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Earthly Knowledge and Heavenly Wisdom
GA 221

V. Earthy Learning and heavenly Wisdom: Human Beings as Citizens of the Universe and Hermits on the Earth II

10 February 1923, Dornach

The great change in the spiritual development of humanity that took place in recent centuries and that I have described from many different perspectives has not only changed the intellectual and theoretical character of cognition and perception but has also affected the feelings and emotions in the human soul and therefore all of human life. To fully realize this, we will look today at the actual foundations of life, that is, not only at various more or less pronounced symptoms of this change, but also at life's characteristic forms of expression where we will be able to trace this shift in human consciousness.

We have often talked about the centers of learning in ancient times of human evolution, namely, the Mystery centers. These Mystery centers were, so to speak, completely clothed in human veneration. People spoke of the Mysteries as being the most important thing on earth for humanity. Everything significant and meaningful for human life was believed to radiate from them. Basically, people then believed that if there were no Mysteries among them, they could not be what the gods had intended them to be. Indeed, people looked with the greatest reverence and the deepest respect to the Mysteries. They felt gratitude for the Mysteries because they realized what they received from the Mysteries allowed them to become on earth what the gods had wanted human beings to be.

When we compare this with people's attitudes toward educational institutions nowadays, we will find nothing like that deep and warm reverence anywhere. In fact, we will often find that when people have completed their compulsory education, they feel a great sense of relief and are happy to be done with it. But even aside from this extreme, we know that educational institutions do not really give us what we regard as essential for our humanness, for being truly human. Even though we may venerate with a kind of theoretical reverence what we learn in chemistry laboratories, biology institutes, law schools, and in schools of philosophy, we will still not feel that the existence of such institutions gives us an awareness of our true humanity.

Thus, we cannot claim that people everywhere are directing their warmest feelings of reverence to these educational institutions even though they may have a certain kind of theoretical feeling for them. At any rate, nowadays it will not happen often that university students working on a paper for a seminar will feel themselves permeated by their whole elemental humanness the way a Mystery pupil did in ancient times when he or she had completed one of the stages of the training.

Yet, we need to be connected with something we can deeply venerate, something from which we feel the divine streaming out. Let us compare this cultural-historical fact with its origins, and go back two or three millennia before the Mystery of Golgotha when centers of learning similar to the Mysteries existed in the Near East. In these centers, people studied above all the natural sciences of their time, if we can call them that. They studied the starry heavens, the nature of the stars, their movements, their rhythmical appearance at certain times, and so on. People nowadays imagine that these studies in astronomy may even have had an element of fantasy. However, that is not how it was. These studies were carried out with the same, if not greater, methodical thoroughness and care as mineralogy, geology, or biology are these days.

What did people in ancient times think when they studied the starry heavens? They believed that if they could understand the starry heavens, they would know something about the nature and destiny of human beings on earth. Their studies in astronomy culminated in insights into the fate of human beings and whole peoples on earth based on the constellations in the sky.

They looked at the stars not merely with theoretical intentions and ideas. Rather they did so out of the awareness that if they knew the relationship of Saturn to the sun or to a sign of the zodiac at the moment when a person is born or has accomplished a great deed, then they would know how the heavens have placed human beings on the earth. They would know to what extent human beings are the creations, the children, of the heavens. They studied the heavens in order to understand what could be a guideline for their life on earth. All the insights they gathered in their astronomy were geared to understanding human beings. All their knowledge was warmed through and through by a truly human element. And people in those days believed what they were doing was connected to what they could study in the heavens.

We can look at an example from the realm of human artistic activity. In those ancient times, when people began writing poetry or composing music, they drew their inspiration from the heavens. I have often mentioned that Homer did not write the line "Of Peleus's son, Achilles, sing, O Muse, the vengeance deep and deadly; ..." just to use a nice poetic phrase. He used it because he knew he was expressing something that did not spring from his human poetic craft; he was expressing what the heavens were whispering to him. Those who made music on earth were reproducing through the sound of earthly instruments what they believed they heard in the music of the heavenly spheres. People felt that in the way they worked, related to other people, and formed communities here on earth they experienced the will impulses that streamed down upon them from the universe. They studied these will impulses in their observation of the starry heavens and felt that they were acting here on earth in accordance with the intentions of the heavens.

In other words, all the science, art, and religion of these ancient times flowed into human life and work. For in those days religion, science, and art were united; they were a unity that ultimately radiated into human beings so they could feel themselves as the beings the gods had wanted them to be on earth. This attitude prevailed as long as people found a spiritual element in their knowledge about the heavens—as long as they were open to perceive something spiritual in the nature and movements of the stars and in their rhythmic appearance. They perceived a spiritual element that streamed down to them through what they knew about the stars so that they could put their knowledge into practice on earth.

