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The Karma of Materialism
GA 176

7. Luther I

11 September 1917, Berlin

When spiritual science investigates mankind's evolution it arrives at results which in many respects differ considerably from those presented by natural science. This applies more especially to the human soul. The view obtained through spiritual knowledge of the human soul's evolution during hundreds and thousands of years differs from the view that is possible merely through natural-scientific investigation. Looking back into earlier ages we recognize that man once possessed atavistic clairvoyance and that this made his consciousness different from what it is today. However, we must also recognize that a residue of this clairvoyance persisted right into later centuries to a far greater extent than is realized. It is particularly important to be aware of the fact that right up to the 14th, 15th, 16th and even into the 17th century a vestige of the ancient clairvoyance was still in evidence. Not with its former strength, it is true, but although weakened, it was clearly a remnant of the former atavistic clairvoyance and could be encountered over the greater part of the earth.

I have spoken in earlier lectures of the fact that even today there are people who possess atavistic clairvoyance. The reason not much is known about it is because people are usually too embarrassed to confess to their fellow men that revelations from spiritual realms enter their consciousness. I described some instances of this kind in the last lecture. However, the difference is very great between what people could still experience directly from the spiritual world in the 16th and 17th centuries and what is possible since then. And even in the 17th century most people would not have been able to describe what appeared to their clairvoyant vision to the extent of being able to say that they had seen such and such a being. Their consciousness in spiritual experiences was not strong enough to grasp the situation sufficiently to form mental pictures of it. But though the consciousness was subdued, spiritual beings did still enter into man's will, into his feeling and also into his conceptual life. This was the case to a far greater extent than is imagined today. At the present time it is really extraordinarily difficult for someone who is able to look into the spiritual world and is conversant with the nature of what is to be experienced there, to speak freely about it to his fellow men. As I have often mentioned, one's contemporaries would receive too great a shock were one to describe certain, even elementary, facts concerning man's relationship to the spiritual world. Naturally it can cause clashes of views when an initiate, from his knowledge of the spiritual world, is obliged to say the very opposite to what his contemporaries, owing to their materialistic convictions, can accept as truth.

This situation had not yet arisen in the 14th, 15th, 16th or even 17th centuries. Much of the literature from this period is interpreted quite wrongly. This is not only because modern people think they know better than their predecessors, they also no longer understand their attitude to life. This fact comes to expression in curious ways. For example it is quite extraordinary to witness the way modern philosophers, in their writings or when lecturing, castigate the Scholastics of the Middle Ages. They go out of their way to demonstrate how far they themselves have advanced beyond i what they see as prejudiced, pedantic and narrow ideas of the Scholastics. But in truth, compared to the Scholastics, the modern philosophers are incredibly ignorant and they completely misunderstand the Scholastics. What is not realized is that at the time of Thomism, when a philosopher was engaged in the subtle art of ideation, of defining and elaborating the finer points, he was in contact with the spiritual world. It must be realized that for example Thomas Aquinas,26Thomas Aquinas 1225–1274 Scholastic Philosopher in the 13th Century, attained the concepts and ideas he elaborated in his writings in a completely different way from the way ideas are acquired today. One must think of his books as being inspired by a spirit from the Hierarchy of the Angeloi and that he recorded what came from a higher consciousness.

A modern philosopher would find dreadful the idea of having to sit down and wait till his Angel inspired him before writing what he was to communicate to the world; that with his Angel by his side he was to be the mouthpiece, the physical human mediator for what the Angel proclaimed concerning a higher world. Yet in no other way is it possible to understand what is coming into being, what is becoming. What I am now saying is of the greatest importance and I beg you to take special note of it. Only by listening to what is inspired into us or vouchsafed through Imagination can we come to understand what is coming into being. In our ordinary consciousness, since the 16th, 17th but especially since the 18th century, we have no relationship whatever to what is evolving, coming into existence. We look directly at things, but how much of what we see do we take into our consciousness? Let us say we look at a blossoming rose; in no instance, at no moment do we see the actual coming-into-being of the rose. From the formation of the seed to the extinction of the rose what we see is the dying, the fading away. That we see the red rose at all is due to the fact that we grasp its dying aspect. The coming-into-being aspect of things can be grasped only if one is able to listen to higher beings or receive impressions from them. No one, except higher beings who at present do not incarnate in a physical body, can perceive the becoming of the rose. In the very lowest realm of perception, the subjective light, which is almost as dull as the old clairvoyance was and, when it occurs, still is, do we see something of the becoming of the rose. But not when we look at it with physical eyes and grasp what we see conceptually.

