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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Materialism and the Task of Anthroposophy
GA 204

In this history of the development of human consciousness, Steiner makes the startling announcement that the world has already ended in the fourth century A.D. Since then we have been living in an increasingly spiritual world on a disintegrating, dying earth. We have simply been asleep to this spiritual reality around us.

The seventeen lectures presented here were given in Dornach, Switzerland, between April 2 and June 5, 1921. In the Collected Edition of Rudolf Steiner's works in German, the volume containing the original texts is entitled: Perspektiven der Menschheitsentwicklung (Vol. 204 in the Bibliographic Survey). They were translated from the German by Maria St. Goar.

Lecture I April 02, 1921
Materialism was justified in the nineteenth century; clinging to it generates catastrophes. Knowledge of the material world remains, theoretical materialism must cease. The latter is a reflection of developments in the nineteenth century when the physical body, particularly brain and nervous system, had evolved into perfect replicas of soul and spirit, while the etheric, dream producing force in man had diminished. Moritz Benedikt and thinking that is completely immersed in the physical. Shorthand. Today, physical, structural perfection has passed its zenith.
Lecture II April 03, 1921
Errors in mere thinking and errors rooted in actuality. The latter, for example theoretical materialism, can have a beneficial side for mankind. Structural forces of the head are recognized by imagination; those of rhythmic system by inspiration, those of metabolic system by intuition. The nature of imagination; essence of reflective thinking; objective perception. Knowledge and death.
Lecture III April 09, 1921
Prior to Aristotle, process of acquiring speech was still comprehended; hence, instinctive awareness that the soul-spiritual element resounding in the word is identical with the one that, having created nature in the world, has become silent; also insight into pre-existence, still earlier, into reincarnation. Path leading from fading out of ancient word-comprehension to abstract spirituality of logic and concept: logic of Aristotle; “nous” of Anaxagoras; “idea” of Plato; Logos teaching of Gnosticism; Logos and Christianity; Gospel of John. Fourth century A.D. final loss of Logos knowledge. Conscious reattainment through anthroposophy.
Lecture IV April 15, 1921
Until the fourth century A.D., a form of Oriental astronomy and medicine prevailed, acquired from a cosmic wisdom that instinctively understood the etheric domain. This wisdom also flowed into cultic life. Image of the Mithras cult; Christianity. Dionysius the Areopagite; further advance of ancient wisdom reaching to Basilius Valentinus, Jacob Boehme and Paracelsus. Since Constantine and Justinian the Egypto-Roman “principle of determination” penetrates association between truth and the word; it cuts off any comprehension of Christianity based on pre-Christian wisdom.
Lecture V April 16, 1921
Transition in the fourth century A.D. Nature of Greek culture, its tragedy. The Occident pushes the wisdom of ancient Greece and the Mithras cult back into the Orient. For the religious life of the northern nations, factual narration of the events of Palestine remains, also dogmas of the ecumenical councils necessary for strengthening of I. The wisdom of the Orient penetrates Europe in Arabism only as an intellectual culture. In some European souls, the mystery of bread and wine is revived and with it that of ancient astronomy and medicine. Its reality, concentrated in the Grail Mystery, hovers over Western world turned materialistic; it can only be discovered through inner questioning by the individual. Titurel. External crusades to Jerusalem are renewed materialistic distortion of this search.
Lecture VI April 17, 1921
The Oriental mind dwelt in spiritual world and based on it had to comprehend material realm. Europeans live in material world and based on it must seek to understand spiritual domain. Transition from one to the other in Greek culture. Gnosticism's problem to comprehend Christ in Jesus. Suspension of this struggle due to nationalized Roman Christianity. “Humanization” of Christianity in Europe. The Heliand epic. Insensibility regarding higher wisdom. Search for the Grail. Danger of being caught up in materialism since fifteenth century. Soloviev's call for Christianized state. Forces that hinder path of spiritual activation; love of evil.
Lecture VII April 22, 1921
Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophical development and tragedy as struggle against forces of decline and a symptom of degree of spirit alienation during last third of nineteenth century. Image of man, meaning of earth life and nature of Christianity cannot be grasped any longer even by Nietzsche; their distortion in the concept of “superman,” the “eternal return of the same” and the “Antichrist.”
Lecture VIII April 23, 1921
Measure, number, weight: examples of the loss of self and reality in a humanity on the way to abstraction. Well into the second post-Atlantean epoch, numbers were still experienced as qualities possessing living being, received from cosmic totality by the astral body and imprinted into etheric body. In third post-Atlantean epoch, measure was experienced as the force proceeding from etheric body that forms the physical body according to cosmic relationships; until the first, weight was sensed as primal experience between I and astral body, perceptible to mankind as condition of balance between being fettered to earth and soaring upward. Last remaining aftereffects of these qualities only in art.
Lecture IX April 24, 1921
The nineteenth century as culmination in history of abstract spirituality and materialism since fourth century. Dogma and ritual. Formerly: life in the body that thus experienced cosmic spirituality; today: life in the spirit that turns to matter and fails to recognize itself. Different in Leibnitz's case. The power of comprehending spiritual scientific concepts that the modern intellect can create out of itself as possibility for transforming and enlivening of rigid and inwardly indolent intelligence. The three forms of indolence: neo-Catholicism, which preserves the old content in dogmas, Protestantism with its compromise between tradition and intellect, and enlightened intellectualism without spiritual content. Future polarization into Catholic traditionalism and spiritually awakening intellectuality.
Lecture X April 29, 1921
