Spiritual Scientific Notes on Goethe's Faust, Vol. II
3. Goethe's Feeling for the Concrete. Shadowy concepts and Ideas filled with Reality
27 January 1917, Dornach
(Representation of a scene from Faust, Part II, Act II High-vaulted, narrow Gothic Room — Laboratory.)
It is to be hoped that the scenes just witnessed may have effect and meet with a really intelligent reception in the widest circles today. For these scenes contain many germs of the evolution within which also flows the stream of Spiritual Science. We can say that, in writing these scenes out of his long and varied experience, Goethe foreshadowed much that like a seed will spring up through Spiritual Science. These scenes from the second part of “Faust” stand before our souls not only as a record of cultural history, but also as an expression of deep knowledge. To help us to a full understanding in our approach to this deepest manifestation of Goethe's spirit we may now call to our aid the already familiar ideas of Spiritual Science. For, in these ideas, all that Goethe's inner imagination develop out of the experiences of his time is formulated and brought to full consciousness.
In the first of these two scenes, above all, we have an important document of cultural history. Goethe had been matured by all that he had absorbed from natural science, and by the deepening of all his concepts through his studies and mysticism as well as what he received from Grecian art. And, at the very time when he was giving form to the ideas thus living in him, the spirits of men were seeking with infinite enthusiasm for knowledge to grapple with the highest problems of existence. Something that should not, cannot, surprise people in our circle is the fact that a really intensive striving towards the spiritual world should actually promote caricatures of itself. Both mystical striving and the deeper striving after philosophical knowledge produce their caricatures. In Goethe's immediate circle a really important endeavor, that might be described as both philosophical and theosophical, was developing at the time when the scenes were living in unfolding in Goethe's mind. It was then that Johann Gottlieb Fichte was teaching with an immense enthusiasm for knowledge. From the brief account given in my book, and from what is said about Fichte both in the development of the “Riddles of Philosophy” and in the more recent “Riddles of Man,” you can see by all that is said there about him how he strove an elemental way to formulate the divine spiritual dwelling in man's innermost soul, in such a way that, by developing this in his soul, man may become conscious of his divine spiritual origin. Fichte tried to grasp the full life of the ego in the soul of man, the active, creative ego, and also the ego filled with God. By this means he sought to feel the union of the inner human life with the whole life of the cosmos. And out of this enthusiasm he spoke. It is very easy to understand how such a spiritual thrust should meet with opposition. Naturally Fichte could not then speak in the concrete way of Spiritual Science, the time was not yet ripe for this. We might say that he tried by abstract, all-round concepts, to give life to the feeling that can then be wakened to full life in man by the impressions of Spiritual Science. Hence his language has often much about it that is abstract; this is penetrated, however, by living feeling and experience. And for what Fichte had to say to be taken seriously at all, the strong impression was needed that a personality such as his could produce. He often expressed himself strangely and in paradox — to even greater degree than is necessary in Spiritual Science, for, to those unaccustomed to it, what is true often appears foolish. This is why such a great spirit as Fichte, who had at that time to express the truth in abstract form, was thought ridiculous.
On the other hand, those who had been strongly impressed by Fichte might easily have exaggerated things, as happens often in life. Then came caricatures of him, caricatures of others as well who, inspired by the same convictions were also teaching in Jena at the time. Among these was Schelling who, striving like Fichte, actually fought his way — as I have often stressed — to a very deep conception of Christianity, even to a very deep conception of the Mystery of Golgotha. This conception gradually developed into a kind of Theosophy then expressed — though without being understood by his contemporaries — in his “Philosophy of Manifestation.” It was embodied too in the treatise on human freedom and other subjects akin to it written round Jakob Boehme. It was already living in his discourse on Bruno, or on the Divine and Natural Principle of Things, and lived especially in his splendid treatise on the Mysteries of the Samothracian Divinities, where he gave a picture of what in his opinion had dwelt in those old Mysteries. Then there were such spirits as Friedrich Schlegel, who energetically applied to the different branches of human knowledge what to those more philosophically constituted natures sought to charm from the heart of the world order. Hegel had begun to formulate his philosophy. And all this had been going on around the Goethe. These men sought to penetrate beyond what is relative in the world, beyond all that controls mankind in day-to-day life, to the Absolute, to what is not merely the background of the relative. Thus, Fichte tried to penetrate beyond the ordinary, everyday ego to the absolute ego, anchored in the Godhead, and weaving its web in eternity. Thus Schelling and Hegel sought to press through to absolute Being.