This illustrates that an essential characteristic of our materialistic age is that only what is dying, what is going towards extinction, enters our consciousness. That was not the case at the time of the Scholastics nor even in the 17th century.

In the early part of the 17th century a little-known philosopher, Henry More,27Henry More 1614–1687 English Philosopher. born 1614, lived in England. When we look at his external life we see him as a living proof that man does not develop his individuality from inherited qualities alone. He brings with him characteristics, not found in parents or earlier ancestors, from former lives on earth. Henry More's parents and relations were all strict orthodox Calvinists, but already as a small boy he fought Zwingli's rigid teaching of predestination. Henry More rejected it emphatically although no one in his environment maintained anything contrary to this rigid doctrine. He had also another distinguishing characteristic. When one studies his writings, which are very interesting, one discovers the remarkable fact that he spoke of the inner presence of the spiritual world in human consciousness quite differently from the way people spoke of it later. He was a philosopher of the 17th century yet he knew that only through a more receptive consciousness than the ordinary one which only grasps the dying aspect, can man unite with that living reality which expresses itself in inspired consciousness as processes of becoming. In such inspired consciousness man can know about the processes of becoming whereas otherwise he can know only about what is connected with processes of dying. What is perceived everywhere through present-day consciousness is the dying aspects of things and even Henry More was not altogether clear that he had communed with spiritual beings. When he attempted to grasp his experiences in conceptual form; i.e. form mental pictures of them, these pictures would vanish in the very process of forming them just like a dream vanishes as we wake up. Thus he could not bring his experience of meeting spiritual beings into clear consciousness; he would forget as we forget a dream. Only dimly was he aware of their presence in his inner life but the effect of these experiences remained with him.

A very interesting thought, well known to us, was expressed also by Henry More. The thought that if one wants to reach certain higher knowledge one must learn to regard one's whole being as a member of a higher organism. Just as a finger is a member of the hand and loses its existence if separated from the hand, so too is man nothing, if torn out of his organic connection with the whole cosmos. With the finger this is more obvious. However if the finger could walk freely over our body it might well also succumb to the illusion of being an independent organism. Certainly the earth is there for man, but man is equally, in the adjoining spiritual world, a member of the greater organism of the earth. Man cannot tear himself out of this connection anymore than the finger can tear itself from the hand. I have often expressed this thought as an antidote to man's misplaced and all too prevalent conceit. In Henry More it rose as a sudden revelation. The reason was because he did have a dim knowledge, like a half-forgotten dream, of man's interconnection with the whole cosmos although he could not bring it into conscious conceptual form.

When one tries to discover what helped Henry More to formulate what lived so beautifully in his soul one finds that he had been deeply impressed by a certain booklet. This small book: the “Theologia Germanica” had also made a great impression on someone else; namely Luther28Martin Luther 1483–1546 Inaugurator of German Reformation who made it available to wider circles in Germany. Henry More became a student of the “Theologia Germanica” by “the man from Frankfurth.” You will find more on this subject in my book “Mysticism at the Dawn of the Modern Age.”

