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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Philosophy, Cosmology & Religion
GA 215

7. Christ in His Relationship to Mankind and the Riddle of Death

12 September 1922, Dornach

Yesterday I tried to explain how man, who as a soul-spiritual being has been living in the spiritual world during pre-earthly existence, makes his transition to the physical earth. If we want to place before our souls the very real intervention of the Christ and the Mystery of Golgotha in the evolution of earth-humanity, it is absolutely necessary to acknowledge the pre-earthly existence of man and thus come to understand the eternal essence of his being. For, in order to comprehend the actual nature of this Mystery, we must be able to follow this Being, the Christ, Who belongs to the spiritual worlds, in His descent from extra-terrestrial regions right down into earth existence. This Being had lived only in those regions where we too spend our pre-natal existence until the time came when in the man Jesus He took on an earthly form and began his earthly activity.

If man wants to arrive at such an understanding of the Christ and the Mystery of Golgotha in relation to the event of human birth, of which I spoke sketchily yesterday, he must bear in mind first of all that man's soul constitution and his inner experience have passed in the course of mankind's evolution on earth through most significant and important transformations. Today, people often assume that the soul constitution, and those states of consciousness in which modern man finds himself in waking and sleeping, have always belonged to humanity, at least essentially, since human history began. At most, the world view arrived at in natural scientific cosmology points back to a primitive half-animal-like form possessed by early humanity, as we shall be discussing presently. Such a being's inner nature would of course have to be pictured as different from the thinking, feeling and willing of today's human being. But the transformations that man's consciousness, his whole inner soul structure, have passed through since the primeval times of earth evolution, are rarely pointed out today; yet in these transformations there lies something immensely important and substantial.

When we go back to ancient times of human evolution—we need not go back to the most primeval but to about the second or third millennium before the Mystery of Golgotha—we find that mankind had a quite different consciousness, a quite different configuration of soul, than later on. The pronounced difference that exists between waking and sleeping in man today did exist at that time, but it was not the only aspect of the daily change in human consciousness. Today man only knows the states of waking and sleeping, and between them, dreams. While we are aware of a certain content in dreams, we must admit that it is often misleading. In any case, this dream content does not point to any reality that man can control directly with his day consciousness, although he certainly can indirectly. But apart from these three states of consciousness, of which that of dreams is most questionable, at least as far as gaining knowledge is concerned, an intermediate state existed for ancient humanity. It was neither that of dreams, nor of full wakefulness. Nor was it a condition of deep sleep, or half-conscious dreaming as we have it today. Rather, it was a pictorial “waking-dreaming,” as one might put it. Pictures flowed within it as thoughts run today through our waking consciousness. These pictures were similar in form to our dream pictures, but what they contained pointed to a pronounced supersensible reality, as our perceptions point to a physical reality. Just as we know, when we see a physical being with colors and shapes, that it is a physical reality, so did ancient man experience pictures which moved freely and lightly in his consciousness as our dream pictures move in ours, except that it was impossible to doubt that their content pointed to a spiritual reality. Just as today, when our eyes perceive something, we know with certainty that something physical is out there, so did a man of the past know that he perceived something spiritually real when such images passed through his consciousness.

Among what ancient man experienced as spiritually real there was also an echo of pre-earthly existence. The human being of that epoch simply had every day in his soul inner experiences that proved to him beyond all doubt that he had lived in a soul-spiritual condition, in a purely spiritual world, before entering earthly life. Men of this ancient time knew of this throughout their lives. They therefore accepted as fully evident the existence of an eternal core of man's being, and of an extra-terrestrial world to which they belonged as much as they belonged to the terrestrial world. Those who, as initiates of the mysteries, were initiated in the more profound aspects of these truths were able to speak to their followers out of their initiation science in such a manner that these faithful could arrive at the conviction that they looked into an after-image of their pre-earthly existence, and at the same time into a spiritual world to which man belongs with the eternal core of his being. This, they felt, was a gift of grace bestowed by that spiritual being whose physical image is the physical sun we see in the sky.

