How Can Mankind Find the Christ Again?
VI. Transformation of the Human Being in the Course of Evolution
29 December 1918, Dornach
Someone may think that the events described in connection with initiation are conjured up, as it were, by initiation itself. This would be particularly incorrect for our time. What can be described as the process of initiation, especially in our time, takes place in the soul, or in the relation of the soul to the world, for the majority of people in the world today. And they know nothing of it; it occurs unconsciously. The important fact, then, in connection with initiation is this: that some individual notices in himself an increasing consciousness of something that takes place in most other people unconsciously. That is, the difference between the initiate and the non-initiate lies in the perception of processes that most people of the present time experience as a matter of course but unconsciously. Therefore, when speaking of these things we are really speaking of something that concerns everyone more or less, especially in our time.
Now I have said that from the very description of these events — that is, of what may be perceived when they are carefully followed by initiation science — from the description itself can be learnt what transformations man has gone through in the course of his development, even in historic times. We have pointed out a few features of these transformations, especially in relation to the evolution of Christianity. In our external daily life only the outer reflection of these changes is noticed, a reflection that is really hardly comprehended even by one who wants to understand and is developing the impulse in himself toward understanding.
Let us consider this outer reflection, for example, in the development of the Christ concept during nearly two thousand years since the Mystery of Golgotha. If you are trying sincerely to understand, you will surely find much that is incomprehensible and you will have many questions calling for answers, unless you are willing to be superficial or to accept blindly some kind of dogma. But if you persevere, you will learn — it can even be learnt from external history — that when the Christ Impulse entered the world, a certain luminous remnant of the Gnosis still existed; and in the early centuries an effort was made to understand the Christ Impulse and its passage through the Mystery of Golgotha by the help of concepts acquired from gnosticism. These concepts contained much relating to things entirely alien to present-day concepts that come from the external world. They had much to say of the evolution of the world, of the place of Christ in this evolution, of what led to His descent to humanity and His union with the human being. Much was said also about the return of Christ to the spiritual world, which then was the beginning of the spiritual earth-world. 15“which then was the beginning of the spiritual earth-world”: original German, “die dann die geistige Erdenwelt ist.” In short, what the Gnosis had to say about the Mystery of Golgotha was contained in illuminating — broadly illuminating — comprehensive conceptions, the heritage of the primeval wisdom of mankind. The Church saw to it in the early centuries that the concepts of the ancient Gnosis should disappear, leaving only meager remnants that tell very little. And I have indicated to you that people are endeavoring today, wherever possible, to declare a certain world conception heretical, because it is becoming inconvenient, by saying that its intention is to warm up the ancient gnosticism—by which they think they are saying something very dreadful!
Then in place of this conception of the Mystery of Golgotha there appeared another one, which recognized the fact that human concepts were becoming more and more primitive, that people were no longer able to bring to life within themselves anything of the comprehensive and illuminating teachings of the Gnosis. I told you that what remained of the Gnosis forms the beginning of the Gospel of Saint John: really nothing more than a suggestion that the Christ has some connection with the supersensibly-perceptible Logos, the Cosmic Word; that the Christ as such is the Creator of all that surrounds man, of all that man experiences. But for the rest, nothing remained but the Gospel narratives; these, to be sure, are found to contain much gnostic wisdom when they are penetrated by spiritual science, but they were not interpreted according to the Gnosis. In fact, in the early centuries they were entirely withheld from believers, reserved for the priesthood only. But from them a sort of world conception was built up that included the Mystery of Golgotha, but that was based upon the increasingly abstract ideas of the so-called cultured world — ideas with little tendency toward the spiritual. People wanted, I might say, more and more simple concepts, whose comprehension required little effort. That is the reason also for the peculiar development that has come about in Gospel interpretation. While in the earliest centuries people were fully aware that the Gospels were to be interpreted out of spiritual depths, the effort was made more and more to regard them as mere narratives of the earthly life of that Being concerning Whose cosmic connection nothing more was to be admitted — at least through human knowledge — than the beginning of the Gospel of Saint John and a few abstractions such as the Trinity abstraction and similar ones. These were culled from abstract forms, from the ancient gnostic concepts, divested of their gnostic impulse, and given to the faithful as dogma. Interpretation of the Gospels became more and more primitive. They were to become increasingly a mere narrative concerning that Being called Christ Jesus Who lived here on earth, but about Whose nature from higher, supersensible points of view people troubled themselves very little.
Then it became more and more urgent to make the Gospels also available to the public; and out of this, Protestantism arose. At first this too held fast to the Gospels. And as long as a connection with the Gospel of John still existed, a connection of knowledge, there was still a sort of bond uniting individual souls with cosmic heights — heights into which one must look if one wishes to speak of the real Christ.
