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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Foundation Course: Spiritual Discernment, Religious Feeling, Sacramental Action
GA 343

XIII. The Sacraments, Evolution and Involution

2 October 1921 p.m., Dornach

Emil Bock: There are a couple of questions, about meanings in the seven sacraments for example, then also about the difference between Luther's idea of salvation and the idea of salvation in Anthroposophy, as seen in Paul's experience of Christ.

Constantin Neubaus asked Dr. Steiner to say something further about meaning in the sacraments and the consecration; he would be grateful to hear more about consecrated water, the Eucharist, the importance of the mass and prayers for the dead, and about celibacy and marriage.

A participant asked, with reference to what Dr. Steiner had related, having seen how the Host acquired an aura during the celebration: how would this be if the priest did not have complete dignity?

Another participant asked for some insight into the communications of the priest with those who have died.

Rudolf Steiner:These questions will all be addressed. In what sense are you referring to this communication with those who have died?

A participant: Like you also have in the Catholic Church, in relation to the priest's help with the dead, with the sacraments of the dying.

Another participant mentioned that the question has been raised several times regarding the cosmic significance of the sun and moon standing still in Joshua.

Another participant declared he had not understood something in the morning's lecture, regarding the statement: "The human beings ever more lost the capability to manifest the divine in themselves" and he wanted to know, what this meant: the divine manifesting itself within.

Rudolf Steiner: This is only the explanation of a statement which should be taken this way: in olden times the earthly evolution of humanity experienced right into their very own form, that actually, if I could express it this way, their skin enveloped divine wisdom. This became particularly strongly expressed in the terminology being used, which is really a mystery-terminology: Man is a temple of God.—So, this immediate living-within something which originated out of the divine predecessor of human beings, was experienced in human beings. Then came the time when only a few chosen ones were ascribed with the possibility of experiencing such divinity. Actually, those who belonged to the mysteries during the time of the Mystery of Golgotha were completely convinced that people in their earthly form could no longer harbour a divine wisdom within, because of the decline gradually taking place up to the time of the Mystery of Golgotha.

Because of this, the time epoch can be characterised by saying: the earthly human being would have lost what had been its divine being in olden times, had the Mystery of Golgotha not taken place—in contrast to those with knowledge who said: the last one who comes from outside of this, to fill a human body, would become the first.—Then the earth would have been in a declining evolution, which means plunged into its downfall. This is what can be added as a clarification to the words.

However, all these things which have been brought forward now—and I ask that you make notes in advance of such questions and remarks—are actually in need of real and factual answers before we can continue to enter into the essence of the sacraments. Allow me, as if by insertion, to enter a little into the essence of the sacraments today. In this way we will possibly find it easier to discover answers regarding the consecrated water, sign of the cross, the Eucharist, mass offering and so on.

You do know of course that the Catholic Church acknowledges seven sacraments. This adaptation of seven sacraments—and we can only understand the sacramental when we approach them with such preparations as I would like to do now—these adaptations of the seven sacraments is based on the observation that we look at human life in seven stages. It is however impossible to enter into the essence of the sacraments, if you don't adapt a certain process in yourself, which has today more or less disappeared from current consciousness, a process which, I believe, also connects to that which is otherwise extraordinarily significant regarding our discussion content yesterday, because it relates to what I've only up to now fleetingly characterised as the actual foundation of Luther's soul battle.

Speaking about evolution today, you actually have a one-sided imagination of it, to a certain extent. People believe, when they talk about evolution, they must have some starting point; and this starting point, like a seed, provides the second step, and from the second comes a third and so on. In this way evolution is considered to be a process of actually always going from one previous step resulting in the next one. This evolution concept is quite one-sided in contrast to reality because evolution does not happen this way. When you look at a plant and the condition of having fully developed its leaves, flowers, right up to organs of fruit, you could kind of think how this relates to the characteristics of the evolution concept. (He draws on the blackboard, on the left.) But you can't imagine it in the same way if you start from the root, actually from the seed, and then look for the seed in the flower once again. You have to admit: there is a condition in the unfolding growth process where it involves a greater unfolding outward, and there is another condition where it involves the slightest outwards unfolding. Then a rhythm of unfolding alternates with the reverse, where, in a way, the essence of the thing pulls back so that the outer sense perceptible element becomes the most inconspicuous imaginable, but the full power, so to speak, is concentrated to a point.