Astrology does not have a good name these days. However, when we think of it in the old sense, it has a more respectable name. People back then looked up to the stars, and that is where the Logos revealed itself to them. It worked through their thoughts, their imagination, and their language here on earth. People participated in what made the formation of sounds here on earth resound with the mysteries of the heavens by merely setting their speech organs into motion. The Logos, which is the intelligence ruling in the human race, appeared as an emanation of the world of the stars. People believed what happened down here on earth was a reflection of the archetypal picture they knew through their astrology.

When we look at our modern knowledge, we realize that it has been gained through sensory observation of earthly things. Even our modern astronomy, as I explained yesterday, is only earthly knowledge projected onto the heavens. Human beings nowadays are gaining knowledge based on their senses, and, indeed, they are integrated into the world differently than they were in the past. I described this difference recently in the course of these lectures. As I explained in my book, The Philosophy of Freedom, modern intellectual people are characterized by their abstract concepts and their freedom, which has become possible only because of the development of abstract and intellectual concepts that are not in any way compelling, but provide moral commandments originating in human individuality.1See Lecture One, note 2. These intellectual concepts and the consciousness of freedom are a relatively recent development in human evolution. They appeared after the consciousness based on astrology had vanished—the consciousness that saw human beings as creatures that carry out the intentions of the gods. We modern human beings with our intellect and our freedom are cut off from the heavens; we have truly become earth hermits and rely completely on the earth for all our knowledge. The way we gain knowledge explains why we have such a strong interest in and attachment to it.

In ancient times it would have been unthinkable to see religion and scientific knowledge as two different things. When people in those days arrived at a scientific insight, it immediately also gave them a religious feeling, showing them the way to the gods. In fact, they could not help being religious in the true sense of the word once they had gained knowledge. Nowadays people can learn the whole spectrum of current knowledge, and yet it will not make them religious. I would like to know whether anyone has become religious these days through having become a botanist, zoologist, or chemist!

People who want to be religious look for religion in addition to knowledge. That is why we have separate institutions for the cultivation of religious life besides those for learning and knowledge. In fact, many people think that knowledge diverts us from the path of religion and that, therefore, we must look for other ways to lead us back to religion. Nevertheless, in our lectures we have had to stress again and again the importance of modern knowledge. We have had to point out that recent insights and findings are indeed essential for modern humanity and its further development.

Modern human beings with their intellectualism and consciousness of freedom develop here on earth what people in ancient times, who still had a heavenly consciousness, developed only after death. In describing what happens to modern people immediately after death, we have to point out that they look back upon a picture of their life by discarding their etheric body. Then, in the period after that, they wander back through their life from the ending to the beginning. In ancient times, life after death was different. What people could see on earth only through higher revelation, namely, an intellectual world view, they did not get until after death. What they were to gain on earth could be present there only as an ideal; they would be free human beings only after death. In those times, the true human being appeared only after the crossing from the physical world into the spiritual one.

In other words, what people in ancient times experienced only after death in looking back on their earthly life, namely intellectualism and a consciousness of freedom, modern people have crammed already into their life between birth and death. They have become intellectual beings endowed with a consciousness of freedom while still on earth.

However, in the process we have to gain something through our sensory knowledge and our inferences based on it that does not much interest us at first. No matter how long we observe the world of the stars through our telescopes, it will not make us feel humanly and inwardly warmed and enlightened. Expeditions of astronomers and natural scientists are fitted out to verify Einstein's ideas.2Albert Einstein, 1879-1955, German-born American physicist. Developed theory of relativity, publishing account of special theory of relativity (1905) and of general theory (1916); discovered and formulated equivalence of mass and energy. Awarded 1921 Nobel prize for physics. But nobody expects his or her findings to be something that belongs so intimately to our elemental human nature as did those of the astronomers in the Babylonian or Assyrian culture. What our modern knowledge gives us is very different: a lack of interest in the vast reaches of the universe. Though this or that recent biological discovery may be very interesting, we cannot say that through these biological discoveries people come closer to the divine-spiritual being they carry in their soul. Instead, people want to approach this divine-spiritual being in their soul through a separate interest in religion.

These days people do not have any clear idea of the relationship the ancients had to knowledge, even in the not so distant past. We need only think of what a fateful experience it was when Archimedes discovered the Archimedean principle while he was in the bathtub and exclaimed the fateful words: "I have found it!" A single insight such as this one was like a window allowing a glimpse into the secrets of the universe.

Such a warmhearted attitude toward knowledge certainly did not exist when X rays were discovered.3Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen, 1845-1923, German physicist. Discovered X rays (1895) and was awarded first Nobel prize for physics for this discovery (1901). We could say that the modern relationship to knowledge leads more to an open-mouthed gasping with surprise than to an inward rejoicing in the soul. From a human point of view these two gestures and attitudes are very different, and this difference has to be considered in terms of humanity's further development.