But now not only the understanding for Saint John's Gospel disappeared more and more, but even any inclination toward it. The consequence was that a true relation to the Christ Impulse, to that Being Who lived in the body of Jesus, was altogether lost for later Protestantism, in fact, for all thinking Christendom. The Christ concept gradually faded away, since, to begin with, its interpretation was limited to a human narrative of the earthly destiny of Christ Jesus. The possibility completely vanished of having any concept of the Christ at all, because the subject was brought more and more into a materialistic channel. The human Jesus remained. Thus the Gospels were increasingly taken as mere descriptions of the human life of Jesus; and then the belief in immortality, in the divine nature, and so on, was attached to this description in very abstract form. (I spoke about the concept of belief yesterday.) It is not surprising that it gradually came about that people knew very little when the concept “Christ Jesus” was brought up. Christ was placed on one side, so to speak, and Jesus on the other, as synonyms signifying the same thing. 16Rudolf Steiner, 29 Nov. 1921, Jesus oder Christus (Dornach, Rudolf Steiner Verlag, 1980). Not translated. And what was the inevitable consequence? It was this, that finally this description of the mere earthly life of Jesus, from which all consciousness of his connection with the Christ had vanished, also lost the essence of Jesus himself; in fact, it lost all connection with the beginnings of Christianity. For when people gradually reduced everything to the merely material Gospels, to nothing but these material Gospels, they reached the so-called Gospel criticism. And that could lead to no other result than to show that the Mystery of Golgotha and all that is related to it cannot be proved historically, because the Gospels are not historical documents. Finally the connection was lost with Jesus himself. Nothing could be proved, in the way proof is regarded by modern science. And since science was the authority, people — even theologians — gradually lost the Jesus-concept, because there are no external, historical, authenticated records.
Harnack, who is a Christian theologian, even a leading one at the present time, has said: All that can be written historically about Jesus (the Gospels are not historical records) could be written on half a page… But even what can be written on half a page — the passage from Josephus, and so forth — does not hold up before modern historical research; so there is nothing left with which to prove the starting-point of Christianity. Those who have followed the development of Christianity with modern thinking could have taken no other path than that which finally led humanity away from Christ Jesus, even from Jesus.
This emphasizes the necessity for seeking another path, a path of supersensible knowledge such as can be sought only through the modern spiritual life. For modern Gospel criticism and modern historical research can easily be brought forward to oppose all other ways of approaching the Christ Jesus today. They are in accord with the scientific conscience of our time, and cannot support the establishing of any historical event as the starting-point of the evolution of Christianity. Indeed, we have experienced in our time the strangely grotesque fact that Christian pastors (though Protestants, to be sure) such as Pastor Kalthoff in Bremen, have considered it their task to deny the Mystery of Golgotha altogether as historical fact, and to trace back the origin of Christianity to certain ideas that arose from the common social attitude of humanity at the beginning of the Christian era. Although Kalthoff was a Christian pastor, his preaching did not rest upon an historical Christ as the basis of his world conception or his interpretation of life. He believed that an idea had simply developed in people's heads from premises that heads contained at the beginning of the Christian era. Christian pastors without belief in a real Christ Jesus are the inevitable result. This could not have been otherwise, for it is connected with all the evolutionary impulses of which I have been speaking during these days, especially yesterday.
It is absolutely necessary to keep in mind that the way to Christ Jesus in our time must be by a supersensible path, that this can only be pursued by a science which itself seeks supersensible methods, but which employs the scientific conscience of modern natural science.
With regard to the modern method of finding a super-sensible path even to the Christ, it is well to bear in mind that up to our day transformations have occurred and have developed in the science and knowledge of initiation. For this reason I would like to allude once more to something to which I referred here a short time ago, but from a different point of view.
We know very well in connection with these things that there needs to be understanding for the great change that occurred in more recent evolution, toward the beginning of the fifteenth century and particularly in the fifteenth century, although it was in preparation earlier than that. This is actually passed over in silence by external history. For us it marks the beginning of the fifth post-Atlantean period, which replaced the fourth, the Greco-Latin period.
Now the problem has arisen for external science (although only among a few of the more intelligent scholars), to provide an explanation for what is usually spoken of merely as the appearance of the Renaissance — and thereby characterized in a most superficial way — of the Renaissance which played its role with elemental power throughout the cultured world from the twelfth century into the fifteenth. A strange impulse, a strange longing — mentioned even by materialistic scholars — arose in the human beings themselves, that cannot be explained by external causes, but simply showed that some elemental force was heaving and surging in mankind to bring them to a certain state of soul.
It is interesting and important to note the following: In the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries we are still concerned with the expiring Greco-Latin period. Then the change came. At this point, then, something special had to become manifest; and what external science has discovered is exactly what did become manifest. Science took account not so much of the change as of the gradual fading-out during the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth centuries of the soul-state that had been characteristic of the fourth post-Atlantean epoch. Science considered this very carefully, recognizing various riddles it presented. While the Renaissance was coming into being — the usual description of it stops with the external factors — something of extraordinary significance was taking place in the soul of European humanity. It was noticed that something must be dying out. Certain things were still experienced in the soul which after a time would have to be experienced differently. There was a feeling that humanity had to hurry to experience these things if they wanted to keep step with evolution, for later, after the change, they would no longer be able to experience them.
