The Mystery of the Trinity
Part 1: The Mystery of Truth
29 July 1922, Dornach
Yesterday I tried to show you how a simple way can be found to envisage the human being's relationships to the cosmos in terms of body, soul, and spirit. Through the way in which I concluded yesterday's lecture by building up to certain imaginative pictures, I wanted to draw attention to certain things. I wanted to show how in such an imaginative picture as that of Christ as the Lamb of God, inspired Imaginations are truly and correctly expressed. I wanted to show that in the times when such pictures were formed, when indeed they were voiced with complete understanding and used for the life of the human soul, a real consciousness was present of how the human being works upward from his ordinary consciousness to conscious experiences in his soul, experiences that connect him to the spiritual world. I have drawn your attention to the fact that in the first four Christian centuries what we could call the Christian teaching still carried the impression that it was everywhere based on a real perception of the spiritual, that even the secrets of Christianity were presented as they could actually be seen by those who had developed their soul life to a vision of the spiritual. After the fourth century A.D., understanding of direct expressions of the spiritual faded away from ordinary consciousness more and more. And with contact between the Germanic peoples from the north and the Latin and Greek peoples of the south during those early days of growth for Western culture we see how these difficulties of understanding constantly increased. We must be fully aware that in the times immediately following the fourth century, people still looked with reverent devotion at those imaginations from earlier times in which Christian views were presented. Tradition was revered, and so too were the pictures that had come down to posterity through tradition. But the progressing human spirit continued to take on new forms. Therefore, the human being was led to say: Yes, tradition has handed down to us pictures such as the dove for the Holy Spirit and the Lamb of God for Christ himself. But how are we to understand them? How do we come to understand them? And out of this impossibility, or rather, out of the faith that was born with the conviction of the impossibility of the human spirit's ever achieving perception of the spiritual worlds through its own powers, there arose the Scholastic doctrine that the human spirit can achieve knowledge of the sense world by its own power, can also reach conclusions directly derived from concepts of the sense world, but that the human being must simply accept as uncomprehended revelation what can be revealed to him of the super-sensible world.
But this, I would like to say, twofold form of faith in the human soul life did not develop without difficulties. On the one hand there was knowledge limited to the earthly, while on the other hand there was knowledge of the super-sensible attainable only through faith or belief. Nevertheless, it was always felt, although more or less dimly, that the human being's relationship to super-sensible knowledge could not be the same as it was in olden times. Concerning this feeling, people said to themselves in the first period after the fourth century: In a certain sense the super-sensible world can still be reached by the human soul, but it is not given to all to develop their souls to such a height; most people have to be content with simply accepting many of the old revelations.
As I said, people revered these old revelations so much that they did not wish to measure them against a standard of human knowledge that no longer reached up to them. At least, people did not believe that human knowledge was capable of rising to the level of revelation. The strict Scholastic doctrine concerning the division of human knowledge was actually only accepted gradually; indeed it was not until the tenth, eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries of the Middle Ages that this Scholastic tenet was fully admitted. Until that time there was still a certain wavering in peoples' minds: Could it be possible after all to raise this knowledge, which human beings could achieve at this late date, up to the level of what belongs to the super-sensible world?
The triumph of the Scholastic view meant that, in comparison with earlier times, a mighty revolution had taken place. You see, in earlier times, say, in the very first Christian centuries, if someone had struggled through to Christianity and then approached the mystery of divine providence, or the mystery of the transubstantiation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, he would have said: This is difficult to understand, but there are people who can develop their souls so that they understand these things. He would have said: If I assume the omniscience of the Godhead, then this omniscient being must actually also know whether one human being is damned for all time or whether another will enter into blessedness. But this — such a person might have said — hardly seems to agree with the fact that people need not, inevitably, sin. And that if they sin they will then be damned; that if they do not sin they will not be damned; that no one will be damned if they do penance for a sin. One must say, therefore, that a person, through the way he or she conducts their life, can either make themselves into one of the damned through sin or into one of the blessed through sinlessness. But again, an omniscient God must already know whether an individual is destined for damnation or blessedness.
