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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Philosophy, Cosmology & Religion
GA 215


The lecture cycle now being published in its entirety for the first time in English has always been known as the “French Course” for an interesting reason—although it is directed to anthroposophists everywhere as much as any other of Rudolf Steiner's major cycles. The course was given in September, 1922 exclusively to members of the Society, and it was held in the old Goetheanum. French members were specially invited, and a considerable number of them were present. A French translation was provided by Jules Sauerwein, a distinguished bilingual French member, editor of Le Matin, the leading Parisian newspaper of the time, whose sister Alice was to become in the following year the first General Secretary of the Anthroposophical Society in France. Determined to spare no effort to make the cycle, difficult and detailed though it was, comprehensible to the French members present, Rudolf Steiner every night prepared an outline of what he was to say, and gave it to Jules Sauerwein the following morning, so that he could study it and decide how best he could translate it into French. During the lectures Steiner paused three or four times to allow him to translate the gist of what he had said, a procedure he followed also with George Adams Kauffman during these years when the audience was composed of English-speaking members.

The reason for this special invitation to the French lies far back in anthroposophical history. Eduard Schuré, the Alsatian author of The Great Initiates, a book greatly admired by Steiner, was twenty years older than Steiner and by 1900 had won a considerable reputation in Europe, becoming at the same time interested in Theosophy. It was in 1900 that he became acquainted with Marie von Sievers, who was in Paris studying to become an actress. Knowing of her interest in spiritual matters he suggested that she might look into Theosophy, but in fact she did not do so until she paid a visit to Berlin later in the same year. There she heard of some lectures being given in the Theosophical Library by a certain Rudolf Steiner, and later wrote a glowing letter to Schuré about him. Meanwhile she herself translated two esoteric dramas by Schuré, though of course she continued working from 1902 onward with Steiner, eventually in 1914 becoming his wife.

Thus, Schuré already had begun to play an important part in Steiner's life before he met him personally when he came to Paris in 1906 to give some lectures at a Theosophical Congress. On that occasion he was tremendously impressed by the man he was willing to admit was the first modern initiate he had known, and he wrote an enthusiastic introduction to Steiner's work Christianity as Mystical Fact which appeared at this time in a French translation. Meanwhile Marie von Sievers translated Schure's esoteric dramas, the first of which, The Mysteries of Eleusis, was presented by the German Theosophists at their Congress in Munich in 1907. Immediately after the Congress Steiner and Marie von Sievers were guests of Schuré at his property in Barr, in Alsace, and Schuré persuaded him to write an autobiographical sketch of his life and spiritual development, which is the oldest such document known (printed, together with Schure's introduction in the Golden Blade of 1966).

Thus, the two men were friends and collaborators of long standing by the time of the outbreak of World War I. But unhappily Schuré, like so many Alsatians who had bitterly resented the German annexation of their province in 1871, was a strong French patriot, and it seemed to him that Steiner was too pro-German in the early years of the war. So the two men became estranged, and the estrangement continued for some years after the war, and it was even thought by many Frenchmen that Steiner had been an unofficial adviser of General von Moltke at the beginning of the war. Jules Sauerwein helped to clear up this misunderstanding by publishing an interview with Steiner in his paper, and gradually it became clear to Schuré that he must make an effort to meet Steiner again and become reconciled to him, while Steiner, for his part, had never harbored anything but friendship for Schuré. The reconciliation was consummated at the Goetheanum in 1922 at the time of the French course; and it marked at the same time the reconciliation with the French people, so many of whom had shared Schure's extreme patriotism and wanted as little as possible to do with the Germans. The meeting of the 81 year old Schuré with the 61 year old Steiner was the warmest possible, and the entire course, in which the French had been given such marked consideration, was suffused with the glow of the reconciliation.

The outline prepared by Rudolf Steiner for Jules Sauerwein has survived, and it is extremely interesting to compare it with the course. Steiner explained on several occasions that when he lectured he spoke always directly out of his supersensible perception of the spiritual worlds and could never speak out of what he remembered or had given previously. It will be evident that he did not deviate from his rule even when he had given his translator an outline of what the night before he had decided he would say. Especially the last highly esoteric lectures of the course when he speaks of the influence of the Christ in earth evolution go so much farther than the outline that Sauerwein must have felt he had been given little enough to help him through his exceptionally difficult task.

Even so, the outline is in itself a most remarkable work, and it is not surprising that Harry Collison published two editions of it (1930 and 1943) in English translation, and that Marie Steiner's German edition was published long before the full course. The Anthroposophie Press is planning to publish both the outline and the course, as either may be studied with profit separately, and both are most suitable for group study, though requiring somewhat different responses from the students. The very bareness of the outline demands extremely careful attention to each sentence and each concept, whereas the course does not invariably supply all the knowledge to fill in the outline. What it does is to provide an enormous amount of detailed information, some of it hard to come by elsewhere, on how to attain higher development and the kind of exercises that are needed, following this with a dense and packed account of the period between death and rebirth, and especially the role of the Christ after death, as revealed to imagination, inspiration and intuition. This material differs significantly from that given in most of the better-known cycles devoted to this subject. It is hard to escape the conclusion that Steiner, faced with a highly educated French audience in the Goetheanum in which he had already given so many difficult scientific lectures, took special pains to direct everything he said to their thinking and understanding—even taking the trouble to provide an outline in advance for his translator. The result is a course that is in many respects unique in all his work, and it is very good that at long last it should be made available to English-speaking readers.

Colmar, Alsace, France Stewart C. Easton