It is this to which I referred at the beginning of today's lecture. What is occurring now subconsciously — when recognized, it is the process of initiation — is something constantly taking place, as I have said, in the vast majority of people. Through observation of the precept “Know thou thyself!”, a few individuals really succeed in becoming conscious of these things. There is a great difference between this event now and what took place in the human soul as an experience of the Mysteries in the fourth post-Atlantean epoch, a greater difference than there was, for example, between that of the fourth epoch and that of the third epoch. A few days ago I characterized for you approximately what happened in the third post-Atlantean period when a neophyte passed through the "gate of man," then through the second stage, then the "gate of death," then still further until he became a “Christophorus.” These events, as I described them to you, occurred subconsciously, and then through initiation could be brought up into consciousness in the great majority of people in the third post-Atlantean epoch. But for the people of the fourth post-Atlantean epoch the entire process had already become different. Actually it was not yet so very different in the first third of this new epoch, preceding the Mystery of Golgotha. (The fourth period began, as you know, in 747 B.C., and the Mystery of Golgotha occurred at about the end of the first third of it.) But then began a time — the Mystery of Golgotha was now an accomplished fact—a time in which a more significant change occurred in what took place in the subconscious, which could then be raised to consciousness through initiation. Up to the time, approximately, of the Mystery of Golgotha, in order to attain initiation and to pass through all the stages, it was necessary (with only a few exceptions) for a man to be chosen by one of the priest-sages connected with the Mysteries, who could make this choice by virtue of a certain discernment. This necessity gradually disappeared after the Mystery of Golgotha; initiation, although still oriented to the ancient Mysteries, was nevertheless adapted to the new conditions. There have always been Mysteries of this sort, which later passed over into the modern secret societies, where for the most part ancient ceremonies and processes of initiation are imitated, but only in abstract symbols, and they no longer affect people. Real initiation is less and less attained in them, because people do not penetrate to an experience of what is simply displayed symbolically before their eyes. There did occur, however, more and more extensively — and characteristically, just at the end of the fourth post-Atlantean epoch — initiations which were directed, I might say, from the spiritual world itself; that is, initiations in which the choice of the individual to be initiated was not made by a priest, but by the spiritual world itself. Naturally, it then had the appearance of being a self-initiation, because the guiding being was a spirit and not a man. (Of course, a man is a spirit too, but you know what I mean.) Thus, especially toward the end of the fourth post-Atlantian epoch, initiations very often took place under such direct spiritual guidance. I have previously pointed out that the initiation experienced in this way by Brunetto Latini, 17Brunetto Latini: 1220–1294 A.D. See Rudolf Steiner, 13 July 1924, Karmic Relationships Vol. III, GA 236 (London, Rudolf Steiner Press, 1977) the teacher and master of Dante, is to be understood as a real initiation.
You see, what Brunetto Latini related as an external occurrence of the greatest importance appears to be a tale of fiction, though a tale with a legendary character. But Brunetto Latini intended it as a description of his initiation. He describes it in somewhat the following way, and you can see how his experiences affected the whole composition and imaginative form of Dante's great poem, "The Divine Comedy." Brunetto Latini was ambassador from his native city, Florence, to the King of Castile. He tells how he was making the return journey from his ambassador's post and learned as he was approaching his native city that his party, the Guelphs, had been defeated; therefore all that had bound him to Florence had in a sense been undermined, and in his external relations he suddenly felt no ground under his feet. When such an experience is described by a man of the Dante period, we must not think of present-day conditions or of contemporary points of view. In this respect our soul-constitution has changed enormously. If in our day someone in Switzerland learns that the city of Cologne, for example, with which he has been connected for a long time, suddenly has entirely new world-relations, is governed on an entirely new basis, he does not feel — at least inwardly — that the ground has been taken from under his feet. But we must not form mental pictures of that time from our present state of mind. For a man like Brunetto Latini it was like the end of the world. His position in the world was conditioned by his connection with the world-relations of his native city. That was gone, as he learned when he approached Florence. The world in which he had worked simply no longer existed. After calling attention to these facts, he relates further that he was led into a wood, that by spiritual guidance he was brought out of the wood and led to a mountaintop which was surrounded by the whole of creation, so far as it was known to him. We perceive immediately what Brunetto Latini wishes to indicate. He had gone through life in such a way that at a certain moment when a shocking event confronted his soul, his soul-spiritual entity separated from his physical body: he went out of his physical body. He had a spiritual experience. You have here the intervention of a spiritual guide who led this man into the spiritual world, according to his karma, at a moment when he was so startled, so spiritually shocked, that the shock was able to separate his soul-spiritual entity from his physical body. Then Brunetto Latini describes how the created universe was spread out around the mountain, and how a gigantic feminine figure appeared to him on the mountain, at whose command and direction the creation round about the mountain changed and assumed other forms. We notice that Brunetto Latini speaks of this feminine figure in the way that Persephone was spoken of in the old Mystery initiations. Now the conception of Persephone had undergone a change between the time of ancient Greece and the end of the Greco-Latin period. Brunetto Latini did not describe her as the ancient Greek poets had described her, but as she existed in human souls at the end of the Greco-Latin age. Nevertheless, we may compare what an ancient Egyptian heard in initiation as the description of Isis, and what a Greek heard as the description of Persephone, with what Latini relates of this feminine figure at whose command the forms of creation transform themselves. Strong similarities are to be found here. In fact, anyone who merely observes superficially will surely assert that what Brunetto Latini says about the feminine figure and what the ancients say about Persephone is exactly the same. But it is not the same. If you look more closely, you will notice that when the ancient Greeks spoke of Persephone, or the Egyptians of Isis, they were more concerned with a description of something permeating all that is at rest, all that is enduring. Brunetto Latini's concern was to describe how a certain force, a certain impulse — the Isis impulse, the Persephone impulse — as the impulse of Natura (for that is what his figure is called) pervades everything, but in a way that sets it in motion, that constantly transforms it. That is the great difference.
