Earthly Knowledge and Heavenly Wisdom
IX. Moral Impulses and Their Physical Manifestations: Taking Up a Spiritual Path III
18 February 1923, Dornach
As I have often emphasized, intellectual life has become predominant in our time. Preparations for this began during the fourth post-Atlantean or Greco-Roman epoch. As you know, on the basis of certain human soul characteristics that developed during that time, we have to say that the Greco-Roman period lasted from the eighth century B.C. to the fifteenth century A.D. It was followed by the period of soul development for western humanity we live in now.
The relationship of people to the intellectual world was different prior to the fifteenth century. Although the inclination in the mood of human souls toward intellectualism that existed in Greece has been in decline since the fourth century A.D., the Greco-Roman soul mood can still be detected everywhere in the second part of the fourth post- Atlantean epoch. To fully understand this particular soul mood, we have to put ourselves with all our heart and mind into the ancient Greeks. This applies particularly to the special characteristics they had during the age lasting from Socrates and Plato to the decline of Hellenism.
What shines through ordinary and superficial history tells us—even if we are not steeped in spiritual science—that when the ancient Greeks attained an intellectual view of the world, they felt joy, or at least satisfaction, about having advanced in their humanity. They believed that having gone through the various stages of education at that time and being able to form a world view through the power of their intellect meant they had progressed to a higher stage of humanity. They felt that they were human beings in a higher sense when they could grasp the world intellectually. Thus, there existed a complete joy and satisfaction in intellectual life.
We find this also in later epochs, for instance, in John Scotus Erigena, who lived in the ninth century A.D. 1John Scotus Erigena, c. 810-877, Irish-born theologian and philosopher. Wrote De divisione naturae (862-866), his major work, in which he attempted to reconcile Neoplatonist emanationism and Christian creationism. His doctrine was long influential, especially in its mystical implications, but was ultimately condemned because of its pantheistic leaning. The way he formulated and presented his ideas shows that he believed people would feel enthusiasm about understanding them. This was still very much the case with those people who tried to attain an intellectual world view in the isolation from the world typical of scholasticism—even though by then their discussions had become less heated. It is only in these last few centuries that people have begun believing they will lose their soul warmth when they become intellectual. As recently as the time of Schiller and his intellectual world view, or of Goethe and his extraordinarily exact morphology, things were quite different. 2Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller, 1759-1805, German poet, playwright, and critic. Wrote Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man (1795). See also Lecture Four, note 2 People such as these two great personalities developed an idealistic intellectual world view and believed they were not truly human until they could bring inner warmth into their ideas.
It is only quite recently that people have begun to perceive the world of ideas as cold and pale. In accordance with an important law in human evolution, people's relationship to the world of intellectually formed ideas has changed drastically. In earlier times, the world of ideas was concerned with life and the living. People believed the cosmos was alive. True insight into ancient concepts and thoughts reveals that people back then saw everything that was dead as a kind of precipitate of the living substance they believed to be spread out over the whole world. In other words, what was dead was regarded like the ashes that are left over when something is burned. In those days, people had a very different feeling about the universe than we do. To them, the universe was a big, living organism, and everything that was dead, for example, the mineral realm, was like the ashes that precipitated out from the world processes. It was dead because it was a waste product or residue of everything living.
This feeling about the world has changed tremendously over the last few centuries. Scientific knowledge is highly respected, or at least it has usually been highly respected, as long as the scientists expounded only on what is dead. And increasingly, people have felt the longing to see life itself as only a chemical combination of dead elements. Thus, the idea of the spontaneous generation of life out of dead matter developed.
As I have often explained, the medieval representation of homunculus in a retort as a being made up of various ingredients was not meant as a picture of spontaneous generation in the sense recent natural scientists use that term. Rather, this representation was intended to depict the conjuring forth of a particular living creature out of the indefinite living universe. People then did not yet conceive of the universe as a mechanism, as something dead, and that is why they believed it was possible to bring forth a particular living being out of the indefinite life of the world. People in the Middle Ages did not yet think of combining dead elements to create life. Without spiritual science, these things are hard to understand nowadays because people have gotten used to thinking their concepts have become perfect and absolutely right after having passed through various childhood stages of humanity.