Such would have been the considerations of someone so confronted in the earliest Christian centuries. However, in these early Christian centuries that person would not have said: Therefore I must argue whether God foresees the damnation or the blessedness of a human being. He or she would rather have said: If I were initiated I would be able to understand that although an individual may or may not sin, God knows nevertheless who will be damned and who will be blessed. Thus would someone living in the first centuries of Christendom have spoken.
Similarly, if someone had told that person that through transubstantiation, through the celebration of the Eucharist, bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ, he would have said: I don't understand that but if I were initiated I would. For in olden times a person would have thought: What can be observed in the sense world are mere appearances; it is not reality: the reality lies behind, in the spiritual world. As long as one stands in the sense world, in this world of illusions, it is a contradiction to say that someone can either sin or not sin and that the omniscient God nevertheless knows in advance whether an individual will be damned or blessed. But as soon as someone enters the spiritual world it is no longer a contradiction. There one experiences how it can be that God, nevertheless, sees ahead. In the same way, a person would have said: In the physical world of sense it is contradictory to say that bread and wine — which in outward appearance remain the same — become the body and blood of Christ after the transubstantiation. But when we are initiated we will understand this, because then, in our soul lives we are within the spiritual world. Thus would people have spoken in olden times.
And then came the struggles in human souls. On the one hand the souls of human beings found themselves more and more separated, torn away from the spiritual world. The whole trend of culture was to grant authority to reason alone, and reason, of course, did not reach into the spiritual world. And out of these struggles developed all kinds of uncertainties concerning the super-sensible worlds. If we study the symptoms of history we can find the points at which such uncertainties enter the world quite starkly. I have often spoken of the Scottish monk Scotus Eriugena, who lived in France at the court of Charles the Bald during the ninth century. 19John Scotus Eriugena (c. 810–877), Neoplatonizing Celtic Christian philosopher. Cf. Rudolf Steiner, Riddles of Philosophy, Occult History, Origins of Modern Science. At court he was regarded as a veritable miracle of wisdom. Charles the Bald, and all those who thought as he did, turned to Scotus Eriugena in all matters of religion and also of science whenever they wanted a verdict. Now the way in which Scotus Eriugena stood opposed to the other monks of his time shows how fiercely the battle was then raging between reason, which felt itself limited to the world of sense, along with a few conclusions derived from that world, and the traditions that had been handed down from the spiritual world in the form of dogmas. Thus in the ninth century we see two personalities confronting one another: Scotus Eriugena and the monk Gottschalk, 20Gottschalk of Orbais, Benedictine monk, also at Fulda. Caused great controversy with teachings on the predestination of the elect. Condemned for heresy by the Synod of Mainz (848). who uncompromisingly asserted the doctrine that God has perfect foreknowledge of an individual's future damnation or blessedness. This teaching was gradually embodied in the formula: God has destined one portion of humanity for blessedness and another for damnation. The doctrine was formulated as Augustine himself had formulated it. Following his teaching of predestination, one part of humanity is destined for blessedness, another part for damnation. 21Cf. St. Augustine, City of God, Books XII, XIII. And the monk Gottschalk taught that it is indeed so: God has destined one portion of the human race for blessedness and another for damnation, but no portion is predestined for sin. Thus, for external understanding, Gottschalk was teaching a contradiction.
In the ninth century the strife was extraordinarily fierce. At a synod in Mainz, for instance, Gottschalk's writing was declared heretical, and he was scourged because of this teaching. However, although Gottschalk had been scourged and imprisoned on account of this doctrine he was able to claim that he had no other desire than to reaffirm the teaching of Augustine in its genuine form. Many French bishops and monks, in particular, realized that Gottschalk was not teaching anything other than what Augustine had already taught. And so a monk such as Gottschalk stood before the people of his time teaching from the traditions of the old mystery knowledge. However, those who now wished to understand everything with the dawning intellect were simply unable to understand and therefore contested his teaching. But there were others who adhered more to reverence for the old and were decidedly on the side of a theologian like Gottschalk.