When Brunetto Latini saw everything changing, saw creation being transformed at the command of the Goddess Natura, the impulse was given him to practice self-knowledge in the new way—not in the easy way described by modern mystics, but in concrete details. He describes how, after beholding this ever-changing creation, he next saw the world of the human senses. He gradually learned to know the human being from without. There is a difference whether we see and describe the external world which our senses perceive in ordinary consciousness, or describe what happens in the senses, that is, what takes place within the human being. For with our ordinary consciousness we do not enter into the inner life of the senses: we only see the outer world. When we look at the senses within, we cannot describe the outer world, for we no longer see it.
In the paintings of the larger dome here in our building, 18Rudolf Steiner, Ways to a New Style of Architecture, GA 161 (New York, Anthroposophic Press, 1927). I have tried in a way adapted to our time — I will say more about this presently — to bring to effective expression this viewing of the inner being of man from the sense-world. The paintings will give you an idea of what is meant by “Know thou thyself!” in the realm of the senses. You will see clearly, for instance, that on the west side of the dome an effort has been made to capture the inner eye, the microcosmic element revealed in the inner eye. It is not what the eye sees outwardly, nor the physical part of the eye, but what is experienced inwardly when we are within the eye with soul-vision. This, of course, is only possible when we refrain from the ordinary use of our eyes as organs of external sense-perception, and perceive what is within them in the same way that at other moments we perceive the outer world through them.
Brunetto Latini experienced this somewhat differently, not as it must be experienced today. He mentions it only briefly. Then he continues to penetrate from without into the essentially human within, and reaches the four temperaments. Here one learns to know man in a different way. One learns how man is affected by the interaction of melancholic, choleric, phlegmatic and sanguine impulses, and how people are differentiated externally when one of these four impulses predominates. Thereby one penetrates more deeply through the realm of the senses into the inner human being. The difference between observation of the sense realm and observation of the temperaments is that when we observe the sense realm the separate regions of the senses are sharply distinguished from one another; but through the temperaments we enter more deeply into the essentially human, where more of the universal nature of man is revealed.
An attempt was made in the painting in the little dome to show at least one part, I might say, of this perception, but only one part of it, with orientation in definite directions, but again adapted to the supersensible perception of our present time.
This is the way man must press forward. You see, Brunetti Latini describes his initiation step by step. Spiritual guidance underlies it. Next he arrived in a region where a man can no longer truly distinguish himself from the outer world. When he observes the realm of his senses and the realm of the temperaments, he can still make the distinction very well; but in this next region he can do so only slightly. There his being mingles with the outer world, so to speak: it is the region of the four elements. Here he experiences his own weaving within earth, water, fire, and air: how he lives with these in the universe. He no longer distinguishes very clearly between his subjective self and the outer objective world. At most he still experiences a distinction with regard to the earthly element, but with the watery, fluid element, he feels already that he is swimming in a sort of All. There was still a difference between subjective and objective, but much less definite in the experience of the temperaments than in that of the physical sense organs. Of the latter he knows that they exist in man only in the physical world, not also outside it.
Brunetto Latini then describes how he went on into the region of the planets and passed through it. Afterward he came to the ocean, reaching a place that various mystics designate as the Pillars of Hercules. Now that the precept “Know thou thyself!” had brought him to the Pillars of Hercules, he went out beyond them. He was now prepared to receive enlightenment about the supersensible world. For the mystic, especially the mystic in that time of which I am now speaking, the Pillars of Hercules are the experience through which a man goes out of himself more completely than through the four elements or the planets. He enters the outer spiritual world, whose concrete beings reveal themselves only at the third stage of initiation. In the first stage, which Brunetto Latini is describing here, he enters the spiritual world as a widely extending ocean, a universal spirituality.
