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The Mystery of the Trinity
Part 1: The Mystery of Truth
GA 214

Lecture II

28 July 1922, Dornach

In various and complicated ways, we have already seen that the human being can only be understood within the context of the entire universe, out of the whole cosmos. Today we will consider this relationship of the human being to the cosmos from a rather simpler standpoint in order to bring the subject to a certain culmination in later lectures.

The most immediate part of the cosmos surrounding us is, to begin with, what appears to us as the physical world. But this physical world actually comes to meet us as the mineral kingdom, at least it confronts us only there in its intrinsic, primal form. Considering the mineral kingdom in the wider sense to include water, air, the phenomena of warmth and the warmth ether, we can study within the mineral kingdom the forces and the essential being of the physical world. This physical world manifests its workings, for instance, in gravity and in magnetic and chemical phenomena. In reality we can only study the physical world within the mineral kingdom. As soon as we come to the plant kingdom, the ideas and concepts we have formed for the physical world are no longer adequate. In modern times no one has felt this truth as intensely as Goethe.15Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832), German poet and thinker. Published Metamorphosis of Plants in 1790; in this book he shows the leaf as the primeval organ of the plant out of which all other plant organs evolved. As a relatively young man he became acquainted with the plant world from a scientific point of view and sensed immediately that the plant world must be understood with a very different kind of thought and observation than is applicable to the physical world. He encountered the science of plants in the form developed by Linnaeus.16Karl von Linne (Linnaeus) (1107–1778), Swedish naturalist, father of modern systematic botany. This great Swedish naturalist developed botany by observing, above all, the external and minute forms to be found in the individual species and genera. Following these forms he evolved a system in which plants with similar structural characteristics are grouped into genera, so that the various genera and species stand next to each other in the same way as the objects of the mineral kingdom are organized. Goethe was repelled by this aspect of the Linnaean system, by this grouping of individual plant forms. This, said Goethe to himself, is how one observes the minerals and everything of a mineral nature. A different kind of perception must be used for plants. In the case of plants, said Goethe, one would have to proceed in the following way: Here, let us say, is a plant which develops roots, then a stem, then leaves on the stem, and so forth (drawing 1). But it does not always have to be that way. For example, Goethe said to himself, it could be like this (drawing 2):

Here is the root—but the force that in the first plant (drawing 1) began to develop right in the root is held back here (drawing 2), still enclosed in itself, and therefore does not develop a slender stem that immediately unfolds its leaves but a thick bulbous stem instead. In this way the forces of the leaves go into the thick stem structure and very little remains over to start new leaves or, with time, blossoms. Or again, it may be that a plant develops its roots very sparingly; some of the forces of the roots are left. Such a development would look like this (drawing 3):

Then there would be few stalk and leaf starts developing from the plant. All these examples are, however, inwardly the same. In one case the stem is slender and the leaves strongly developed (drawing 1); in another (drawing 2), the stem becomes bulbous and the leaves grow sparingly. The basic idea is the same in all the plants but the idea must be kept inwardly mobile in order to be able to move from one form to the other. Here I must create this form: weak stem, distinct leaves, concentrated leaf force (drawing 1). With the same idea I get a second form: concentrated root force (drawing 2). And again with the same idea I find another, a third form. And so I must create a flexible, mobile concept, through which the whole system of plants becomes a unity.

Whereas Linnaeus set the different forms side by side and observed them as he would observe mineral forms, Goethe, by means of mobile ideas, wanted to grasp the whole system of plant growth as a unity—so that he slipped out of one plant form, as it were, into another form by metamorphosing the idea itself. This kind of observation with mobile ideas was, in Goethe, doubtless the initial impulse toward an imaginative way of observing. Thus we may say that when Goethe approached the system of Linnaeus, he felt that the usual object-oriented way of knowing, although very useful when applied to the physical world of the mineral kingdom, was not adequate for the study of plant life. Confronted with the Linnaean system he felt the necessity for an imaginative means of observation.

