacrifice would be the joy of his life; therefore no real sacrifice. The external appearance of Johannes Müller obviously suggested none of this. The writer said to himself: the way this man on the platform expresses himself, the way he looks makes it obvious that what he says has nothing to do with sacrifice on his part. He speaks as he does because he enjoys it, to him it is a joke.—This is of course a paradox; what the writer felt was that a man like the speaker would always do just what he wanted to do, what would give him pleasure. He would never say so, for if he did he would have to tell his audience that the purpose of life is to follow whatever impulse one happens to have, to do whatever one has an urge to do. In fact he would have to speak like Nietzsche. He does not for he would always say what is opposite to his actual inclinations.

Nowadays there is often a longing to say things which are opposite one's inclinations. Let us be quite clear about what this implies. There is no doubt that just those who are least inclined to sacrifice themselves for others are the very people who love to say that the purpose of life is self-sacrifice, to live solely for others. There is a definite wish to say what is in absolute contrast to reality.—What is that?

When life is observed with a sense for reality it is very recognizable that what people like to speak about are impulses in complete contrast to their own. They deceive themselves about it of course, but it is a most conspicuous feature of life today. There is a desire for the sensation of something which is in contrast to the reality. It must be remembered that there is at present no great understanding for these matters. There is also the fact that so many possibilities exist which help to avoid coming face to face with them. For instance someone hearing Johannes Müller say that the purpose of life is to sacrifice oneself for others might tell a lot of people how he has heard a marvelous speaker say something very illuminating: “The purpose of life is to sacrifice oneself for others” and announce that henceforth he will live by that principle according to the way he sees it. Living by such a rule the way one sees it is of course an easy way to avoid many of the more difficult demands made by life. At present it is a favorite way of doing just that; and confirms that for many people, indeed for most it is exciting to say the very opposite of what they are.

It is basically an expression of a longing many people have; they are dissatisfied with external life and want something different. There is a genuine longing to rise above external life but the longing finds unhealthy expression because people seek at all cost to avoid recognizing the reality of the spirit. Take the example of the writer I just mentioned; he will undoubtedly be suited better by Johannes Muller than by spiritual science—that is predictable. The reason is simple; Johannes Müller speaks of things like the purpose of life, of sacrificing oneself for others. This subject the writer can use for an article which he ends with the words: “What the great universal purpose of life is we shall never know, nor is it in the last resort necessary for us to know.”—Thus the writer manages to appear high-minded and worldly while remaining a thoroughly ordinary philistine.

This is impossible when one strives to attain a world view which does not rely on mere phrases but recognizes the reality of the spiritual world and what is demanded of the present age. The individual who sets out on this path will develop a sense for what the spiritual world at this moment wants from him. He will discover for himself how his development ought to progress and to what extent his particular destiny requires him to sacrifice himself for others. There is no need for any phrase to be bandied about; what is needed is the development of that inner strength which eventually leads to spiritual insight.

Nothing can be said against the meaning of a sentence such as: “The purpose of life is to sacrifice oneself for others,” but it remains a sterile phrase till one learns to bring spiritual reality into physical reality. That was the very reason why the Mystery of Golgotha was fulfilled. It entered evolution so that new life might spring from death. Or in other words, so that the living spirit might be born from our present death-related consciousness. In bringing to birth, within our death-related consciousness, the living spirit, we approach the Mystery of Golgotha.—There are indications which suggest that people are beginning to recognize the necessity of listening to what spiritual science has to say. We live in difficult times, fraught with problems and conflict. Everyone feels that it is essential to find a way out. However, it is inherent in the age that a way out can be found only through a real understanding of the spirit. All other attempts will prove illusory.

The first understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha came about through direct experience. At first people could speak of Christ because some had actually seen Him; later some had known others who had seen Him. There was still an echo of Christ's own words in those spoken by the first Apostles. Thus mankind's first experience of Christ was on the physical plane. Through the centuries this knowledge faded and had vanished altogether by the turn of the 19th and 20th Centuries. That the present situation should arise was therefore inevitable when there are people—as I described in the last lecture—who, though they want to be Christians, do not actually seek Christ. We must realize that we live in a time of crisis as far as understanding Christ is concerned. We can reach understanding appropriate to our age in no other way than through an ever-deeper understanding of spiritual science. Ahrimanic forces battle against this knowledge just because it is so essential in our time. However, this does not prevent those who recognize the task of spiritual science from seeing this task connected with the enormous world-historical events taking place in our time. The solution to today's great problems can only come from real knowledge of the present age. And it is not biased propaganda to say that only through spiritual science can a solution be found.