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Karmic Relationships IV
GA 238

Lecture X

23 September 1924, Dornach

From our last lecture you will at any rate have seen that the man of to-day, constituted as he is in his bodily nature and by education, cannot easily bring into his present incarnation such spiritual contents as are seeking to enter in from former incarnations. He cannot even do so when this present incarnation is so strange and unusual a one as that of which I spoke last Sunday. For, in effect, we are living in the age of evolution of the conscious, spiritual soul. This is an evolution of the soul which evolves most especially the intellect, i.e., that faculty of the soul which governs the whole of life to-day, no matter how often people may be crying out for heart and sentiment and feeling. It is the faculty of the soul which is most able to emancipate itself from the elementarily human qualities, from that which man bears within him as his deeper being of soul.

A certain consciousness of this emancipation of the intellectual life does indeed find its way through when people speak of the cold intellect in which men express their egoism, their lack of sympathy and compassion with the rest of mankind, nay even with those who are nearest to them in their life. Speaking of the coldness of the intellect one has in mind the following of all those paths which lead, not to the ideals of the soul, but to the planning of one's life on utilitarian principles and the like.

In all these things people give expression to a feeling of how the element of intellect and rationalism emancipates itself within the human being from what is truly human. And indeed if one can fully see the extent to which the souls of to-day are intellectualised, one will understand also in every single case how karma must carry into the souls of to-day the high spirituality which these souls have passed through in former epochs. For I ask you to consider the following.—Let us take quite a general case. I showed you a special example last time, but let us now take the general case of a soul that lived in the centuries before the Mystery of Golgotha or even after the Mystery of Golgotha in such a way as to take the spiritual world absolutely as a matter of course. Let us think of a human being who in such a life could speak of the spiritual world out of his own experience as of a world that is no less real and present than the many-coloured warm and cold world of the senses.

All these things are there within the soul. And in the interval between death and a new birth, or in repeated intervals of this kind, all these things have entered into relationship with the spiritual worlds of higher Hierarchies. Many and manifold things have been worked out in such a soul.

But now, let us say through other karmic circumstances, such a soul has to incarnate in a body which is altogether attuned to intellectualism, a body which can receive from the civilisation of to-day only the current conceptions which relate, after all, only to external things. In such a case this alone will be possible, for the present incarnation: the spirituality that comes over from former times will withdraw into the subconscious. And such a personality will reveal in the intellect which he evolves perhaps a certain idealism, a tendency to all manner of good and beautiful and true ideals. But he will not come to the point of lifting up from the subconscious into the ordinary consciousness the things that are there latent in his soul. There are many such souls to-day. And for him who is truly able to observe with a trained eye for spiritual things, many a countenance to-day will contradict what openly comes forth in him who wears it. For the countenance says: in the foundations of the soul there is much spirituality, but as soon as the human being speaks, he speaks not of spirituality at all. In no age was it the case in such a high degree as it is to-day, that the countenances of men contradict what they themselves say and declare.

We must understand that strength and energy, perseverance and a holy enthusiasm are necessary in order to transform into spirituality the intellectualism which after all belongs to the present age. These things are necessary that the thoughts and ideas of men to-day may rise into the spiritual world and that man may find the path of ideas upward to the Spirit no less than downward into Nature. And if we would understand this, then we must fully realise that intellectualism to begin with offers the greatest imaginable hindrance to the revelation of any spiritual content that is present within the soul. Only when we are really aware of this, only then shall we, as Anthroposophists, find the true inner enthusiasm. Then shall we receive on the one hand the ideas of Anthroposophy which must indeed reckon with the intellectualism of the age, which must remain, so to speak, the garment of contemporary intellectualism. Then shall we also become permeated with the consciousness that with the ideas of Anthroposophy, relating as they do, not to the mere outer world of sense, we are destined really to take hold of that to which they do relate, namely, the spiritual. To enter deeply and perseveringly into the ideas of Anthroposophy—it is this in the last resort which will most surely guide the man of to-day upward into spirituality, if only he is willing.

