Donate books to help fund our work. Learn more→

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

How Can Mankind Find the Christ Again?
GA 187

II. The Entrance of Christianity into the Course of Earth Evolution

24 December 1918, Dornach

The mood of the present time is not likely, perhaps, to create in many people that depth of inner feeling of which legends and sagas speak when they refer to the Christmas Holy Nights, when the soul that is prepared for it is able to have some experience of the spiritual world. You know one such impressive legend from the performances given here, that of Olaf &Åsteson. Many similar things point to Christmas time in the same way.

It is clear, not only to a more thoughtful student of the human heart, but to anyone who observes in the external world the general spirit of our time, that a Christmas mood, a Christmas impulse, must now be sought anew by mankind. What lives in the celebration of Christmas, in the thought of Christmas, must take hold of the human soul in a new way. Just think, dear friends—in order to realize the broader aspects of our contemporary religious and spiritual mood—how little inclination there is at this time to contemplate the Christ as such, to direct the eyes of the soul to Him.

People often believe they are speaking about the Christ, and yet you will find they have made hardly any distinction between Christ and God the Father except in name. While it is true that for many believers the Christ still stands at the center of their religious creed and that beside Him all else of a divine nature loses its luster, nevertheless we have seen for some time now the rise of a theology that has really lost the Christ, that speaks of a God in general even when Christ is meant. The specific quality that is essential when the human heart looks up to Christ needs to be found again. And perhaps the most worthy celebration of the Christmas Festival at this time is actually to inscribe in our souls how mankind can find the Christ again. Many historical facts of the evolution of mankind will first have to be considered—in the spiritual scientific sense—if a true impulse is to be reawakened that will lead human souls to Christ.

The Christmas Festival can not only remind us, as is intended, of the entrance of Jesus into earth life, but it can also point to the birth of Christianity itself, the entrance of Christianity into the course of earth evolution. And so let us today direct our spiritual vision primarily to what might be called the Christmas of Christianity itself, the entrance, the birth, of Christianity within the sphere of the earth. The external facts are known, of course, but our knowledge of them needs to be intensified.

Christianity came into the world in the person of Christ Jesus, into the midst of the adherents of the Old Testament. We can observe the phenomena that occurred among these people when Christianity was born. We see how they were externally divided into two separate currents, that of the Pharisees and that of the Sadducees. It is necessary to view all these things henceforth in a new light. When we consider the general course of development of an individual or of humanity itself—indeed, the course of the entire earth—this will become increasingly clear to us if we conceive it as a continual balancing between luciferic and ahrimanic forces. But that is merely the designation we use; there has always existed among the deeper natures of humanity a consciousness of the actual existence of Lucifer and Ahriman and of the condition of balance between them. Fundamentally, the contrast of the Pharisaic element and the Sadducean element in the ancient Hebrew evolution was nothing else than the contrast of ahrimanic and luciferic elements. Jesus, coming into external earth life, entered the balancing stream. He entered earthly existence at that place for which the most important designation up to the time of the Mystery of Golgotha was that Solomon's Temple had been built there. In a certain sense we can only understand the nature of Solomon's Temple if we are able to perceive it in contrast to the Christianity then being born. It is well-known how quickly after Christianity came into being Solomon's Temple was destroyed, so far as external existence is concerned. This memorial of the earlier evolution out of which the spirituality of Christianity arose was destined to exist no longer at the place from which that spirituality streamed forth. The nature of Solomon's Temple and the nature of Christianity present a strong contrast. Solomon's Temple embraced in marvelous, magnificent, sometimes gigantic symbols all that was contained in the world conception of the Old Testament. It was an image of the entire universe so far as this could be represented by the ancient world conception, in its conformity to law, in its inner structure, in its permeation by divine-spiritual beings. It was nonetheless an image of the universe that in a certain sense and in one direction was extraordinarily one-sided. That is to say, the Temple was a spatial image of the universe, an image that made use of spatial forms and spatial relations to express the mysteries of the universe. But for those who viewed it in the spirit of the Old Testament, its symbolism was endowed with life.