Necessity of reaching the goal of each given level of evolution in individual life as well as that of humanity. Goal of the fourth epoch was development of intellectual soul; on basis of etheric body's activity, man awakened from cosmic sensing to cosmic reason. Since fifteenth century, etheric activity has completely impressed itself into physical body, thinking turned into human, subjective shadow images, causing separation into merely logical thinking and a will left to its own devices and bound to desires and instinct. Overcoming of this separation, for example, in Jesuitism. Necessity in the twentieth century of bringing reality into shadowy thinking by way of the human I so that it can dwell in transforming manner in the social and economic world that has turned chaotic.
Lecture XI April 30, 1921
Significance of the year 1840 as point in time of actual dawning of consciousness soul. In the various cultures, this dawning encountered different older forms of consciousness: in England, a state of mind resembling ancient Homeric Greece; in France, a partial legacy of the Latin intellectual soul culture; in Italy, a portion of the ancient sentient soul culture; in central Europe, a legacy from the fourth century A.D. In Eastern Europe, this process has largely been slept through. Oswald Spengler's Prussianism and Socialism.
Lecture XII May 01, 1921
The two main streams of nineteenth century: formally juristic Roman Catholicism on the part of the Latin nations with their spiritual and ideological struggles and, arising out of social and industrial practices, the economic mode of thinking of the Anglo-Saxons with their problems of power. Both streams are ultimately rooted in Persian culture, Catholicism in the Ormuzd worship, the Anglo-Saxon element in Ahrimanic initiations. Joseph de Maistre, the knowledgeable and brilliant representative of ancient Catholicism; his battle against the spirit coming into vogue since fifteenth century. The necessary counterbalance and renewal through a free spiritual life. Goethe's insight concerning this; his reaction to debate between Cuviers and Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire.
Lecture XIII May 05, 1921
Earthly man's connection with the planetary forces. As late as the fourth post-Atlantean epoch, awareness of the ego development's link with sun; necessity today to regain this insight. Polarity of sun and moon forces in structure of earthly man. Differentiation of forces as noted through the process of eating: effects of earthly forces, the circumference, moon, and sun forces. Further differentiation of planetary influences in astral body: besides the sun, Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars are effective in “upper” man; in “lower” man, besides the moon, Mercury and Venus. Constellation and earthly birth.
Lecture XIV May 13, 1921
Materialistic science and spiritual science as spiritual-cosmic events between moon's exit and return. The spirit of natural science could give rise to a new kingdom of nature between mineral and plant in the form of shadowy, living spider beings that cover the earth in web-like fashion during the latter's reunification with moon and lunar life. Humanity would thereby be cut off from world's life and spirituality. Cultivation of spiritual science facilitates arrival from other planets of spiritual beings who are striving to come to earth since the end of the nineteenth century; their activity becomes possible only by way of a thinking that grasps living, ensouled elements. Path to this transformation: unification of clear thinking with artistic perception in a science that simultaneously will become art. Goethe's teaching of morphology; his “Hymn to Nature”; Nietzsche's picture of the valley of death.
Lecture XV June 02, 1921
John Scotus Erigena's thinking, an expression of a developmental metamorphosis between ancient visionary and intellectual thinking. The aftereffects of “negative theology” by Dionysius the Areopagite and Origen on the age of Scotus. The four parts of the book De divisione naturae: the doctrine of God, doctrine of the hierarchies, spirit doctrine of nature and man, eschatology; no thoughts as yet on a social doctrine. Erigena's thinking: still spiritual reality, already abstract concepts. Mirroring of the knowledge of earlier cultural epochs in first three parts of the book but not in chronological sequence; the fourth part: striving of intellect at that time to comprehend Christianity and future of humanity. Since fifteenth century this flows into the groundwork of natural science. The contradiction of our age that actually dwells in refined spirit but as to its contents has become increasingly materialistic.
Lecture XVI June 03, 1921
World decline and world dawn. Erigena between old and new thinking. The Gospel of John as testimony that Christ, the Logos, is creator of earthly realm. In antiquity, the “Father principle” held sway: man experienced himself in body and blood as the image of the divine Father as represented in the tribal father of the generations; God and Spirit held sway in earth and moon forces. First three parts of Erigena's book tie in with this. Early Christian knowledge concerning the nature of Father forces and Christ force. The Gospel of John. Transition from pre-Christian blood sacrifices to offering of bread and wine. The end of the world as decline of ancient, body-bound spirit force took place in the fourth century. By degrees, it always appears again in human consciousness; the mood of the crusades; Alfred Suess; Oswald Spengler. Possibility of renewal based on real spirit perception.
Lecture XVII June 05, 1921
Transition in the fourth century from the viewpoint of the changing life of the body; illness and healing. Egypt: the body as part of earth's totality; necessity of maintaining the body in harmonious relationship with earth's four elements; its shape, the work of art by the I that is independent of birth and death. Greece: the corporeal life as expression of the soul-spiritual on this side which was experienced as being almost identical with the living, sculpturing system of fluids; the four kinds of fluids in the human being. Rome: soul feels itself bound up in earthly existence. The reflection of these transformations in development of the seven sciences, from living revelation to abstraction. Entry of Christianity. Julian the Apostate. Constantine. Justinian. Displacement of living knowledge to East (Gondishapur). Battle of consciousness between Avicenna and Averroes to comprehend the I based on Aristotelianism as opposed to Germanic direction. The task of anthroposophy.