We can talk about modern progress all we want; it is still true that people have never been as rigid in their concepts and thoughts as they are now. It is ultimately a subjective element that makes people so rigid, particularly in their understanding and knowledge. What is dead remains entirely passive when we apply our ideas and concepts to it. Thus, we can develop our concepts quite nicely and comfortably, for the dead element is not going to object or resist. We can then apply our concepts about the physical world to nature without being bothered by the fact that nature itself in its living flexibility challenges us to be just as flexible in our concepts. Goethe still felt that our concepts had to be inwardly alive, without sharply defined contours. Only then can our concepts adapt and adjust to the living, flexible world and to living and flexible beings.
To put it in a somewhat paradoxical way, people nowadays prefer their concepts to be convenient. However, rigid concepts with sharply defined contours can be applied only to what is dead and does not budge, thus allowing our concepts to remain rigid. Nevertheless, living in rigid concepts that ignore everything living has given us the opportunity to attain an inner awareness of freedom, as I have often explained.
Two developments have come about as a result of our concepts having become dead: first, the awareness of freedom, and second, the possibility to apply the rigid concepts, which have been developed out of what is dead and can be used only for what is dead, in our magnificent, triumphant technology, which is nothing more than the putting into practice of a rigid system of ideas. This is one aspect of the evolution modern humanity has undergone. We have to understand how human beings, in a sense, have cut themselves off from everything living, that the living has become alien to them. And we also have to understand that when we do not want to remain in the realm of the dead, but want to take the impulse of the living into our soul, then we must find this living element on our own.
In very ancient times, people saw life in every cloud formation, every flash of lightning, every roll of thunder, in every living plant, and so on. In a sense, they breathed in life and thus understood it, and without any effort they were in the midst of life. They only had to take in life from the outside. In contrast, in our evolutionary stage our concepts can grasp only what is dead, and the outer environment can no longer give us what is alive. Therefore, we must bring forth this living element out of the innermost core of our being.
It is not enough to understand history merely theoretically, with our intellect, for then history appears much too uniform and unvarying. We have to put ourselves with all our soul into the way people in past epochs experienced history. Then we will see that a tremendous change took place between the pre-Grecian ages, which we trace back to Atlantean times in our anthroposophy—that is, to the seventh and eighth millennia B.C.—the Greek age, and our own time. Today I would like to talk concretely and in detail about this change in people's attitudes toward the universe. I want to describe this change from the vantage point of spiritual vision.
In early history, for example, in the Egyptian or the Baby- Ionian-Chaldean culture, or even in the ancient Persian culture, people believed they had descended to earth from a pre-earthly life. They felt they were bearing within them the aftereffects of what the gods had implanted in them during this pre-earthly life. Of course, ordinary history tells us only very little about these times; we need to use the methods of spiritual science to penetrate and understand these things.
In those times people expressed their relationship to the earth by saying: Here I stand on earth. Before this, I was in a soul-spiritual world, a world of light, so to speak. That light continues to shine mysteriously within me. In a sense, as a human being, I am a vessel for the divine light that continues to live within me.
In other words, people were aware that a divine element had come down to earth with them. They did not say (and this can be proved philologically) I stand upon the earth, but they said: As a human being, I am a vessel for the God who has come to the earth. That is what was in people's consciousness in early history.
In fact, the further back we go in evolution, the more prevalent is the awareness that the human being is a vessel for the God who has descended to earth. The divine element then was manifold. To the ancient consciousness, the lowest gods in the divine hierarchy that extended all the way down to the earth were the human beings themselves. If we do not present a distorted picture of oriental culture, as Deussen has done in such a terribly superficial way, but really try to sympathize with the consciousness of the ancient Indians when they felt their Brahma within them, felt themselves enveloping it, then we will understand what human soul life in ancient times was really like. 3Paul Deussen, 1845-1919, German philosopher and Sanskrit scholar.
Out of this consciousness developed the feelings people had for the Divine Father, the Father God. People felt themselves to be, in a sense, the sons and daughters of the gods. They did not feel this way about their physical body, but only about what this physical body enveloped. Some people in ancient times thought that our flesh and blood indeed was not worthy to be a vessel for a god. Thus, it was not the human being of flesh and blood that they regarded as divine, but the part that projected from the spiritual world into this physical-earthly human being, into the human being of flesh and blood.