But what I have said in this last sentence, my dear friends, can truly only be said since about the last two or three decades. Previously one could not have said it. For although the dominion of Michael began already with the end of the seventies, nevertheless it was formerly the case that the ideas which the age provided were so strongly and exclusively directed to the world of sense that even for the idealist to rise from intellectualism to spirituality was possible only in rare, exceptional cases in the seventies, eighties and nineties of the last century.

To-day I will give you an example to reveal the outcome of this fact. I will show you by an example how strong and inevitable a force is working in this age to drive back and dam up the spiritual contents which are surging forth from former times in human souls. Nay, at the end of last century such spiritual contents had to withdraw and give way to intellectualism if they were to be able to reveal themselves in any way at all.

Please understand me rightly. Let us assume that some personality living in the second half of the 19th century bore within him a strong spirituality from former incarnations. Such a personality lives and finds his way into the culture and education of this present time (or of that time) which is intellectualistic, thoroughly intellectualistic. In the personality whom I now mean, the after-working of former spirituality is still so strong that it is really determined to come forth, but the intellectualism will not suffer it. The man is educated intellectually. In the social intercourse which he enters into, in his calling or profession, everywhere he experiences intellectualism. Into this intellectualism what he bears within his soul cannot enter. Such a human being would be one of whom we might say that Anthroposophy would truly have been his calling. But he cannot become an Anthroposophist, though the very thing which he bears within him from a former incarnation, if it could enter into the intellect, would have become Anthroposophy. It cannot become Anthroposophy; it stops short; it recoils as it were from intellectualism. What else can such a personality do? At most he will treat intellectualism again and again as a thing into which he does not really want to enter, so that in one incarnation or another what he bears within his soul may be able to come forth. Of course it will not come forth completely, for it is not according to the age. It will very likely be a kind of stammering; but it will be visible in such a man how he recoils and shrinks again and again from going too far, from being touched too closely by the intellectualism of the age.

I want to give you an example of this very thing to-day. To begin with I will remind you of a personality of ancient time whom we have mentioned here again and again in all manner of connections, I mean Plato. In Plato the philosopher of the 5th and 4th centuries B.C. there lives a soul who forestalls many of the things that mankind ponders on for centuries to come. You will remember when I drew your attention to the great spiritual contents of the School of Chartres, how I referred to the Platonic spirit which had been living for a long time in the development of Christianity. And in a certain sense it was in the great teachers of Chartres that this Platonic spirit found its true development according to the possibilities of that time.

We must realise that the spirit of Plato is devoted in the first place to the world of Ideas. We must not, however, conceive that the “Ideas” in Plato's works are the abstract monster which ideas are for us to-day, if we are given up to the ordinary consciousness. For Plato, the “Ideas” were to some extent almost what the Persian Gods had been, the Amschaspands who as active genii assisted Ahura Mazdao. Active genii attainable only in imaginative vision—such in reality were the Ideas in Plato. They had a quality of being, only he no longer described them with the vividness with which such things had been described in former times. He described them as it were like the shades of beings. Indeed this is how abstract thoughts henceforth evolved: the Ideas were taken by human beings in an ever more and more shadow-like way. But Plato, as he lived on, nevertheless grew deeper in a certain way, so that one might say: well-nigh all the wisdom of that time poured itself out into his world of Ideas. We need only take his later Dialogues, and we shall find matters astronomical, astrological, cosmological, psychological, the last named expressed in a most wonderful way, and matters concerning the history of nations. All these things were found in Plato in a kind of spirituality which, if I may so describe it, refines and shadows down the spiritual to the form of the Idea.

But in Plato everything is alive, and in Plato above all this perception is alive: that the Ideas are the foundations of all things present in the world of sense. Wherever we turn our gaze in the world of sense, whatever we behold, it is the outward expression and manifestation of Ideas.

