Lectures to Priests: The Apocalypse
Dornach, 7 September 1924
Yesterday we referred to the important turning point in human evolution at the beginning of the third mystery epoch, when man's participation in the cosmic things in transubstantiation and in the act of consecration of man began to occur in the astral body. This is that member of the human being which leaves the physical body as far as ordinary consciousness is concerned, and which is unreceptive for percepts from the environment during the time of the separation.
Let's try to get a clear idea of how this astral body functions in present-day man. It is the member which transmits the thoughts which enable us to understand the world. For thoughts about one's environment disappear as soon as one's astral body leaves the physical and etheric bodies.
We can round out this idea if we realize that the ego-organization — the actual ego in man as he is today — is the receiver of sense impressions. However, the latter are obliterated when the ego-organization leaves the physical and etheric bodies.
So that we can say: here are the physical and etheric bodies of the human being, and during sleep the astral body and ego-organization are outside. The ego-organization gives us our sense percepts and sensations when we are awake. There is no sense perception during sleep, because the ego-organization is not in the physical and etheric bodies and because the ego is not receptive for impressions from the environment during that time. Likewise, the astral body gives us thoughts when it is in the physical and etheric bodies, but when it is outside it is not sensitive to things in the world and it gives us no impressions.
However, it was this astral body which became receptive for what I described to you, during the third mystery epoch when man was to connect himself with divine, spiritual beings through cultic words and through everything the priest did in the way of preparatory exercises. It became receptive for the elaboration of the transubstantiation in itself during communion, and after the transubstantiation was elaborated it became receptive for apocalyptic things.
The same kind of thing has to happen in the ego-organizations of people from the present epoch on. Even though this ego-organization can only experience sense impressions in ordinary consciousness, it must be constituted in such a way that it experiences transubstantiations and in such a way that it can participate in apocalyptic things through the latter.
People can really become receptive for these things today, that is, someone can really become a priest if he takes in ideas which are true spiritual copies of the supersensible world. Therewith we have described the esoteric or inner connection between the esotericism which rightfully exists today and what must live in a priest's soul. We have described what can make the Christian Community a bearer of an important part of the new mysteries. We must only consider how the Anthroposophy which is approaching human beings today is really constituted.
I have often used an analogy. I said that people are inclined to accept things which are supported by outer perceptions and experiments today, but they don't want to accept things which are not supported in this way. However, anyone who has this attitude is like a person who says: every rock on earth must be supported so that it won't fall down and therefore the planets in the universe must also be supported so that they won't fall down. Of course, since it's taught in a traditional and authoritative way, people believe that the planets in the universe mutually carry each other without supports. However, many people doubt that Anthroposophical truths support and carry each other, and that they don't have to be supported by outer observations and experiments.
As soon as one sees that Anthroposophical truths are valid because they all support each other, so that the truths mutually support each other, in that moment one will stop saying: I can't see anything in the spiritual world yet and therefore I can't understand the content of Anthroposophy. Instead one will begin to understand Anthroposophy through the fact that its truths mutually support each other, and one will then work one's way further into it.
The main thing which can and must put this body of priests on its inner path today is the task of penetrating what is given about the spiritual world. If it does tread this path, we should make it clear to ourselves that the attitude of soul which someone gets into if he takes possession of Anthroposophy in an honest way enables him to approach the Apocalypse. It enables one to approach it in such a way that one can say: It's true that the Apocalypse exists, but if I let it work upon me, each one of its images or Imaginations becomes united with my own ego. And then comes the moment where this Apocalypse can be a creation of the human ego and not just a personal experience. However, we must try to approach the Apocalypse in an Anthroposophical way. There's no other context which leads to it today.
We will now try to grasp a few of the main points in the Apocalypse in a spiritual way, if I may put it that way. “I am Alpha and Omega.” Expressed in an ancient form: one only understands alpha or A if one knows that a sound or letter as a component of a word was not the abstract, separate and meaningless thing back then, that we experience today. A sound was something which deserved to have a name. Mankind has treated The sounds of language which really enclose a great mystery in a peculiar way.
Mankind has treated the sounds of language in the way that a policeman treats a criminal. A long time ago it numbered the letters in the way that we give numbers to criminals when they are put into their cells, so that they lose their names and get numbers. Sounds have lost their identity through the numbering process. This is a pictorial way of putting it, but a true one nevertheless.
For if we go back before the late Hebraic period when they first gave numbers to the sounds, we find that mankind was fully aware that it is quite right for a sound to have a name, and that one can say alpha to it because it is a divine, supersensible being. If we want to find out what this first letter alpha of the so-called alphabet really is, we will have to go through a kind of spiritual development or conceptual development.