People felt their relationship to the Father God was a religious one. The highest rank in the ancient Mysteries was that of father. In most oriental Mysteries, the candidates had to advance through seven stages. The first stage was one of preparation. Here the candidates had to develop the soul mood that would enable them to understand what was shown to them in the Mysteries. In the second through the fourth stages, the candidates achieved a full understanding of their folk soul. As a result they no longer felt themselves to be isolated individuals but members of a group or community. As they advanced to the fifth and sixth stages, the candidates felt themselves more and more to be vessels of the divine element.
The highest stage was that of the father. The candidates who reached this stage were personalities who represented in their outer life what people felt to be the divine primordial principle to which they really felt connected. Their culture was completely determined by the center of their religious life: people had to consciously feel a relationship to the divine fatherly creative principle. Accordingly, people felt everything they could understand within themselves, for example, the light of knowledge they could become aware of, as bequeathed upon them by God the Father. They felt God the Father continuing to work in their intellect. All their cults were shaped by this as they were simply reflections of the path of knowledge the candidates took in the Mysteries.
Then came the age of Greek antiquity. The ancient Greeks were the purest representative of the stage of humanity that developed out of the soul conditions I have just described. The Greeks thought of themselves more as human beings than as mere vessels of the divine. Nevertheless, their feeling about themselves was such that those who had undergone any education—let's say intellectual, artistic, or religious training—felt that the divine had completely entered into the human being, without remainder, so to speak. Thus, they no longer thought of themselves as vessels of a god, but rather as representations of him.
However, this was not expressed as openly as the other soul condition had been in earlier times. In ancient Greece, it was revealed only to Mystery candidates at a certain stage of initiation that as human beings they were also divine beings, sons of the gods. In fact, it was considered impossible to present this mystery of the origins of humanity to people who were unprepared. Nevertheless, this was how the initiated Greeks thought, and thus it was the fundamental feeling of their culture. It was not a sharply defined idea, but a basic feeling of the soul. This basic feeling is expressed in Greek art, where the gods are represented as idealized human beings in accordance with that fundamental feeling. In a sense, then, the ancient Greeks kept their relationship to the divine in the purity of their heart and feelings.
Now, when the Greek world view was well into its decline, a totally new soul mood appeared with the fifteenth century. People no longer thought of themselves as earthly vessels of the divine or as representations of the divine. Instead, they saw themselves as having evolved through lower, imperfect stages into human beings—beings who can only look up to the otherworldly divine. The natural sciences of modern times are based on this fundamental feeling, but we have not yet been able to understand how these sciences are related to ourselves. It is the task of anthroposophy to help us find once again this relationship to ourselves and to the divine. This refinding can be accomplished in the following way.
Imagine what people in pre-Grecian ages felt in their soul. They would have felt that they enveloped a divine element. By enveloping the divine with their flesh and blood, they could not help but represent it on earth in less than its true dignity and glory. In a sense, they could not help degrading it. In order to represent the divine element within them in all its purity, they had to purify themselves; they had to undergo a kind of catharsis or purification so that the divine within them would be the predominating element.
Basically, this is nothing else than a return to the fatherly primordial principle, as we see it in many religions of antiquity where people believed that after death they would return to their ancestors, even their remote ancestors. In all religions there is this longing to return to the divine father's primordial creative principle. It indicates that human beings did not yet feel at home on earth. At the same time, they did not yet see themselves as completely separate from God and moving longingly toward the otherworldly divine out of this position of separateness. Rather, people in those early times strove to represent the human being in all his purity because they believed God would then come to light.
All this changed in Greek antiquity. People then no longer felt as closely connected with the divine Father principle as they had in earlier times. They still felt connected to the divine, but at the same time also to the earthly realm. In a sense, people back then felt themselves to be equally close to the divine and to the earthly. This was the age in which the Mystery of Golgotha took place. It was the epoch when in addition to saying "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God," referring to the Father God, "and the Word was God," (John 1:1) — people had to say "And the Word became flesh." (John 1:14) The Word or Logos had originally been regarded only as the union with the Father God, but now people believed that the Word had fully taken up His abode within human beings; people had to seek Him within themselves. The Mystery of Golgotha fit in very well with this mood of soul. People had never been able to think of God the Father in human form. He had to be thought of purely spiritually. Christ, the Son of God, was conceived of as divine and human at the same time. Basically, what the ancient Greeks longed for or realized in their art was fulfilled for all of humanity in the Mystery of Golgotha in its entirety. We must not be distracted by trivialities but must concentrate on the essentials, namely, the fact that a divine being has entered human beings here on earth.