All this was naturally taken at the time in various ways. Today, particularly, when Spiritual Science can penetrate our hearts, we are able to form a very clear idea of the frame of mind of men like Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, when on talking about all that was so vividly before their spiritual eye people remained apathetic — apathetic and hostile. One can understand, too, how the youthful Fichte, meeting antiquated pedants in Jena, who each in their own way of thought they knew everything, might sometimes flare up. Fichte often flared up, not only when he was banished from Jena but also when he saw that, giving of his best, it found no entrance into any heart, any soul; for they all thought themselves wiser with their old traditional knowledge and ideas. So we can understand that when such a spirit as Fichte was faced with the pundits of Jena and had to deal with them, that he was driven to declare that everyone over thirty should be put to death! — It was a spiritual struggle of the first magnitude raging at that time in Jena, and everything going on there was vilified. Kotzebue, a poetaster who nevertheless had his public, wrote a very interesting and witty dramatic pamphlet — witty because it describes a type of young graduate educated at Jena, who when he goes home to his mother speaks in the empty phrases he learnt there. These are all given word-for-word in the pamphlet that is called “Hyperborean Ass or the New Education”. All this appears no doubt, very witty but it is really nothing more than a vulgar attack on a fine effort. We must not, of course, confuse it with what Goethe sought to denounce — the caricaturing of what is great — for we must be clear from the correspondence between Goethe and Fichte and between Goethe and Shelling, that Goethe was well able to appreciate the spirit striving after the Absolute. Although we did not find Goethe elaborating into a system any occult principles, yet we can say that he was a spiritual dwelling wholly within the aura of the occult, and knowing that what lives in the progress of good in world-evolution may incline on the one hand to the ahrimanic, on the other to the luciferic. He does not use these particular expressions but that is of no importance; he knew that actually the pendulum of world-evolution is always swinging between the ahrimanic and the luciferic. And Goethe wished to work everything out from its very depths, and everywhere to show how, fundamentally, even the striving after the highest may at the same time be dangerous. What is there that may not be so? It stands to reason that all that is best may be dangerous. And how dangerous the best may be when Ahriman and Lucifer take a hand in things, was precisely the problem Goethe had so vividly in mind.
Thus he had his Faust in mind — the Faust who strove after the deepest secrets of existence, who was to be the realisation of what stood ever before Goethe's soul, namely, the direct perception of the living and spiritual in all nature and in all history. Goethe himself was striving to find again the spiritual secrets of the early Greek days. He wanted to unite himself with all that was alive and creative in a past epoch — in the fourth post-Atlantean epoch. This is what he wanted to put into form in the striving of his Faust after what was still living in Helen. Goethe sought the paths by which he could lead Faust to Helen. But he was quite conscious of the danger here. However justifiable, however high-minded, the striving might be, because it could so easily lead into luciferic channels it meant danger.
Thus Goethe first showed us Faust being drawn into the luciferic channel, paralyzed by the sudden appearance of Helen, paralyzed by association with the spiritual. Faust has called up Helen from the ‘realm of the Mothers’, at first having her before him only as a spiritual force. He is paralyzed by what he experiences spiritually. Inwardly he is filled with what he has absorbed. He lives in a living, spiritual element of ancient Greece but through it becomes paralyzed.
