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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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The Christmas Conference
GA 260
Part II. The Proceedings of the Conference

XVII. The Envy of the Gods - The Envy of Human Beings

31 December 1923 8:30 p.m.

My dear friends!

We stand today under the sign of a grievous memory and we shall by all means place what is to be the content of today's lecture within the sign of this grievous memory. Those of you who were present then will remember how the lecture I was permitted to give just a year ago in our former building [Note 75] followed a path which led from the description of earthly, natural conditions upwards into the spiritual worlds and into the revelation of these spiritual worlds out of the starry script. You will remember how it was possible, then, to link the human heart, the soul of man, the human spirit, and all that belongs to it, with all that can be discovered on the path outwards into not only the wide realm of the stars but also into what depicts the world of the spirit through the wide realm of the stars, like a cosmic script. The last thing I was permitted to write down on the blackboard in that hall which was taken from us so soon afterwards, that last thing was intended to raise the human soul up into spiritual heights. On that very evening the link was made with that to which our Goetheanum building was to be dedicated in its whole being. So now, as though in a continuation of that lecture given here a year ago, let me begin by speaking about that to which the link was then made.

If in the times before the burning of Ephesus men spoke about the Mysteries, then those who in their heart and soul understood something of the nature of the Mysteries said, in essence: Human knowledge, human wisdom has an abode, a dwelling place in the Mysteries. And if in those olden times there was talk of the Mysteries among the spiritual leaders of the world, that is if there was talk in super-sensible realms about the Mysteries—allow me to use these expressions even though they describe only figuratively how thoughts are sent down from the super-sensible realms and how the super-sensible works in the sense-perceptible realm—if in super-sensible realms there was talk about the Mysteries, then what was said went, in essence, like this: In the Mysteries, human beings set up an abode where we gods can find those human beings who bring us offerings and who understand us in their act of offering. For indeed those who knew about such things in the ancient world were generally aware that in the Mystery centres gods and human beings encountered one another and that all that carries and maintains the world depends on what takes place in the Mysteries between gods and human beings.

But there are words which have even come down to us in external history. These words handed down through history can deeply move our human hearts, especially when they can be seen taking shape out of very special events, when the shape they take is formed as though in letters of bronze, visible in spirit only for a moment and written into the history of humankind. Such words are always seen when one looks in spirit towards the deed of Herostratos, [Note 76] the burning of the temple at Ephesus. In the flames the ancient words stand out: The envy of the gods.

Among the manifold words that have come down to us from olden times, which can be seen in the life of those times in the manner I have described, I do believe that this is one of the most terrible to be found in the physical world: The envy of the gods. In those olden times the word ‘god’ was used to describe anything that lived as a super-sensible being without ever needing to appear on earth in a physical body. And in those times people distinguished between many and varied races of gods.

But those divine spiritual beings who are so closely linked with mankind that the human being in his inmost nature has come into existence through them and has been sent by them on his journey through the ages, those beings we sense in the majesty and in the minutest appearances of outer nature, those divine spiritual beings cannot become envious. Yet in olden times the envy of the gods denoted something very real. Following the human race in its development up to about the time of Ephesus we find that indeed the more advanced human individuals had taken for themselves much of what the good gods had been glad to give them in the Mysteries. It is quite right to say that an intimate relationship exists between the good human hearts and the good gods, a relationship made ever more close in the Mysteries. Thus the realization came about in the souls of certain other luciferic and ahrimanic godly beings that human beings were being drawn ever closer to the good gods. And thus arose the envy of the gods towards man. Again and again we hear in history that a human being striving for the spirit; if he meets with a tragic destiny, is described as having been a victim of the envy of the gods.

The ancient Greeks knew of this envy of the gods and they traced much of what took place in external human evolution back to this envy of the gods. The burning of the temple at Ephesus made it obvious that a certain further spiritual development of mankind is only possible if human beings realize that there are gods, that is super-sensible beings, who are envious of the further progress of humankind. This has coloured the whole of history since the burning of the temple at Ephesus, or I could say since the birth of Alexander. [Note 77] And a proper conception of the Mystery of Golgotha, too, must take into account that we look into a world that is filled with the envy of certain races of gods. From soon after the Persian wars the atmosphere of soul in Greece had been filled with the consequences of this envy of the gods. And what was then accomplished at the time of Macedonia had to be carried out in full awareness of the envy of the gods reigning over the face of the earth in the spiritual atmosphere. Yet it was carried out courageously, boldly, in defiance of misunderstandings on the part of both gods and men.