Withal there enters into Plato's world of conception yet another element which has indeed become well known to all the world in a catchword much misunderstood and much misused—I mean the catchword of Platonic love. The love that is spiritual through and through, that has laid aside as much as possible of that egoism which is so often mingled with love—this spiritualised devotion to the world, to life, to man, to God, to the Idea, is a thing that permeates the Platonic conception of life through and through. It is a thing which afterwards recedes in certain ages only to light up again repeatedly. For Platonism is absorbed by human beings ever and again. Again and again at one place or another it becomes the staff by which men draw themselves upward. And Platonism, as we know, entered most significantly into all that was taught in the School of Chartres.

Plato has often been regarded as a kind of precursor of Christianity. But to imagine Plato as a precursor of Christianity is to misunderstand the latter, for Christianity is not a doctrine, it is a stream of life which takes its start from the Mystery of Golgotha. It is only since the Mystery of Golgotha that we can speak of a real Christianity. We can however say that there were Christians before the Mystery of Golgotha in this sense, that they revered as the Sun Being and recognised in the Sun Being the sublime Figure who was subsequently recognised as the Christ within the earthly life of mankind. If, however, we speak of precursors of Christianity in this sense we must apply the term to many pupils of the ancient Mysteries, among whom we may indeed include Plato. Only we must then understand the thing aright.

Now I already spoke at this place some time ago of a young artist who grew up while Plato was still living, not exactly in Plato's School of the Philosophers but under Plato's influence. Indeed I mentioned this matter already many years ago. Having passed through other incarnations in the meantime this individuality was reborn, not out of the Platonic philosophy but out of the Platonic spirit. He was reborn as Goethe, having karmically transformed in the Jupiter region what came to him from former incarnations, and notably from the one in which he partook of the Platonic stream, so that it became that kind of wisdom which does indeed permeate all the contents of Goethe's work. Thus we can indeed turn our gaze to a noble and pure relationship between Plato and this—I will not say “disciple”—but follower of Plato. For as I said, he was not a philosopher but an artist in that Grecian incarnation. Nevertheless Plato's eye did fall upon him and perceived the infinite promise that lay within this youth.

Now it was truly hard for Plato to carry through the following epochs, through the super-sensible world, what he had borne within his soul in his Plato incarnation. It was very hard for him. For although Platonism lit up here and there, when Plato himself looked down upon the Platonism that evolved here on the earth, it was for him only too frequently a dreadful disturbance in his super-sensible life of soul and spirit.

I do not mean that that which lived on as Platonism was therefore to be condemned or harshly criticised. Needless to say the soul of Plato carried over livingly into the following epochs piece by piece and ever more and more, what lay within him. But Plato above all, Plato who was still united with the Mysteries of antiquity, of whom I said that his Doctrine of Ideas contained a certain ancient Persian impulse—Plato found the greatest difficulty in entering a new incarnation. When he had absolved the time between death and a new birth—and in his case it was a fairly long time—he found real difficulty in entering the Christian epoch into which, after all, he had to enter. Thus although in the sense I just explained we may describe Plato as a forerunner of Christianity, nevertheless the whole orientation of his soul was such as to make it extraordinarily difficult for him, when ready to descend to earth again, to find a bodily organism into which he might carry his former impulses in a way that they might now come forth again with a Christian colouring.

Moreover Plato was a Greek. He was a Greek through and through, with all those oriental impulses which the Greeks still had, which the Romans had not at all. Plato was in a certain sense a soul who carried philosophy upwards into the higher poetic realm. The Dialogues of Plato are works of art. Everywhere is the living soul, everywhere the Platonic love which we need only understand in the true sense and which also bears witness to its oriental origin.

Plato was a Greek, but the civilisation within which alone he could incarnate, now that he was ripe for incarnation, now that he had grown old for the super-sensible world—this civilisation was Roman and Christian.