And in this condition we find him when Mephistopheles has brought him back to his cell, to his laboratory, paralyzed by his contact with the spiritual element of the past:
“Whom Helen paralyzes, use
Not likely to regain their reason.”
as Mephistopheles says. We see, too, how a certain rift has arisen between Faust, who has been drawn into the luciferic channel, and Mephistopheles. Whether the experience is altogether conscious or not, Faust with his soul, through luciferic impulse, has entered a different spiritual channel from that of Mephistopheles. They are now separated as if by the limits of their consciousness.
Faust is dreaming — as ordinary language would have it. He knows nothing of his old world in which he is presently living. But Mephistopheles is in it, through him everything ahrimanic also comes to life. Thus, in this sense we have essentially the two worlds clashing, and this is in accordance with truth. This collision is made clear to us, and it is remarkable how deeply Goethe, in his instinctive way, goes deeper than what is Spiritual Science. This collision is made clear to us through the unsuspecting Famulus now introduced, who imperturbably swings like a pendulum between the tremendous dangers surrounding him.
We may regard him as representing the type of man who is the victim of an unimaginative, unobservant nature, from which, often, he cannot escape. He sees nothing of what goes on around him. It is in the sense that we must understand all he says.
The whole milieu in which we now find ourselves is changed by Mephistopheles meeting with his former pupil who has now taken his degree. It looks as if he were right outside the picture I have just given you; however, he represents a caricature of it. He has been infused with all that the Kant-Fichte-Schelling-Hegel philosophy was able to give, and by Schlegel's interpretation of it all; but he takes this in a very narrow, egoistic sense. We may ask why he does so? This is indeed a pertinent question. Why has the graduate become what we now see? Is it possible that in him Goethe was wishing perhaps to make fun of the Jena philosophy he so much appreciated? Most certainly not! But in his opinion the student who had received from Mephistopheles the precept Eritus sicut Deus, scientes bonum et malum, would have been on this philosophical channel:
“Follow the ancient saw, follow the snake, my cousin,
God's image as thou art, thou'lt rue the way thou'st chosen.”
This impulse of the one-time student received from the Mephistopheles himself. Mephistopheles cannot complain if this old student gives him occasion to say: “How crude thou art, my friend, thou scarcely know'st” for he himself has planted all that in his soul, it is a seed of his sowing. This matured scholar has indeed taken the advice and followed Mephistopheles' cousin, the famous snake. And to begin with he has no qualms; they will come later. He is not made uneasy by the thought of his affinity with God, that he clearly refers to when announcing that he has created the world, it is he who has fashioned it. — This indeed has been accepted as the Kantian philosophy by many caricature-lovers, and even today it is still widely accepted.
Yes, my dear friends, we may indeed get to know people who take the philosophy of Kant even more egoistically than this scholar. We once knew a man who was so infected with this philosophy of Kant and Fichte that he did actually believe he had created the whole world. It had become an idée fixe with him that he had created it. I said to him at the time: Why, yes, certainly an an idea, as your idea, you have created the world, but there is something to be added to the idea. You created the idea of your own boots, but it was the shoemaker who made those boots of yours. You cannot say you made your own boots, though you may have created the idea of them. — Fundamentally, every genuine refutation, even Schopenhauer's philosophy of The World as Idea, is based on this problem of the shoemaker. Those things, however, are not always seen in the right light.
Thus the scholar meeting Mephistopheles in this way, is to some extent his victim. Philosophers have striven after the Absolute. In this man the striving after the Absolute has become a caricature. Mephistopheles has to caution him:
“Pray don't go home quite absolute.”