Thus, someone who accepted the old mystery wisdom could say: I look up to the sun, but this outer, physical sun is only an image of a spiritual sun being. This spiritual sun being permeates the spiritual world from which I myself descended to an earthly existence, and the power of this sun being has endowed my soul with that faculty, which brings it about that among my soul experiences during the sojourn on earth, I also have this, namely, that in looking back upon my pre-earthly existence, I can be sure of the eternal core-being in my soul.

For a man who, in ancient times felt the grace of the Sun Being, human death on earth was no special riddle. He was supported by the power of his initiates and knew of his pre-earthly existence and of his own external nature. He realized that death concerned only the physical human organism. He knew of something within him that had at the beginning of his earthly life descended into his physical organism. For him, death was an event that did not touch his inner being. He knew of it through his outer form of consciousness.

This was the soul condition of human beings in ancient epochs preceding the Mystery of Golgotha. In those epochs, the secret of birth lay open to a vision turned inward that was striving toward the grace of the Sun Being. While they could comprehend this secret of birth, the riddle of death was not yet present in the manner in which it existed for men of a later time. I shall speak in the second part of this lecture about how all this changed in the course of time.

This consciousness of ancient mankind that lived in pictures—and the way it affected the remaining soul constitution—was aware of the soul in such a way that the active, intense ego consciousness, possessed by mankind today, could not yet arise at that time. Man had insight into his own eternal essence but lacked a pronounced inner sensation of his ego-hood. Nor would he ever have achieved it if that ancient picture consciousness had remained with him as his endowment. But in fact, it ceased. Just when the time for the Mystery of Golgotha was drawing near, it gradually dimmed, to be replaced increasingly by the kind of ordinary consciousness we possess today, with its sharp contrast between sleeping and waking, and, in between, the dubious world of dreams. Mankind had lost that part of self-knowledge that looked back in direct vision to pre-earthly life and with it to the eternal core of man's being. But this was precisely what was necessary if man was to reach gradually his full ego consciousness. Although in that middle period of human evolution, around the time of the Mystery of Golgotha, full ego consciousness had not yet appeared in all mankind, it was being slowly prepared. With it people were confronted in full measure and with great intensity with the riddle of death. For they no longer knew anything through direct vision about the world from which they had descended into earthly existence.

In the age when humanity passed through this stage of its evolution the Christ appeared, descending out of the same world from which the human soul always descends again to birth, and, through the events of Palestine, united Himself with the man, Jesus. At that time the old traditions, namely the old methods of the initiation centers were still preserved. Although they were but a vestige of the ancient initiation, even in their weakened form they could still lead to a knowledge concerning the way the spiritual world looks and the kind of connection man has to it. The initiates of that time could address those willing to receive their words and say: The Sun Being, He who formerly bestowed grace upon men by granting them a vision of an after-image of pre-earthly life, He whose physical reflection is the physical sun, this Sun Being has descended to earth. He lived, or has lived in the man Jesus. He took on a physical body in order not only to remain connected from this time onward with the spiritual world, in which man lives between death and a new birth, but also to live within human evolution on earth itself.

Out of the remnants of the old initiation, the initiates, who were contemporaries of the Mystery of Golgotha, spoke about the secret of the Christ to those who were willing to accept it and had confidence in them. Those who had this trust could learn how the Christ had entered an earthly body, so that not through some kind of teaching but through His deed He could resolve the riddle that only then affected humanity in full intensity—the riddle of death. The initiates pointed out to the people that the Christ had come in order to solve the riddle of death on earth in a way suitable for man. For at the time when the Mystery of Golgotha took place in the earth-realm, those who possessed the vestiges of the ancient methods of initiation spoke above all else about the spiritual being of Christ as He appeared in the spiritual world. The path was described which the Christ, Who never before had descended to earth existence, had taken from the spiritual world down to earth. In all these descriptions given by the initiated contemporaries of the Mystery of Golgotha, the main teaching was about the way the Christ descended into the man Jesus and Himself became man in him. At that time people did not merely refer to the historical Jesus and ask: What position does this historical Jesus occupy in human evolution?—Ordinary consciousness was, after all, faced with him. Some of his contemporaries were in direct contact with him, while those who came later were aware of him in their physical sense consciousness through historical tradition. But those who knew something about the spiritual worlds because of their knowledge of ancient initiation science could say: That Being Who was once looked upon as the lofty Sun Being, the bestower of the grace we described, has taken the path leading to the earth and to the man Jesus. He has then passed through the Mystery of Golgotha, because man could no longer consciously see into pre-earthly life and so was unable to solve the riddle of death. Indeed, he could no longer be aware of this Being at all—the lofty Sun Being Who, by giving men the vision of the after-image of the world in which they had lived before birth overcame earthly death. This Being Itself descended to earth, took on human form and went through the Mystery of Golgotha in order, through what the event signified, to give back to men on earth—but this time from outside—the after-image of pre-earthly life that in earlier times He had been able to impart to them for their inner soul life in the form of pictures. It was in a manner somewhat like this that the initiated contemporaries of the Mystery of Golgotha expressed themselves.