This makes the Mystery of Golgotha the center of human evolution on earth. It is certainly no mere coincidence that the Mystery of Golgotha took place at the time when the ancient Greeks tried to represent the divine element in human beings from the outside, from the point of view of the earth. It is not just a poetic metaphor to say that in ancient Greek art God was represented as a human being with the ingredients available on earth. And the cosmos sent God down into the human being in order to answer the wonderful question ancient Greek civilization had sent out into the universe, as it were. From human historical development we get the feeling that with their human representations of the gods the ancient Greeks were asking the cosmos whether God could become human. And the cosmos answered that God could become human by letting the Mystery of Golgotha take place.
I have often emphasized that we cannot understand this Mystery of Golgotha in its true essence when we approach it only with the knowledge about dead things that has become so widespread recently. Rather, we must approach it with a new, living way of knowing, a way of knowing that is permeated by spirit. Then we will have to realize that we have achieved our consciousness of freedom as well as our technological progress with the help of our dead concepts; however, we cannot stop with this inner condition of death. Out of our own soul we must develop the impulse of something living, something alive and spiritual; in other words, we must be able to have ideas that are inwardly alive. These ideas must take hold not only of our intellect but of our whole being.
As I indicated in my book Goethe’s Conception of the World, we have to be able once again to advance beyond dead and abstract concepts to a spirituality that will fill us with ideas. 4Rudolf Steiner, Goethe’s Conception of the World, vol. 6 in the Collected Works (New York: Anthroposophic Press, 1928). Into this world of ideas we must then bring all living warmth that can glow in our soul and all bright light that can arouse the enthusiasm of our soul. We must become able once again to take up into the realm of ideas all our soul warmth and all our soul light. We must become able to inwardly take our whole being with us into the spirituality of the world of ideas. This ability is what we have lost in our time.
There is probably hardly anything in modern literature
as deeply moving as the first chapter in Nietzsche's presentation
of Greek philosophy in "the tragic age of the Greeks"
as he called it. 5Friedrich Nietzsche, Die Philosophic im tragischen Zeitalter
der Griechen ("Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks"), 1873. Nietzsche describes the philosophers of the
pre-Socratean age, among them Thales, Heraclitus, and
6Thales of Miletus, c.625-c.547 B.C. Greek philosopher and scientist.
One of the Seven Wise Men of Greece. He taught that water,
or moisture, was the one element from which the world was
Heraclitus, C.540-C.480 B.C. Greek philosopher. Evolved cosmology in which fire is the principal element, all things are in a state of dynamic equilibrium, apparent opposites are actually bound by underlying connection, and the whole is a manifestation of logos. Later interpreted by Plato to have claimed all things are in constant flux. Writings extant only in fragments notable for their difficulty. Anaxagoras, C.500-C.428 B.C. Greek philosopher. First to introduce dualistic explanation of universe; held that all natural objects are composed of infinitesimally small particles containing mixtures of all qualities, and that mind or intelligence (nous) acts upon masses of these particles to produce objects. If you have a sense for this and have an open mind, you will be very moved by Nietzsche's description of how at a certain point in their development the ancient Greeks rose to the abstraction of pure being. They moved from the manifoldness of the impressions of nature that had filled them with warmth to the pale thought of being. Roughly, Nietzsche said the following: You feel chilly, you feel you enter icy regions, as you follow an ancient Greek philosopher, for example, Parmenides, to this abstract idea of all-embracing being. 7Parmenides, born c.515 B.C. Greek philosopher of Elea. Only fragments of his work are extant. One of Plato's dialogues was named after him. Nietzsche felt transported from the modern culture—in which he was thoroughly steeped, as I explained here the day before yesterday—into the glacier region of the soul.