And there came down into this atmosphere filled with the envy of the gods the deed of that God who was capable of the greatest love that can possibly exist in the world. We see the Mystery of Golgotha in its true light only if we can add to everything else also the image of the clouds in the ancient world, in Hellas, Macedonia, the Near East, North Africa, Southern Europe; the image of those clouds that are an expression of the envy of the gods. Wondrously warming, gently gleaming, there falls into this cloud-filled atmosphere the love that streams through the Mystery of Golgotha.

This interaction was, if I may describe it thus, a matter which at that time took place between gods and human beings. Now, in our time, in the age of human freedom, it is something that has to take place down below, here in physical human life. And the manner in which it takes place can indeed be described. In olden times, down on the earth, one thought of the Mysteries thus: Human knowledge, human wisdom finds an abode in the Mysteries. But among the gods it was said: When we descend into the Mysteries we find there the offerings of human beings, and in the human being who makes his offering we are comprehended.

The burning of the temple at Ephesus marked the beginning of the age in which the Mysteries in their old form gradually began to disappear. I have told you how they continued to endure here and there, sublimely, for example, in the Mysteries of Hibernia, where the Mystery of Golgotha was celebrated in the divine cultus simultaneously with the actual physical event over in Palestine. They knew of it solely through the spiritual communication that existed between Palestine and Hibernia. There was no physical communication. Nevertheless, in the physical world the Mysteries receded more and more. The external abodes, which were places of encounter between gods and human beings, increasingly lost their significance. By the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries they had lost it almost entirely. Those who wanted to find the way, for example to the Holy Grail, had to know how to follow spiritual paths. In olden times, before the burning of the temple at Ephesus, the paths to be trodden were physical paths. In the Middle Ages the paths were spiritual.

In particular a spiritual path had to be followed by one who sought instruction in the truly Rosicrucian way from the thirteenth or fourteenth century onwards, but even more so from the fifteenth century. The temples of the Rosicrucians were profoundly hidden from any external physical experience. Many true Rosicrucians frequented the temples, but these temples could not be found by any external, physical human eye. But it was possible for pupils to find these aged Rosicrucians who lived here or there like hermits of wisdom, hermits of the holy human deed. They could be found by those who could comprehend the language of the gods speaking out of gently shining eyes. I am not talking figuratively. I do not want to speak in pictures. I am telling you of an actual reality which was extremely significant at the time to which I am pointing. The pupils found their Rosicrucian teacher if they had first gained the capacity to understand the language of the heavens speaking out of gently shining physical eyes. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries in Central Europe these remarkable personalities were to be found living in the most modest surroundings, in the most unassuming human accommodation. They were filled with the divine spirit; in their inner being they were linked to the spiritual temples which existed but to which access was truly as difficult to find as was that to the Holy Grail described in the well-known legend.

Looking at what took place between one of these Rosicrucian teachers and his pupil, we can overhear many a conversation that describes in the form appropriate for more recent times the divine wisdom as it exists on the earth. The instruction was profoundly concrete. A Rosicrucian teacher was discovered in his solitude by a pupil who had enthusiastically endeavoured to seek and find him. A pupil gazed into the gently shining eyes out of which flows the speech of gods and, modestly, he received something like the following instruction.

Look, my son, at your own being. You bear with you that body which your external, physical eyes can see. The very centre of the earth sends to this body the forces which make it visible. This is your physical body. But look around you at your own environment on the earth. You see stones; they are permitted to exist on the earth; their dwelling place is on the earth. Once they have taken on a shape, they can maintain it through the forces of the earth. Look at the crystal. It bears a form and through the earth it retains this form of its own nature. Your physical body is incapable of this. If your soul departs from it, then the earth destroys it, it dissolves it into dust. The earth has no power over your physical body. It has the power to shape and to maintain the transparent, wonderfully formed shapes of the crystal; but it has no power to maintain the shape of your physical body; it has to dissolve it into dust. Your physical body is not of this earth. Your physical body is of supreme spirituality. To Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones belong the form and shape of your physical body. Your physical body does not belong to the earth; it belongs to those spiritual forces which are the highest as yet accessible to you. The earth can destroy it but never build it up.