We see the connection with the spiritual culture of that time represented by Goethe in a very witty way. It is because the scenes are based on living reality that they are so vivid and so extraordinarily dramatic. Goethe strove again and again lead men beyond the ideas that savour rather of the tavern, ideas so often heard, such as: Ah, we should like to keep to what is good and to flee from Lucifer and Ahriman, have nothing to do with them. — It is because Goethe does not like these notions that he sometimes makes Mephistopheles quite sympathetic and kindly. For how pleasant it all is when the scholar, becoming altogether too absolute, the good Mephistopheles turns his chair round from this one scholar to the general public, to the younger pit-goers, looking there, as Goethe imagined it, for sympathy. And he makes Mephistopheles speak not merely like a devil but in a very apt way, because he knows how much of what belongs to Mephistopheles must be mixed with life for life to thrive at all, and how unwholesome are the ideas which, in the way we have shown, smell of the tavern. It is quite worth-while for once to reflect how Goethe himself did not remain cold with the coldness of the apathetic crowd. For this reason he makes his Mephistopheles expressed itself rather heatedly about the people who, as he observes, receive his wise maxims so indifferently. Goethe even then wanted to point out this coldness, though it was a long way from being as cold as the usual opinions and mood of soul today towards all that can penetrate to man from the spiritual life.
And now we see a genuine ahrimanic activity developing in the creation of Homunculus. It was not easy for Goethe to write a particular part of his Faust we have had before us here. Poets of a lesser degree can accomplish anything; circumstances permitting, such a poet would easily solve the problem of bringing Faust and Helen together. But Goethe was not a poet of that calibre; poetical creation was to him difficult and harassing. He had to find a way to bring Faust with all reality together with talent, with whom, as we have seen, he lived in another state of consciousness. He had to find some way, but was by no means clear how to find it. Faust had first to be taken down to the underworld, there to beg the help of Persephone in procuring him Helen in bodily form. But when Goethe wish to show Helen being fetched by Persephone, he felt that no ideas or concepts from the scene were forthcoming. For just think what was involved. Faust has got as far as reaching Helen imaginatively, in his soul's subconscious; he had, however, to reach her with those faculties natural to him in life. For that, Helen had to enter this sphere of consciousness. Therefore Goethe had to bring about, to a certain degree, Helen's embodiment. To this end he had recourse to what he knew from Paracelsus, whose works he had really studied, the treatise De Generatione Rerum being especially useful to him. There Paracelsus shows how homunculi may be produced by means of certain processes. It is easy, of course, for the modern man to say: Yes, but that was merely a mediaeval pre-possession of Paracelsus'. It is also easy for him to say: surely no one is asked to believe this phantasy of Paracelsus'. — True, as far as I'm concerned nobody need believe it. But it is well to consider that in this treatise De Generatione Rerum Paracelsus expressly assures us that by means of certain processes it is possible to produce something having indeed no body — mark that, please. Paracelsus expressly says that it has nobody, but faculties similar to those of the human soul, and rising to clairvoyance. Thus, Paracelsus was of the opinion that there were certain devices enabling men to produce a being that, without a physical body, develop a kind of understanding, a kind of intellectuality like human beings, and even something higher. It was of this that Goethe made use. Perhaps he thought to himself: Helen has entered the sphere of Faust's consciousness in a purely spiritual sense, but she must become more substantial.
This substantiality he brought about through the kind of being we have in Homunculus, who is as it were a bridge between the purely spiritual and the physical; for he himself has no physical body but a favorable moment originates from physical devices. So that we may say: The presence of Homunculus makes it possible to bring a quite spiritual Helen into the corporeal world where Faust has his home.
Now for all this Goethe naturally needed some kind of error, and this error is brought about in a roundabout way through Wagner. Through his materialistic mind Wagner is misled into the belief that Homunculus is entirely a material production. He could not have brought a real homunculus into being; for that, there would be required spiritual forces not at his disposal. These spiritual forces are supplied when Mephistopheles, the ahrimanic element, appears. For the ahrimanic impulse is given when something actually comes into being out of what Wagner has compounded. Had Wagner — either alone or perhaps with the help of the everywhere latent forces — succeeded in his experiment, it might have happened to him as it did to a man who wrote me some time ago saying that, at last, after endless effort, he had really brought little men to life in his room, but then could not get rid of them, he could not escape them. He wanted advice as to how he could save himself from these creatures, these living mechanisms, he had produced. They have since pursued him everywhere. One can well imagine what happens to the mind of such a man. There are, of course, still men today who have these adventures, just as there are still those who scoff at such things.