Latini then goes on to tell how a strong temptation came to him — inevitable, of course, at this point. He describes it very concretely: how he was faced with the necessity of forming new conceptions of good and evil, because what had enlightened him about them while he was in the sense world was useless here. He then tells how he reached these new conceptions and thereby became a different man, how he became a participant in the spiritual world from experiencing all these things. We see quite clearly from his description how at that time, the end of the Greco-Latin period, the human being was led by a spiritual being out of the physical world into the supersensible world.
Let us keep this description in mind. Even in the external development of humanity it had the immensely significant effect of inspiring Dante, Latini's pupil, for the Divina Commedia. If we remember that what Latini described was a typical initiation, that he actually described what was taking place in the subconscious of humanity at that particular time, and that it could also be attained through a real initiation, then we will understand what existed as soul-constitution when the fourth post-Atlantean epoch was dying out.
Now it will be important to ask what changes have occurred since, within a rather brief space of time. For what I have described is not very far in the past, only a few centuries. In this short period, what changes have taken place in the experience that humanity goes through subconsciously, which rises up into consciousness through initiation? Certainly, my dear friends, the higher the stages of initiation that a man attains, the more do the important elements of the earlier stages disappear from his vision. But one must carefully consider what is significant in the first stages. For these first stages represent precisely what is taking place in the depths of the majority of human souls, even though they neither know it nor have any desire to know it through spiritual science, not to mention initiation. It is very important to give attention to the following example: I said that Brunetto Latini describes how he was brought before the Goddess Natura. Then he passed through certain stages: through the senses, the temperaments, the elements, the planets, the ocean. There, at the Pillars of Hercules, he was already at the boundary of the essentially human. Then, in the ocean, he passed over into what was spread out before him. And now there was not even the condition that had prevailed with the elements, when he could not distinguish himself. Now he had lost himself, in a certain sense, and simply floated in the ocean of existence.
The Pillars of Hercules later play a prominent role in symbolism as the pillars of Joachim and Boaz. 19Joachim and Boaz: from “Jachin” and “Boaz,” words inscribed on the two columns at the front of Solomon's Temple. See the Old Testament, I Kings, Chapter 7; I Chronicles, Chap. 3; and Rudolf Steiner, Bilder Okkulter Siegel and Saülen, GA 284/285 (Dornach, Rudolf Steiner Verlag, 1977). In this connection it should be noted that in the secret societies of the present time these pillars can no longer be erected in the right way. They should no longer be erected, because the correct way is only revealed in a truly inwardly-experienced initiation. Besides, they cannot be set up in space, as they are revealed in reality when the human being leaves his body.
In what has now been given, you have the pattern — if I may use a prosaic expression — the pattern of events experienced at the turn of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, experienced also by those who went through initiation in the same way as Brunetto Latini, the teacher of Dante. This may be compared with what takes place today in the depths of men's souls. And indeed, it is not so very different. If, however, an individual in our time should wish at the first stage of initiation to approach the created universe directly, as revealed to him by the still-existing, gigantic feminine figure, the Goddess Natura, and should wish to be under her guidance, then his supersensible path only begins in the created universe.
If an individual in our time should wish to enter into the senses directly, he would be very much in the dark in this realm. He would not have proper illumination, and would be unable to distinguish anything adequately. The point is that today it is necessary to go through another experience before approaching the sense-region, for only this makes it then possible to penetrate into the sense-region in the right way. I mentioned this experience yesterday. It consists simply in the ability to see the spiritually ideal as external reality in the metamorphosis of forms in this world. Thus, before entering into the sense-region one should endeavor to study the metamorphosis of forms in the outer world. Goethe gave only the first elements, but he did provide the method. As I have said, further study of the metamorphosis which Goethe discovered with regard to plants, and with regard to the skeleton in the animal kingdom, reveals the fact that our head points to our previous earth-life and our limb-organization to our coming earth-life. Thus, a necessary preparation for initiation at the present time is the ability not to think of the world as a finished static formation, but to see in whatever form lies before us an indication toward another form.
