31 December 1919, Stuttgart
On New Year's Eve it is always fitting to remember how past and future are linked together in life and in the existence of the world, how past and future are linked in the whole life of the Cosmos of which man is a part, how past and future are linked in every fraction of that life with which our own individual existence is connected, is interwoven through all that we were able to do and to think during the past year, and through all that we are able to plan for the coming year.
The thoughts which, almost in answer to an inward need, we call up before our souls in reviewing what we have done during the past year, and what we intend to do next year, should be pervaded with adequate earnestness and dignity, in accordance with the spirit of Anthroposophical Spiritual Science, so that we may illumine these thoughts with the Higher Light which we can receive from Spiritual Science, through contemplation of the great Cosmic events. How does this human life of ours stand with regard to past and future? It is like a mirror. Indeed, comparison with a mirror approaches reality far more than it may seem to do at first. Striving a little to attain self-knowledge is indeed like standing before a mirror. We stand, looking into a mirror and there in that mirror lies the past, of which we know its reflection is in the mirror. Behind the mirror lies that into which at first we cannot look, just as it is not possible to see in space, what lies behind a mirror. Perhaps the question should be raised here: What is it that corresponds in our world-mirror to the silver covering at the back which turns the transparent glass into a mirror? In the ordinary mirror the glass is coated behind so that we cannot see through it. What constitutes the coating of the world-mirror that reflects the past for us, and at first keeps the future hidden from our gaze? The world-mirror is coated with our own being, with our own human being. We have only to bear in mind that with the usual means of knowledge we are really unable to see ourselves, to see what we ourselves are. We cannot see through ourselves, we see through ourselves just as little as we see through a mirror. When we look into ourselves, many things are mirrored back to us, things which we have experienced, things which we have learnt; but our own being remains hidden from us, because we can see through ourselves at first just as little as we can see through an ordinary mirror. Looking at the matter generally, or I might say, in the abstract, we may consider this comparison with a mirror as I have just described it. But when we come to details modifications are needed. Trying to look back on our life through this mirroring process (for looking back on our life, on what our inner soul reflects, is a mirroring process), we must confess: What we see mirrored there, is only a part of our experiences. When you try to look back on your experiences, you will find that these experiences are continually subject to interruptions. You look back on what the day has brought you; but you do not look back on what the preceding night has brought you. The experiences of the night are an interruption. You look back on yesterday, you do not look back on the night before yesterday, and so on. Stretches of nighttime, not filled in by thoughts upon our experiences, are continually inserting themselves. It is an illusion to think that we survey our entire life when looking back upon it; we only piece together to some extent, what the days contain. In reality, the course of our life comes before us with continual interruptions.
We might now ask: Are these interruptions in the course of our life necessary? Yes, they are necessary. Were there no such interruptions in the course of our life, or, to speak more correctly, in the retrospection upon our life's course, then, as human beings, we should be quite unable to perceive our Ego. We should see the course of our life filled merely by the world outside, and in our life there would be no ego-consciousness at all. That we are able to experience, to feel our Ego, depends on the fact that our life's course is continually being broken up piece-wise. It is precisely with respect to this ego-perception, brought about by interruptions in the course of life, that present-day humanity faces a critical period. When a human being of today looks back on life and, as has just been explained, attains his Ego through this looking back, this Ego of present-day man is, in a certain respect, empty, we only know that we have an Ego. In earlier periods of earth evolution men knew more. Just as in ordinary daily life, the dreams of an individual dimly emerge out of his nightly experiences, so the clairvoyant-atavistic perceptions of the human beings of earlier periods emerged out of the Ego. These clairvoyant-atavistic perceptions were dreams only in their form; what they contained was reality. We may say: The Ego of present-day man has been emptied of the clairvoyant-atavistic content which was the support of men of past ages, permeating them with the conviction that they had something in common with a divine element, that they were connected with something divine. Out of these atavistic-clairvoyant visions, there arose in man's sentient life that which condensed into religious feeling and religious veneration towards those beings to whom religious cult and religious sacrifice were dedicated. How does the case stand today? Today the Ego is empty of these atavistic-clairvoyant visions, and when we look back on the Ego it is more or less only a point in our soul-life. The content of this Ego is a firm point of support, but it is nevertheless only a point. Now, however, we are living in an age in which the point must again become a circle, an age in which the Ego must again receive a content. Since the last third of the nineteenth century, the Spiritual World has made a mighty inroad into our Sense-world, in order that the Ego may again receive a content. This is why, ever since the seventies of the nineteenth century, the Spiritual World has willed to re-enter our physical existence through revelations in a new way. What we are striving for in Anthroposophical Spiritual Science is this: To receive with goodwill all that is seeking to enter through spiritual revelation from another world — from a world, however, which bears within it this world of ours — and to clothe these revelations in terms by which they can be communicated to man. These revelations are nothing less than that which definitely (in a certain respect) guarantees the future of mankind. It is not, indeed, a direct glance behind the mirror, but it is a guarantee for this, viz., that when we as human beings, hasten to meet the future i.e., hasten to step behind the mirror — which means facing the future — then that which we have to do in the future will be able to come to pass in full power, if we have first tested our forces, if we have first strengthened them through that, which, by means of Spiritual Science, reveals itself to us out of the Spiritual World.