If you want to speak in the Goethean sense, you would say: At one stage in the unfolding, the spiritual is withdrawn and the sensory aspect developed in the farthest periphery (he draws on the blackboard) and here where growth has been drawn inward, is where the spiritual develops and the sensory is squeezed into the most inconspicuous germ imaginable. So, we certainly have to take into account that when we speak about a concept of development, we have to speak about rhythms, but we don't come right with the development concept if we actually look at what nature is. In that moment we come up with history, things get a bit more complicated. Take for instance the course of historic development in that time span which I've characterised yesterday, from Augustus to Luther. (He writes on the blackboard.)

Augustus ------------------------------------------ Luther

It is extraordinarily important to visualise everything that was contributed in this period of time, outwardly and inwardly, in the outer cultural life and the inner spiritual and soul life, towards humanity. Just imagine, that in this time epoch there was also the infinitely significant mystic ... (stenographer record unclear, other than the name containing a B) ... who lived at this time when the booklet was drafted which played a big role in Luther's point of view, called Theologia deutch, and then we can think about what directly resulted after this time as extraordinary, rising from the foundation of historical development in minds like Paracelsus, and Jakob Böhme, just afterwards. When we look at these things, then we have primarily the impression—we must have an impression—that there was during this period of western development a strong tendency towards turning inwardness. Souls turned inward. If you enter completely into such arguments as sermonized by for instance Johannes Tauler, you will discover an inward striving, a withdrawal from the outer things, a waiting until, one could call it, a sparkle arose which could then renew the human mind. I have also characterised this in my booklet about the Middle Age mystics. When you look at such inner striving as with Tauler, when you notice how he, after years during the course of his life, he had become ever more mature in his internalization, how he in quite a mysterious way met a person and how this person simply through an impression from something out of that already deepened interior was transformed, so that this created the occasion for a sermon which was described in such a way that all who listened in the church were as struck as if by a blow and some fell down as if dead. People were so struck within their souls that they fell into quite a faint.

If you envisage all of this you will find that during this time, an unbelievable internalization was happening in the lives of many people in the west. If I could tell you, my dear friends, in detail, what a roll this played in the entire development, in the reading, in interpretation, yes, even the dramatic performance of the gospel action of the Gospel of Luke, this inner most gospel, and when we look at the pastoral care of this time, then we certainly find the extraordinary characteristic of internalization being poured out over this entire time period. We then discover, as this period came to a close—it had prepared itself already from the 15th century onwards and came out in Luther's time—general culture took on a certain externalisation. In everything there developed the opposite of the internalisation of the Middle Ages. The people's gaze developed towards the outside; methods of observation were directed outward, less and less care and attention was applied to the inner life. So we have—and we are still within this process of externalisation in relation to cultural development—we clearly have historically two successive conditions which differ as much as the unfolded plant does from the plant contracted into the centre. So we have the same thing, in plants as in history, that during such a period of internalisation, like from Augustus to Luther—and this period of internalisation was particularly present despite everything I mentioned this morning—all the power which was inwardly concentrated, later comes out, later unfolds.

My dear friends! Today we all work in what is outer culture, with forces which had been inwardly developed during the time from Augustinus to Calvin or up to Luther. When we look at developments in this way, then it disintegrates into an evolutionary state—that is the unfolding, it goes outwards—and a state of involution, so that the evolution is followed by involution. (He writes on the blackboard.)


Only when we do an overall study of the alternate rhythms from evolution to involution, we are able to fully understand development.

The human being is a complicated being because he is actually a microcosm. What is regarded here as a concept of evolution and involution, takes on the most complicated form in the human being. This most complicated form we must first bring before our souls in a single imagination. Think for instance about birth. (He writes on the blackboard.)

1. Birth

If we look at the meaning of the event of a birth, regarding the relationship formed out of embryonic life, to what is brought about between conception and actual birth, we have previous steps which were initially soul-spiritual in the human being, moving into the material aspect. There is an integration of the spiritual-soul orientation into the material orientation. This is certainly a complicated process which psychology hasn't yet studied properly, regarding its deeper meaning. I can admit that the development of the germ has not been studied completely. It is usually only studied by starting with the germ cell, briefly, the evolution is followed from the first germinal cell which has been fertilized through its formative elements up to the embryo's maturity when it is then pushed out. What is not fully studied is what actually happens in the mother's body in the Chorion and the amniotic glands as organs which are around the embryo and in their way are most perfect in the beginning of embryonic development but then become more complicated and are pushed out at the birth of the embryo.