The question may have arisen in your mind why it should be that in the 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th and even 17th centuries people appear who know of the spiritual world through direct communion. The reason is the following: Those who in these centuries knew most about man's connection with the spiritual world had been on earth, if not in their last incarnation then as a rule in the last but one, at a time when preparation for Christianity was being made in the secret schools, in the Mysteries. Individuals such as Henry More were present on earth in the centuries prior to the Mystery of Golgotha. They then had an intermediate incarnation in the 7th, 8th or 9th century but this later incarnation had much less impact on them than that received in the previous one from the teaching in the mysteries. These teachings, preparing for the Mystery of Golgotha, made a deeper, more intense, impression on their soul. That is why so much of great significance was said concerning Christianity during those later centuries. Through their communion with the spiritual world these individuals derived an insight into the world's coming-into-being which, since the 17th century has no longer been possible. From then onwards one had to draw ever more on external accounts alone; these accounts, however, only describe what is in the process of decline. Spiritual knowledge is needed to bring insight once more to what is in the process of becoming. The preparation for Christianity, which lasted more than half a millennium during the tragic centuries leading up to the Mystery of Golgotha, made an enormous impression on these spirits. What they carried over into the later incarnation was an impulse of feeling, an inner mood of soul which they were able to give conceptual form.

European cultural development, between the 14th and 17th centuries, takes on a deeper significance when studied with this background in mind. One comes to realize that very spiritual concepts and ideas concerning Christianity and the Bible are to be found in this period. These concepts and ideas often seem strange today because they originated from spiritual experiences. To turn his attention to the essential aspect of that period is of special interest for man today. The period between the 14th and 17th centuries is really like a mighty retrospect. Forces were still present in man's soul through which experience could arise of the surging weaving life of the spiritual world. We enter the minds of those who lived in that period when, in contemplating them, we do not forget this retrospective quality of their consciousness.

If for example we want to understand Luther it is essential to keep in mind what I have just said. Recently a very interesting book: Luther's Creed by Ricarda Huch29Ricarda Huck 1864–1947 has appeared. The reason why the book is so interesting is mainly because it is written completely out of present-day consciousness; that it is also inadequate makes it somewhat disappointing. The periodical: “North and South” contains in the July issue an article about this book entitled: “Ricarda Huch and the Devil.” The article points out that with our consciousness as it is today we cannot really comprehend the way man's mind worked in an earlier epoch. This fact makes it all the more interesting to see how Ricarda Huch deals with Luther's belief in demons. Unlike those who, when requested for an opinion concerning Luther's belief in demons, are too cowardly to voice one, she tries to treat him fairly. Others usually dismiss the issue by saying: Well, Luther was certainly a great man but his talk about demons, his belief in the devil stemmed from the fact that he shared the general superstitions of his time.

An opinion of this kind is just about as helpful as that of the honest professor who, reading with his students what Lessing had written about a drama performance, explained that Lessing had not really been able to think through what he had written; and the professor added: “Well, if only I myself had more time!” It is through this kind of superior attitude that it is concluded that Luther had shared in the superstition of his time. The fact is that no one can understand Luther who does not realize that what, out of the spirit and consciousness of his time, was called “the devil”—we would say Ahriman and Lucifer—was for him actual spiritual experience. When he spoke of these matters at Wartburg or anywhere else it was always from direct experience. Try to compare and bring together what Luther says and you will inevitably come to the conviction that only someone who has actually seen the devil, who has met him in direct experience, can speak as Luther did. Moreover he was well aware that: “Small folk never see the devil even when he has them by the collar.” Ricarda Huch agrees, with much good will but purely theoretically, against the superior attitude of the academics who, in their cleverness, know that the devil does not exist. They conclude that Luther was superstitious as were others at his time and one must excuse and forgive the great man.

Ricarda Huch does not agree with those who hold such a superior view of great spirits of the past. However it is obvious that she has no personal experience of what the devil looks like. She does believe in him although she has never seen him; so how does she visualize the devil? She believes in his existence because she knows that there are things which neither natural science nor physiology can explain, things which must come from the devil. She too feels that some excuses must be made for Luther for she says: "One ought not to imagine that Luther believed the devil walked about the streets complete with horns and tail." However, like others, she sees what she calls the devil as a combination of certain evil traits and characteristics such as stupidity, pride, untruthfulness and so on. But these are mere abstract concepts and Ricarda Huch thought Luther used his pictorial expressions in that sense. Luther was obliged to use pictures because there is no other way to express spiritual experiences. Yet he was directly acquainted with the devil through the inner battles which unavoidably must be fought when man comes face to face with the devil.