At the very beginning of my book, Knowledge of the Higher Worlds, you will find the essential facts for developing this kind of perception in the way best suited to our time. If you follow the instructions given there correctly, you will have the experience when you meet another human being that something like a picture of his previous incarnation will flash out of his head to you. You cannot help sensing in his head something of the form of his previous incarnation. If you follow him as he walks and notice how he puts his feet down and swings his arms, or if you are facing him and observe the gestures of his arms and hands, you will get a feeling of the way his body will be built in the next incarnation. Therefore I often said in public lectures years ago: the idea of repeated earth lives is really not so bad that materialism needs to oppose it so vigorously. If only a few things were understood about the human form, the idea of repeated earth lives would not make materialism bristle with opposition. For these things are obvious. If you are a phrenologist, for example — not by profession, but with experienced insight — then by means of the skull you are really inquiring into the form of the previous incarnation; it is quite obviously the previous incarnation. We must of course extend the metamorphosis aspect, the metamorphosis view of life into this region. We must acquire—I have often spoken of this from the social point of view — such a strong interest in the individual human being that something of a sense of his former incarnation flashes out of his skull to us. This is because the skull is in a certain sense the transformed human being of the earlier incarnation, especially with regard to the forms of the face and head. Thus we acquire a view of the world that does not stop at one form. Just as Goethe did not stop at the blossom or at the green leaf, but related one to the other, so we may gain a perception that does not stop at the single form, but proceeds from form to form, with attention upon the metamorphosis.
I sought to arouse a feeling for this by applying it to our work on the pillars in the Goetheanum: in the transition from one capital to the next and on to the succeeding ones, and in the successive development of the architraves. It was all carved according to this principle of metamorphosis. Whoever looks at the sequence of the pillars in this building of ours, will have a picture of the flexible soul-attitude one must maintain toward the outer world. If someone will complete this first step which is necessary for present humanity, and which will still be necessary for a long time for future humanity, if he will find his way to a real, inner understanding of the emergence of the second column from the first—in pedestal, capital, and architrave, of the third from the second, and so on, then in this understanding he will have a starting-point from which to press forward (in accordance with present possibilities) into the inner nature of the sense-region. Thus, something connected with the present principle of initiation is preserved below in the pillars; and above in the domes, something else is connected with it. From this point, things proceed somewhat differently.
At the time of Brunetto Latini, then, a man was spared what we shall call here the metamorphosis of life, after which one enters the region of the senses. If we presented the matter in outline, we might say: in Brunetto Latini's time a man could still enter directly into the eye (let us take the eye as representative), and feel this to be the first region. Today, we have first to concern ourselves with what envelops man. The metamorphoses of life are expressed in the sheath that covers the region of the senses externally. It lies in front of the senses and we must consciously pass through it.
Also today, the human being passes through the regions of the senses, the temperaments, the elements, and the planets. Then, however, before he goes through the Pillars of Hercules into the open ocean of spirituality, he confronts a barrier. Here, (see tabulation below) something stands in the way, something is introduced that in Brunetto Latini's time did not need to be experienced.
Metamorphosis of life
+ Instrument for orientation (Compass)
This is not easy to describe because, of course, these things belong to intimate and subtle realms of human experience. Yet perhaps it may be done by referring again to Brunetto Latini. Latini experienced, as the first sign of his guidance by a spiritual being, the information that his native city was ruined. That was, to be sure, an event that affected Latini's inner being; nevertheless, it was external as to the facts involved. It invaded him from the outer world. It shocked him so greatly that his soul-and-spirit being left his physical body. Later he described the event as something that entered his life, something that happened in his life. We may say that he described it, though not consciously, as an event of destiny that came to him.
Such an event, or a similar one, must be experienced today in full consciousness by anyone undergoing initiation. (You will find reference to this at the proper place in my book, Knowledge of the Higher Worlds.) But it must be an inner experience for him: not one in connection with the external world, as in the case of Brunetto Latini, but an experience he goes through inwardly, something that has a deeply transforming effect upon him. There are, of course, such events in the lives of the majority of people, but they get scant attention. Someone who truly observes his life will be able to see that there are events in it of the utmost significance, and especially one such event. Just try to look back upon such a happening in your life, not for its outer significance but for the inner change it produced. There is one thing to which attention should really be given: that is, that such events in people's lives are not taken seriously enough. They could be felt much more profoundly; they could have a far deeper and more noticeable effect in life than they do have today. A human being can reach a deeper understanding of many things in his life, simply through a kind of general thoughtfulness. If he maintains the usual human attitude, he will not get beyond a certain superficiality in his experiencing of events of the very greatest importance. For their full import cannot really be recognized by the ordinary consciousness. The human being must first go through the other stages; after he has experienced the metamorphosis of life, the regions of the senses, the temperaments, the elements, and the planets, then — having become a radically changed human being — he penetrates to his real depths. For now he has recognized that he belongs not only to the earth but to the heavenly worlds, to the planetary regions. Only now will he rightly recognize the significance of certain experiences he has had, which were of the very first importance. Only now will he understand what such an experience signifies for himself and for the world. When he has gone through all this, he will inevitably discover the most important event of his life.