You know that Anthroposophy goes back in earth evolution through Moon, Sun to Saturn. It tries to dig up things in the world which are connected with the evolution of man. We find the first cosmic human germ on Saturn, which became the present human body after manifold transformations during Sun, Moon and earth. Man was present on Saturn in his first, germinal form.
For anyone who honestly and seriously wants to see the true state of affairs in this area, it's no doubt quite important to ask what men really experienced on old Saturn. Man experienced successive conditions of warmth. Man absorbed various states of warmth and cold. He existed in states which really only told him something about warmth conditions in the cosmos, for although they also told him many spiritual things, they only disclosed a limited region of the spirit through differentiated warmth and cold.
If we go on from Saturn to Sun, we find that man's organism has become differentiated. During Sun existence man lives in a physical body which is differentiated into warmth ether and air. Differentiation also occurs within as man becomes filled with a richer content. He not only perceives the differentiated warmth like on old Saturn, but something like an inner life emerges. Man perceives the warmth on the Sun with his old perception and he also perceives an inner breathing rhythm in himself which in turn is an expression and a reflection of cosmic secrets.
Just look at how the human being becomes richer as he evolves from Saturn to Sun. He also gets richer as he evolves from Sun to Moon and from Moon to Earth. And he will continue to get richer as he develops on Jupiter and up to Vulcan.
Let's ask ourselves what the relation of man to the world is on ancient Saturn. On old Saturn man's relation to the world is such that he perceives a very large number of different warmths, but qualitatively he perceives very little. Not much of the world is in man. Man is present as man and he is just a man, as it were; not much of the world is in him yet. As he moves forward through Sun, Moon, earth and on to Jupiter his inner life becomes filled with the world more and more, and therefore it is richer. We already have a large part of the world in us here on earth. And when the earth gets to the stage where it will pass away again, man will have elaborated a large part of the macrocosm and he will bear it in him as earthly copies.
We bear it within us already, but people are not usually aware of this. When a human being moves upwards through Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition to a knowledge of the spirit, his inner soul life becomes ever more magnificent. Look at how little man knows about the human eye in his ordinary consciousness. But this eye is a whole cosmos, and like the macrocosm all of its details are marvelous and great. Every single organ in man becomes unveiled in a wonderful way in his physical body already. So that when an initiate looks around him he sees a world with the elements down below and its sun, moon and stars up above. If he looks into himself he sees that the eye, ear, lung, liver and every other organ is a world in itself, and that man's physical body is a marvelous interaction of worlds. Some of these worlds are finished, others are just beginning, some are sensory, others are half supersensible or entirely supersensible. Man really bears ever more worlds in himself as he works his way through one evolution after another.
Thus we can distinguish man at the start of old Saturn evolution, where he is just beginning, where he is man, although he doesn't bear the world in himself yet. The first thing which man acquired during old Saturn evolution was a perception of the circumference of the warmth body which he felt that he was. So that in a schematic way we can say that man feels that he is warmth on old Saturn, but after he has felt that he is a warmth mollusk he gradually feels something like an accumulation of warmth, like an outer skin, a warmth skin, a somewhat cooler sheath than the warmth which is in him. He feels manifold degrees or intensities of warmth within him, and the warmth skin is the coolest.
We express this in our present language, but this language is abstract and it doesn't conjure up the greatness of such a mental image before our soul, if we look into the course of time and we want to go back to old Saturn. However, people who are moved by a perception of these things at all are also moved by the awe with which such things were looked upon in the ancient mysteries. In the ancient Greek chthonic mysteries, they still spoke of Saturn men who didn't have a warmth skin yet, and then of men who had taken the first part of the world into their warmth skins; for the latter had a certain structure and form which imitated the world. This was the first thing from the world.
What do man's experiences which he had while he was still a warmth man look like from a subjective, psychic viewpoint? They are like absolute amazement about the world. If one wants to describe them, one has to call them complete amazement. For one cannot grasp warmth in any other way than as sheer amazement. Outwardly it is warmth and inwardly it is complete astonishment. It's only because people have become as blockheaded as old Kant was, that they speak of a thing in itself which can't be explained. The thing in itself of warmth is astonishment;' and Saturn man is astonishment just as much as he is warmth. He lived in amazement or astonishment about his own existence, for he was just entering into this existence. This is alpha; the Saturn warmth man who is living in amazement. And the first thing which man experiences as the housing of the world, namely his skin, is beta, — building, this building or house. Man was a man in his house, and the house or temple or skin was the first thing from the world: beta.