It is extremely difficult for people today to understand that things like this could be the subject of bitter strife. When such teachings did not please parties with authority their author was publicly scourged and imprisoned even though he might be, and in this case was, eventually vindicated. For it was precisely the orthodox believers who ranged themselves on the side of Gottschalk, and his teaching remained the orthodox Catholic doctrine. Charles the Bald, because of his relationship to Scotus Eriugena, naturally turned to him for a verdict. Scotus Eriugena did not decide for Gottschalk's teaching but as follows: The Godhead is to be found in the evolution of mankind; evil can actually only appear to have existence — otherwise evil, too, would have to be found in God. Since God can only be the Good, evil must be a nothing; but a nothing cannot be anything with which human beings can be united. So Scotus Eriugena spoke out against the teaching of Gottschalk.
But the teaching of Scotus Eriugena, which was more or less the same as that of pantheists today, was in turn condemned by the orthodox Church and his writings were only later rediscovered. Everything reminiscent of his teaching was burned and he came to be regarded as the real heretic. When he made known the views he had explained to Charles the Bald, the adherents of Gottschalk — who were now again respected — declared: Scotus Eriugena is actually only a babbler who adorns himself with every kind of ornament of external science and who actually knows nothing at all about the inner mysteries of the super-sensible.
Another theologian wrote about the body and blood of Christ in De Corpore et Sanguine Domini. 22Ratramnus of Corbie (d. 868+), Theologian and controversialist. In this writing he said something that, for the initiates of old, had been an understandable teaching: that in actual fact bread and wine can be changed into the real body and the real blood of Christ. This writing, too, was laid before Charles the Bald. Scotus Eriugena did not write an actual refutation but in his works we have many a hint of the decision he reached, namely, that this, the orthodox Catholic teaching of the transubstantiation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, must be modified because it is not understandable to the human mind. This was how Scotus Eriugena was able to express himself, even in his day.
In short, the conflict concerning the human soul's relationship to the super-sensible world raged fiercely in the ninth century, and it was exceedingly difficult for serious minds of that time to find their bearings. For Christian dogmas contained everywhere deposits, as it were, of ancient truths of initiation, but people were powerless to understand them. What had been uttered in external words was put to the test. These words could only have been intelligible to a soul that had developed itself up into the spiritual world. The external words were tested against that of which people at that time had become conscious as a result of the development of human reason. And the most intense battles ensued within the Christian life of Europe from the testing of that time.
And where were these inner experiences leading? They were tending in the direction of a duality entirely absent in former times. In earlier times the human being looked into the sense world and, as he looked, his faculties enabled him simultaneously to behold the spiritual pervading the phenomena of this sense world. He saw the spiritual along with the phenomena of the world of sense. The people of olden times certainly did not see bread and wine in the same way people in the ninth century A.D. saw them, that is, as being merely matter. In ancient times the material and spiritual were seen together. So, too, the people in olden times didn't have concepts and ideas as intellectual as those already possessed by people living in the ninth century. The thinness and abstraction of the concepts and ideas in the ninth century were not present earlier. What people experienced earlier as ideas and concepts was still such that concepts and ideas were like real objects with essential being. Concepts and ideas in olden times were not thin and abstract, but full of living reality, of objective being. I have told you how subjects such as grammar, rhetoric, dialectic, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astrology gradually became entirely abstract. In olden times the human being's relationship to these sciences was such that as he lived into them, he entered into a relationship with real, actual beings. But already by the ninth century, and still more in later times, these sciences of grammar, rhetoric, dialectic, and so forth had become wholly thin and abstract without living content of being — almost, one might say, like mere pieces of clothing in comparison with what had formerly been present. And this process of abstraction continued. Abstraction increasingly became a quality of concepts and ideas while concrete reality increasingly became nothing more than the external sense world. These two streams, which we see in the ninth century, and which influenced men to fight such devastating soul battles — these two streams have persisted into modern times. In some instances we still experience their conflict sharply, in other instances the conflict receives less emphasis.