In other words, Goethe said to himself: When I look at a plant it is not the physical that I see or, at any rate, that I should see; in a manner of speaking, the physical has become invisible, and I must grasp what I see with ideas very different from those applicable to the mineral kingdom. It is extraordinarily important for us to appreciate this distinction. If we see it in the right way we can say that in the mineral kingdom nature is outwardly visible all around us, while in the plant kingdom physical nature has become invisible. Of course, gravity and all the other forces of physical nature are still at work in the plant kingdom; but they have become invisible while a higher nature has become visible—a higher nature that is inwardly mobile all the time, inwardly alive. What is really visible in the plant is the etheric nature. And we are wrong if we say that the physical body of the plant is visible. The physical body of the plant has actually become invisible. What we see is the etheric form.

How then does the visible part of the plant really come into being? If you have a physical body, for instance, a quartz crystal, you can see the physical in an unmediated way. But with a plant you do not really see the physical, you see the etheric form. This etheric form is filled out with physical matter; physical substances live within it. When the plant loses its life and becomes carbon in the earth you see how the substance of physical carbon remains. It is contained in the plant. We can say, then, that the plant is filled out with the physical but dissolves the physical through the etheric. The etheric is what is actually visible in the plant form. The physical is invisible.

Thus the physical becomes visible for us in the mineral world. In the world of the plants the physical has already become invisible, for what we see is really the etheric made visible through the agency of the physical. We would not, of course, see the plants with our ordinary eyes if the invisible etheric body did not carry within it little granules (an overly simplified and crude expression, to be sure) of physical matter. Through the physical the etheric form becomes visible to us; but this etheric form is what we are really seeing. The physical is, so to speak, only the means whereby we see the etheric. So that the etheric form of a plant is an example of an Imagination, but of an Imagination that is not directly visible in the spiritual world but only becomes visible through physical substances.

If you were to ask, what is an Imagination?—We could answer that the plants are all Imaginations, but as Imaginations they are visible only to imaginative consciousness. That they are also visible to the physical eye is due to the fact that they are filled with physical particles whereby the etheric is rendered visible in a physical way to the physical eye. But if we want to speak correctly we should never say that in the plant we are seeing something physical. In the plants we are seeing genuine Imaginations. We have Imaginations all around us in the forms of the plant world.

But if we now ascend from the world of plants to that of animals, it is no longer sufficient for us to turn to the etheric. Here we must go a step further. In a sense we can say of the plant that it nullifies the physical and makes manifest the being of the etheric.

Plant: nullifies the physical and manifests the being of the etheric.

But when we ascend to the animal, we are not allowed to hold onto the etheric; we must imagine the animal form with the etheric now also nullified. Thus we can say that the animal nullifies the physical (the plant does this too) and also nullifies the etheric: the animal manifests that which can assert itself when the etheric is nullified. When the physical is nullified by the plant the etheric can assert itself. If then the etheric too, is only a filling, granules (again, a crude expression), then the astral, which is not within the world of ordinary space but works in ordinary space, can make its being manifest. Therefore we must say that in the animal the being of the astral is made manifest.

Animal: nullifies the physical, nullifies the etheric, and manifests the being of the astral.

