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The Younger Generation
GA 217

Lecture VIII

10 October 1922, Dornach

Up to now we have given an outer description of what was experienced by those growing-up about the turn of the nineteenth century, by considering the trend of man's spiritual culture. Today, in order to find the bridge to a true self-knowledge, we will study the human being more from within. When we consider the externals of spiritual evolution, especially in the West, we are led back to the first third of the fifteenth century; in an inward study we find ourselves led back to the fourth post-Christian century. A date indicating some important moment would be the year 333 A.D., yet this date is of course only approximate. It is not a date from which to make calculations, but as pointing approximately to weighty matters affecting a large proportion of European humanity.

Let us look into the soul of a man who before this date lived into the culture of Southern Europe, or in certain districts of Northern Africa. These districts come into prominence when we try to gain an idea of what gave the tone to the cultural life of the time. The souls of these human beings were still so constituted that they were conscious that human thought was not simply a head process, but that it was revealed, either directly to the individual, or, where the human being was not able to receive such revelation directly, through the confidential communication of other human beings. The prevalent feeling among the educated today—and among the uneducated—is that their thoughts are worked out in their own heads—this feeling did not then exist. It was a period of actual transition. In the Middle East outstanding spiritual personalities were concerned with how thoughts came to humanity from spiritual realms. In Southern Europe and in Northern Africa doubts crept in as to whether the human being possessed the faculty of receiving thoughts by revelation. These doubts were only faint at first, there was still an overwhelming feeling: When I have a thought, this thought has been put into me by a God either indirectly or transmitted by way of human heredity, that is, through tradition, not natural heredity. Thought can enter earthly evolution only as revelation.

The first Westerners to feel strong doubts in this direction were those who had come from the Northern peoples and entered the civilization of the South. They were of Germanic and Celtic blood and had moved with the various migrations from the North to the South. These people, had they grown up only out of their own forces, might have reached the point of saying: Thoughts are something we work out for ourselves. This feeling, however, was dulled down by what they found as the Graeco-Latin culture, as the culture of the East. These cultures were extraordinarily intermixed up to the fourth century; every possible trend was working within them. Yet in the migrations southwards it was realized that thoughts can be grasped only by drawing them down into the world of the senses from a super-sensible world.

We have, my dear friends, only an external history, we have no history of feeling, no history of thought, no history of the soul. Hence such things do not come to our notice; we do not notice how the whole disposition of soul changes from one century to another. There was a tremendous swing round in man's inner perception in the fourth century. We find then something that for the very first time caused man to reflect upon the origin of thought; so that what previously had been accepted without question, namely, the fact that thoughts were revealed, gradually came to a point where a theory was needed to prove that they were the result of revelation. But these people were by no means convinced that the human being could create his thought-world out of himself.

Now consider the great difference here between the souls of the present day and the souls of that time. I am speaking of some souls only. What I am describing to you was naturally present in various shades. For one part of humanity matters were as I have described them; for another, there was still an invincibly strong, intense belief that soul-spiritual Beings descending into the human organism communicated thoughts to man. It was, if I may put it, only the “elite” among humanity who at that time grasped thought in such a way that they had to ask: Where do thoughts come from? The others knew very little about thoughts; for them it was quite evident that thoughts were given.

Now take the souls born approximately after the year 333. These souls were no longer able, out of a natural feeling, to give a matter-of-course explanation of the origin of thought. Thus a period followed in which theorists, philosophers and philosophical theologians argued as to the significance of thoughts in the world and there arose the struggle between Nominalism and Realism. The Nominalists were those in the Middle Ages who said: Thoughts live only in the human individuality; they are only a summing-up of what exists outside in the world and within the separate individuals. The Realists still had a vivid recollection of ancient times when men regarded thoughts as having substance, as something substantial that was revealed. They conceived thoughts so that they said: It is not I who think the thought; it is not I who, for instance, sum up all dogs into the general concept dog; but there exists one general thought “dog” and this is revealed out of the spiritual world, just as a color or tone is revealed to the senses. It was a struggle to understand rightly the nature of thought which had, as it were, alighted as an independent possession into the human soul. It is of extraordinary interest to steep oneself, from this point of view, in the spiritual history of the Middle Ages.