All this has led to a very strange development. For several centuries now, people have been receiving in their earthly life what they received only after death in ancient times, namely, intellectual understanding of the world and a consciousness of freedom. Yet, they have hardly noticed this; their world of feelings, the elemental part of their world, has hardly been touched. In fact, we could say that all this is more likely to have a bitter taste for people. After all, they do not consider pure thoughts the way I have tried to do in The Philosophy of Freedom, that is, they do not respond by wanting to sing hymns to them rather than analyze them. Consciousness of freedom has led people into all kinds of tumultuous things, but not to the realization that something has descended from heaven to the earth. Thus, not even the basic force underlying the modern development of humanity has been felt on a purely human level.

To explain why this is so is to answer one of the most important questions of human existence. In ancient times people gained knowledge by looking up to the heavens to find the Logos there. They looked for what the gods were telling them through the movements and the nature of the stars; their human intelligence was a reflection of the divine Logos. Everything people did on earth was illuminated by the content of the Logos, and this content had been received from the stars. In those days, human life would have been nothing if people could not have given it meaning on the basis of their knowledge of the world of the stars.

Similarly, all the knowledge we gain inwardly is in a sense a mere nothing. We get this knowledge by submitting ourselves to the study of botany, zoology, biology, physiology, or other subjects. We do all this out of ambition, at best, or based on the insight that it is necessary if we want to eke out a living here on earth. I know this is a radical statement, but in a sense it comes close to the truth. For surely the people who see great ideals here are under the influence of a certain illusion that allows them to interpret these things in accordance with their ideals. In any case, the people who can see meaning in the sentence "I pray a chemical formula" are few and far between. This is how we have to express an important cultural-historical fact, albeit a negative one.

It takes a person such as Novalis, who was gifted with a profound knowledge aglow with youthful enthusiasm, to feel that, for example, solving a differential equation is actually praying.4Novalis, pseudonym of Friedrich Leopold Freiherr von Hardenberg, 1772-1801, German poet. A leader of early Romanticists in Germany. Ordinary mathematicians are not in a very prayerful mood when they discover the solution to a differential equation. The obvious fact that we are involved with our whole being in the act of knowing, that we feel our longing for the divine with our whole being, is not at all self-evident to modern humanity. But people take it as a matter of course that those who climb to the heights of knowledge are glad when they have their exams behind them and do not have to go through any more. The joy of having passed through the stages of the Mysteries is hardly to be found in modern exam candidates. At least it is extremely rare nowadays that students talk with the full seriousness of the ancient Mysteries about the profoundly divine deed a professor has done in giving them a dissertation topic and enabling them to go through the waters of holiness while they work on their topic. Yet that would be the normal, the self-evident thing to do.

Keeping this in mind, let me sketch it for you. We have down here the earth with everything on it (see drawing below, white and green). In ancient times, those who were seeking knowledge saw all these things, but they believed that they could only fully understand them when they looked up to the stars and received from there the rays that illuminated everything for them in the right way (see drawing, red).

In ancient times, seekers looked for this reflection of the world of the stars in earthly life (see drawing, lower red). Without this reflection, everything I have drawn down here in outline would have seemed worthless to them. Nowadays we do not concern ourselves with what is up there, but study only what is here below. We study it in innumerable details, and when we have devoted ourselves to this or that specialized discipline, our head is filled with many details. However, evaluating and weighing these details has become a matter of indifference in our life, and consequently we also lack interest for the noble primordial human element in us. This has an especially striking impact on our spirituality as such.

The Earth and the stars

The Swabian writer Friedrich Theodor Vischer poked fun at the fact that what we must leave behind in order to reach knowledge does not matter anymore to the consciousness of humanity as a whole.5Friedrich Theodor Vischer, 1807-1887, German writer and critic. On Faust, see his parody, Faust. Der Tragodie dritter Teil. Eine Parodie {"Faust, the Third Part of the Tragedy: a Parody"), 1862. He claimed that one of the most "significant" treatises in the field of modern literature is the one on the connection between the chilblains of Frau Christiane von Goethe and the symbolical-allegorical figures in Part Two of Faust! Why shouldn't a dissertation be written about this connection just as well as about any other subject? After all, the method used and the human interest involved would not be of any different quality than in cases where somebody writes a treatise—as does indeed happen—on the dashes in Homer's poetry. Truly, we are proud of accumulating insights people in ancient times considered worthwhile only after they had been illuminated by knowledge of the heavens.

We do not have heavenly wisdom. We do not study copper by looking at Venus or lead by looking at Saturn. We also do not study primeval human beings by looking at the sign of Aquarius, and we do not understand what moves from the animal nature of the lion to certain inner impulses of human nature by studying the sign of Leo. We no longer draw anything down from the heavens to help us explain earthly things; instead, we turn our gaze solely on the vast number of details all over the earth.