Luther clothed his experiences in pictures in the way one otherwise clothes them in words. Only the most obtuse thinkers could possibly maintain that the words one uses to depict an event contain the event itself. Yet this is precisely the objection levelled against me by professor Dessoir when he says that I have derived the various stages of mankind's evolution, not from reality, but from mental pictures. Such things are rather prevalent; in this particular case it stems from lack of insight, from utter ignorance. In the second chapter of my forthcoming book, dealing especially with moral corruption in academic circles, you will see what kind of people are among those who teach in public places of learning. These people who help shape the present, contribute to its dreadful miseries. They also create a situation in which the Royal Academy of Science awards its prize to the shoddy history of psychology submitted by Dessoir. If you read what Dessoir's colleagues have themselves said about this slatternly superficial treatise you will get an idea of the kind of literature that circulates and even wins awards in the academic world.

Luther lived at a time when the possibility still existed to have awareness of the spiritual world. All the devilry of Ahriman he experienced directly; he could not put these experiences into ordinary words because words are designed for physical things. Spiritual experiences must be described in pictures, in Imaginations. However, Imagination does express the reality of what is perceived and experienced super-sensibly. This Ricarda Huch does not understand. She thinks that though Luther spoke of the devil one must not take it to mean that when someone with spiritual sight comes among people he will, in numerous cases, find Ahriman, hunchbacked and with horns, looking at him from where he sits firmly entrenched between their shoulders. But Luther's descriptions were based on experience, and the pictures he uses are his way of describing these experiences. His personality was not such a gentle one as that of Ricarda Huch who believes he merely used symbolic pictures for man's evil upsurging passions.

One can ask what it is that gives Luther's doctrine—as it is usually called—the power it has. The answer lies in the fact that it is no mere doctrine, it must be understood very differently if one is to do it justice. In one's imagination Luther, standing there in the 17th Century, must be visualized as looking back with inner sight to a time when communion was being cultivated with the spiritual world, to a time when he himself cultivated such communion precisely in the realm of the ahrimanic. To recognize Ahriman is to free oneself from him; the danger lies in not recognizing him—you can read more about this aspect of Ahriman in my Four Mystery Dramas. To come face to face with Ahriman, the way Luther did, is to set oneself free. What Luther says can seem incomprehensible unless one recognizes that he is describing actual experiences; when it is realized then the power of his words is greatly enhanced. Even when we find certain aspects of what he said unpalatable his words strike us as genuine because he saw things in a much wider context than is normally possible today.

It is an interesting and highly significant phenomenon that Luther should appear, embodying the fruits of what was taught in the pre-Christian Mysteries. Luther was one of the greatest participants in those Mysteries that prepared the way for the founding of Christianity. What he absorbed in these Mysteries remained quite unimpaired by the later intermediate incarnation and was the source and strength of his power in his incarnation as Luther. But what was Luther's most significant revelation concerning his direct experience of Ahriman?

We must keep in mind that the essentially ahrimanic age begins only after Luther. Though people are not aware of it, present-day natural-scientific knowledge is saturated by Ahriman. The characteristic feature of today's materialistic outlook is that every concept is prompted by Ahriman. Luther was destined, at a significant turning point to make man aware of this fact. However when someone is able to look into the spiritual world he sees things in a different light from those who cannot do so. Furthermore the spiritual world affects man differently once he becomes conscious of it.

We begin to understand Luther's peculiar position once we realize that the powerful force he brought over from an earlier evolutionary stage could not be effective in later epochs. He was destined to rescue for mankind a view of Christianity before it had been weakened by unrecognized ahrimanic influences. That is the reason for the breadth of his vision and the strength of his consciousness of Ahriman.