Nevertheless, if I may put it so, he must take the plunge. And to repress the inner factors of opposition, he must gather together all his forces. For it lay in Plato's being to reject the prosaic, matter-of-fact and legalistic Roman element, nay indeed to reject all that was Roman.

And there was also a certain difficulty for his nature to receive Christianity, for he himself represented in a certain sense the highest point of the pre-Christian conception of the world. Moreover even the external facts revealed that the real Plato-being could not easily dive down into the Christian element. For what was it that dived down into Christianity here in the world of sense? It was Neo-Platonism, but this was something altogether different from true Platonism. We remember how there evolved a kind of Platonising Gnosis and the like but there was no real possibility of taking over into Christianity the immediate essence of Plato. Thus it was difficult for Plato himself, out of all the activity which he bore within him as the Plato-being and the results of which he must now bring with him into the world—it was difficult for him to dive down in any way. He had as it were to reduce all this activity.

And so it was that he reincarnated in the 10th century in the Middle Ages as the nun Hroswith—Hroswitha, that forgotten but great personality of the 10th century, who did indeed receive Christianity in a truly Platonic sense and who carried into the Mid-European nature very, very much of Plato.

She belonged to the Convent of Gandersheim in Brunswick and carried infinitely much of Platonism into the Mid-European nature. This in truth it was only possible at that time for a woman to do. Had not Plato's being appeared with a feminine character and colouring it could not have received Christianity into itself in that age. But the Roman element too was strong in all the culture of that time which had to be received. Perforce, if I may put it so, it had to be received. And so we see the nun Hroswitha evolving into the remarkable personality she was, writing Latin dramas in the style of the Roman poet Terence, dramas which are of extraordinary significance.

You see, it is appallingly easy to misrepresent Plato wherever he approaches one. I often described how Friedrich Hebbel made notes of a play—it never got beyond the plan—Friedrich Hebbel made notes of a play in which he would give a humorous treatment of the following theme.—Plato reincarnated sits on the benches of a grammar school.—A mere poetic fancy, needless to say, but this was Hebbel's idea.—Plato is reincarnated as a schoolboy while the schoolmaster puts him through the Platonic Dialogues and Plato himself, reincarnated, receives the very worst criticism with respect to the interpretation of the Platonic Dialogues. These things Hebbel noted down as the subject for a play which he never elaborated. Nevertheless it shows, it is like a divination of how easy it is to misunderstand Plato. Now this is a feature which interested me most especially in tracing the stream of Plato. For this very misunderstanding is extraordinarily instructive in finding the right paths of the further life and progress of the Platonic individuality.

It is indeed highly interesting. There was a German philosopher (I do not remember his name, it was some Schmidt, or Müller), who with all his scholarship “proved” up to the hilt that the nun Hroswitha wrote not a single play, that nothing was due to her, that it was all a forgery by some Counsellor of the Emperor Maximilian. All of which proof is of course nonsense, but there you have it. Plato cannot escape misunderstanding.

And so we see arising in the individuality of the nun Hroswitha of the 10th century, a truly intensive Christian and Platonic spiritual substantiality united with the Mid-European-Germanic spirit. And in this woman there was living so to speak the whole culture of that time. She was indeed an astonishing personality. And she among others partook in those super-sensible developments of which I told you. I mean the passage of the teachers of Chartres into the spiritual world, the descent of those who were then the Aristotelians, and the discipleship of Michael. But she took part in all these things in a most peculiar way. One may say: here was the masculine spirit of Plato and the feminine spirit of the nun Hroswitha wrestling with one another, inasmuch as they both of them had their results for the spiritual individuality. If the one incarnation had been of no significance, as is generally the case, such an inward wrestling could not afterwards have taken place. But in this individuality it did take place and indeed it went on for the whole succeeding time.

And at length we see the individuality ripe to return to earth once more in the 19th century. He became an individuality of the very kind I described above as a hypothetical case. For the whole spirituality of Plato is held back, recoils and shrinks back in the face of the intellectuality of the 19th century which it will not come near.