In fact, Nietzsche failed because he could only go as far as the coldness, the glacial nature, of the world of ideas. Clairvoyance in true spirituality, however, can bring both soul warmth and soul light into intellectuality; as a result we can achieve the purity in our concepts I have described in The Philosophy of Freedom. 8See Lecture One, note 2. This purity in our concepts makes us not into inwardly dried-up but rather inwardly enthusiastic human beings. We become able to feel the sun warmth of the cosmos through the cold regions of intellectualism as we leave behind the earthly warmth of the sensory world. We become able to receive the cosmic light through carrying our living soul impulses into the darkness that grows within us as we leave behind the shining earthly objects and enter the world of intellectual concepts—in other words, we become human beings who have overcome the earthly darkness.
Everywhere in Nietzsche's work we can see his longing for this cosmic light and this cosmic warmth. But he could not reach them, and that is why he failed. Anthroposophy wants to show us the way that does not lead to a loss of earth warmth and earth light, but to the preservation of our lively interest in every concrete earthly detail. In other words, we can retain our loving attachment to all earthly things and yet rise to the level of concepts where the divine reveals itself in pure concepts. We modern people can no longer feel the divine element within us, as ancient people still could; we must work to reach the divine realm.
This mood enables us to get the right feeling for the Mystery of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, this is the difference between the spiritual life of modern and ancient people. In ancient times, people drew their spirituality from the many beings of nature. Clouds spoke to them of the spirit, and so did the flowers. In contrast, our concepts have grown cold and dead, and we must bring them to life by ourselves. Only then can we approach the Holy Spirit who will help us to understand the Mystery of Golgotha in the right way.
We take something of our humanity with us when we imbue our ideas with soul warmth and soul light through anthroposophy. If we did not do this, we could not go beyond the dry, banal, and abstract aspect of the world of ideas. When we achieve an understanding of the world through the insights I have explained in my anthroposophical books, then our ideas remain just as exact as they are in mathematics or in the other sciences. Our thinking will be no less exact than that of the chemist in his laboratory or the biologist in his study, but our concepts require that we bring something of ourselves to them. When anthroposophists speak out of Imagination or Inspiration and people really understand them based on their sound common sense, then they will see this Imagination or Inspiration as clearly before them as mathematicians see their equations or geometrical figures. But people must bring something of their humanity with them or they will not understand these ideas in the right way. What they must bring with them is love.
We cannot acquire the knowledge anthroposophy gives us without permeating it with love. Without love it has no more significance than anything else. It makes no difference whether you classify beings as the materialistic scientists do into marsupials, anthropoid apes, ape-men, and human beings or whether you say human beings consist of physical body, etheric body, astral body, and I. Granted, they are different thoughts, but the state of the soul is the same in both cases. The condition of our soul will change only when our spiritual understanding of our place in nature becomes inwardly alive.
It can change only when the same feeling, perception, and soul conditions that live in love also accompany the act of knowing. When we permeate our knowledge with the experience of love, then our knowledge can approach the Mystery of Golgotha. Then we will have more than the naive leaning toward Christ, which in principle is perfectly justified. We will also have a knowledge that extends over the whole cosmos and that can be deepened into an understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha. In other words, life in the Holy Spirit leads to living in Christ, the Son of God.
There we will come to realize that through the Mystery of Golgotha the Logos has passed from the Father to the Son. Then the important insight will be revealed to us that it was right for people in ancient times to say, "In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God." But in Greek antiquity, people had to begin saying, "And the Logos was made flesh." And we modern people must add, "I must achieve an understanding of the Logos living in the flesh by raising my concepts and ideas, my whole world view, into the spiritual realm. Then I will find Christ through the Holy Spirit, and through Christ I will find the Father God." This is definitely not just a theory, but something we can experience directly. This attitude toward Christianity is a natural outgrowth of anthroposo- Phy.