Through a coincidence, but only coincidence, at the time Goethe was writing the scene Johann Jakob Wagner, in Wurzburg, was maintaining that homunculi could be produced, and he gave the method for doing this. But it goes without saying that it is not true that Goethe took the name from him; for the name Wagner come from the old “Faust” then still in existence. This scene was first written down when Johann Jakob Wagner was still an infant.
It is due to Mephistopheles that, out of what Wagner has achieved, the Homunculus comes into being. But he does come into being, and is represented in the way Goethe had learnt from Paracelsus' instructions. And Homunculus does in fact immediately become clairvoyant, for he is able to see Faust's dream. he describes what Faust — more or less under the influence of Lucifer — is experiencing in another state of consciousness — how he has actually gained access to the Grecian world. In the description Homunculus we recognise the meeting of Zeus with Leda, the mother of Helen.
Thus we see how Goethe places a close juxtaposition the spiritual that lives in Faust, and Homunculus who knows how to grasp and interpret it. We see how Goethe works round to the ordinary physical world so that Helen can then enter it. And for all that is pictured later in the “Classical Walpurgis-night”, we see how Goethe tries to form the physical out of the eternal spiritual in Helen, with whom Faust has lived, while Homunculus traverses all the kingdoms of nature, and now taking to himself a physical body unites with Helen's spiritual element. By dint of Homunculus traversing the rounds of nature Helen becomes, externally on the physical plane, all that we find her in the third Act of the second Part of “Faust”. Thus Helen is born anew through Homunculus, through the metamorphosis is able to bring about in conjunction with all Faust is living through spiritually. This is what Goethe had in mind. This is why he introduces Homunculus and why he shows the relation between what Faust is, in a way, is dreaming, and what Homunculus sees.
With all this, Goethe comes very near true Occultism, that through Occultism of which I have often spoken, from which we are led away by abstract thinking and the desire to live in abstract concepts. I have often called attention to the way a certain one-sided cultivation of the principles of Christianity leads to the maturing of unreal, shadowy concepts as world-outlook, that are powerless to come to any understanding of real-life. And men stands to-day at the mercy of such concepts. On the one hand they have a purely mechanical knowledge of nature that, however, is no knowledge but merely a system out of which all life has been driven.
“Encheiresis naturae, Chemistry calls it,
Mocking itself, not knowing what befalls it.”
says Mephistopheles. This on the one hand that wants merely to copy down what happens outwardly, and on the other hand concepts drawn from any kind of spiritual source, either represented pantheistically or existing in some cloud-cuckoo-land of shadowy concepts, neither capable of entering right into life, nor of grasping its reality.
It is for this reason I have been pointing out how Spiritual Science is able to understand once again the real, actual, human being, for example, and to say: This human head is, from one point of view, only what the anatomist makes of it by describing it purely externally, but it is not merely what is outwardly the body for an abstract concept of a soul floating in cloud-cuckoo-land; this head must be understood as having undergone a transformation, a metamorphosis, from the body of a previous incarnation and is formed, as I have explained in recent lectures, out of the spheres of the entire cosmos. The essential thing for which concrete spiritual science must strive is to fit what is thus formed into the material world by means of concepts — concepts that do not float in the general and abstract. For what is most feared today by many bigotted Christian pastors, and people of that kind, with their unsubstantial abstractions of God and eternity, is precisely this living comprehension of the world, this concrete grasping of the material that is, indeed, at the same time a revelation of the spiritual. This diving into the real world with concepts is what man today will not have. And it is just this to which Goethe wants so vigorously to point. Hence he contrasts the spirit of Homunculus, the real, genuine spiritual that then lives on, though in a different way, in the consciousness of Faust, this way of beholding, he contrasts with the world as Mephistopheles would have it — a world derived from the association-forming tendency of the Christian middle-ages, in which is extinguished everything spiritual that approaches man's soul. Therefore Homunculus sees what is visible neither to Wagner not to Mephistopheles. Hence because Mephistopheles says:
“Marry, what moonshine dost thou not narrate!