And within this your physical body lives your etheric body. The day will come when your physical body is taken in by the earth in order to be destroyed. Then your etheric body will dissolve into the widths of the cosmos. The widths of the cosmos can dissolve this etheric body but they cannot build it up. Only those divine, spiritual beings belonging to the hierarchy of the Dynamis, Exusiai and Kyriotetes can build it up. You unite with your physical body the physical substances of the earth. But that which is in you transforms the physical substances of the earth in such a way that within them there is no longer anything resembling whatever is physical in the environment of your physical body. Your etheric body moves everything in you that is liquid or watery. The juices that stream and circulate are under the influence of your etheric body. See your blood: Exusiai, Dynamis, Kyriotetes cause this blood as a liquid to circulate through your arteries. You are human only in your physical body. In your etheric body you are still animal, but an animal enspirited by the second hierarchy.

What I have been saying to you compressed into a few words was the subject of long instruction by that teacher in whose gently shining eyes the pupil heard the speech of heaven. Then the attention of the pupil was drawn to the third member of the human being, which we call the astral body. The pupil was shown how this astral body contains the impulse to breathe and to be involved with everything that is aeriform in the human organism, with everything that pulses as air through the human organism. The earthly realm may endeavour, for ages after the human being has stepped through the portal of death, to rumble about in the aeriform realm. For years the clairvoyant eye can discern the astral bodies of those who have died rumbling about in the atmospheric phenomena of the earth. Yet the earthly realm with all its environment is incapable of doing anything to the impulses of the astral body except dissolve them. The beings of the third hierarchy, Archai, Archangeloi, Angeloi, alone can form it.

Thus, deeply moving the heart of his pupil, the teacher said: In your physical body, by taking in and transforming the mineral kingdom, by taking in the human realm and working on it, you belong to Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones. In so far as you are an etheric body, you are animal-like in the etheric realm, but you belong to the spirits called the spirits of the second hierarchy, Kyriotetes, Dynamis, Exusiai; in so far as you weave in the fluid element you do not belong to the earth but to this hierarchy. And by weaving in the aeriform element you do not belong to the earth but to the hierarchy of Angeloi, Archangeloi, Archai.

Having undergone sufficient instruction in this way, the pupil no longer felt related to the earth. Going out, he sensed, from his physical, etheric and astral bodies were the forces that joined him through the mineral world with the first hierarchy, through the watery earth with the second hierarchy and through the encircling air with the third hierarchy. It was clear to him that he lives on the earth solely through the element of warmth which he bears within him. Thus the Rosicrucian pupil felt the warmth he bears within him, the physical warmth, to be what is actually the earthly, human element in him. And he learnt increasingly to feel that this physical warmth is related to warmth of soul and warmth of spirit. Human beings living in later times have increasingly forgotten how their physical content, their etheric content and their astral content is related to the divine world through the solid element, the fluid element and the aeriform element. But the Rosicrucian pupil knew this full well. He knew that the warmth element is that which is truly earthly and human. At the moment when the pupil of the Rosicrucian master realized this mystery of the connection between the element of warmth and the human, earthly element, he knew how to link his human element with the spiritual world.

Before entering those often quite unassuming dwellings inhabited by such Rosicrucian teachers, the pupils were shown, usually without their seeking it and in a seemingly miraculous manner—the one in this way and the other in another way, often coincidentally, so outwardly it seemed—they were shown that they must seek to link their own spirit with the spirit of the cosmos. And when the pupil had received from his teacher the instruction about which I have just been speaking, then, yes then he could say to his teacher: I now depart from you having received the greatest consolation possible on earth; by showing me that warmth is truly the element of earthly man you have enabled me to link my physical aspect with the realm of soul and spirit; I take the soul element not into my solid bones, not into my liquid blood, not into my airy breath, but into my element of warmth.