We see, on the one hand, in the Judaism of the Pharisees and Sadducees, the externalization of what had been given to humanity through the Old Testament; on the other hand, we see in the symbolism of Solomon's Temple the means of deepening the life of Old Testament humanity. It might be said that what has flowed into the entire Old Testament revelation came to expression in these two directions: one outward, exoteric, in the Judaism of the Pharisees and Sadducees; the other esoteric, through what was represented in the mysterious symbols of Solomon's Temple. And from this exotericism and esotericism sprang what became Christianity.

This Christianity was at first, at the time of its birth, unknown to the world at large, to that world in which lived the spirituality of the humanity of that time, namely, the Greek world. Within the expanding Roman empire in which the Mystery of Golgotha was being prepared through the birth of Jesus, it was not known what a momentous Event had taken place among the Jewish people. Nothing was known of the significant Event that constitutes the meaning of the earth. Nevertheless, although the humanity of that time allowed it to pass unnoticed outwardly, the most sublime Event of our earth evolution, inwardly the Christianity that was coming into being was connected with what was then considered the whole world.

In what ways, dear friends, was it connected? The meaning that Christmas conceals is revealed later in the Easter conception. What then is the important aspect of Easter that really intensifies the meaning of Christmas? It is the contemplation of the Savior of mankind Who died on the cross: the cross with the dead God. The intention and the deed originated in humanity: to put to death the God Who had appeared in their midst. The profound magnitude, the full power, of this thought should again enter into human souls. Contemplation of the deed by which the God Who appeared on earth was killed by men: this should be put into language by which it can be understood. Let us try to do this, at least from one point of view.

When we look upon the Mystery of Golgotha, we find it to be a great world-historical confluence of spiritual streams that had been present in the ancient Mysteries. (You know this from my book, Christianity as Mystical Fact.) What had taken place in the ancient Mysteries as the sacrificial rite, the rite of initiation, what had taken place in the temple with, one might say, limited importance, was now set out on the great stage of world history; it now took place in the realm of our entire earth existence. In a certain sense, the initiation of humanity itself was brought out of the temples and presented as historical event before the whole world.

Now let us ask: what were the thoughts of someone permitted to take part in the initiation rites of the ancient Mysteries—when these still possessed their true significance? Through his preparatory instruction such a person knew with certainty that what is directly apparent in the external world of the senses, and what can be comprehended by the human intellect, is a world of mere phenomena, a world of appearance. He knew that what a human being experiences immediately in his environment during his waking hours between birth and death is only the outer view, the phenomenal display, of an inner reality, and that in ordinary life this inner reality is concealed. In the Mystery rite itself such a person sought true reality in what streamed to him, as it were, from the depths of existence, in what could be drawn out and separated from the merely phenomenal, illusory existence. Someone who took part in the ancient Mysteries could always say to himself: When I walk through the world and see external nature, it is illusion. When I experience this or that in the world, it is illusion. When I do any kind of work for the world, it is illusion. But when I am permitted to take part in the holy acts of the Mysteries in the Temple, then something happens that is truth, not illusion. Something is drawn forth, so to speak, out of the illusory existence of the world and transformed into a sacramental act; and this act contains exact truth in contrast to the illusion.

If we wish to be quite clear concerning this view of the Mysteries, we must compare it to the view prevailing today in our materialistic age. We must understand that all that is called reality today in this age of materialism was regarded as illusion in the conceptions belonging to the Mysteries; while, for example, the sacramental act performed as the initiation rite, which most people today consider “fantastic”, was esteemed by those acquainted with the Mysteries as the only reality in life. Such an act, therefore, was not performed at random, but at certain times when it was believed that something of the true nature of things might push through the phenomena of outer life and, as it were, be captured through the act. It has often been mentioned that one such important rite consisted in showing the sacrifice of the God, the death of the God, and His resurrection after three days. This pointed to the fact that to someone who penetrates more deeply into the external world, death can reveal the true nature of this world, that reality must be sought beyond death.