If we go through the alphabet like this, we go through the whole world. When man gradually absorbs everything which the world was and unites it with his being, until by Vulcan he will become united with the whole wide world to which he belongs, he will be the one he was at the beginning of Saturn evolution plus the whole world. He will be alpha and everything else too. But everything else amounts to the whole world. This is omega — man and everything in him which is the world. The “I am alpha and omega” describes what man will be at the end of the Vulcan period. At the end of Vulcan evolution, man will be able to say: I am alpha and omega. Let's look at the Mystery of Golgotha from the vantage point of what we have placed before ourselves as the beginning, middle and end of human evolution. At the Mystery of Golgotha or approximately the halfway point in world evolution, we have the being who dwelt in Jesus' body at the stage of development that man will be in at the end of Vulcan evolution. We have a being as god which man will be at the end of Vulcan evolution.
What is the difference between God's existence and man's existence? The difference between a god's existence and a man's existence is that the god already is what the human being will be later on in time. Don't say that this brings the god down to the human level and makes him into a human being. It doesn't. Because for supersensible perception, time is a simultaneous reality, if you'll permit me to use this paradoxical expression. The difference between man and God is the one which existed at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha. One shouldn't relate different times or beings from different times when one looks at these things.
A great deal of what is in writings like the Apocalypse is expressed in the language which was used in the mysteries, and it can only be understood if it is deciphered. On the other hand, one shouldn't blame the author of the Apocalypse for speaking in mystery language, for it was customary for people to do this at that time. People still knew that sounds are supersensible beings and that alpha is the supersensible human being when he was first created, and that when one goes from alpha to beta one is turning away from man and towards the world, including the divine world, and that if one goes through all the sounds to omega one has the entire divine world in omega.
It's rather shocking that we're surrounded by experiences today which we consider to be trivialities. For instance, all the sounds are basically trivialities for us. Someone who only knows the alphabet doesn't know very much. The ABCs are trivialities. However, these trivialities point to divine, spiritual beings at the starting point, and our trivial letters are the descendents of what were once divine, spiritual beings for mankind. The whole alphabet was a number of such divine spiritual beings. Sounds were gods who assailed men from all sides with their din. The sounds AB were man in his house, and so on. Man with the whole world was alpha to omega. When someone uttered a sound he felt that it permeated him with spirituality.
A last remnant of this life of a divine, spiritual element in sounds still existed in the intonation of cultic language during the third mystery epoch. They still understood this completely in very ancient times. When someone successively intoned what has now become our abstract, traditional alphabet, he was intoning the cosmic word. He intoned everything which exists and he connected himself with all the gods: In the beginning was the word. And when Christ says “I am alpha and omega,” he could say “I am the word” and mean the same thing.
You can see that the Apocalypse is written in a mystery language, and it uses terms which remind us of the long period during which man felt that the macrocosm was a speaking universe. We have obscured the sounds of our language and made them trivial, whereas men used to know that they were something very spiritual. We must be able to feel what happened there. What happened? The sounds exist, but the gods are no longer in them as far as men are concerned. The gods have left the sounds. Our sounds contain Ahrimanic beings in a demonic way. The popular idea that the fixed sounds of our language are connected with black magic is not entirely unfounded. This idea of the people is a healthy one. For our sounds are now Ahrimanic gods. The gods who were once in them left, and Ahrimanic beings moved in. People will permeate language with more and more Ahrimanic powers if they don't find their way back to the gods in this sphere.
We must approach the Apocalypse with such feelings about, language. This is the only way that the real greatness and power of what is placed, before our souls in the Apocalypse can become manifest to us. For what does the author of the Apocalypse want to do? He wants to do the same thing that all those who speak out of a true knowledge of the Christ want to do. He wants to place the Christ before mankind. He draws attention to the fact that he is there. He begins by saying that he exists. For if one takes the first words of the Apocalypse and translates them into our language in accordance with their real meaning, they read: Look at the manifestation of Christ Jesus: Look over there; I want to show you the vision of Jesus Christ which God has given.
Thus the first thing which is pointed out is that the author of the Apocalypse wants to let Christ appear to humanity in an apocalyptic way. But he also points out that he doesn't just want to report about the appearance or the Imagination of Jesus Christ, which presupposes vision, but he also wants to indicate that the divine world power which placed this phenomenon into the world and made it visible also expressed it in words.