These tendencies in the evolution of humanity stand with a living clarity in the contrast between Goethe and Schiller. 23Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller (1759–1805), German poet, dramatist, historian, and philosopher. Schiller's friendship with Goethe is celebrated. Strongly influenced by Kant, his idealism and hatred of tyranny were a powerful influence in modern German literature. Wrote Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man (1795). Yesterday, I spoke about the fact that Goethe, having studied the botany of Linnaeus, was compelled to evolve really living concepts and pictures of the plants — concepts capable of change and metamorphosis, which, for this reason, came near to being Imaginations. But I also drew your attention to the fact that Goethe stumbled when his mind tried to rise from plant life to the animal world of sentient experience. He could reach Imagination but not Inspiration. He saw the external phenomena. With the minerals he had no cause to advance to Imagination; with plant life he did, but got no further because abstract concepts and ideas were not his strong point. Goethe did not philosophize in the manner customary in his day. Therefore, he was unable to express in abstract concepts what is found at a spiritual level higher than that of the plants.
But Schiller philosophized. He even learned how to philosophize from Kant, although the Kantian way ultimately became too confused for him and he left it. 24Imanuel Kant (1724–1804), German philosopher of the Enlightenment. Published Critique of Pure Reason (1781). Schiller philosophized without the degree of abstraction that prevents concepts from reaching actual being. And when we study Goethe and Schiller together this is precisely what we feel to be the fundamental opposition never really bridged between them, the opposition that was only smoothed over through the greatness of soul, the essential humanity that lived in both of them. However, this fundamental difference of approach showed itself in the last decade of the eighteenth century when Goethe and Schiller were both occupied with the question: How can the human being achieve an existence worthy of his dignity? Schiller set forth the question in his own way in the form of abstract thought, and he what he had to say about it appeared in his Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man. He says there: The human being is, on the one hand, subject to the necessity implicit in logic and reason. He has no freedom when he follows the necessity of reason. His freedom goes under in the necessity of reason. But neither is he free when he surrenders himself wholly to the senses, to the necessity implicit in the senses; in this sphere, instincts and natural urges coerce him and again he is not free. In both directions, actually, toward the spirit and toward nature, the human being becomes a slave, unfree. Schiller concludes that the human being can only become free when he views nature as if it were a living being, as if nature had spirit and soul within it — in other words, if he raises nature to a higher level. But then he must also bring the necessity implicit in reason right down into nature. He must, as it were, regard nature as if it had reason; but then the rigidity of necessity and logic vanish from reason. When a human being expresses himself in pictures he is giving form, creating, instead of logically analyzing and synthesizing; and as he creates in this way he removes from nature the element of necessity caused by the mere senses. But this achievement of freedom, said Schiller, can only be expressed in artistic creation and aesthetic appreciation. One who simply confronts nature passively is under the sway of the necessity implicit in nature, of instincts, natural desires, and urges. If he sets his mind to work he must follow the necessity implicit in logic — if he does not wish to be untrue to the human. When we combine the two, nature and logic, then the necessity implicit in reason subsides, then reason yields something of its necessity to the sense world and the sense world of nature yields something of its instinctual compulsion. And the human being is represented in works of sculpture, for instance, as if spirit itself were already contained in the sensible world. We lead the spirit down into the sensuality of material nature while leading the sensuality of material nature up to the spirit, and the creation through images, the beautiful, arises. Only while creating or appreciating the beautiful does the human being live in freedom.
In writing these Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man, Schiller strove with all the power of his soul to find out when it is possible for a human being to be free. And the only possibility of realizing human freedom he found in the life of beautiful appearances. We must flee crude reality if we desire to be free, that is to say, if we wish to achieve an existence worthy of a human being. This is what Schiller really meant, though he may not have stated it explicitly. Only in appearance, in semblance, can freedom really be attained.