Clearly, then, we need something that brings meaning into the separate details and helps us to see once again what people used to see when they beheld earthly objects illumined by the heavens. We know many things, but we need a comprehensive knowledge that can radiate into all the separate fields of knowledge and give them meaning. That is what anthroposophy wants to be.

Just as astrology looked into the heavens to explain the earth, so anthroposophy wants to look within human beings to see what they have to say out of themselves. From there it wants to illuminate everything we know about minerals, plants, animals, human beings, and everything else we usually know only in separate details. Just as people looked to the heavens to understand earthly life, so we with our intellect and our newly acquired freedom must now come to understand ourselves. Only then will we be able to look again at the moment of death when we enter a spiritual world where gods will gaze down upon what we will bring with us and what will radiate from us. For we are to become fully human already on earth, whereas in ancient times this did not happen until after death. How far we have been successful in becoming truly human will be evident from the strength we gain from the pure awareness of our humanity. We receive this pure consciousness of our humanity through what radiates from anthroposophy into everything we can know and accomplish on earth.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God," (John 1:1) that is to say, in the beginning was the Logos and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God. The Logos was brought down from the revelation of the gods in the heavens. "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us," (John 1:14) and, indeed, it continues to live among us. The Logos has become flesh. What could once be found only in the heavens must now be sought in the human realm. In ancient times, people were right in seeing the Logos with God the Father, but in our time it has to be sought in the realm of God the Son.

We find God the Son in his basic significance when we understand St. Paul's words "I have been crucified with Christ,- it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me," (Gal. 2:20) that is, when we come to know ourselves. All of anthroposophy aims at penetrating into our very depths. What did people in ancient times find when they looked into their depths? They found luciferic forces at the heart of human nature. When modern people penetrate deeply enough into their own being, they find Christ. That is the other side of the change from ancient to modern times. Since intellectualism and the consciousness of freedom came down from the heavens to the earth and since Christ united himself with humanity on earth, human beings can find Christ in the depths of their own being if they penetrate deeply enough. In contrast, when people in ancient times penetrated deeply into themselves, they found luciferic spirits.

That is what the candidates of the ancient Mysteries were supposed to learn. They had to realize that when they penetrated deep down into human nature, they would ultimately find at the heart of their own soul something that would make them recoil in horror, namely, the luciferic forces. Therefore, they had to learn to look up to the moment of death, for they would become truly human only after passing through the portal of death. Then they would be rescued from the luciferic forces they found here on earth in the depths of their soul. That is what the death experience in the ancient Mysteries was about. That is why the Mystery pupils in ancient times had to concentrate on learning about and picturing the moment of death.

In our times, we have to take hold of what has been given to us: intellectualism and consciousness of freedom. If we take hold of them in the right way, by permeating all our earthly knowledge and our actions with what pours forth out of a pure consciousness of humanity such as anthroposophy strives for, then we find the Christ forces in the depths of our soul. We will then realize that while people looked to the constellations of the stars in ancient times to understand human destiny on earth, we must now look to the human being. In this way we learn how the human being, permeated by the Christ substance here on earth while possessing full humanness, then lights up for the universe. The human being lights up as the star of humanity after having gone through the portal of death.

This is the spiritual humanism that can take the place of ancient astrology. It can teach us to consider what is revealed in us as Sophia, namely, anthroposophia, as people did the revelation of the stars as Logia in ancient times. That is the awareness with which we must permeate ourselves. That is how we can come to know the cosmic significance of the human being. We will understand our cosmic significance that leads us to study first the physical body and then the body of formative forces or etheric body.

I want to mention here only one example. When we study our physical body in the right way, that is, by illuminating this body with anthroposophy, we will learn that it is subject to its own forces. When our body subjects itself to its own forces, it continuously tends to become ill. Indeed, our lower part, our physical body, always has a tendency to become ill. And when we then study the etheric body, we find there the totality of the forces that constantly work to make the sick human being well again. The pendulum swings between physical body and etheric body aiming to keep the balance between the pathological and the therapeutical. In other words, our etheric body is the cosmic therapist, and our physical body the cosmic pathogenic agent.

We can say the same about other areas of human knowledge. We have to ask ourselves what we have to do when we are confronted with an illness. Well, we have to manage somehow, through some combination of remedies, to call upon the etheric body for healing. Basically, this is what all of medicine is doing: it somehow calls upon the patient's etheric body for healing. We are on the right path toward healing a patient who can be cured when we appeal to his or her etheric body in the right way, that is, when we seek the healing forces that can flow into the patient from his or her etheric body in accordance with the individual's destiny. But I will say more about this tomorrow, when I want to speak in more detail about this last aspect of today's topic.