As we approach the fifteenth century, we discover with what intensity human beings strove to come to terms with what is revealed through thought in man. Whereas mankind before the year 333 really had the idea: There is a divine weaving streaming around the earth just as in the physical world the atmosphere streams round it; and in this streaming, Beings reveal themselves to man and leave behind in him thoughts. They are, so to speak, the footprints of the divine world surrounding the earth, which are graven into men as thoughts. Whereas those souls who before the year 333 considered that in the thought-world a feeling of their connection with the spiritual world existed, we find the Middle Ages permeated by the tragedy of still seeking to connect thought in some way with the divine-spiritual.

Now why did those souls who, up to the fifteenth century thought about thoughts, if I may put it so—why was it that they strove so vigorously to connect thoughts with what is divine-spiritual in the cosmos? It was because they felt an inner impulse which they were unable to express in clear concepts, but which was present in them as a definite experience of soul. This originated from all the souls who were born to play a leading part, from the fourth to the fourteenth century, being reincarnations from the time before the year 333 from the souls who had argued vehemently as to the real or merely nominal character of concepts, having lived previously at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha.

The Mystery of Golgotha took place in comparative isolation in Western Asia. But that was only the external manifestation of a spiritual event which took place in the physical world. Something happened in the souls who had reached a certain degree of maturity. When we consider those actually fighting over the reality or unreality of thoughts we find personalities in whom were reincarnated souls whose previous incarnation had taken place during the first three Christian centuries. Essentially, however, civilized mankind was made up of souls reincarnated from the time before the Mystery of Golgotha. Out of the real connection between the human soul and the divine spiritual world which expressed itself in the acceptance of thought being received through revelation—out of this experience which souls living in the Middle Ages had in an earlier earth-life many centuries before, arose the impulse to dispute about the reality or unreality of the thought-world.

For what is it that is known as Scholasticism at the beginning of the new era in the thirteenth, fourteenth, fifteenth centuries? What actually filled the souls of the Scholastics? It is the following—the decisive moment had arrived in the evolution of man; it was not given utterance but was felt by outstanding souls of that time. The Gods had forsaken the sphere of human thought, as if man only had thoughts that were wrung dry.

When we observe the souls who lived from the fifteenth century on into later times, we find them to be those who in their previous incarnation had lived not long after the year 333. Up to the eighth, [or] ninth post-Christian centuries, at least those who were teachers still had the feeling that human thought was a gift of the Gods. And the men who in their previous earth-life had already felt the world of thought to be forsaken by the Gods were those—naturally I am speaking only of a part of humanity—destined to be born again about the turn of the nineteenth century.

When, therefore, we observe not only external destiny, but the inner destiny of the human soul, we must pay no heed to that which wells up out of our childhood from the depths of the soul. We must look to the time in which souls were incarnated who could no longer hear from their teachers that thoughts were Beings permeated, imbued by the divine. There-by the inner feeling arose to flee from thought, that something warmer, more saturated with substance should be found. This arose because already in a previous incarnation the divine character of thought had become subject to the gravest doubts, or had indeed been entirely lost. It was at the turn of the nineteenth century that what shines through with the greatest intensity out of the previous earth-life was experienced as tragedy.

Since the first third of the fifteenth century the receiving of thought from the divine-spiritual world was already lost to man. Because he could no longer receive thoughts out of the divine-spiritual world, they were grasped out of external observation. External observation and the art of making experiments reached such a height just because the taking in of things inwardly was replaced by gleaning them from the external sense world.