Think of all this entering human souls from the content of the Mysteries at the beginning of our Christian era, expressing the most important fact in world phenomena! Someone in that era pondering on the course of our earth evolution would have been able to say: “In ancient times it was possible for man to learn something about the divine-spiritual world through atavistic initiation science. It was formerly revealed to man out of earth evolution itself. That time is now past. The time has come when nothing more can be drawn from the content of this world to guide us to the divine-spiritual world. This world has lost its divine-spiritual life.” That is what such a soul would have said. Where must one look for the meaning of evolution for earth-humanity? Where was the real meaning of the earth at the time when Christianity came into being? Where was the expression of what was willed in man's innermost being at that time? At Golgotha on the cross. It was Death! What formerly had gushed forth from earth evolution for human salvation, was itself dead. To the soul that penetrated more deeply into cosmic reality, an earth impulse, the most profound of all earth impulses, was given at the time of the birth of Christianity, in the contemplation of the dead God.

Only when experienced in this way does the full magnitude appear of the matter with which we are here concerned. The ancient world conception, the ancient world-wisdom had flowed into Solomon's Temple; but it no longer held anything of what had made it great. Something new had to enter world evolution. And so in the course of time the destruction of Solomon's Temple and the rise, the birth, of Christianity exactly coincided. Solomon's Temple: a spatial symbolic image of the content of the cosmos; Christianity, comprehended as a time-phenomenon: a new image of the cosmos. Christianity is not something that appears as a spatial image, as in the case of Solomon's Temple; one only understands Christianity if one grasps it in images of time. One must see that earth evolution proceeded as far as the Mystery of Golgotha; then the Mystery of Golgotha intervened; then, through the Christ pouring Himself into humanity, evolution moves on in this way or that. Its deeper content is not to be equated in the remotest degree with anything appearing in spatial images, not even in the gigantic, magnificent spatial images of Solomon's Temple. Nevertheless, Solomon's Temple, as also the inner aspect of Pharisaic and Sadducean life, contained the soul of the world consciousness of that time. The soul of the world consciousness two thousands years ago was to be found in Old Testament Judaism. Into this soul was laid the seed of Christianity, a new seed that, while growing out of all that may be expressed in space, can only be expressed in time. The becoming following the existing: that is the inner relation of Christianity that was then being born to the soul element of the world of that time, to Judaism that was embodied in Solomon's Temple, which later collapsed. Christianity was born into the soul of ancient Judaism.

As Christianity sought the soul in Judaism, so it sought the spirit in Hellenism. The Gospels themselves, as transmitted to the world (I refer only to what has been handed down), have in the main passed through the Greek spirit. The thoughts through which the world could think Christianity are the spiritual wisdom of Greece. The first apologia of the Church Fathers appeared in the Greek tongue. Just as Christianity was born into the soul that for the humanity of that time lived in Judaism, so it was born into the spirit provided by Hellenism.

Romanism furnished the body. It was Romanism that at that time could provide an external organization for concepts of empire. Judaism soul, Hellenism spirit, Romanism body—body, of course, in the sense that the social structure of humanity is body. Romanism is in reality the forming of external inclinations and institutions; the thoughts concerning external institutions live within them. It is the corporeal element in historical existence, the corporeal element in historical development. Just as Christianity was born into the soul of Judaism and into the spirit of Hellenism, so it was born into the body of the Roman Empire. Superficial people even think that everything contained in Christianity can be explained out of Judaism, Hellenism and Romanism. In the same way, indeed, that materialistic natural scientists believe that everything in a human being is inherited from parents, grandparents, etc., ignoring the fact that the soul comes from spiritual regions and only puts on the body as a garment: so these superficial people like to say that Christianity consists of what in actual fact it has only put on as an outer garment. The essence of Christianity entered the world, of course, with Christ Jesus Himself; but this Christianity was born into the Jewish soul, into the Greek spirit, and into the body of the Roman Empire. That, in a sense, is the birth of Christianity itself, viewed in the light of Christmas thought.

