The Christmas Conference
Part I. Introductory
Foreword by Marie Steiner
In the book Rudolf Steiner und die Zivilisationsaufgaben der Anthroposophie (Rudolf Steiner and the Tasks of Anthroposophy for Civilization), 2Marie Steiner von Sivers: Rudolf Steiner und die Zivilisationsaufgaben der Anthroposophie. Ein Rückblick auf das Jahr 1923 (Rudolf Steiner and the Tasks of Anthroposophy for Civilization. A Review of the Year 1923), Dornach 1943. Planned as GA 259 within the Complete Works. published at Christmas, an attempt was made to depict through Rudolf Steiner's words and through his work in Spiritual Science how immense was the energy and how selfless the sacrifice of his endeavour to give to mankind the new spiritual impetus for which there is such dire need at this turning point of time. His influence on the public at large had reached its climax in 1922 when Wolff's concert agency 3In 1921 and 1922, the largest German concert agency of the day, Hermann Wolff and Jules Sachs in Berlin, had organized a number of lecture tours for Rudolf Steiner. had applied for the organization of his lectures within Germany and when even the largest auditorium in many towns was too small to contain the crowds wanting to attend. Köthener Strasse in Berlin, which leads to the philharmonic concert hall, had even had to be cordoned off by the police because the congestion was so great. People from all around stood there with their luggage, unable to enter. This externally visible success fanned the flames of the opposition's will for destruction. Circles connected with the Pan-German movement 4In 1894 the ‘Allgemeiner Deutscher Verband’ (General German League), founded in 1891, was renamed ‘Alldeutscher Verband’ (Pan-German League). During World War I this organization advocated exaggeratedly nationalistic aims, and after the war it campaigned for the restitution of the monarchy. at that time had no scruples about instigating riots or indeed resorting to ambush or murder, as is shown in the cases of Erzberger, 5Matthias Erzberger, 1875–1921. German parliamentarian and statesman, leader of the left wing of the Centre party and signatory of the Armistice of World War I. From 1919 to 1920 he was Vice-Chancellor and Finance Minister. Assassinated in 1921 by members of a nationalist organization. Rathenau 6Walther Rathenau, 1867–1922. German industrialist and politician. In 1921 appointed Minister of Reconstruction. In 1922 Minister of Foreign Affairs. Assassinated by nationalist fanatics in 1922. and a good many others. Groups otherwise at loggerheads with each other joined forces in order to do away with a growing spiritual movement which appeared to threaten their own goals. So it was not difficult to stir up rowdy scenes. These were particularly violent on the occasion of Dr Steiner's lectures in Munich and Elberfeld. 7Rudolf Steiner spoke in Munich on 15 May and in Elberfeld on 17 May 1922 on the theme of ‘Anthroposophy and Spiritual Knowledge’. The Munich lecture has been published in Blätter für Anthroposophie, 1966, Nos 11 and 12. The Elberfeld lecture has not been published. On both occasions he had to leave the building by the back stairs and down side streets because of threats to his personal safety. The Wolff Agency was confident that it possessed sufficient personnel to organize and implement, all the more energetically, the arrangements for the lectures, in which it had a financial interest. It considered itself capable of reconnoitring the situation beforehand and felt it could then take preventative measures sufficient to cope with any disturbances. However, after further investigation, it had to admit that the enemy organizations were so powerful that it would unfortunately not be possible to guarantee the safety of the lecturer or even to ensure the smooth running of the event. It advised cancellation. Thus Dr Steiner's public lecturing was cut short by force at the very moment when it was at its most effective. Feeble and insignificant, but all the more unscrupulous, General G von G 8Major General Gerold von Gleich. In 1921 he published a denunciation of Rudolf Steiner Rudolf Steiner als Prophet, Ein Mahnwort an das deutsche Volk (Rudolf Steiner the Prophet. A Warning to the German Nation). Thereupon his son, Sigismund von Gleich, published a refutation Wahrheit gegen Unwahrheit über Rudolf Steiner. Widerlegung der Hetzschrift des Generalmajors Gerold von Gleich (Truth against Untruth. A Refutation of the Denunciation of Rudolf Steiner by Major General Gerold von Gleich). Published by Der Kommende Tag, Stuttgart, no date. now took the stage as a disseminator of propaganda. His hatred was inflamed by private family quarrels and personal intrigues. The hate campaign set in motion by the opposition from far and wide was at its height in 1922, the year which culminated in the burning of the Goetheanum, and in 1923.