What we have here in the germinal cell is certainly the rising evolution, while the involution is through the soul-spiritual of the organs by which they are first established in the mother's body, from the Chorion, from the Amnion, and then gradually moving to the actual egg nucleus, to the actual embryo, so that we have here an involution of the soul-spiritual into matter. This matter becomes pushed out and then we have the continuation of embryonic evolution. The embryo is born and now puts forward its forces, as I've already explained to you, which it had been developing during the embryonic phase. This continues into the development of speech and still remains available in our bodies until later. We carry within our entire earthly lifetime the forces that remain inside us as remnants of embryonic development: the forces of birth. These birth forces develop within us, evolve in us like a gift of nature. This happens, if I may use this expression which sounds somewhat trivial, out of itself. However, immediately, from taking our first breath, from being in contact with the outer world, other processes come into play, processes related to those of dying. From the beginning we also have forces of dying in us. In these forces of dying our soul-spiritual becomes involved in our exchanges with the outer world.

Through observation, through thinking, we allow dying processes to be integrated into us. This is the opposite process of the developmental process at birth. Like humanity developed since the time epoch a bit before and after the Mystery of Golgotha, humanity experienced those changes of which I have spoken, and people had to a certain extent turn the involution processes into something holy, in contrast to the contrasting evolutionary processes. Evolution is natural, it is a gift of nature; that which is given to us at birth and continues to work, is a gift of nature. If we begin to feel the involution process starting to take hold of us as a dying process is, then it must be sanctified since that divination of the world which I spoke to you about this morning, which means, it must be included into what comes out of the Christ impulse. So we see since the development of Christianity something which should be added into the sacraments due to this dying process, and that is the sacrament of baptism. We will still speak about the ritual involved. In order for us to say: what is an evolutionary process at birth, the baptism should take place as a process of involution. We should add to this rhythm in which we are placed in at birth, the repulsion through the pendulum of baptism. (He writes on the blackboard.)


The second evolutionary process which appears in our lives, which shows itself to great effect is when a person reaches puberty, when the physical body and astral body reach a certain development and the astral body starts in its development to introduce something quite particular, when also that which separates in the sleeping state, comes into a new relationship. During the state of sleep the physical body and ether bodies remain in bed while the astral body and ego leave. Human life consists of the intimate relationship between the physical and the ether bodies, but in a more loose connection to both the astral body and ego. While in a state of growing these four members are united, in the state of sleep the astral body and ego goes out so that their relationship is looser. However, this relationship comes into a modification, it only really matures in the 14, 15 or sixteenth year, then it comes in a real alternating process with what happens in sleep with the physical body lying asleep in bed.

The right harmony only appears around the age of 14, 15 or 16. The young person is taken hold of, by an inner strength, through which the physical body is permeated with the soul-spiritual, which means the astral with the ego-being. This is outwardly expressed in adolescence, and it is only an outer revelation while a complete transformation takes place in the whole person. This event which appears as an evolutionary process can be called maturity. (He writes on the blackboard.)

2. Maturity (adolescence)

This is the evolutionary process. The corresponding process of involution as related to maturity, just as baptism relates to birth, is confirmation. (He writes on the blackboard.)


Confirmation also has the task—and we will see with this in mind what a fitting ritual it can be—the task in the Christian sense to what can be given to the ego and astral body through which everything has evolved in a modified way between the ego and astral body, between the soul-spiritual and the physical bodily nature, having developed with the coming of maturity.

We enter with this into an age in life where we have something else in relation to development. Our soul-spiritual becomes immersed in the physical bodily nature. The physical body captures our soul-spiritual; the soul spiritual is as a result connected in a certain way with the physical body. This is the condition of our development, because we, when we want to examine it as an evolutionary process, describe it as the soul-spiritual incorporation into the human being. We could say: the third evolutionary process is the incorporation. (He writes on the blackboard.)

2. Incorporation

Added to this, if we now look for the corresponding process of involution, then we must above all see, my dear friends, that the human being, through the immersion of his soul-spiritual into the physical body, has evolved an admirable power in his being, continually being in the state of oscillation in which there is a return to the soul-spiritual, in the repetition of the re-immersion into the physical bodily nature so that it contains a rhythm, which threatens him to be either lost in the ecstatic soul-spiritual aspect or to fall back into the animalistic, in complete incorporation. Human beings need something which stand opposite this evolutionary process as a process of involution, and this process is reception to Holly Communion. The process of involution for the incorporation is Holy Communion. (He writes on the blackboard.)