It is important not to accept these facts as mere external theories, but to relate them deeply to our thought of Christmas, to learn what their significance really is in relation to the newborn Impulse that is now entering world evolution with the Spirits of Personality—as I explained here recently.3Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, 20 Dec. 1918, Die Soziale Grundfordentng unserer Zeit/in Geanderter Zeitlage, GA 186 (Dornach, Rudolf Steiner Verlag, 1979). Indeed, dear friends, anything new that purposes to enter into the course of world evolution must first struggle through what remains of the old. This is precisely the mystery of world-becoming, that on the one hand there is a normal, progressive evolution; on the other hand, retarded luciferic and ahrimanic forces interfere with it and modify it, but also in a certain sense support it as it advances. I have often called attention to the fact that we cannot escape this ahrimanic-luciferic force; we must look straight at it calmly, and face it consciously. On no account must we simply submit to these things unconsciously. From world impulses shadows remain behind that continue to have an effect even after something new has come into existence; but their luciferic and ahrimanic character must be recognized. This ahrimanic-luciferic element must accompany evolution, but it must not be accepted in an absolute sense; its luciferic- ahrimanic character must be perceived. Something shadowlike has remained behind from Solomon's Temple, something shadow-like also from Hellenism, and something shadow-like from the Roman Empire. Nearly two thousand years ago it was self-evident that from these three—soul, spirit, and body—Christianity was born. But soul, spirit, and body could not immediately disappear; they remained in a certain way as after-effects. Now is the time when this fact must be clearly understood and when the completely unique character of the Christ Impulse itself must be realized.

A shadow remains behind from the most important extract of the esoteric Old Testament, from the Mystery of Solomon's Temple; a shadow remains from Hellenism; also one from the Roman Empire. We must learn to distinguish the shadows from the light. It will be mankind's task from this present time into the immediate future to differentiate between the shadows and the light in the right way.

We see the shadow of the Roman Empire in Roman Catholicism. This is not Christianity; it is the shadow of the ancient Roman Empire into which Christianity had to be born. In its forms there continues to live what had to be built up at that time as a framework for Christianity. But we must learn—humanity must learn—to distinguish the shadow of the old Roman Empire from Christianity. The essence of Christianity is not to be found in the organization of the Catholic Church, or indeed of any of the Christian churches. One sees in their hierarchical aspect what existed and developed in the Roman Empire from Romulus to the Emperor Augustus. The illusion arises only because Christianity was born into this body.

In this sense Solomon's Temple has also remained as a shadow. The Mysteries of Solomon's Temple have—with a few exceptions—been completely absorbed into the Masonic and other secret societies of the present time. As the Roman Church is the shadow of the ancient Roman Empire, so what continues to exist in these societies—however strongly they assert to the contrary, even to the extent of excluding Jews—is the shadow of ancient Judaism, the shadow of the esoteric Jehovah-worship. Again the shadow must be distinguished from the light. Just as the shadow expressed in the perpetuation of the Roman Empire in the Catholic Church, in the churches generally, must be distinguished from the light shining in Christianity, so the element into which Christianity had to be born as soul must be distinguished from the shadow that continues to work in societies founded on symbolism that is reminiscent of Solomon's Temple.

These things must be recognized. They must be looked at in the right way. And they must be illuminated in our time by the new revelations of which we have been speaking during these days.

The Greek spirit into which Christianity had to be born—in spite of all the beauty of Hellenism, in spite of its esthetic and other important content, in spite of the influence it has upon us—has left its shadow as the modern world conception of the cultured humanity that has brought this fearful catastrophe4World War I. upon mankind. When Hellenism existed with its world conception, it was something different. Everything, dear friends, is right in its own time. If something is taken in an absolute sense, and carried on after it has become antiquated, it then becomes the shadow of itself. And the shadow is not the light; it may change suddenly into the opposite of the real thing. Aristotelianism still shows something of the greatness of ancient Greece. Aristotle in modern raiment is materialism. Christianity was born into the Jewish soul, the Greek spirit, the Roman body; but the three have left their shadows behind. The challenge sounds through our time, like the call of an angel's trumpet, to perceive the true facts, to look through the shadows to the light.