Someone once wrote a book in which he had collected all the contradictions to be found in Luther's writings. Luther read the book and wrote a reply which is included in a letter to Melanchthon. Luther's comment was: “The silly ass only speaks of contradictions because he understands neither side of a contradiction, he does not understand that one can honour someone as a Prince yet at the same time speak of him as a devil and oppose him.”—Luther's letter to Melanchthon, where he speaks of this, is most interesting, for it also reveals his relationship to his own time. He used other expressions which would not be used today but are entirely comprehensible in view of his acquaintance with the spiritual world. These expressions are not, as historians suggest, merely a product of his time. Those who call Luther's expressions cynical or frivolous do so out of their own cynicism or frivolity.

What is important in relation to these things is to recognize that individual aspects of something may recur, although the greater issue itself is not repeated. This applies also to Scholasticism; people will only learn to relate to it when they rediscover in it the more subtly differentiated thinking than the one cultivated today. The way the spirit came to expression in Luther will never be repeated. He must be accepted just as he is, as a historical phenomenon. It would be a mistake to imagine that anyone could repeat Luther's life. What one should do is to make so thorough a study of Luther, as he appears in history, that one comes to recognize what it was that revealed itself through him in this particular incarnation. One must attempt to see beyond the individual who was active in the mysteries preparing for Christianity and then had an intermediate incarnation before appearing as Luther. We need to see that we are not dealing here only with a certain individuality but that in this one phenomenon the whole trend and law of mankind's evolution is expressed. It could happen because of his former conscious experience—even though as Luther this knowledge had become subconscious—of that realm where he encountered the devil; i.e., Ahriman.

In general Luther is seen the way academics see him: theologians are usually academics. His direct experience of the spiritual world is disregarded and his talk of the devil is seen as the weakness of a great man. But in truth the weakness lies in those who speak in this way about Luther.

Then came—and here we see how evolution runs its course—the time after Luther when Ahriman permeated the materialistic view of life. Though man was not conscious of it this was the case especially in the 19th Century. From the eastern part of Europe the possibility will first emerge for man to know once more the realm he enters when he attains insight beyond the physical plane. This seems a strange fact when we at present look towards the East. We see there aspects revealing both the baseness and the greatness of Russian nature. Over several years we have described what is preparing itself in Russia. It is indeed a remarkable experience to watch what takes place there; one has to say that these people are children still. They really are children and when they are not children they are possessed.

How can one escape the realization that Kerensky30Alexander Feodorowitsch Kerensky b. 1881 Russian Politician is possessed? Naturally he considers himself far above such a superstitious idea that Ahriman has taken possession of him. But Ahriman has learned to produce from Western science a thinking which is utterly alien to the East, alien because it is a thinking related only to processes of dying. Not only does Western thinking understand nothing about the Russian people; Easterners themselves—that is, the leading people in the East—who try to judge Russians with Western thinking do not understand the Russians. There is in the Russian people still something childlike, something that points to the future. And in the future it is destined to develop into the ability to look once more into the spiritual world, to develop a relationship once more with the spiritual world.

What is preparing in Russia for the future is in complete contrast to the preparations that were made for our own epoch at the time of the Great Luther. Our age looks back, it makes manifest a force working from the past. We are looking at something very remarkable in the contrast between Luther's experience of his time and for example the childlike experience of a Russian like Soloviev31Wladimir Soloviev 1853–1900 Russian Philosopher and Poet during the time leading up to the revolution. We are seeing two opposite poles which are related as North to South, or if an abstract comparison is wanted, as positive and negative electricity. Two opposite directions of thoughts and views; unable to understand each other. It is obvious from the way Soloviev speaks that he is remote from any understanding of Luther, and if we remain with Luther it is quite impossible to understand Soloviev. We must widen our horizon to encompass both positive and negative.

I wanted to place these important issues before you. When next we meet I shall attempt to present Luther as a self-contained individuality—not only as he appeared in his time but as he appears within mankind's evolution as a whole—from a point of view obtainable only through Anthroposophy.