Formerly, man through grace was blessed with a capacity in his consciousness that enabled him to experience his eternal essence directly when he looked back into his life before birth. But he had to develop further. He had to develop a clear earthly consciousness that could only be kindled and developed by means of the sense world. This is what caused the old consciousness, by means of which man had formerly been able to recognize his eternal nature, to recede. But that Being, Who had earlier enabled man to perceive his own eternal being from the spiritual world, accomplished the Mystery of Golgotha after His descent to earth so that man, by perceiving and understanding this event, might himself experience from outside what earlier he had experienced from within. From the Christ on earth man is to experience further what he had earlier experienced from the spiritual world through Christ.

In the third part of this lecture I shall explain the significance this had for the further course of mankind's evolution.

The vestiges of the old initiation methods through which the initiates at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha, and even their successors, were able to speak correctly about the descent of the Christ and the path He took until His embodiment in the man Jesus—these vestiges continued until the fourth century A.D., though weakening increasingly in regard to the effectiveness they had for mankind. By that time, they had ceased to call forth in the human organization the kind of capacities that afforded reliable insights into the spiritual world. Mankind now entered a period of its evolution in which it was chiefly dependent upon the perceptions and views that can be attained only in the sense world and upon a thinking based on impressions and observations in this world. This period of humanity's evolution, lasting several centuries, brought about what I have just indicated as the development, the unfolding of ego consciousness.

One cannot study history correctly unless one is able to see during the period from the fourth to about the fifteenth century A.D. how ego consciousness gradually takes form among civilized peoples. Of course, precursors of this developing ego consciousness also lived in earlier times, but fundamentally there is a great difference between even the most educated, cultured person of the fourth or fifth centuries, and one of the fifteenth or sixteenth. A person who can see—I wouldn't even say, into the soul of Augustine, whose ego consciousness can be studied quite clearly in a psychological way—but let us say someone who can look, for example, into the soul of Scotus Erigena in the ninth century, sees how the ego consciousness, possessed later by the simplest person, was only just beginning to develop and form itself. At the same time, the old kind of vision was ceasing through which it was possible, for instance, to develop alchemy, which represented an innate fusion between what the eyes see and the soul experiences when it contemplates things in the external world. Pure sense observation, as the basis of human knowledge, arose first about the fifteenth century. In this turning of man to mere sense observation—which reached a high point in the age of Copernicus, Galileo and Giordano Bruno—to consciousness of the sense world, there also came into being the ego consciousness.

Ego consciousness, however, caused insight into the spiritual worlds to fall into the depths of darkness. The old perception of the mysteries, the initiation knowledge, had faded away by the fourth century A.D. and scarcely a trace of it continued in the ongoing stream of civilization. For what persisted of this knowledge was well hidden, and remained almost unknown to people in general, even to scholarly Occidental peoples. Initiation science had no real influence on general culture and civilization. It, therefore, could throw no light on the path taken by the Christ from the spiritual worlds to mankind on earth, as was still possible in the first Christian centuries, even though that had been but a vestige, but nevertheless a vestige of the old initiation science. As a result, it was only the historical Jesus who was recognized by mankind, even by learned men—that Jesus of whom history tells, a history which did not add to this historical Jesus, either by means of direct human vision or by teachings of initiation, the picture of the Christ Who was united with him.