Just as in the past, man's Ego was filled with an atavistic clairvoyant content, which guaranteed his connection with the divine, so today our Ego must be filled with a new spiritual content, received in full consciousness, a content which gives us again the link uniting our soul with the divine Soul-being. The men of the past possessed an atavistic clairvoyance. The last inheritance of this atavistic clairvoyance is abstract reflection, the abstract power of cognition possessed by modern men. It is a much diluted remnant of the early clairvoyance. The man of today can feel that this dilution, this logical dialectic dilution of a former atavistic clairvoyance, is no longer able to support his soul. Then the longing will arise within him to receive something new into his Ego. But that which has formed the end in the evolution of mankind from primeval times up to the present, must now be made the beginning. In olden times, man had clairvoyant revelations and did not understand them. Today man must first understand, must exert to the utmost his intellectual power, must exert to the utmost his reason. If he so exerts it through that which lies before him in Spiritual Science, then mankind will again develop the power of receiving the Spiritual clairvoyantly. This is certainly something that most people today wish to avoid, viz., to make use of their healthy human reason in order to understand Spiritual Science. Were it possible to avoid the use of man's reason, it would also be possible to avoid altogether the entrance of spiritual revelations into our earthly world.
Thus past and future are linked together on this New Year's Eve, this Cosmic New Year's Day. For today, what is impending is indeed a kind of Cosmic New Year's Day. The future stands before us as a formidable question, not an indefinite abstract question, but as a concrete question. How can we approach that which, as a question put to mankind, in the form of a spiritual revelation, is striving more and more since the last third of the nineteenth century, to enter our earthly world? And how are we to place it in relation to revelations of the past? These questions should be livingly experienced. Then we should feel how important it is to direct our longings towards that which is presented here as Anthroposophical Spiritual Science. Then we should realize the earnestness and the dignity of the striving for Spiritual Science. It is especially needful to have this feeling at the present time. For we are not dealing with any kind of arbitrary human will (“Willkur”); we are dealing with something that as Cosmic knowledge wills to reveal itself to us from out of the world's evolution; we are dealing in very truth with what the gods will to make of man. But here we are faced with the fact that when we on the one hand turn towards the spirit, on the other hand those who wish only to worship the past, are drawn away by the Spirit of contradiction, by the Spirit of opposition. And the more we try with all our might to grasp the spirit of the future state of man, the more surely will the people of the past be possessed by the spirit of opposition. It is to be noticed among people of today that religious feeling is seeking to assume new life. Groping attempts are numerous. The attempts of Spiritual Science must not be groping. Through such attempts the real, concrete world of the Spirit ought to be grasped. Almost like a premonition of what it ought to be, we are faced by those who say: “Mere religious tradition is not enough for us; we want to have an inner religious experience, we do not only want to hear the message that, according to tradition, Christ lived and died in Palestine so many, or so many years ago — we want to experience in our souls the Christ-experience.” In many quarters we find such ideas arising among men, among people who believe that something of the Christ-experience has arisen in the depths of their souls.
These are groping attempts, often even questionable attempts, because at the same time people are content in the egoism of their soul, and then turn away from all inclination to the Spirit. These longings after inner spiritual experience are there nevertheless, and even groping attempts towards such inner spiritual experience, towards a new interest in the spiritual world, should be recognized. But the spirit of opposition will surely arise.
To judge by what he himself has printed, such a representative of the spirit of the past has recently uttered quite remarkable words at Stuttgart, contrasting attempts, groping attempts, to rouse a new religious interest, a new religious experience, with attempts to reach a really new concrete knowledge of the spiritual world, as in the case of Anthroposophical Spiritual Science. In the Shepherd-Play, performed at the Waldorf School, one of the shepherds, who has had a spiritual vision, says that he very nearly lost his power of speech. When I read the last page of Gogarten's Spiritual Science and Christianity, I must say that I very nearly lost my power of speech, for it is indeed surprising that anyone should say such things in the present age. It is things such as this that, on the Cosmic New Year's Eve, should stimulate contemplation of the comparison of the past with the inevitable future. What does this representative of religion really say? I do not know if the full import has been realized. He says: “Today — I ought to say at all times — the chief task is to safeguard the elementary feeling of piety of which I have spoken. It is almost wholly lacking today. We are occupied with religious ‘interests’ with religious ‘experiences’. Since Anthroposophy provides such good material for ‘interest’, and is such a good medium for ‘experiences’, people are helpless and without power of resistance when they meet it. People know even less of that fundamental, elementary bond, the bond brought into life by piety, which drives away every religious ‘interest’, and scatters every religious ‘experience’, the bond between God and creature. And because man knows little of this bond, he knows still less of that other bond, the unconditioned direct union between God and man.”