Nietzsche, who was steeped in all these matters, nevertheless could not penetrate through to an actual perception of the spirit. In his first book, The Birth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music, 25Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844–1900), German philosopher and poet. Professor of classical philology, Basel (1869–79). Known for denouncing religion, and for espousing the perfectibility of human beings through forcible self-assertion. Published The Birth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music (1872). he wanted to show that the Greeks created art in order to have something through which, as free human beings in dignity, they might be able to rise above the reality presented by the external senses, the reality in which the human being can never achieve his true dignity. They raised themselves above the reality of things in order to achieve the possibility of freedom in appearances, in artistic appearances. Thus did Nietzsche interpret Greek culture. And here Nietzsche merely expressed, in a radical form, what was already contained in Schiller's letters on the aesthetic education of man. Therefore, we can say that Schiller lived in an abstract spirituality, but that at the same time there lived within him the impulse to grant the human being his true dignity. Just look at the sublimity, the greatness, of his letters on aesthetic education. They are worthy of the very highest admiration. In terms of poetic feeling, in terms of the power of soul, they are really greater than all his other works. When we think of the sum total of his achievements, these letters are the greatest of them all. But Schiller had to struggle with them from an abstract point of view, for he too had arrived at the intellectualism characterizing the spiritual life of the west. And from this standpoint he could not reach true reality. He could only reach the shining appearance of the beautiful.
When Goethe read Schiller's letters on the aesthetic education of man it was not easy for him to find his way around in them. Goethe was actually not very adept at following the processes of abstract reasoning. But he, too, was concerned with the problem of how man can achieve true dignity, how spiritual beings must work together in order to give the human being dignity so that awakened to the spiritual world, he can live into it.
Schiller could not emerge from the picture, or image, to the reality. What Schiller had said in his letters, Goethe also wanted to say, but in his own way. He did so in the pictures and imagery in his Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily. 26Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily, (Blauvelt, NY: Steinerbooks, 1979). In all the figures in this fairy tale we are to see powers of the soul working together to impart to man his true dignity, in freedom. But Goethe was unable to find the way from what he had been able to express in Imaginations up to the truly spiritual. Hence, he got no further than the fairy tale, a picture, a kind of higher symbolism. It was, it is true, full of an extraordinary amount of life; still, it was only a kind of symbolism. Schiller formed abstract concepts, but remaining with appearance he could not get into reality. Goethe, trying to understand the human being in his freedom, created many pictures, vividly concrete pictures, but they could not get him into reality either. He remained stuck with mere descriptions of the world of sense. You see, his description of the sense images in the Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily. are wonderfully beautiful, yet it cannot be said that the final freeing of the crippled prince is intuitively obvious and real; it is only symbolically real. Neither of the two contrasting streams expressed in the personalities of Goethe and Schiller, could find a way into the real experience of the spiritual world. Both were striving from opposite sides to penetrate into the spiritual world, but could not get in.
What was really going on? What I am going to say may seem strange. Nevertheless, those who approach these matters without psychological bias will have to agree with the following.
Think of the two streams present in Scholasticism. For one, there is the knowledge from reason, creating its content out of the world of sense but not penetrating through to reality. This stream flows on through manifold forms, passing from one personality to another, also down to Schiller. Scholasticism held that one can only obtain ideas from the world of sense — and Schiller was drawn into this way of knowing. But Schiller was far too complete a human being to regard the sensuality of physical matter as compatible with true human dignity. Scholastic knowledge merely extracts ideas out of the world of sense. Schiller's solution was to let go of the world of sense so that only ideas remain. But with ideas alone he could not reach reality — he only reached beautiful appearances. He struggled with this problem: What should be done with this scholastic knowledge which man has produced out of himself, so that he can somehow be given his dignity? His answer was that one can no longer stay with reality, that one must take refuge in the beauty of appearances. Thus you see how the stream of scholastic knowledge from reason found its way to Schiller.