And to make this process the easier the feminine capacity of the nun Hroswitha has been instilled into the same soul. Thus as the soul appears on the scene, all that it had received from its incarnation as a woman, great and radiant as she was, makes it the more easy to repel the modern intellectualism wherever it is not liked.

Thus the individuality stands upon earth anew in the 19th century. He grows up into the intellectuality of the 19th century but lets it come near him only to a certain extent, externally, while inwardly he is perpetually shrinking back from it. Platonism comes forward in his consciousness not in an intellectualistic way, for again and again, wherever he can, he speaks of how Ideas are living in all things.

The life in Ideas became an absolute matter of course to this personality. Yet his body was such that one continually had the following impression: the head simply cannot give expression to all the Platonism that is seeking to come forth in him. But on the other hand there could spring forth in him in a beautiful way, nay in a glorious way, that which is hidden behind the word “Platonic Love.”

Nay more, in his youth this personality had something like a dream-intuition of how Mid-Europe cannot and may not after all be truly Roman. For indeed he himself had lived as the nun Hroswitha. Thus in his youth he represented Mid-Europe as a modern Greece. Here we see his Platonism striking through. And he represented the rougher region that had stood over against ancient Greece, namely Macedonia, as the present East of Europe. There were strange dreams living in this personality, dreams from which one could see, and this was very interesting, how he wanted to conceive the modern world in which he himself was living, like Greece and Macedonia. Again and again, especially in his youth, there arose the impulse to conceive the modern world—Europe on a large scale—as Greece and Macedonia magnified.

The personality of whom I am speaking is none other than Karl Julius Schröer. With the help of all that I have now brought together you need only take Karl Julius Schröer's writings. From the very beginning he speaks in a thoroughly Platonic way. But this is so strange: with a kind of feminine coyness, I might say, he takes good care not to enter into intellectualism wherever he has no use for it.

When he spoke of Novalis, Schröer was often fond of saying: Novalis—he is a spirit whom one cannot understand with this modern intellectualism which knows only that twice two is four.

Karl Julius Schröer wrote a history of German poetry in the 19th century. In this history, wherever one can approach a thing with Platonic feeling, it is very good, but wherever one requires intellectualism it is suddenly as though the lines were to sink away into nothingness. He is not a bit like a professor. He writes many pages about some who are passed over in silence by the ordinary histories of literature, while about the famous ones he sometimes writes only a few lines.

When this history of literature was first published, how the literary pundits did wring their hands! One of the most eminent among them at that time was Emil Kuh, who declared: this history of literature is not written by a head at all; it simply flowed out of a wrist.

Karl Julius Schröer also published an edition of Faust. A professor—in Graz—for the rest a very good fellow—wrote such a dreadful review of it that I believe no less than ten duels were fought out among the students at Graz pro and contra Schröer.

There was indeed much grievous misunderstanding, failure of recognition. This poor estimate of Schröer went so far that on one occasion at a social gathering in Weimar where I was present, the following thing happened. In that circle Erik Schmidt was a highly respected personality and dominated everything when he was present. Conversation turned on the question, which of the princesses and princes at the Weimar Court were wise and which were stupid. This was being seriously discussed and Erik Schmidt declared: the Princess Reuss (she was one of the daughters of the Grand Duchess Reuss)—the Princess Reuss is not a clever woman for she considers Schröer a great man.—This was his reason!

But you must go through all his works, down to that most beautiful little book Goethe und die Liebe, for there you will really find what one can say without intellectualism about Platonic Love in immediate and real life. Something extraordinary is given to us in the style and tone of this little book Goethe und die Liebe. It came to me beautifully on one occasion when I was discussing the book with Schröer's sister. She called the style “völlig süss vor Reife”, fully sweet unto ripeness—a pretty expression. And such indeed it is. It is all—I cannot say in this sense so concentrated—but it is all so fine, so delicate in its form. Refinement indeed was a peculiar quality of Schröer's.