Holy Communion

In our discussion about evolution and what the case has been up to now, we could say the following. It is so, that the human being in his soul-spiritual nature, confronts the physical bodily nature at every moment; at every moment the human being must take care to move in the correct rhythm so that his or her soul-spiritual nature is not allowed to sink into animalism, or that the physical is left alone and to a certain extent the unworldly rises into the soul-spiritual which would weaken the soul-spiritual. Bringing the altar sacraments into the right rhythm is what the human being must look for in the reception of sacraments.

With this, not the entire human evolution is given, because the complete human evolution includes that we not only in a single moment stand in this swing between the soul-spiritual and the physical bodily nature, but the complete development includes that we also, in time, could swing back again. We need reminders of previous earthly incarnations and earthly experiences. You only need to look at psychopathology and you will see what it means for people when their normal true recollection is ruined, undermined, somehow erased. These recollections certainly develop early and only those things connected to these recollections, intimately felt completely within, getting to complete grasps with it, only really happens after puberty. This is the difference, which today's modern psychology doesn't consider, between for instance what is present in a child's life of recollections up to 15 and 16 years of age, that it is different to what comes later when memories are again gathered so that through the recollections gathered, the I is actually firmly consolidated. In brief, we see that this becomes more and more consolidated, this which we call life's recollections. It's one of our necessities; it evolves out of our being—as humans. (He writes on the blackboard.)

Life's recollections

The corresponding process of involution is experienced in Christianity as the sacrament of repentance. (He writes on the blackboard.)


Here the recollections of life are permeated with Christ; the process of recollection being permeated with Christ, lifts it into the moral realm. Not only is the person's I consolidated, but he is—through his complete lifting of his recollections towards bringing them into account in moral terms, through the process of the sacrament and developed through ritual, by developing the process towards the sacrament and asserting it through ritual worship—he is lead to the involution process of repentance. This process in the Catholic Church comprises various stages which all clearly start with a recollection. Repentance in Catholicism exists in the examination of conscience, in repentance, in the serious intention to discard the mistakes of which one has become aware in oneself, in what confession is—we still have to discuss this—and the retribution one imposes on oneself or is imposed by on one of the pastors. Through these steps, complete repentance comes about, and it is the expression for what the process of involution is supposed to be with regard to the process of the totality of memory's evolution, this means, what makes up the power of recollection in the human being.

Here we have created, my dear friends, processes involved in the evolution of the human being since birth, and then we have that which he now returns to in a natural way as an act of involution. We have a succession of evolutions. Through memory the sequence of evolution enters deeply into inner man. Memory therefore represents an internalisation of what has unfolded outwardly through birth. Here we come to the fifth of a naturally unfolding process of involution; we come to death, which concludes the life of the individual. (He writes on the blackboard.)

5. Death

Earlier evolutionary processes we've always contrasted with sacramental action and processes of involution; however, the evolutionary processes have gradually become similar to processes of involution. The process of involution during repentance is in a certain way the outer unfolding of quite an inner decisive recollection process; it is the process of involution which is slowly approached by the process of evolution. We need, when we now want the sacramental action for this natural involutionary process of death, to introduce it in a somewhat cultic, ritualistic form, in which something of a spiritual side of nature's knowledge can be perceived, which serve to confront the dying person and manage to do something to the dying person which is simultaneously stimulated in his soul-spiritual life, stirred by the natural processes of his physical bodily being. It shall, expressed in a rhythm, let the physical-bodily aspect disappear upon death, and the soul-spiritual in turn take shape. For certain reasons, which we will still discuss, one can always see in oils, in everything oil-like, that something leads back to the soul-spiritual. In nature as well, oiling processes are regarded as processes of salvation. Therefore, the holy last anointment is performed here. (He writes on the blackboard.)