In utmost peace those who had received such instruction departed, in those days, from their teachers. And out of the peace in their countenance which expressed the outcome of that great consolation, out of the peace in their countenance there developed gradually that gentle glance through which the speech of heaven can resound. Thus profound instruction in the realm of the soul was available right into the first third of the fifteenth century, hidden away from those events of which external history tells us. An instruction took place which encompassed the total human being, an instruction that permitted the human soul to link its own being with the sphere of the cosmos and of the spirit.

This spiritual mood has entirely drained away during the course of the last few centuries. It no longer belongs to our civilization. A superficial civilization, estranged from the gods, has spread itself over what were once the dwelling places that saw what I have just described to you. Here one stands today with the memory, which can only be called up in the light of the astral world, of many a scene resembling the one I have described. Hence our basic mood when we first look back to those ages that are often described as being so dark, and then look out into our present time. But when we look back in this way our heart is stirred—through the spiritual revelations that can once more be received by mankind since the final third of the nineteenth century—by a deep longing to speak in a spiritual way once more to human beings. And this spiritual way of speaking is not dependent on abstract words alone; it calls for all manner of signs in order to be all-embracing. And a language needed for those spiritual beings who are to speak to modern mankind, such a way of speaking existed indeed in the forms of our Goetheanum, burnt down a year ago. Truly these forms were to have spoken out into the world the ideas told to the audience from the platform. Thus in a certain way the Goetheanum was something that could, in an entirely new form, remind us of something ancient.

When the one approaching initiation entered into the temple at Ephesus, his glance was drawn to that statue about which I have spoken during these days, that statue which called to him in words of the heart: Unite with the world ether and you shall see the earthly realm from etheric heights. Thus did many a pupil at Ephesus view the earthly realm from etheric heights. And a certain race of gods grew envious. But centuries before the Mystery of Golgotha courageous human beings nevertheless found ways, despite the envy of the gods, to carry forward—weakly, perhaps, but not so weakly that it remained without effect—that which had worked since the days of ancient and holy human evolution right up to the time of the burning of the temple. And if our Goetheanum could have been finally completed, then once again, as we entered from the West, our glance would have fallen on that statue which would have challenged the human being to know himself as a cosmic being placed between the forces of Lucifer and the forces of Ahriman with the inward, divinely sustained equilibrium of his being. And when our glance fell on the forms of the pillars, the architraves, they spoke a language that was a continuation of what was expressed from the platform in the ideas which worked as though interpreting the spirit. The words continued to resound along the sculpted forms. And up above, in the dome, were scenes to be seen, scenes which brought human evolution closer to spiritual sight. In this Goetheanum there was indeed, for those who had a feeling for it, a memory of the temple at Ephesus.

But that memory grew terribly painful when the burning torch was applied to this very Goetheanum in a manner that was not at all dissimilar to ancient times, not at all dissimilar especially as regards the moment of evolution in which the Goetheanum was, of itself, to have become the bearer of a renewal of spiritual life.

My dear friends, our pain was profound. Our pain was inexpressible. But we formed the resolve to continue our work for the spiritual world unhindered by the most sorrowful and most tragic event that could possibly have come upon us. For in our heart of hearts we could say that in the flames rising up from Ephesus was written the envy of the gods, at a time when human beings still had to follow rather more without freedom the will of good or evil gods.

In our day human beings are organized more towards freedom. And a year ago, in the night of New Year's Eve, we saw before us the devouring flames. The red blaze shot skywards. Dark blueish, reddish-yellow lines of flame curled through the seething sea of fire, generated by the metal instruments contained in the Goetheanum, a gigantic sea of flame containing the most varied shades and colours. And gazing into this sea of flame with the coloured lines darting hither and thither one could not but read words which spoke to the pain in one's soul: the envy of human beings.

Thus what speaks from epoch to epoch in human evolution comes together, link by link, even in the greatest of misfortunes. An unbroken thread runs from the words that give expression to the greatest misfortune at a time when human beings still looked up to the gods without freedom, a time when they ought to have been making themselves free of this unfreedom. An unbroken thread of spiritual evolution runs from that misfortune which bore, inscribed in the flames, the words about the envy of the gods. This unbroken thread runs right through to our own misfortune in a time when human beings ought to be finding the strength for freedom, a misfortune in which the flames bore the incription: the envy of human beings. In Ephesus the statue of the goddess; here in the Goetheanum the statue of the human being, the statue of the representative of man, Christ Jesus, into whom, identifying ourselves with him, in all humility, we thought to merge in knowledge, just as in olden times, in their own way, no longer quite comprehensible to mankind today, the pupils of Ephesus merged into Diana of Ephesus.