Goethe strove with all his power to acquire mobile ideas, mobile concepts, in order to behold this fluctuating life in the world of the plants. In the plants the etheric is before us because the plant, as it were, drives the etheric out onto the surface. The etheric lives in the form of the plant. But in animals we must recognize the existence of something that is not driven to the surface. The very fact that a plant must remain at the place where it has grown shows that there is nothing in the plant that does not come to the surface and make itself visible. The animal moves about freely. There is something in the animal that does not come to the surface and become visible. This is the astral in the animal, something which cannot be grasped by merely making our ideas mobile, as I explained previously, by merely showing how we move from form to form in the idea itself. This does not suffice for the astral. If we want to understand the astral we must go further and say that something enters into the etheric and is then able, from within outward, to enlarge the form—for example, to make the form nodular or tuberous. In the plant you must always look outside for the cause of the variation in form, for the reasons why the form changes. You must be flexible with your idea. But the merely mobile is not enough to comprehend the animal. To comprehend the animal you have to bring something else into your concepts. If you want to understand how the conceptual activity appropriate for understanding animals must differ from that for plants, then you need more than a mobile concept capable of assuming different forms; the concept itself must receive something inwardly, must take into itself something that it does not contain of itself. This something could be called Inspiration in the forming of concepts. In the organic activity that takes place below our breathing we remain in the activity, so to speak, within ourselves. But when we breathe in, we receive the air from outside; so too if we would comprehend the animal we not only need to have mobile concepts but we must take into these mobile concepts something from the “outside.”

Let me explain the difference in another way. If we really want to understand the plant, then we can remain standing still, as it were; we can regard ourselves, even in thought, as stationary beings. And even if we were to remain stationary our whole life long we would still be able to make our concepts mobile enough to grasp the most varied forms in the plant world. But we could never form the idea, the concept of an animal, if we ourselves could not move about. We must be able to move around ourselves if we want to form the concept of an animal. And why?

When you transform the concept of a plant (drawing 1) into a second concept (drawing 2) then you yourself have transformed the concept. But if you then begin running, your concept becomes different through the very act of your running; you yourself must bring life into the concept. That infusion of life is what makes a merely imagined concept into an inspired concept. When it is a plant that is concerned, you can picture yourself inwardly at rest and merely changing the concepts. But if you want to think a true concept of an animal (most people do not like to do this at all because the concept must become inwardly alive; it wriggles within) then you must take the Inspiration, the inner liveliness, into yourself, it is not enough to externally weave sense perceptions from form to form. You cannot think an animal in its totality without taking this inner liveliness into the concept.

This conception of the animal was something which Goethe did not achieve. He did reach the point of being able to say that the plant world is a sum total of concepts, of Imaginations. But with the animals something has to be brought into the concept; with the animal we ourselves have to make the concept inwardly alive. In the case of a plant the Imagination is not itself actually living. This can be seen from the fact that as the plant stands in the ground and grows, its form changes only as the result of external stimuli, and not because of any inner activity. But the animal is, in a manner of speaking, the moving, living concept; with the animal we have to bring in Inspiration, and only through Inspiration can we penetrate to the astral.

When, finally, we ascend to the human being we have to say that he nullifies the physical, the etheric, and the astral and makes the being of the I manifest.

Humanity: nullifies the physical, nullifies the etheric, nullifies the astral, and manifests the being of the I.

With an animal we must say that what we see is really not the physical but a physically appearing Inspiration. This is the reason why, when the inspiration or breathing of a person is disturbed in some way it very easily assumes an animal form. Try sometime to remember some of the figures that appear in nightmares. Very many of them appear in animal forms. Animal forms are forms filled with Inspirations.

The human I we can only grasp through Intuition. Truly, in reality, the human I can only be grasped through Intuition. In the animal we see Inspiration; in the human being we actually see the I, the Intuition. We speak falsely when we say that we see the physical body of an animal. We do not see the physical body at all. It has been dissolved away, nullified, it merely makes the Inspiration visible to us; and the etheric body has likewise been dissolved away, nullified. With an animal we are actually seeing the astral body externally by means of the physical and the etheric. And with the human being we perceive the I or ego. What we actually see there before us is not the physical body, for it is invisible—and so too are the etheric body and the astral body. What we see in a human being is the I externally formed, formed in a physical way. And this is why people appear to visual, external perception in their flesh color—a color found nowhere else, just as the I is not found in any other being. Therefore, if we want to express ourselves correctly, we should say that we can only completely comprehend the human being when we think of him as consisting of physical body, etheric body, astral body, and the I. What we see before us is the I, while invisibly within are astral body, etheric body, and physical body.