Rudolf Steiner strove all the more strongly to imbue the Anthroposophical Society with its task for mankind and for the culture of mankind, doing everything he could to make it morally sound. It was to become the instrument through which, despite immense efforts on the part of the opposing powers, the spiritual renewal of mankind would have to be attempted. The book Rudolf Steiner und die Zivilisationsaufgabe der Anthroposophie describes this through his words and deeds. It is also revealed in lectures given in 1923 and published in booklet form. 9See Rudolf Steiner Awakening to Community, Anthroposophic Press, New York 1974. GA 257. The events described in the book lead to the point when it became possible to re-constitute the Anthroposophical Society as the General Anthroposophical Society, with its centre in Dornach, resting on the foundation of the newly-founded national groups. Before this could take place, the old connections linking us with Berlin as the earlier centre of activity had to be dissolved. It was my destiny to carry this out.
As the year 1923 drew to a close, inflation in Germany reached its nadir. A billion Reichsmark were now worth one pre-war mark. Ever since 1920, the strain of keeping up with the increasing speed of this avalanche had been making devastating demands on the nervous energy of anyone who had a business to run, especially when not only material values but above all spiritual treasures were involved. Official regulations which could not be ignored were changed every few days to take account of the shifting situation, and merely keeping abreast of the requirements devoured time and strength. If in addition you had taken upon yourself the burden of other people's affairs and had to make sure their rent and taxes were paid, you found yourself drowning in noughts when trying to work out what they owed — for taxes included not only the usual things but in addition items for the war, for the army, for the Ruhr, and all kinds of special funds. And next day everything would have changed once more. To send out a bill required a postage stamp which within quite a short time came to be worth much more than the payment requested. There was no lack of comical incidents, and the gallows humour evolved in their recounting did a little to lighten the burden of the depressing situation. Thus when the multiplication factor was a ‘mere’ few hundred thousand, a dear old member was heard to exclaim: ‘Good gracious me, when you are seventy thousand years old you can't be expected to understand these sums any longer!’ And the urchins in the streets of Berlin adopted boastful attitudes: ‘Did you say that star was four hundred billion miles away from that one? What's in a few billion? That's nothing!’ Such concepts of dwindling values must have had a decidedly negative influence on the strength of morals of the rising generation.
All over Germany things were being dismantled! We, too, could no longer maintain our dwelling in Berlin. And the Philosophisch-Anthroposophischer Verlag had to be transferred to Dornach to ensure its continuing existence. Even Fräulein Johanna Mücke, 10Johanna Mücke. See List of Names stubborn and resilient Berliner though she was, could see no other solution. She was driven almost to despair in her isolation. We were forever either on tour or working feverishly in Dornach, while she waited in vain for replies to urgent letters, often facing decisions for which she felt unable to shoulder the responsibility alone. Dr Steiner was overburdened to the limit of his strength and now had to make preparations for the Christmas Foundation Conference and settle all the arrangements for international understanding and the reconstitution of the Society. Yet Fräulein Mücke could not be left without help any longer. Our worries on her account and about the continuing existence of the publishing company meant that we would have to divide the work between us. It was now my duty to hasten to Berlin in order to wind up our work and our home there.
So immediately after the Dutch conference 11See Correspondence and Documents 1901–1925. Rudolf Steiner and Marie Steiner von Sivers, Rudolf Steiner Press, London 1988. GA 262. I traveled directly to Berlin. We had already given notice of our intention to relinquish our apartment. Now I had to rescue from Dr Steiner's library whatever we wanted to keep for the future. It was necessary to sift through all his papers in order to extract the important items from among the mountains of old letters and also manuscripts and newspapers which had become worthless. The last night before every lecture tour had been devoted to this job and each time several baskets full of torn-up papers had been the result. And yet an endless amount still awaited destruction on an even larger scale. It became our evening occupation for several weeks. Fräulein Vreede, who had come to Berlin to help, joined me and Fräulein Mücke. Whatever we wanted to keep was sent to Stuttgart. Permits for the transfer of the publishing company to Dornach had to be applied for, and everything had to be packed in accordance with border and customs regulations: Dr Steiner had given Dr Wachsmuth the task of helping us in this. He came from Stuttgart to Berlin to inspect the crates, now packed, and to arrange for their dispatch across the border. His visit was short. On their return, both our guests gave Dr Steiner quite dramatic descriptions of their impressions of Berlin.