Last anointment

We can add, so to speak, the process of evolution to that of involution. Thus, we have exhausted the individual life of a human being, and there are still two human relationships left that are no longer of an individual nature. The one relationship is where the human being, standing here on earth in his physical bodily being, actually treasures a soul-spiritual relationship in heaven, so that the umbilical cord to his soul spiritual, which had been severed, so to speak, now again is reconnected to the soul-spiritual. This doesn't involve individual people; it involves the relationship of exchange with the heavenly-spiritual. This is something which is present in all people, albeit unconsciously. If we were to be completely severed from the soul-spiritual, we would never find our way back, it is a deep process of involution which is eternally present in us, quite a hidden process, even more hidden than what happens in the inner soul life when the organism passes through death; for this reason it is a process which in the course of individual lives of people do not become conscious at all. For this, an outer evolutionary process must be looked for and this evolutionary process is given in the ritual of priest ordination. As the sixth one, we have a process which is given out of itself, as I said - you could call it a connection—and corresponding as its counter impulse or the outer evolutionary process, in the priest ordination. (He writes on the blackboard.)

6. Reconnection: Priest ordination

Now as the seventh one we have an image of the earthly relationship given as a relationship between the soul-spiritual and the physical-bodily: this relationship is in nature's way given as the relationship between a man and a woman. For each true observation of the relationship between a man and a woman it is so, that the balance in the feminine swings more to the soul-spiritual side, and in the male, more to the physical-bodily nature. Yes, it is so. On earth, to a certain extent, the relationship is expressed between the human being and the spiritual world, and it is, I could say, that the woman has made one less step down into the physical life, than the man. One must say it actually differently, one must say: The descent into earthly life can be depicted by a definite boundary; the woman doesn't quite arrive at the boundary while the man crosses over it. This is actually the contrasting difference between a man and woman, expressed in a physical way. There is a certain boundary to reach, the woman doesn't quite manage it and the man crosses over it. Both bear a kind of imperfection within, between them a state of tension exists as a result. When this state of tension which exists naturally in a relationship between a man and woman, searches for a sacramental evolutionary value—this is a deeply hidden process of involution which we are pointing out here, when we indicate the manly and womanly—then we are given the sacrament of marriage. (He writes on the blackboard.)

7. Man and woman: marriage

This is what has always been in Christian esotericism in relation to sacramentalism, in so far as it is to be applied to man, that man enters this world endowed with values partly through evolution, partly through values of involution, and to this must always be added, through the sacraments, the values of evolution to involution, and values of involution to evolution. Man equally speaks out of the foundation of his experience: the human being steps with his incomplete being fully into earthly existence; he or she must first be made into a complete being. He or she expresses their incompleteness at birth, in puberty, in incarnation, in memory and in death. To these things the human being, in order to live as complete physical-bodily-soul-spiritual beings, has to add, through sacramental ways, the baptism, confirmation, sacrament at the altar, repentance and last anointment.

With regard to the social sphere, man stands in an exceptional state of priesthood, where through outer signs done in a sacramental way, also in the priest ordination, the deeply hidden value of involution is present. In the healing of marriage, the sacrament should express how that which is only given in an incomplete value as involution in a man and a woman, is to be complemented by an external sacramental action.

I ask you to take what I have initially presented to you not in a one-sided naturalistic way, otherwise you could of course say, it was all presented in a one-sided naturalistic way. If you grasp the outer natural world and the inner moral-religious world as one unit, then we always have a sacramental evolution value for an inner moral-religious value. By contrast, what we have as an expression of an outer form of evolution, is what we need to search for as a value of involution, that means, an internalisation in human beings of the outer evolution. For us it is really necessary to again accomplish the values of involution, through the sacraments.

My dear friends, why do moral and religious truths have so little power for modern man? They have little power because it is necessary that what come to man is not merely admonishment and a commandment, but that he becomes aware in this approach of an actual penetration with the Godhead taking place. This can take place in human consciousness only in sacramental actions.

So, you have asked me to speak about these sacraments. The questions asked for, today, have largely not been answered, but they were spoken about as thoughts and experiences forming the foundations of what is sacramental. These fundamental experiences and fundamental thoughts as sacramental are alive no longer, basically no longer since the time—obviously, of course, with good reason—since the sacramental has become a subject of discussions. If today it can't be somehow intentional to take up all the sacraments outside the Catholic Church, then it must be considered how to again accomplish a real cult, a real ritual, because only these, as we will still see, actually can have a community building effect.

This is what I wanted to speak about as a foundation. We will go further into the questions which had been asked.

(Blackboard notes:)

  1. Birth—Baptism
  2. Adolescence—Confirmation
  3. Incorporation—holy Communion
  4. Life's recollections—Repentance
  5. Death—Last anointment
  6. Reconnection—Priest ordination
  7. Man and Woman—marriage