Thus, for these centuries, the Church's development could not do otherwise than refer its believers ever and again to the historical Jesus, bringing the picture of him to life. Concerning everything, however, that those men, who knew something real about the spiritual world, could still speak about in the first Christian centuries, nothing could now be directly known. Only what was preserved by tradition from those times when there still existed human souls who really knew about the spiritual world from initiation science, only what had been preserved by tradition from old Christian knowledge—only this could be established by the Church in the form of dogmas concerning the Christ. No reference was made to those who still retained a view of the spiritual content of these dogmas, which were made the object of mere faith.

During the time when knowledge became increasingly perfected and extensive in regard to the sense world, alongside this knowledge of the sense world a content of dogmatic faith was placed, a dogmatic content that related to the Jesus figure only by means of an outward determination.

This Jesus figure had become established in mankind's ordinary consciousness and had assumed form. This attitude then continued on through the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and finally led to a theology purporting to be Christian but concerned only with the man Jesus, because as a result of historical tradition ordinary consciousness was only aware of him.

Meanwhile, the consciousness that had developed experience of the ego and which had investigated the laws of the sense world had less and less inclination to abide by the established contents of faith. It was especially the leading personalities in whom the new consciousness had developed the most, who became emancipated from inclinations toward faith and thus the Christ. So it happened that in the nineteenth century the supposed Christian theology, which had completely lost all knowledge of the Christ in favor of Jesus and spoke only about “Jesus of Nazareth,” came to a special prominence. It wanted to recognize Jesus as a man only, although perhaps the most eminent one who had appeared in human evolution.

In the first Christian centuries, out of the vestiges of the old initiation wisdom, the attempt had been made to describe the path leading from the perception of the Christ Being to his incorporation in Jesus of Nazareth; in order to understand the Mystery of Golgotha, one started with Christ and later arrived at Jesus. By the nineteenth century, one began with Jesus, who was looked upon at first as a man, and tried to come from Jesus to Christ. But that was the path that as a matter of course led in the end either to the admission (or the refusal to admit) one's inability to rise to the Christ from the historical Jesus of whom ordinary consciousness alone was aware, the “simple man” Jesus who had lived in Palestine.

This situation can be changed only by modern initiation as I have characterized it in its main outlines in the past few days, which can lead to imagination, inspiration and intuition in a new form. By means of this new initiation wisdom it is again possible to go beyond the merely historical image of Jesus to a direct view of man's pre-earthly existence and the world in which this existence is spent. It thereby becomes possible to behold the Christ in His super-earthly spirituality and then, proceeding from Christ, to understand Jesus and thus the nature of the Mystery of Golgotha. The path that modern theology has taken, which, in emphasizing Jesus, has lost the Christ, can be reversed. Out of spiritual perception, men again can recognize the Christ, and through the perception of Christ behold Jesus in whom the Christ became Man. With this Christ perception, gained in the spirit, they can then contemplate the Mystery of Golgotha. Through anthroposophical perception, the Christ, Who for one branch of modern theology has already been lost, must now be recovered. I will explain in the fourth part of today's considerations what this signifies for man's inner development.

It has already been mentioned that through the lighting-up of ego consciousness the riddle of death confronted the human soul. This had to happen because, since the ego had become present in full clarity in the inner soul experience, man's physical organism thereby had become the actual basis for this ordinary human consciousness. This ego-permeated consciousness had its foundation in man's physical organism, and man learned to feel instinctively how only what has its foundation in the physical organism can be experienced by the soul. No longer did he see the eternal essence of his being through a direct picture consciousness. It was precisely his ego consciousness, his highest faculty in earth life, that drew his attention exclusively to his physical body and showed how this body, because of its constitution, could allow his ego-saturated consciousness to light up. In this state of consciousness we cannot say that there is anything in our soul that we carry through the gate of death.