Small as thou art, thou art a dreamer great.
Naught see I —”
“No! The North thy heritage is,
Thy birth was in the misty ages,
The waste of priesthood and of chivalry.
And how should there thine eye be free?
In murkiness thou art at home.”
Goethe is consciously striving for a concrete grasp of reality.
I have drawn attention to the fact that here, in the passage of course where Homunculus is speaking to Mephistopheles, by some mischance a line has been left out. For in all the editions we read:
“No! The North thy heritage is,
Thy birth was in the misty ages,
The waste of priesthood and of chivalry.
And how should there thine eye be free?
In murkiness thou art at home.”
The rhyme to ‘home’ is missing.
“Dingy-brown stone-work, mouldered, horrid,
And Gothic-arched, ignoble, florid.”
Now there is no reason why the rhyme here should be missing; it must have happened therefore by some accident in the dictation that a line was missed that must perhaps have run like this:
“But what we make of this gloom?”
Thus Homunculus, having seen that Mephistopheles does not understand him, shows him clearly how by living in abstractions men have separated themselves from the concrete, spiritual world. This has arisen through the misty concepts that have been developed and have led to the narrowness in all the affairs of life in which Faust grew up, from which, however, he grew away. But the devil in Mephistopheles feels at home there. This is perhaps why Homunculus says:
“No! The North thy heritage is,
Thy birth was in the misty ages,”
By the ‘misty ages’ he means the Middle Ages, but with a play upon the old German name Nivelheim. (The line in German runs Im Nebelalter jung geworden.) Jung geworden (grown young) is an old expression — and a very good one. Just as one grows old in the physical world, so one grows young when one is born into the spiritual world. Thus, in the old German expression, to ‘become young’ meant to ‘be born,’ and is clear evidence that in language there was an understanding of the spiritual.
And now he looks about him in the gloom and sees all that is there:
“Dingy-brown stone-work, mouldered, horrid,
And Gothic-arched, ignoble, florid.”
“Awakens he here, new cares we've got.”
for he must be brought into a life that is fully living if he has no wish for merely abstract concepts. Faust has no desire, for example, to have ancient Greece pictured according to the humanists or philologists; he wants to live, really live, within ancient Greece, by having Helen, as its representative, appearing bodily before him.
Thus throughout this scent we see Goethe's wonderful feeling for the concrete. We may say indeed that every word of the poetry Goethe wrote in his old age came out of a profound experience of the world. And that gives weight to these words, enormous weight, and gives them also immortality. For how fine in this respect are the words here spoken by Mephistopheles — words acquiring their special colouring from this fact:
“Alack! Away! Forbear of yonder squabble
'Twixt tyranny and slavery to babble!
It irks me. Scarce 'tis ended when de novo
With the whole farce they start again ab ovo,
Yet none doth mark he is but made a fool
By Asmodeus who the strings doth pull.”
(By the devil of discord, with whom Mephistopheles feels himself thoroughly akin.)
“They fight for freedom — so themselves they flatter.” We feel ourselves transported almost into the present, for now too we fight for freedom. But Goethe retorts:
“Slaves against slaves, if you but sift the matter.”
To sum up, my dear friends, we might say: If only the time might come when all the striving of such a poem, as we find it revealed in Goethe by this scene, might be continued on into what should arise through present-day Spiritual Science, if only what lies in such a story of endeavour might take more hold on men, might find a haven in their souls — then we might indeed go forward as real men.
But instead, since the days of Goethe, the abstraction of all endeavour has made infinitely greater progress. Here is the point where the striver after Spiritual Science — whether or not he rises to Goethe's level — should try to become clear as to the difference between concrete spiritual endeavor and the spiritual endeavor that is abstract. You see, the study of Spiritual Science gives us concepts by means of which we can really immerse ourselves in reality and learn to understand it. Materialism gives no real concepts only the shadows of them. So how can materialism understand the difference we have made clear between the human head and the rest of the body? Or how can it understand the following, for example. Let us take a concept that is infinitely important.