Goethe did not care much for this kind of knowledge. Actually he was much more excited by knowledge as revelation. You may find this strange; nevertheless, it is true. And even if he did not adhere to those Catholic dogmas, the necessity of which became clear to him as he was trying to complete Faust, and express them artistically, even if he did not adhere to the Catholic dogmas of his youth, still he held to things pertaining to the super-sensible world at the level he was able to reach. To speak to Goethe of a faith — this, in a way, made him furious. When, in Goethe's youth, Jacobi spoke to him about belief, about faith, he replied: I keep to vision, to seeing. 27Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi (1743–1819), president of the Munich Academy. In opposition to the thinkers of the Enlightenment, he recognized only two types of people: Christian believers and those who trusted their reason. Reason, Jacobi taught, is not the way to arrive at ultimate truth. Goethe didn't want to hear anything about belief or faith. Those who claim him for any particular faith simply do not understand him at all. He was out to see, to behold. Furthermore, he was actually on the way from his Imaginations to Inspirations and Intuitions. In this way he could naturally never have become a theologian of the Middle Ages, but he could have become like an ancient seer of the divine, a seer of super-sensible worlds. He was certainly on the way, but was simply unable to ascend high enough. He only got far enough to see the super-sensible in the world of the plants. When he studied the plant world he was actually able to see the spiritual and the sensible next to one another as had the initiates in the ancient mysteries. But Goethe got no further than the plant world.
What, then, was the only thing he could do? He could only apply to the whole world of the super-sensible the pictorial method, the symbolism, the imaginative contemplation which he had learned to apply to the plants. And so, when he spoke of the soul life in his fairy tale he was only able to achieve an imaginative presentation of the world.
Whenever the Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily. mentions anything concerning plant life, anything that can be approached with Imaginations such as those developed by Goethe for the world of plants, then the writing is particularly beautiful. Just allow everything expressed in the style of Imaginations of the plant world in this fairy tale to work on you and you will feel a wonderful beauty. Actually, the rest of the fairy tale's contents also have a tendency to become plantlike. The central female figure, upon whom so much depends, he names Lily. Goethe does not manage to imbue her with real, potent life; he manages only to give her a kind of plant existence. And if you look at all the figures appearing in the fairy tale, actually they all lead a kind of plant existence. Where it becomes necessary to raise them to a higher level, they become mere symbols, and their existence is mere appearance at that level.
The kings that appear in the fairy tale aren't properly real either. They, too, only manage to achieve a plantlike existence; they only claim to have another kind of life as well. Something would have to be in-spired into the golden king, the silver king, and the bronze king before they could really live in the spiritual world.
Thus Goethe lived out a life of knowledge as revelation, as super-sensible knowledge, which he has only mastered up to a certain level. Schiller lived out the other kind of knowledge, knowledge as reason, which was developed by Scholasticism. But he could not bear this knowledge because he wanted to follow it into reality and it could only lead him as far as the reality of the beauty in appearances.
One can say that the inner truth of the two personalities made them so upright that neither one said more than he was truly able to say. Thus Goethe depicts the life of the soul as if it were a kind of vegetation, and Schiller portrays the free individual as if a free human being could only live aesthetically. An aesthetic society — that, as the social challenge, is what Schiller brings forward at the end of the letters on the aesthetic education of man. If the human being is to become free, says Schiller, let him so live that society manifests itself as beauty. In Goethe's relationship to Schiller we see how these streams live on. What they would have needed was the ascent from Imagination to Inspiration in Goethe, and the enlivening of abstract concepts with the imaginative world in Schiller. Only then could they have completely come together.
If you look into the souls of both of them you would have to say that both possessed qualities which could lead them into a world of spirit. Goethe struggled constantly with what he called “religious inclinations” or “piety.” Schiller, when asked, “To which of the existing religions do you confess?” said “To none.” And when he was asked why, he replied — “For religious reasons!” 28Schiller, Votiftafeln: Mein Glaube.
As the super-sensible world flows into the human soul from knowledge that is actually experienced, we see how, especially for enlightened spirits, religion itself also flows into the soul. Thus religion will once again have to be attained — through the transformation of the merely intellectual knowledge of today into spiritual knowledge.