When he arrives at this place, before going out into the wide ocean of spirituality, unless he is a marked egotist and knows nothing else in the world but himself, he cannot fail to consider seriously this earlier happening. Before he goes out into the ocean of spirituality, this event appears before his soul in full force — it simply thrusts itself upon him. And at this point in his inner experience it has extraordinarily great significance. It means that only now can he go out into the immeasurable ocean of spirituality. It means that through this experience he can attain a certain center of gravity. I mean to say: After he has recognized himself as a citizen of the planetary world, if — in present spiritual conditions — he should simply launch out into the ocean of spirituality, he would find himself in a sea of surging waves, would nowhere feel sure of himself, would be tossed about in all kinds of spiritual experiences, would have no inner center of gravity. He must find this inner center of gravity by really experiencing with inner intensity the most important event of all, and in it inwardly experiencing himself. This will not as a rule take place in a realm of mere egotism, but will be of general human significance. It can be said today, if we express the facts quite exactly: the most momentous event in a man's life, the one that while it is being experienced affects the profoundest depths of his being, must come before him at the Pillars of Hercules before he passes through them. At this point in his life he feels a very special deepening of his being. Something comes over him of which we may say that it brings the objective world into his inner being. Something comes to him that can be described as follows: Even though, in spite of this experience, he may naturally fall back occasionally into an acceptance of life in the light of his ordinary consciousness, even though he may not be able to maintain at every step in his life this newly created soul-mood, yet, once it has been experienced, there will be moments again and again connected with it. For it would not be at all good for the human being to lose this soul-mood entirely after having once experienced it. What is meant by this mood may be characterized in somewhat the following way.
In this matter, dear friends, we should be honest and admit that for our ordinary consciousness it does hold good that, however selfless a man may be, still the most important things for him, at least relatively, are those that occur inside his skin. What occurs inside one's skin is more important for our ordinary consciousness, as a rule, than what occurs outside of it. But the soul-mood that is to be created at one's entrance to the ocean of spirituality, so that it may be retained at least for the important moments of life, is the realization that there may be external things which do not concern the person subjectively at all, but in which he participates just as intensely as in the things that do concern him subjectively. Today an individual has abundant opportunity to prepare himself well, if he will, for the soul-mood indicated. For if he enters into a true understanding of nature — not a subjective study or anything of the kind — if he tries to start from this true understanding, then much of the mood is already created. But it must be produced at this stage in the way I have described. Then if the individual can have this mood, if he can experience deeply the most important event of his life just as it happened, then at least for many moments in his life he can have this mood of objectivity that I have described, in which something external can be as important to him as something within himself, in which it is true that something outside can be as important as something within. (Many persons make this assertion but they are deceiving themselves.) In attaining this, however, the individual has at the same time acquired a center of gravity, a direction — perhaps I could better say, a compass, that will enable him really to push out on the ocean of spiritual life. That is to say, at this point ( + in the tabulation) there must occur what may be called becoming equipped with the instrument for direction. Thus a man enters the Pillars of Hercules equipped with the instrument for orientation, the compass. Only then — that is, after he has had more experience — can present-day man start out toward spirituality.
You can see from the instances I have described — the initiation of Brunetto Latini, and the changes in initiation up to our time, changes which will prevail for a long period — you can see that if we want to present the nature of man in the light of initiation science, it is even possible to present it as it is undergoing the process of transformation during short periods. But all that is so described is really happening within man. This is the important fact characterizing the change that the human soul-mood has been undergoing in the course of these centuries. But people fail to notice this and only a reflection of it is to be seen in external life. In the age of Brunetto Latini, whose pupil was Dante, people were the same kind of Christians as Dante: the whole heavenly world passed through their souls when they felt themselves to be true Christians. In our age there is no such forward jump; we hardly move. We must therefore have the experience of a region before that of the senses, before we go out again — so that we may enter the region we had formerly known from outside, but now enter it in a different way: before detaching ourselves further from the body, enter the region changed in our being, and taking our direction from a new instrument. The outer reflection of this process has been so altered in our time that the most thoughtful people, the very ones who are equipped with the scientific consciousness of our time — which, however, lacks this compass, really does not have it — these people have lost the Christ Jesus. He can no longer be "proved" by the means that are today called scientific. And religion itself, the Christian religion, has sunk into materialism. One of the most telling examples of the tendency toward materialism in Roman Catholicism has been the establishment of the dogma of infallibility, a purely materialistic measure. I spoke of this some time ago.
Now you might say: In spite of all that, if one looks into the inner being of man, the jump forward can be seen! Man is indeed in his essential being somewhat outside the region of the senses; but on the other hand he has a sort of cavity in which the most important event of his life unconsciously exerts an influence upon his whole organism, so that his experience can then be such as I have described. For although a man may be totally unaware of it, it does have an influence upon him, and it can come to expression in the most varied ways. Perhaps one person, seven years after experiencing this event, will become an intolerable fellow, or commit all sorts of infamous deeds; another may fall in love — he need not do so immediately; or the falling in love may itself be the most important event; a third may suddenly have gall stones; and so on. When the event remains in the unconscious, the fact can come to expression in everyday life in the most diverse ways. What enters into the consciousness in the way I have described appears thus in the inner being of man; in outer life it appears in such a way that besides much else (I mention only one result) he loses the Christ Jesus.