Now, we really only comprehend the human being if we consider the matter a little more closely. What we see to begin with is merely the “outside” of the I. But the I is perceptible in its true form only inwardly, only through Intuition. But something of this I is also noticed by the human being in his ordinary, conscious life—that is, in his abstract thoughts which the animal does not have because it does not have an I. The animal does not have the ability to abstract thoughts because it does not have an I. Therefore, we can say that in the human form and figure we see externally the earthly incarnation of the I; and when we experience ourselves from within, in our abstract thoughts, there we have the I. But they are merely thoughts; they are pictures, not realities.

If now we consider the astral body, which is present although nullified, we come to the member that cannot be seen externally but that we can see if we look at a person in movement and out of their movements begin to understand their form. Here we need to practice the following kind of observation: Think of a small, dwarflike, thickset person who walks about on short legs. You will understand his movement if you observe his stout legs, which he thrusts forward like little pillars. A tall, lanky man with very long legs will move very differently. Observing in this way you will see unity between movement and form. You can train yourself to observe this unity in other aspects of human movement and form. For example, a man with a forehead sloping backward and a very prominent chin moves his head differently than someone with a receding chin and a strikingly projecting forehead. Everywhere you will see a connection between the form and movement of a human being if you simply observe him as he stands before you and get an impression of his flesh, of its color, and of how he holds himself when in repose. You are observing his I when you watch what passes over from his form into his movements and back again into his form.

Study the human hand sometime. How differently people with long or short fingers handle their tools. Movement passes over into form, form into movement. Here you are visualizing, as it were, a shadow of the astral body expressed through external, physical means. But, you see, as I am describing it to you now, it is a primitive inspiration. Most people do not think of observing people who walk about, as, for example, Fichte walked the streets of Jena.17Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814), German idealist philosopher. Important for the development of anthroposophy. See Rudolf Steiner: Truth and Science and The Riddle of Man. Anyone who saw Fichte walking through the streets of Jena could also have sensed the movement and the formative process which were in his speech organs and which came to expression particularly when he wanted his words to carry conviction although they were in his speech organs all the time. Inspiration, at least in an elementary form, is required in order to see this.

But when we see from within what we have thus seen from without, which I have told you is perceptible by means of a primitive kind of inspiration, what we find is, in essence, the human life of fantasy permeated with feeling. It is the realm where abstract thoughts are inwardly experienced. Memory pictures, too, when they arise, live in this element.

Seen from without the I expresses itself, for example, in the flesh color but also in other forms, for example, in the countenance. Otherwise we would never be able to speak of a physiognomy. If, for example, the corners of one's mouth droop when one's face is in repose, this is definitely connected karmically with the configuration of one's I in this incarnation. Seen from the inside, however, abstract thoughts are present here. The astral body reveals itself externally in the character of the movements, inwardly in fantasy or in the pictures of fantasy that appear to the human being. The astral body itself more or less avoids observation, the etheric body still more so.

The etheric body is really not visible from outside, or at most only becomes visible in physical manifestation in very exceptional cases. It can, however, become externally visible when a person sweats—when a person sweats the etheric body becomes visible outwardly. But you see, Imagination is required in order to relate the process of sweating to the whole human being. Paracelsus18Paracelsus (1493–1541), Renaissance alchemist, doctor, and philosopher. Cf. Rudolf Steiner: Mysticism at the Dawn of the Modern Age, Origins of Modern Science (Lecture Eight). was one who made this connection. For him, not only the manner but the substance of the sweat differed in individual human beings. For Paracelsus, the whole human being—the etheric nature of the entire human being—was expressed in this way. Generally speaking, then, there is very little external expression of the etheric. Inwardly, on the other hand, it is experienced all the more, namely in feeling. The whole life of feeling, inwardly experienced, is what is living in the etheric body when this body is active from within, so that one experiences it from within. The life of feeling is always accompanied by inner secretion. To observation of the etheric body in the human being it appears that the liver, for instance, sweats, that the stomach sweats—that every organ sweats and secretes. The etheric life of the human being lives in this process of inner secretion. Around the liver, around the heart, there is a cloud of sweat, all is enveloped in mist and cloud. This needs to be understood imaginatively. When Paracelsus spoke about the sweat of the human being he did not say that it is only on the surface. He said rather that sweat permeates the whole human being, that it is his etheric body that is seen when the physical is allowed to fall away from sight. This inner experience of the etheric body is, as I have said, the life of feeling.