Here in the name of religion we see every religious interest repudiated, every religious experience scattered. A wholly undefined “bond” which cannot of course be differentiated, and which the speaker does not wish to differentiate, takes the place of religious interest, and of religious experience. We do indeed lose our power of speech when a teacher of religion says: “True piety must drive away every religious interest and scatter every religious experience.” We have gone so far that we are unable to realize what it means when an official representative of religion says: “Away with religious interest! Away with religious experience!” You see, apart from the fact that Gogarten does not know that he himself would be quite unable to speak of religion at all, if in the past there had never been atavistic religious interests and religious experience; apart from the fact that he as official representative of religion, could never have stood before an audience had not religion entered into the evolution of mankind, through religious interest and religious experience; apart from all this, everything I have told you just now proves what I told you before, that in the present day the very people who consider themselves the true representatives of religious life, work for the destruction of all that is essential in religion. Have these men lost every possibility of understanding what pertains to the human soul? Can these men no longer understand that when man turns his attention to anything, attention is guided by interest, and that everything entering the consciousness of man is based on experience? It seems as if human beings no longer speak from such consciousness at all, but only from a spirit of opposition. We should bear this in mind in all seriousness when we look into the mirror which so mysteriously unveils the past and conceals the future — though in a certain way the mirror unveils the future, too, in the way I have described.
It is the aim of Anthroposophical Spiritual Science to serve religious interest, and to give a content to religious experience. With what result? In the course of this year (1919) the question was brought forward before the Holy Roman Congregation whether the teaching that is termed theosophical is in keeping with the teaching of the Catholic Church, and whether it is permissible to belong to theosophical societies, to attend theosophical meetings, and to read theosophical papers and periodicals. The answer was: “No”, in every case, No, “in omnibus”. This is the spirit of opposition, of contradiction, and the Jesuit Zimmermann interprets it more particularly by applying this veto of the Holy Roman Congregation to Anthroposophy also. I need not set Zimmermann's writings before you in detail. You all know the wind that blows from a certain quarter against Anthroposophical Spiritual Science, and that it is the breath of the Spirit of contradiction. The Spirit carried in this wind can be felt in the following words, penned by that same Zimmermann, who for years spread abroad the lie that I was a renegade priest: “Through the defection of their General Secretary, Dr. Rudolf Steiner, who took along with him most of the members, the Theosophical Society picked up again to some extent in the course of years, and now owns about twenty-five lodges, one-fifth of which are certainly somewhat dormant, and publishes at Dusseldorf, as its official organ, Das Theosophische Streben (The Theosophic Endeavour). The followers of Steiner, who named his theosophy ‘Anthroposophy’ after his exit, complained recently that he was becoming unproductive, that he had no new ‘visions’, that he always lectures upon the same things, that he would soon have to throw himself into something new, etc.” This paves the way for another article dealing in the same intelligent fashion with the “Threefold Social Organism”. You see what Spirit of truth backs up this Jesuit? A Jesuit does not merely represent his personal opinion, but the opinion of the Catholic Church. He speaks only as a member of the Catholic Church. What he says represents the opinion of the Catholic Church. We must judge such things from a moral point of view. We must ask whether anyone who deals with truth as this man does — a man, moreover, held in high esteem by a particular religious community, can be held in high esteem by the true spirit of humanity.
As long as questions of this kind are not considered with due earnestness, we have not arrived at the right understanding of the Cosmic New Year's Eve. At the present moment, it is essential to reach this right understanding. It is essential for us to extend our sympathies — alas, our sympathies often arise from egoistic sources — to the great human relations, and to feel for the whole of mankind that human sympathy which impels us to make a spiritual movement like this effectively fruitful for the evolution of mankind. May you experience, my dear friends, at this very time, that it is the Spirit of the Cosmos itself, which for decades has been seeking entrance. May you experience during the coming night, that this Spirit which seeks to enter humanity, shall here so be served that the souls of those, who will to feel with and who will to think with Anthroposophical Spiritual Science, may feel their union with this new Spirit which wills to enter the world — the Spirit which alone can bring to the earthly world, the world that is destroying itself — the new upbuilding impulse out of Heaven. In this hour, a symbolic hour every year, demanding that we experience it as the decisive hour between past and future — in this hour may you unite your souls with the new Spirit; may you so experience in your souls the contact of the past year with the coming year, that the Cosmic Year which is passing away, may contact itself with the dawning Cosmic Year.
But the passing Cosmic Year will still send many an after-effect into the future; destructive forces into the spheres of Spirit, of Equity, of Economics. Therefore it is all the more needful, that as many men as possible shall be seized in the innermost depths of their souls by the New Year of the Spiritual Future, and shall develop a Will which may be the foundation of a new spiritual world, a world to be built into the future evolution of mankind. Those who care for the future of mankind are not those who would kill religious interest, who would do away with religious experience, but those only, those alone who can see how, through the intellectuality of our age, the old religious interest has faded away, the old religious life has been crippled. Those only care for the future, who see how a new interest must seize mankind, how new religious experience must spring up in mankind, so that man may bring into the Cosmos new germs for a future existence.