Truly, anyone who ponders over this present moment in time, who considers impartially, without prejudice, what has brought about the fearful, distressing events of recent years, surely cannot help wondering whether some sort of light can be sought that would shine into the darknesses of earth in a different way from those lights which most people still wish to regard as the only ones. One should find the will to look for a way through the shadows to the light. For the shadows will assert themselves. They will become effective through people who perhaps have endured little themselves of the great suffering of humanity at the present time, who have no sympathy, or very little, for the terrible agony that has flashed through the world, agony that is itself proof that many of the thoughts which have appeared were destined to be shipwrecked. One who tries to examine with deeper understanding what is really not difficult to see today, one who has the resolute will to look without prejudice at what is happening today among men, will feel an impulse to seek the light. He should attach some importance to this impulse in his soul, not listen to those who—depending on the place they occupy—wish only to defend one of the ancient shadows, but listen to his own soul; it will speak clearly enough if only he does not let its voice drown under the external assertions of the shadows.

If today one looks compassionately at what has happened, what is happening, and what will happen, one will be able to see a strange figure standing before men: a distortion of the truly human form, in garments woven of shadows, a figure uniting in itself in its thoughts, sensations, feelings, and will-impulses what has put humanity on a wrong track and gives every promise of taking it farther on the wrong track. Deep within what is happening outwardly dwell those three shadow-thoughts that have been described.

Whoever learns to see that figure in garments woven of shadows, has prepared himself in the right way to look at something else: to look at the tree that can illuminate even today's darkness with its lights. Whoever is pure in heart and does not allow himself to be misled by the threefold shadow-existence—antiquated symbolism, antiquated ecclesiasticism, antiquated materialistic science—will see what wills to shine in the darkness as a real Christmas tree, and lying beneath it the Christ-Jesus Child, illuminated anew by the Christmas light. This is the real aim of our anthroposophically-oriented science of the spirit: to seek the Christmas light, so that the Jesus Child, Who entered the world first to work and then to be understood, may gradually be understood; to illuminate in a modest way the greatest of all events in earth existence. This is the goal of our anthroposophical spiritual science within the religious currents of humanity. People will not understand the light that this spiritual science wants to recognize as its Christmas light unless they have the will really to penetrate the threefold shadow-existence of our time. The times are serious. And whoever lacks the will to take them seriously will perhaps not be able in this incarnation to see what should truly be perceptible at this time to every human being of good will, there for the healing of the many wounds that otherwise mankind will still have to suffer. People of good will should take notice of what may be seen when the anthroposophical science of the spirit enkindles the Christmas light. The light is truly small, and he who professes it remains humble. He does not wish to extol it to the world as something special, for he knows that now it appears small and insignificant, and many men and many generations must still come, to help what now burns dimly to become brighter. But even though the light is weak, it shines on something whose effect within human earthly evolution is not weak, something that is working powerfully as the deepest meaning of human evolution. The light illumines what we may call the birth of Christianity, the Christmas of Christianity. Along with the Easter meaning of anthroposophical spiritual science may this its Christmas meaning be understood. May many, many souls look forward in this spirit to the profound experience of the Christmas Holy Nights. They will then be able to feel that already a call is sounding through the world to contemplate the appearance of Jesus, who awaited here on earth that moment when He was to meet death, in order in His spirit-life after death to give a new meaning to mankind and to earth evolution.

My dear friends, let us feel something of this Christmas mood that is to enter our souls from spiritual science! I would like at this moment to begin Christmas solemnly, by expressing the wish—as my soul's innermost holy Christmas greeting—that you may experience the mood of consecration that wills to receive the new Christ-revelation. I assume that you too are beginning Christmas with that earnestness of which I endeavored to speak today, an earnestness appropriate to the present condition of the world. In this spirit, my dear friends, I wish you with all my heart a holy, solemn Christmas!