We know that man has his physical body, his etheric body, his astral body and his ego. The animal has its physical body, etheric body and astral body. Let us look at the animal. It is interesting to watch animals when, having eaten their fill in the meadow, they lie down to digest. It is very interesting to watch this — and why? Because the animal with its astral being has withdrawn entirely into the etheric body. What then is its soul doing while the animal is digesting? The soul is taking part with infinity satisfaction in what is happening to the body. It lies there and watches itself digesting and this gives the animal immense satisfaction. It is interesting to see a cow, for instance, digesting spiritually as she lies there, to see how all the processes involved when foodstuffs are received into the stomach and utilised in the other parts of the body are inwardly visible to her. The animal looks on at these processes with inner satisfaction, because of the intimate correspondence between her astral and ether bodies. The astral is living in what the etheric body reflects of the physico-chemical processes whereby the foodstuffs are introduced into the organism. It is a whole world that the cow sees! True, this world consists only of the cow and the processes taking place within her, but truly, though all that this astral body perceives in the etheric body of the cow consist sonly of the processes within her own horizon, within her sphere, everything is so magnified that it is as large in the consciousness of the cow as our human consciousness when it reaches to the firmament. I should have to draw the processes taking place between the stomach and the rest of the cow's organism as a large sphere growing and expanding to a vast area, since at this moment for the cow there is nothing beyond the cow-cosmos — and this is of a gigantic size.
This is no jest but a fact. And the cow has a feeling of exaltation when seeing her cosmos thus, seeing herself as cosmos. Here we have an insight into the concrete nature of animals. For, man having an ego, the astral body is torn by it from that intimate union with the etheric body existing, for example, in the cow. Astral body and etheric body are torn asunder. Hence, when man digests after a meal he is deprived of the capacity to survey the whole digestive process of the cosmos. He remains unconscious of it all. Against that, the ego by its activities so restricts the impulses of the etheric body that they are only grasped by the astral body in the region of the sense organs. So that what in the animal forms a whole with the astral body is in men concentrated in the sense organs. That is why the sense-process in man is as great as in certain moments the animal process is for the animal.
It is in a measure a defect in man that, when he begins his afternoon nap, he cannot as he dreams look on at his digestion, for he would then see a whole world. But the ego tears man's astral body away from that world, and only allows him to see as cosmos what is going on in his sense organs.
I wanted to refer to this merely as an example, for from it we see that concrete Spiritual Science mut enter into the very essence of things with concepts that are not shadowy but go deep into reality. All concepts of Spiritual Science should be such that they go deep into reality. It is a characteristic phenomenon, however, of the materialistic age that it despises concepts of this nature; it will have nothing to do with them. Where knowledge of nature is concerned this leads in reality to lack of any knowledge at all. In life it leads to a much greater lack. It makes it impossible for man to have any sense of concrete concepts, concepts full of content. Hence, materialistic education is at the same time an education in shadowy concepts, empty of content. The two things run absolutely parallel — not to be able to understand reality in a spiritual way, to lack upon everything as a mechanism; and to be incapableof forming any concepts that can really enter into the connections of the world or of humanity.
And it is from this point of view that the present time must be understood, for that is precisely where the difficulties today arise. There are now, certainly, people with idealistic natures, but they are the idealists of a materialistic age, and for that reason talk in shadowy, general concepts, unable to gras reality, or at best grasping it only indirectly through emotion, and these idealists blow their own trumpets in the world as loudly as possible. While on the other hand as regards knowledge of nature the capacity to understand her is lacking, on the other hand we have the inevitable parallel phenomenon — the holding forth of shadowy concepts. And when men talk so, they are indeed not talking of anything that is unreal in itself but of what is connected in the worst possible way with the painful events of the present time.