It was precisely the ability of a retrospective view into pre-earthly life, which had been given to an older humanity by the grace of the lofty Sun Being, that had enabled ordinary consciousness to see forward into what is beyond death. Now, consciousness had become especially clear because, to its full extent, it had become an experience of the physical organism. But because of this man could not help saying to himself: You possess powers to brighten and illuminate your consciousness, but they come from the physical body. This body disintegrates at death. In this, of which you are aware in your ordinary consciousness, you perceive nothing of what can carry you over into another world. Something of this nature may exist—but with your ordinary consciousness you sense and know nothing of it.

This mystery of death had appeared with special intensity in the first Christian centuries when human beings were still more sensitive to these questions. The initiates, however, had drawn the attention of humanity to the Mystery of Golgotha, and in the following centuries, as Christianity evolved, its leaders had likewise directed humanity to that Mystery through their dogmas of faith. What was this Mystery to signify for man?

A person who can attain an inner person-to-person relationship to the Christ on earth, who can acknowledge and accept the Mystery of Golgotha, must take something into his consciousness that no material sense world can supply. It is precisely the person who looks most deeply into the constitution of the sense world who must deny the Mystery of Golgotha, for no understanding of this Mystery is possible to a comprehension derived from the senses. If, however, he can receive it into his heart, if he is then able, by means of a power of understanding rooted in the human soul (Gemüt), to grasp that event consummated only once in earth's evolution—an event comprehensible only out of the spirit—then, in his ordinary consciousness, he tears himself away from mere sense comprehension, which in its special clearness and intensity is precisely the essential feature of ego consciousness.

No one who wishes to remain only in the world of the senses can come to an understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha. By contrast, if one renounces any understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha based on sense perception and acquires instead a relationship to if of faith and acknowledgement, if one looks up to the Mystery of Golgotha in an attitude of pious veneration and attains to an understanding of what Christ became for humanity when He came down from a spiritual existence into earth life, then one rises above the mere understanding of the sense world with the aid of that very power which, though it is itself a part of earthly consciousness, nevertheless constitutes man's highest faculty. Man thus generates and unfolds a force in his ordinary consciousness that does not spring from his own natural development. He must deepen himself inwardly and intensify his consciousness if he wants to go beyond his understanding of the sense world and develop enough strength to allow the spiritual significance of the Mystery of Golgotha to become a truth for his soul.

If we renounce all understanding based on the senses and acknowledge the truth of the Mystery of Golgotha; if we recognize that the Christ really did once live on earth in Jesus, and that in the Mystery of Golgotha a real, heavenly, super-earthly deed of enduring significance was accomplished in the midst of earth existence—then, by recognizing this truth we succeed in replacing that force that was once a part of ordinary consciousness but has now been lost.

In times past, the power to look back into pre-earthly life was present in ordinary consciousness, and out of this vision consciousness gained the strength to carry the soul through the gate of death. This power which now was no longer there was to enter into the soul through the Mystery of Golgotha; it was to enter through the strengthening that could occur in the soul, if, through inward soul experience, a person confessed to the truth of this Mystery. Then, as the saying of Paul, “Not I but the Christ in me,” came to life in man himself, the Christ, with the power that streamed out from His deed on Golgotha, could carry man beyond the point where, merely because of the condition of his consciousness, physical death could leave him. By these means, it was possible to regain a power of which man knew that with it he was able to reach beyond the portal of death.

How the mysteries of death, the opposite of the mysteries of birth, of which I spoke yesterday, can be described further in relation to the Christ Being, will be the topic of tomorrow's lecture.