In the development of world-history, however, what is solely dependent on external conditions does not immediately become apparent. For even if since the fifteenth century man has lost the faculty of perceiving thought from within as a revelation from the divine-spiritual world, souls were not yet there able to feel the full tragedy of being forsaken by revealed thought. In those who had lived their former life on earth before the sixth or seventh century, particularly before the fourth post-Christian century, there lived the feeling: Yes, we must admit that we receive our thoughts from the external world, but in spite of this our soul tells us that even the thoughts received from the external world are given us by God. We no longer know how thoughts are God-given, but our inner being tells us that this is so.

A truly brilliant spirit who had such a mood of soul was Johannes Kepler. Johannes Kepler was as much a natural scientist of an earlier time as of a later one. He drew his thoughts from external observation, but in his inner experience he had an absolute feeling that spiritual Beings are there when man is receiving his thoughts from Nature. Kepler felt himself to be partly an Initiate, and for him it was a matter of course that he experienced his abstract building up of the universe artistically.

It is extraordinarily valuable, from a scientific point of view, to immerse oneself in the progress human thought has made through such a man as Kepler. But one is more deeply stirred when one steeps oneself in Kepler's life of soul, in that soul-life which in later times did not work with such intensity and inwardness in any other natural scientist, certainly not in any authoritative teacher of mankind at large. For between the fifteenth and the nineteenth centuries the feeling was entirely lost that through thought the human soul is brought into connection with the divine-spiritual.

Those who do not merely study the course of time in an unimaginative fashion just taking in the content, but are able to experience something in the course of events, have remarkable things revealed to them. I do not wish here to talk of how Goethe's special way of thinking about Nature has become an impossibility for later science. I mean for the external science of the times following his; for science did not realize where the difference lay between external science and that of Goethe. But I do not want to speak about this. You need only look at certain scientific books of the first third of the nineteenth century, those that gave the tone to the later mode of thought; you need only look, for instance, into the physiological works either of Henle or Burdach which absolutely belong to the first third of the nineteenth century, although they may have been written later, and you will note in them all a different style. There is still something of the spirit which wells up directly out of the soul when, let us say, they speak of the embryo or of the structure of the human brain; there is still something of what has since been entirely lost.

In this connection it is significant to bring to mind a personality still actively working during the last third of the nineteenth century. He was already subject to the forces driving out the spirit from science, nevertheless he still retained the spiritual life in his own soul. Just let the anatomy of Hyrtl work upon you; he hardly belonged to the last third, chiefly to the second third of the nineteenth century. These books are written in the style of later anatomists, but one can see that it was difficult for Hyrtl. He writes chapter after chapter, always restraining the impulse to allow his soul to flow into his sentences. Occasionally it peeps up through the style, occasionally even through the content. But there is, one might say, the iron necessity to stop the soul and spirit welling up from the man's inner being whenever natural processes are described. Today we can barely imagine what can be experienced when, let us say, we go back from a contemporary anatomical book to Hyrtl or Burdach. One feels as if charged with a certain amount of warmth in one's scientific feeling on going back to the second third, but particularly to the first third of the nineteenth century. Certainly at that time science was not at its zenith. But that is only of secondary importance and need not be considered further. I am speaking of what was experienced in science. And about that one can say: Through studying the path taken by the scientific soul, we can verify what Spiritual Science reveals to us, namely, that at the end of the nineteenth century more and more souls arose in whom there no longer lived from their previous earth-life the impulse that thought is God-given—I mean that there was no longer even an echo of this. For although the sense for the individual past earth-life had been lost, its echo still lived on long afterwards.

Thus felt those who still had a living warmth within them, who had not become dried up by the prejudice that in science one must be objective—in its usual sense; actually what is striven for by Spiritual Science is the truly objective science, but not in the scientists' meaning of the word. These souls not dried up through striving after objectivity asked: What is there in us still bound up with the divine-spiritual (they did not ask this consciously but subconsciously) from which we were torn in our previous earthly incarnation? Rising to the surface of consciousness was the feeling that man had lost his connection with the divine-spiritual world. On the other hand, it is a feeling that man dare not lose this connection, for without even this faint consciousness there is no life for his soul. Hence an intense yearning aroused, the strong inclination to that undefined longing for the Spirit, and yet the incapacity to reach it.