Indeed, it is essential for us in our time to understand such a spiritual path. We need this understanding precisely to counterbalance the dead culture that consists of modern life's mechanism, which we must not disparage but highly appreciate. However, for us modern people to enter upon this spiritual path requires an inner jolt—I have recently called it a true awakening—and many people do not want to make that effort. It is this unwillingness to make the effort of the jolt in one's soul that causes the present-day opposition to anthroposophy. After all, experiencing this jolt is somewhat uncomfortable. In a sense, this jolt pulls us into the maelstrom of cosmic becoming. Of course, people prefer to remain peacefully with their rigid, sharply defined concepts that apply only to what is dead, to what does not put up any resistance to their understanding of the world. In contrast, what is living resists being comprehended with dead concepts; it moves around and eludes our concepts. modern people find that feeling uncomfortable. They clothe it in all kinds of other things, and they get furious when they hear that certain circles want a very different understanding of the world in all areas of life. It is only on the basis of this attitude that we can understand the peculiar developments among the opponents of anthroposophy. We need only mention a few of the most recent developments and you will clearly see how peculiar they are.
First, there is the tragedy of the loss of our Goetheanum. We know very well that no matter what we can do in the way of rebuilding, the old Goetheanum will not appear again; it will remain only a memory. It is really very painful to have to realize that we tried with our Goetheanum to find the kind of artistic style appropriate for the new spirituality, one that would have a stimulating effect, and that with the Goetheanum that style is now, at least for the time being, completely gone. We need only express this realization to feel the tremendous pain the loss of the Goetheanum has brought.
Usually when tragedy strikes, one's opponents stop being disrespectful and scornful. However, after the tragedy of the burning of the Goetheanum our opponents think it justified and proper to oppose us with even more scorn and derision. That is indeed peculiar, and it fits in appropriately—though it is of course inappropriate—with so many other things.
The anthroposophical movement began as a purely positive activity. We did not attack anybody nor did we agitate; we just talked about the results of anthroposophical research. We calmly waited until the souls that are present on earth in our time would come to us out of their own inner impulses in order to understand what was to be conveyed out of the spiritual world. Our anthroposophical work was aimed not at wildly agitating nor at drawing up programs, but at simply telling how things are according to our researches in the spiritual world. We were waiting to see which souls had a yearning for knowledge of reality.
Many people nowadays are against anthroposophy without knowing why; they simply follow the lead of others. However, there are also a few people who know very well why they are against anthroposophy. They realize that anthroposophy reveals truths that require the jolt I described earlier—and that is something they do not want. There are many reasons why they do not want it. For example, such truths used to be restricted to certain small circles. The possession of these truths then allowed people in those circles to stand above humanity as a kind of small spiritual and aristocratic elite. That is why such people hate especially those who bring the truth the spirit of the times requires out of the spiritual world and make it available to everyone. At the same time, our opponents—I am talking about the leading ones—know that nothing can be done against the truth itself. They know it will find its way through even the narrowest crevices regardless of the obstacles it might meet.
Therefore, our opponents do not usually try to fight these truths head on, for they know the latter would undoubtedly triumph. Just look at our opponents—and it would be a good thing if we anthroposophists looked at them much more often—they refrain from fighting truths openly by focusing mainly on personal attacks, insinuations, insults, and slander. They figure they cannot do anything against the truth, but nevertheless they want to do away with it. They think they can do this through personal disparagement. Their method of fighting us shows that our leading opponents know very well how to go about achieving a temporary victory.
This is what anthroposophists need to know; for many anthroposophists still believe that they can accomplish something by simply discussing things with our opponents. Nothing can harm us more than to succeed in getting our truths across in discussions, for we are not hated for telling falsehoods but for telling the truth. In fact, the more we succeed in proving we tell the truth, the more we will be hated.
Of course, this cannot stop us from standing up for the truth. But it can keep us from holding on to the naive belief that we will accomplish anything through discussions. The only thing that will help us make headway is positive work. We will make headway if we keep standing up for the truth as forcefully as we can, so that as many predestined souls as possible—there are many more in our time than one usually thinks—find their way to us and find here the spiritual nourishment they need if something constructive is to be done for the future evolution of humanity, if our future is to be an upward development rather than a regression.
It is not possible to find a way out of the chaos of our time through materialist methods. The only way to overcome the chaos of our time is the spiritual way. However, we can enter on this spiritual path only if we choose the spirit as our leader and guide. Indeed, what anthroposophists must realize and understand in the most profound sense is how to choose the spirit as their leader in the right way.