We do not lessen our pain by viewing in the light of history what took place on New Year's Eve last year. When I was permitted to stand for the last time on that platform that had been set up in harmony with the whole of the building, the intention had been to guide the eyes of the listeners, to guide the eyes of their souls towards the ascent from earthly realms into starry realms that express the will and the wisdom, the light of the spiritual cosmos. Many of the spirits who taught their pupils in the Middle Ages in the manner described just now stood, I know, as godparents at that moment. And an hour after the last word had been spoken I was called to the burning Goetheanum. We spent the night of New Year's Eve last year watching the Goetheanum burning.

The mere utterance of these words, dear friends, conjures up an inexpressible response in all our hearts, in all our souls. When something like this has swept across a hallowed place in human evolution, there have always been a few who have vowed to work on in the spirit devoted to what had once been physical even though whatever it had been was no longer present. And gathered now as we are on the anniversary of that misfortune of the Goetheanum, let us be aware that our souls will be living in the proper mood for this our gathering if we all vow to carry on in spirit through this wave of progress in human evolution that which was present in physical form, as a physical image and a physical shape in the Goetheanum, visible to our physical eyes, before being snatched away from our physical perception by a Herostratos-deed. Our pain attaches itself to the old Goetheanum. We shall only become worthy of having been permitted to build that Goetheanum if today in remembering it we vow, before whatever is best and most divine in each one of our souls, to keep faith with the spiritual impulses that had been given an outer form in that Goetheanum. It was possible for this Goetheanum to be taken from us. The Spirit of this Goetheanum, if our will is truly upright and honest, cannot be taken from us. And least of all will it be taken from us if at this solemn and festive hour, separated by so short a time from the moment a year ago when the flames leapt up from our beloved Goetheanum, if at this moment we not only feel the pain anew but also vow out of this pain to keep faith with that Spirit for whom, over ten long years, we were permitted to build this abode.

Then, my dear friends, when this inner vow flows from our heart in all honesty and uprightness, when we can transform the pain and suffering into the impulse for doing deeds, then shall we transform the sorrowful event into a blessing. The pain cannot diminish because of this, but it behoves us to find out of this very pain the incentive to act, the incentive to do deeds in the spirit.

And so, my dear friends, let us look back to the terrible flames of fire which filled us with such inexpressible sorrow. But let us also, in making that vow before whatever forces are the best and most divine in each of us, feel the holy flame in our hearts, the flame which is to enlighten and warm that which was willed in the Goetheanum, by bearing this will onwards through the waves of progress in human evolution. So now, more profoundly, we repeat those words which I was permitted to speak over there, a year ago almost at this very moment. I said, in essence: We are living on the eve of a new year, let us live towards a new cosmic year. If only the Goetheanum still stood amongst us, we could renew this exhortation at this moment! It no longer stands amongst us. Yet I believe that just because it no longer stands amongst us we are permitted, on this eve of another new year, to renew this exhortation with a force increased many times over. Let us bear the Soul of the Goetheanum over into the new cosmic year, and let us endeavour to build in the new Goetheanum a worthy monument to the body of the old Goetheanum, a worthy memorial!

My dear friends, may this link our hearts to the old Goetheanum which we had to consign to the elements. May it link our hearts also to the Spirit, to the Soul of this Goetheanum. With this vow before whatever is best within our being we want to live on not only into the new year. In strength of deed, bearing the spirit, leading the soul we want to live on into the new cosmic year.

My dear friends, you greeted me this evening by standing in memory of the old Goetheanum. You are living in the memory of this old Goetheanum. Let us stand once more as a sign that we vow to work on in the Spirit of the Goetheanum with whatever best forces we can find in the image of our inner human being. Indeed, so be it. Amen.

Thus let us continue, my dear friends, as long as we are able, in accordance with the will that unites our human souls with the souls of the gods with whom we wish to keep faith in the spirit, in the spirit out of which we sought this faith with them at a certain moment in our lives, at that moment when we sought the spiritual wisdom of the Goetheanum. Let us understand how to keep this faith.