We completed our work. Finally homes had to be found for the paintings and pictures; and the furniture from the Berlin group room, the Stuttgart Eurythmeum and our apartment in the Landhausstrasse had to be distributed. A last word to friends and we bade farewell to this place where we had worked and with which we had been connected for twenty-one years. Five hundred crates of books together with all the cupboards and shelves were transported to Switzerland. Fräulein Mücke herself had had to show the packers how to tackle the task with verve. Now she stayed on in Berlin for a while. But at least she had been relieved of the great burden and had the comfort of knowing that she had saved the publishing company. We owe it to her exemplary loyalty that in Dornach it has been able to flourish once more.
Thus I did not return to Dornach until shortly before the Christmas Foundation Conference, once the task of winding up everything in Berlin had been fully completed. It was as a matter of course that this part of the work should have fallen on me. The old form had to be dissolved before the Society, newly constituted in Dornach, could find its own form, taking into account the growth of the Movement and also the fields of work which corresponded to its new cultural tasks. Dissolution is always tinged with sadness, though joyful anticipation of coming educational and artistic tasks was undiminished. The past that had to be dismantled was infinitely significant, and anchored in it was the guarantee of fruitful new development.
Therefore I was astonished when during his introductory lecture, at the opening of the Christmas Foundation Conference, Dr Steiner conjured up before our souls a deeply moving image of the ruins of the Goetheanum, and then extended this image to include the publishing company. For the crates, packed to the brim, had resembled ruins merely externally, and this picture created an inaccurate impression among the listeners. When I later pointed this out to Dr Steiner and asked what he had meant, it turned out that he had received a report which had given him the impression that the devaluation of currency in Germany had brought about too great a dissipation of resources. When some months later Fräulein Mücke was able to show him the account books herself, he was delighted and said: ‘But this gives quite another picture and shows that everything is alright.’ He congratulated her on having rescued the publishing company out of that complicated situation.
To give a description of the Christmas Foundation Conference is perhaps one of the most difficult tasks one can set oneself. It is barely possible, with our limited insight, to gain an overall view of the impulse and power behind that event. It represents the most mighty endeavour of a teacher of mankind to lift his contemporaries out of their own small selves and awaken in them a conscious will to be allowed to become tools serving the wise guides of the universe. Yet at the same time this Christmas Foundation Conference is also bound up with something infinitely tragic. For we cannot but admit: We were called, but we were not chosen. We were incapable of responding to the call, as further developments showed.
At first every participant was as though lifted above him or herself, inwardly warmed through and through and at the same time deeply moved. But a destiny held sway over the whole situation, a destiny which has had to run its course in other spheres of existence. The outcome revealed what it meant for Dr. Steiner to take our karma upon himself.
Herein lies the deeply esoteric nature of that deed of sacrifice. This is not the usual interpretation of the designation ‘esoteric Vorstand’. What could have been deeply esoteric would have been to bring diverging earlier spiritual streams to a harmonious balance in the persons of some of their present representatives. This would have been an esoteric task that could have been achieved together with Dr Steiner through his superior insight, strength and capacity for love. But our human karma and that of the Society burst upon him the very minute the Christmas Foundation Conference had been brought to a close. On that last day, 1 January 1924, he suddenly fell seriously ill. At the social gathering with tea and refreshments, described as a ‘Rout’ on the programme, he was struck down as though by a sword aimed at his very life. Yet he continued without intermission and with boundless energy to be active until 28 September, the day on which he spoke to us for the last time. 12See Rudolf Steiner The Last Address, Rudolf Steiner Press, London 1967. GA 238. His failing physical forces were nourished by spiritual fire, indeed they were borne by this fire and grew beyond themselves. But at the last, after superhuman achievements during the month of September, the power of this inner flame finally devoured him too.
For those who have the possibility of viewing events as a whole, the Christmas Foundation Conference is bathed in this tragic light. We have no right to turn our thoughts away from the gravity and suffering of these events. For insight is born of suffering and of pain. This pain must lead us to take hold of our tasks with a will that is all the greater.