In Goethe's day things had not gone so far, but today we are confronted with a wide-spread lack of power to see any difference at all between a shadowy and a real concept. Wagner, as pictured by Goethe, lives entirely in shadowy concepts, and Homunculus even tries to prove to him that he does so. For instance, when Wagner has anxiously asked:
“And I pray
What becomes of me when you all go away?”
Thou'llt stay at home, most weighty work to do.
The ancient parchments thou'llt unroll, no doubt,
The elements of life by precept single out,
And each to other fit with foresight due. Ponder
The what, more to the how thy thoughts apply.
Whillst through a portion of the world I'll wander
Belike I'll find the dot upon the i.”
When I read this passage it always makes me realise anew how it is taken straight from life, particularly the life of the pundits. For I know of a medical examination in which a young student came up before a very learned man, a historian, and as such pre-eminently an authority on old documents, and a professor of Historical Science. It was chiefly under him that the young medical student had studied. Among the questions he asked was this: Now, tell me, Mr X, in which papal Bull was the dot over the i first used? The student knew that at once and answered: Innocent IV's. Now another historian, of a different kind, was present. He wanted to play the part of Mephistopheles a little, so he said: Look here, my dear colleague, as I am the other examiner let me now ask the candidate a question. Tell me, Mr. X, when did this Innocent IV ascend the Papal Chair? The student did not know. Then when did Innocent IV die? The student did not know. Well then, tell me anything else at all you know about Innocent IV beyond the fact that in his Bulls the i was first dotted. But the candidate again could give no answer. Then the Professor who had to do with ancient documents and parchments said: But Mr. X, you seem to be a complete blockhead today. Then the other, still wishing to play Mephistopheles, replied: But, my dear colleague, is not this your favourite pupil? What can have turned him into a blockhead?
So then, the good Wagner, being different from Homunculus, was able to discover the dot over the i in his parchment. But since that time, thought that is abstract and purely conceptual has become universal and historic. Thus it has become possible for us to see the spectacle playing a profound part in the whole world-history — that, in an important affair, there appears before the world a document living entirely in shadow concepts. Nothing more unreal and less in conformity with the actual can be imagined thatn the note recently sent by Woodrow Wilson to the Senate of the United States of America. Today when it is only of use to understand the realities of the world, weakness is found in high places. Something different is needed from shadowy concepts, concepts that are mere shadows.
And here we may well ask ourselves whether suffering is to continue endlessly because in high places men of a materialistic civilisation flee reality, and can only grasp shadows instead of concepts? I know, my dear friends, that when we are comng up against events of such sadness as those of the present, there is little understanding to be found, for today there are very few men who can grasp the difference between shadowy concepts and reality. For the pure idealist — naturally idealism is always worthy of recognition — not understanding spiritual reality, will think it fine, infinitely fine, when people speak beautifully of Freedom and the Rights of Man, of International Federation and things of the kind. They do not see where the harm lies in these things; the lack of such insight is wide-spread.
So little understanding is there, that it makes us see the meaning of what Mephistophleles says after leaving Nicodemus. For, after all, many who rank today as people of importance speak as the scholar spoke, and even if they do not claim to have created the whole world, at any rate wish to govern it according to their dreary shadow concepts. Men have no wish to make progress in such things. They remain children forever, children who can believe that it is possible to rule the world with dummy concepts. Hence we can appreciate the meaning of those words of Mephistopheles:
“I see my word hath left you cold,
Ye artless bairns. Yet I'll not take it evil.
Think though, the Devil is old; grow old
If ye would understand the Devil.”
Those who believe the world can be governed by shadow concepts, do not understand anything of what Goethe is saying through the mouth of the Devil when the Devil speaks the truth.
We may take the Homunculus scene in the second Part of Goethe's Faust as a lecture on the understanding of the real, the actual, in our age that is dominated by dummy concepts. But these matters must really be taken very seriously. And for us in particular, my dear friends, it is most important to form really clear concepts about all the various pronouncements so plentiful in the world today and during many past decades, which have finally brought us to the present situation.