It is characteristic of the generation growing up about the turn of the nineteenth century and at the beginning of the twentieth that it should ask the older generations: Can we discover the Spiritual in our earthly environment? And the leaders who were asked unconsciously by youth: How can we find the Spiritual in Nature, how can we find it within human life itself?—these leaders condemned as unscientific this bringing the Spirit into the study of Nature and of human life.

Thus in the second half of the nineteenth century a dreadful thing happened—the slogan “Psychology, science of the soul without a soul” arose. I lay no special stress on how certain philosophers said that we need a soul-science without soul. What the philosophers say has no great influence, but it is symptomatic of what figures very widely as feeling and of how one deals with the younger generation. True, only a few philosophers actually said: We need a psychology without soul. But the whole age said: We older people wish to teach you mineralogy, zoology, botany, biology, anthropology, even history, in a way to make it appear to you as if at the most there are experiences of the soul, but not a soul as such. And the whole world, in so far as it is observed scientifically, must be experienced as having no soul. Those who were first to bring with them out of their previous earth-life the tragedy of experiencing soullessness were compelled to ask with the utmost insistence: Where can we look to fill the soul with Spirit? And from what their age considered of greatest value—in other respects rightly so—they gleaned the least information.

Those who in the last third of the nineteenth century wrote that one can gather the nature of their soul-life from their books were, even in the nineteenth century, a vanishing minority. In general the people who wrote these books were not the most brilliant. Among those who do not write books there are distinctly cleverer people than among those who do write them. In the last third of the nineteenth century profounder natures were living in the midst of the superficial ones content with a science bereft of Spirit. And when one looks into these profounder natures, which is possible through Spiritual Science, one finds in the last third of the nineteenth century a wrestling with deep problems. Those who had this inner life were no longer listened to; they no longer found the opportunity to become leaders.

Many people foresaw clearly what the microscope was bringing in its wake in the second half of the nineteenth century. They were to be found among those who, participating in the cultural life, did not really penetrate into it because they felt dissatisfied with a culture devoid of Spirit, and therefore had their thoughts inwardly silenced in face of the growing scientific conceptions, yet asking with deep feeling: How can microcosmic evolution be brought into relation with macrocosmic evolution? This problem became increasingly pressing in their feeling life.

There were also men who, as a result of their education, followed the scientific tradition that continued to become ever emptier and emptier of spirit. They hoped, for instance, for always greater scientific results from the further development of the microscope; they hoped with its help to see smaller and smaller objects. But others of a deeper nature looked with disturbed feelings upon the further development of the microscope, particularly upon the views which followed in its train. The highest hope of one group was, by examining ever smaller and smaller objects, to penetrate into the nature of what is living. But others felt that this whole business would bring the world to naught, that the use of the microscope sucked the soul dry.

I trust you will not think that I am indulging in satire in a mystic, fantastical fashion on the use of the microscope. That would never occur to me. I am naturally fully aware of the services rendered by the microscope, and I would never wish to put a spoke in any scientific wheel. I am simply recounting facts relating to the life of soul.

The number of these solitary spirits steadily decreased. Fortlage, who lived as Professor in Jena at the end of the nineteenth century, was one of them. He spoke somewhat as follows: One can look more and more thoroughly into the microscope and go on discovering ever smaller things, but in this minuteness one loses what is substantially true. If you want to see what is being sought with the aid of the microscope—which, with ever greater perfection, allows one to penetrate further and further into the minute—then turn your gaze out into the infinite space of the universe. From the stars there speaks what you are seeking within the minute. You talk of the secrets of life, and seek for them from what is minute, and ever more minute. But there one loses life, not for reality, but for knowledge. Life is lost in this way. You can find it again when you understand how to read the stars.