There is much to be learnt from the discussions and events of the Conference, which were recorded in shorthand. If we follow them day by day just as they took place, we arrive at a picture that at first remained unclear to us because the excessive burden of work, and the bombardment of wishes from the members arriving from every direction, made it impossible to realize straight away the totality of the prospect that had been given. With time, what Dr Steiner had sketched along general lines by way of intentions for the future would have gained clearer contours. And a gradual putting into practice of his intentions would have enabled us to gain a complete picture. For this, a period of time was needed. First the spiritual foundation had to be deepened and strengthened. This was done through the cycle of lectures on the Mystery centres of the Middle Ages 13See Rudolf Steiner Rosicrucianism and Modern Initiation, Rudolf Steiner Press, London 1965. GA 233a. and also the cycle Anthroposophy 14See Rudolf Steiner Anthroposophy — An Introduction, Rudolf Steiner Press, London 1961. GA 234. which led up to the moment when the first lesson of the First Class was given. At the same time, the lecture tours could not be allowed to cease. These took Dr Steiner to France, Holland and England, as well as German-speaking and eastern regions. Wherever he went, the demands made on his strength were immense. In September he would have been ready to begin the Second Class. But the throng of members coming to Dornach was such that account had to be taken of it, as well as of the spiritual needs and receptivity of the new arrivals. In addition to the four separate lecture courses running every day, 15See Rudolf Steiner Speech and Drama, Anthroposophical Publishing Company, London 1960, GA 282; Pastoral Medicine, Anthroposophic Press, New York 1987, GA 318; Kursus für die Priester der Christengemeinschaft über die Apokalypse des Johannes (Lectures for the Priests of the Christian Community on the Apocalypse of John), Dornach GA 346 (not available); Karmic Relationships, Volume 4, Rudolf Steiner Press, London 1957, GA 238. so many personal wishes had to be met that the total physical exhaustion of the teacher and bestower became inevitable. From 28 September onwards, Dr Steiner had to give up any further work amongst the members. He was confined to his atelier, which had been transformed into a sick-room, and as far as the lecture tours were concerned, he had to ask us to go in his place. On his sick-bed he continued to write further letters to the members 16See Rudolf Steiner Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts. Anthroposophy as a Path of Knowledge. The Michael Mystery, Rudolf Steiner Press, London 1973. GA 26. and also the essays on the course of his life. 17See Rudolf Steiner The Course of my Life, Anthroposophic Press, New York 1970. GA 28.
Now it is our task to let the Christmas Foundation Conference speak for itself through the talks and lectures given by Rudolf Steiner and preserved for us in shorthand reports. What was said by the different officials or individual members, if extant, would overburden the book. Their questions are revealed by the answers given. The meetings and discussions in their totality represent for us a path of training in how to conduct meetings and deal with problems within the Society. All this is bathed in the atmosphere of most lofty spirituality, an offering, to the higher powers, of supplication and gratitude. The dominant endeavour is to conduct matters of this world in a practical and sensible manner while yet ensuring that they remain subordinate to the will of a wise universal guidance. The details of daily life are thus raised up to the sphere of spiritual goals and higher necessity.
Members from all the national Societies had gathered in large numbers. The lecture room in the old carpentry workshop 18Since the destruction of the Goetheanum by fire, it had been necessary to fall back on the old carpentry workshop which had served as a hall for lectures and artistic performances from 1914 onwards. had to be extended by opening up the adjoining rooms, and the walls leading to the foyer, which still served as a workshop or, during performances, as a cloakroom, had to be taken down. Outside, the scant remains of the burnt Goetheanum building stuck up out of the snow-covered landscape.
For those arriving and settling in on 23 December a eurythmy performance was offered at 4.30 in the afternoon. The words with which Dr Steiner greeted the guests and introduced the performance contained the first indication of some of the fundamental motifs which were to run through all the lectures of the Conference. That evening brought the final lecture in the pre-Christmas cycle on Mystery Knowledge and Mystery Centres. 19See Rudolf Steiner Mystery Knowledge and Mystery Centres. Rudolf Steiner Press, London 1973. GA 232. The opening of the Conference itself took place on the morning of 24 December. There now follows the address with which Rudolf Steiner greeted the guests on the occasion of the eurythmy performance on 23 December.