Today, I would like to close my remarks by referring to what an old initiate said to those whose souls—as early as the first Christian centuries—were confronted with this whole riddle of death. He said: “Behold the condition of the human body, now that man has arrived at the use of ego consciousness. In this stage, the physical body conceals man's total entity. Since the unfolding of ego consciousness, man is so constituted that in and through his physical body alone he could never take hold of that element in him that belongs to the spirit. Look,” said such an initiate to his followers in the first Christian centuries, “look at the physical human organism just when the stage is reached when it is to offer the highest potentiality for ego consciousness; it turns out to be inadequate. The physical organism is therefore sick; it would be healthy only if it could give to man a consciousness of his spiritual significance. This physical organism developed in such a way that from the beginning there was sickness in it in relation to the life of the spirit. For this reason, the Christ descended and passed through the Mystery of Golgotha, not only as a teacher but as the Physician of the soul, Who, through man's soul, heals him from what has fallen ill in his physical organism.” This is how those initiates of the first Christian century—who are no longer acknowledged by today's theology and who have been erased from memory—presented the Christ as the Physician of the soul, the Healer, the Savior of mankind. In presenting Him thus, they gave Him his due place as the true meaning of the whole of earth evolution. They showed how man's evolution took a descending course, descending to the point where his physical organism became completely corrupt and useless for the highest tasks of human consciousness. Then the Divine Savior as the Physician of the soul intervened to heal the relationship between man's soul condition and the divine-spiritual world. Thus, through the initiates of the first Christian centuries, a deeper understanding of the Christ came into being, namely, that of Christ as the Soul Physician of the world, the Healer of mankind, the Savior.

Because of all this one can say that in ancient times, before the Mystery of Golgotha had taken place on earth, the initiates could speak to wider circles of humanity, who were open to their teachings, about a spiritual, a divine existence that permeated and was the foundation of all sense existence. If man brings this teaching to life again in modern consciousness through imaginative insight, then, what otherwise is an abstract, thought-out philosophy is enlivened—not only in the sense I have earlier characterized it here, but by becoming permeated by Christ. By means of the knowledge through which modern imagination leads men again to an insight into the spiritual world, philosophy is filled with the Christ. What once existed in ancient humanity, namely, the awareness of the Divine-Spiritual Father of all physical existence can awaken in humanity again. It was basically toward this Divine Father-consciousness that the ancient, pre-Christian initiates strove along with the rest of mankind. In the highest grade of initiation in the mysteries, the initiate represented the Divine-Spiritual, Cosmic Father, and was called “The Father.”

If man allows this conception to arise in his mind, what may be called a Christian philosophy comes into being. Furthermore, through modern inspiration, he becomes acquainted with what was already prophetically expressed by the initiates of the early Christian centuries, who still possessed vestiges of an ancient inspiration. He learns to perceive how a Divine-Spiritual Being, the Christ, descended out of spiritual worlds, placed Himself into man's earthly development, and thus constitutes in Himself the fulcrum of this evolution. A meaningful content is thus brought into humanity's earthly evolution and its laws when man learns through the Mystery of Golgotha to link this evolution to the cosmos by means of looking up to the cosmic Christ Being. Further, man learns to recognize how earthly evolution has been a concern of heaven, how the cosmos has cared about the affairs of mankind. In this way, the nature of that cosmology, which I have always characterized here as a spiritual cosmology, is extended so as to become a Christian cosmology.

If, then, man achieves a living relationship to the Christ and the Mystery of Golgotha in the sense of the words of Paul, “Not I but the Christ in me,” the Christ, by helping him solve the riddle of death, leads him into a renewed life in the spirit. He becomes acquainted with the new spirit, which once again is to make it clear to mankind that beyond the physical world there exists a spiritual world that rules, orders and permeates the physical. He learns to know the mission of the Healing Spirit, Who proceeds from Christ and is sanctified by Christ Himself. He learns to know the mystery of the Holy Spirit as the foundation for a new religious perception.

The Trinity, so long spoken of as a dogma, again comes to live for man. Looking back to the pre-Christian mysteries one can say that in these lived God the Father, Who also has a cosmic meaning for us. Through the Mystery of Golgotha, God the Son, in Christ, drew near mankind, and through what God the Son has brought to humanity, the connection was established with the Healing, the Holy Spirit. The Trinity is again a living conception; no dogma.

Through the vitalizing of the Father consciousness there arises a Christ-permeated philosophy. Through the vitalizing of the Son consciousness comes a Christ-permeated cosmology. In accordance with what the Christ referred to and has called the Healing Spirit and has mercifully poured over mankind, a new basis arises for a Christian religion, founded in knowledge.

Starting from such a Christian philosophy, a Christian cosmology and a Christian religious insight, we shall speak further tomorrow about the mystery of death in relation to the Christ Being and the course of humanity's evolution.