And the external experience of the physical body—this, too, is by no means immediately perceptible. True, we become aware of the physical part of human corporeality when, for example, we take a child into our arms. It is heavy, just as a stone is heavy. That is a physical experience; we perceive something which belongs to the physical world. If someone gives us a box on the ears there is, apart from the moral experience, a physical experience, too—a blow, an impact. But as something physical it is actually only an elastic blow, as when one billiard ball impacts another. The physical element must always be kept separate from the other, the moral element. But if we go on to perceive this physical element inwardly, in the same way we inwardly perceive the external manifestation of the life of feeling, then in the merely physical processes we experience inwardly the human will. The human will is what brings the human being together with the cosmos in a simple, straightforward way.

You see, when we look around us for Inspiration we find it in the forms of the animals. The manifold variety of animal forms is the basis for our perceptions in Inspiration. You will realize from this fact that when Inspirations are seen in their pure, original form, without being filled with physical corporeality, that these Inspirations can then represent something essentially higher than animals. And they can, too. But Inspirations that are present in the spiritual world in their pure state may also appear to us in animal-like forms.

In the times of the old atavistic clairvoyance people sought to portray in animal forms the Inspirations that came to them. The form of the sphinx, for example, was intended to create a picture of something that had been seen in Inspiration. We are dealing, therefore, with superhuman beings when we speak of animal forms in the purely spiritual world. During the days of atavistic clairvoyance—and this continued in the first four Christian centuries, in any case, still at the time of the mystery of Golgotha—it was no mere symbolism in the ordinary sense, but a genuine inner knowledge that caused men to portray, in the forms of animals, spiritual beings who were accessible to Inspiration.

It was in complete accordance with this practice when the Holy Spirit was portrayed in the form of a dove by those who had received Inspiration. How must we think of it today when the Holy Spirit is said to have appeared in the form of a dove? We must say to ourselves: Those people who spoke in this way were inspired, in the old atavistic sense. They saw him in this form as an Inspiration in that realm of pure spirit where the Holy Spirit revealed himself to them.

And how would the contemporaries of the mystery of Golgotha who were endowed with atavistic clairvoyance have characterized the Christ? Perhaps they had seen him outwardly as a man. To see him as a human being in the spiritual world they would have needed Intuition. And people who were able to see his I in the world of Intuition were not present at the time of the mystery of Golgotha. That was not possible for them. But they could still see him in atavistic Inspiration. They would, then, have used animal imagery, even to express Christ. “Behold the Lamb of God!” was true and correct language for that time. It is a language we must learn to understand if we are to grasp what Inspiration is, or to see, by means of Inspiration, what can become manifest in the spiritual world. “Behold the lamb of God!” It is important for us to recognize once again what is imaginative, what is inspired, and what is intuitive, and thereby to find our way into the language that echoes down to us from olden times.

In terms of the ancient powers of vision this way of language presents us with realities. But we must learn to express such realities in the way they were still expressed, for example, at the time of the mystery of Golgotha, and to feel that they are justified and natural. Only in this way will we be able to grasp the meaning of what was represented, for example, over in Asia as the winged cherubim, in Egypt as the sphinx, and what is presented to us as a dove and even as Christ, the Lamb. In ancient times Christ was again and again portrayed through Inspiration, or better said, through inspired Imagination.