You may say: Then what appears in the inner man to a certain extent as something flowing inward from his body, has outwardly anything but a gratifying result! This, however, is only apparent. Everything in the world has two sides. From about the middle and during the last third of the nineteenth century there was theoretical materialism: the big fellow Vogt of Geneva, Moleschott, Ludwig Büchner — these were all theoretical materialists. Clifford was the first to express the opinion that the brain exudes thoughts just as the liver exudes bile. That is, Clifford saw in the formation of thoughts a purely material process: as bile comes from the liver, so thoughts come from the brain. That materialistic age saw only matter, but at least they thought about matter. They thought about matter, and we can look at this in two ways. In our time we can read the books of Clifford, of Ludwig Buchner, or if you like, August Comte, Vogt of Geneva, and so on. If we develop likes or dislikes from such reading, we may be fearfully angry that people see in the creation of thoughts only an excretion of the brain, and we may take it very much to heart. Very well, if we are not materialists, we may feel that way. But we may also look at it differently. We may say to ourselves: Nonsense! what Clifford and Comte and Vogt of Geneva, what they've all said about the world is tommyrot; I am not interested in it. But I will look into what goes on in the thinking process itself of Vogt and Clifford and Comte. What they tell of their thoughts — for instance, that thoughts are merely exuded from the brain as bile is from the liver — that is plain tommyrot! I shall not concern myself with what Vogt says, but with the way he thinks. If we can do that, something remarkable comes to light. We see that the kind of thinking those persons have developed is the germ of a very far-reaching spirituality. The thoughts are so terribly thin in substance because they are only reflected images, as I explained day before yesterday. They are thinner than thin because they are only images. They are so tenuous that the man must exert a tremendous spirituality to think at all, and to prevent his thoughts from sinking down and being laid hold of by the merely material element of existence. As a matter of fact, thinking is very frequently laid hold of by this material element nowadays; it does sink down. I am even convinced that the majority of today's materially-minded people, if they had not been drilled in school, and had not crammed at the universities to pass exams, and had not swallowed materialism because their professors required it as the correct world conception — I am convinced that the majority of these people would then have been spared the thinking that must be employed for the materialistic world-view. They would much rather not think! Most of them would rather go to the duelling-grounds or to fraternity jamborees than use their minds. And they simply repeat what they have heard. If you would once make the attempt to study all of the genuine, recognized “wisdom” relating just to matter written by the Monists — as the materialists now call themselves rather elegantly, who as members of monistic societies go about the world making long speeches — if you would study what they have actually thought, you would find it is precious little! For the most part they merely repeat what others have said. Actually only a few authorities have established materialism; the rest only repeat — for the simple reason that a vigorous effort of the spirit is necessary to sustain modern scientific thinking. The effort is a spiritual one, and is truly not exuded from the brain as bile is from the liver. It is a spiritual effort, and a good preparation for rising to spiritual things. To have thought honestly in a materialistic way, but to have done this thinking oneself, is good preparation for entrance into the spiritual world.
I expressed this once in a lecture in Berlin, by saying that someone who only reads Haeckel's books — unless he notices much that can easily be read between the lines — quickly recognizes in him, of course, a materialist of the first water. But if he talks with Haeckel, he notices that all his thinking, so far as it is materialistic, only assumes this form really on account of the prejudices of the times; that even as Haeckel is now, his thinking already tends toward the spiritual. I said in that lecture: We understand Haeckel correctly, therefore, when we know that theoretically, as it were, he has that materialistic soul, but that he has another soul, one that tends toward the spiritual. Here among ourselves I can say that in the next incarnation that soul will quite certainly be reborn with a strong spirituality. The stenographer who was officially employed by us for that lecture, a typical professional stenographer, wrote that I had said Haeckel had a spiritistic soul in spite of materialism!
You see, what I want to point out is that we may certainly combat what appears as a materialistic mode of thought; indeed, it cannot be combated strongly enough, for in the very combat lies a further development toward the spiritual. But this mode of thought does contain the essence of spirituality. And with souls who today, merely under the influence of external theology, have come to a Christ concept that is totally external, or one that is utterly untrue, there are faculties developing in a spiritual direction, faculties that will impel these souls to seek a Christ concept in the future. This is not to be taken as an invitation to ease! We are not to say: Oh, well, then it will come in time, the spiritual view will come all right, for the big Vogt fellow and Clifford and the others have made good preparation. Those who know the darkness that materialism signifies must work together to combat it. For the strength used in this fight is necessary to build up the disposition to spirituality in the theoretical materialists.
You see how complicated things are, what different sides they have. Only when we try through initiation science to penetrate into the depths of the world, do we acquire a profound knowledge of the human being. Only then do we penetrate to what is working in the depths of human nature.