And yet this Platonic spirituality, repelling intellectualism, this Platonic spirituality that did not want to enter into this body made at the same time a quite peculiar and strong impression, for in seeing Schröer one had the distinct perception: this soul is not quite fully there within the body. And then when he grew older one could see how the soul, not being really willing to enter into the body of that time, withdrew little by little out of that body. To begin with the fingers grew swollen and thick. Then the soul withdrew ever more and more, and as we know, Schröer ended in the feeblemindedness of old age. Certain features of Schröer, not the whole individuality, but certain features, were taken over into my character Capesius, Professor Capesius, in the Mystery Plays.

Here indeed we have a remarkable example of the fact that the spiritual currents of antiquity can only be carried over into the present time under certain conditions. And one may well say that in Schröer the recoiling from intellectuality showed itself characteristically. Had he attained intellectuality, had he been able to unite it with the spirituality of Plato, Anthroposophy itself would have been there.

And so we see in his karma how his paternal love for his follower Goethe, if so I may describe it, becomes transformed. It had arisen in the way I told you, for in that ancient time Plato had indeed loved him in a paternal way. We see this love karmically transmuted; Schröer becomes a warm admirer of Goethe. Thus it emerges once again.

There was something extraordinarily personal in Schröer's reverence for Goethe. In his old age he wanted to write a biography of Goethe. Before I left Vienna at the end of the eighties he told me about it and afterwards he wrote me about it. But of this biography of Goethe which he would have liked to write he never wrote in any different vein than this.—He said: Goethe is continually visiting my soul. It always had this personal character which was indeed karmically predestined as I have now indicated.

The biography of Goethe was never written, for Schröer fell into the feeble-mindedness of old age. But we can indeed find a luminous interpretation of the whole character of his writings if we know the antecedent which I have now explained.

Thus in the well-nigh forgotten character of Schröer, we see how Goetheanism came to a standstill before the threshold of intellectualism transformed into spirituality. And if I may put it so, one could really do no other, having once been stimulated by Schröer, than carry Goetheanism forward into Anthroposophy. There was no other course to take. And again and again this deeply moving picture (for so it was for me) stood before the eye of my soul: Schröer carrying the ancient spirituality of Goethe, pressing forward in it up to the point of intellectuality. And I understood how Goethe must be grasped again with modern intellectualism, lifted up into the spiritual domain. For only so shall we fully understand him. Nor did this picture by any means make things easy for me. For owing to the fact that that which Schröer was could not directly and fully be received, again and again there was mingled in the striving of my soul, a certain element of opposition against Schröer.

Thus, for example, when at the Technical University in Vienna Schröer conducted practice classes in lecturing and essay writing, I once gave a pretty distorted interpretation of Mephisto merely to refute my instructor Schröer with whom at that time I was not yet on such intimate and friendly terms. There was indeed a certain opposition stirring within me.

But as I said, what else could one do than loose the congestion that had taken place and carry Goetheanism really onward into Anthroposophy!

Thus you see how world-history really takes its course. For it takes its course in such a way that we may recognise: whatever we possess in the present day emerges with great hindrances and difficulties. Yet on the other hand it is well prepared.

Read the wonderful hymn-like descriptions of womanhood in Karl Julius Schröer's writings. Read the beautiful essay which he wrote as an appendix to his History of Literature, his History of German Poetry in the 19th Century. Read his essay on Goethe and his relation to women. If you take all these things together you will say to yourselves: truly here is living something of a feeling of the worth and character of womanhood which is an echo of what the nun Hroswitha had lived as her own being. These two preceding incarnations harmonise and vibrate together wonderfully in Schröer's life, so much so that the breaking of the thread became indeed a deeply moving tragedy. And yet in Schröer of all people there enters into the end of the 19th century a world of spiritual facts, immensely illuminating towards an answer to this question: How shall we bring spirituality into the life of the present time.

Herewith I wished to round off this cycle of lectures.