Some have said: Life is brought down from the cosmos. But they sought for a material means, possibly in the meteor-showers flying through cosmic space and bringing germs out of other worlds down to the earth. But when one gazes from the earth out into limitless space, it is not limitless at all. For the mechanistic-mathematical way of perception, the firmament was done away with by Giordano Bruno: but for more intimate perception it is again there in the sense that one cannot simply draw a radius from the earth and prolong it into infinity. This radius has in fact an end, and at this end there is everywhere, at the inner periphery, life to be found and not death. From this world-periphery life radiates in from all directions.

I only wish to indicate to you by these examples the nature of those inner problems of experience which confronted the soul at the turn of the nineteenth century. Out of the dullest experience of soul the question really was put: Where can we rediscover the Spiritual?

You see, this question must set the mood if any phase of the youth movement is to find a right content—Where can I find the Spiritual? How does one experience the Spiritual? The really important thing is that side by side with all yearning expectation there shall also be found among the young, single ideals striving towards an inner activity of the soul. I should like to preface what I have to say tomorrow by the following.

In what I have named Anthroposophy, in fact in the foreword to my Philosophy of Spiritual Activity, you will meet with something which you will not be able to comprehend if you only give yourself up to that passive thinking so specially loved today, to that popular god-forsaken thinking of even a previous incarnation. You will only understand if you develop in Freedom the inner impulse to bring activity into your thinking. You will never get on with Spiritual Science if that spark, that lightning, through which activity in thinking is awakened does not flash up. Through this activity we must reconquer the divine nature of thinking.

Anthroposophical literature demands that one shall think actively. Most people are only able to think passively, finding active thinking impossible. But active thinking has no room for sleepy nor for intellectual dreaming. One must keep in step with it and get one's thinking on the move. The moment thinking is set in motion one goes with it. Then what I should like to call modern clairvoyance ceases to be anything miraculous. That this clairvoyance should still appear as something particularly miraculous comes from people not wishing to develop the energy to bring activity into their thinking. It often drives one to despair. One often feels when demanding active thinking of anyone that his mood is illustrated by the following anecdote: Somebody was lying in a ditch without moving hand or foot, not even opening his eyes; he was asked by a passer-by: “Why are you so sad?” The man answered: “Because I don't want to do anything.” The questioner was astonished at this, for the man lying there was doing nothing and had apparently done nothing for a long time. But he wanted to do even more “doing nothings” Then the questioner said: “Well, you certainly are doing nothing,” and got the answer: “I have to revolve with the earth and even that I don't want to do “

This is how people appear who do not wish to bring activity into thinking, into what alone out of man's being can bring the soul back into connection with the divine-spiritual content of the world. Many of you have learnt to despise thinking, because it has met you only in its passive form. This, however, is only head-thinking in which the heart plays no part. But try for once really to think actively and you will see how the heart is then engaged; if one succeeds in developing active thinking the whole human being in a way suited to our present age enters with the greatest intensity into the spiritual world. For through active thinking we are able to bring force into our thinking—the force of a stout heart. If you do not seek the Spirit on the path of thought, which although difficult to tread must be trodden with courage, with the very blood of one's heart, if you do not try on this path to suck in that spiritual life which has flowed through humanity from the very beginning, you will create a movement where the infant would believe himself able to draw nourishment out of himself and not from his mother's breast. You only come to a movement with real content when you find the secret of developing within an activity which enables you to draw again out of cosmic life true spiritual nourishment, true spiritual drink.

But that is pre-eminently a problem of the will, a problem of the will experienced through feeling. Infinitely much depends today upon good-will, upon an energetic willing, and no theories can solve what we are seeking today. Courageous, strong will alone can bring the solution.

Let us devote the next few days to the question of how to find this good-will, this strong will.