God has sent these words by his angel unto his servant John, and they are like an interpretation of the vision of Jesus Christ. This is how we must read the beginning of the Apocalypse.
Two things are really being said here. An Imaginative element in Christ is mentioned, and something is said about what Christ's tidings are. And what John affirms and testifies to in his second sentence is the vision of Christ and the interpretation of this vision. The Christ in a picture and the Christ in words. The author of the Apocalypse wants to place the Christ before human beings in a picture and in words.
Therewith we are also made aware of something which was quite obvious to people at that time, although most people today have lost sight of it completely. Our impoverished psychologists speak of sense percepts and ideas. To make the thing as poor as possible, people let the sense percepts arise through the senses and they say that ideas are created within. Everything is subjective and there is nothing cosmic there at all; they make a Kantian world out of a rich one, and they completely forget that man is standing in the whole world.
The intuitive element in our words has shriveled into impoverished ideas: the second thing or so-called supersensible percept which John affirms, testifies to and tells us about is what the Apocalypticer places there as the manifestation of Christ. So that we have to say “Behold the manifestation of Jesus Christ which is given by God, for this is how God must be shown to you (I will interpret this later). He has put it into words and has sent it to his servant John via his angel. John has affirmed God's words and the manifestation of Jesus Christ in the way that he saw it. He wants to give mankind what he has seen and a letter he received from God.”
We must approach Christian writings in this concrete way again. If you really want to become priests out of the deepest and most honest impulses in your heart you will have to see to it that these writings become concrete. For the fact is that people are basically dishonest when they say they understand the gospels the way they are translated today. The Apocalypse begins in the way that I said. One translation of the beginning of the Apocalypse reads, “This is the revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him to show his servants, and he has interpreted it and sent it to his servant John by his angel;” this is how it reads. And then the whole world is told that this is what the Apocalypse says. But no one can really make any sense out of these words. The same goes for most of the gospels, because one wants to explain things to people with wording which doesn't tell one what's really there anymore. This is why the idea gradually arose that one shouldn't penetrate very deeply into the gospels. For how can one really do that? No matter what modern language one reads the gospels in, one can't really read them if one is honest about it. For the modern versions tell one nothing.
One has to go back to what is really there, just as we did this for the first two sentences and as we will continue to do it. Or some people might say that one has to go back to the Greek for certain parts of the gospels. Now, with all due respect to our contemporaries, who take great pains to understand Greek, the fact is that no one understands Greek any more today, because we don't have the same things in us which the Greeks had when they spoke or listened.
We're basically like sacks of flour when we listen to someone or when we speak ourselves. We remain just as quiet inwardly as flour in a sack should, if it is packed properly. This was not the case with the Greeks. The consciousness of a Greek vibrated when he listened to someone. He became alive inwardly and he spoke out of this vitality. The words which he heard and spoke were alive; they were still living bodies. Not to speak of oriental people. The latter are decadent today but unlike European people they can still perceive and understand things inwardly in a vital way when they speak or hear.
Just listen to an ordinary oriental like Rabindranath Tagore and watch how he presents the inner weaving and life which can exist in language.
Today one has language in such a way that one even thinks one has it if one takes a dictionary and a German word stands on one side and the English word on the other. People very calmly place the English words where the German words are. They are blissfully unaware that one steps over an abyss here and that one comes into an entirely different world, and that one really has to treat what lives in language as something which is divine.
People have to become aware of this again. Then they will decide to go back to what vibrates out of writings like the Apocalypse, which conjures up a vision of Jesus Christ before our soul. If we can see this mighty vision it's as if the clouds, which could give us wonderful things, suddenly became concentrated and took on human and angelic forms, and the past, present and future welled out of the clouds' substances as they go past and revealed the world's content of spiritual substances, which includes human beings. This is how the manifestation of Jesus Christ is presented.
The vision is there and we fall silent before it, so that we become united with the world and are no longer conscious of ourselves, and so that we confront the vision until nothing but the vision remains, while we become insignificant.
Then when we perceive the Father God who has given the vision we find that he holds back the inspiring words behind the vision. The words are the interpretation of the vision and they are his secret; but the time is at hand and God gives the secret to an angel, and he brings it down to men as an epistolary message from God on the path on which Inspirations from God generally come down.
As soon as a man becomes quiet and disappears and becomes immersed in the vision and begins to be not in himself, and he takes in God's letter, which he first has to open, which is sealed with seven seals, which he takes in as a letter with seven seals which has been sent to him by the godhead — as soon as he does this he becomes the letter, because he gets to the point where he looks upon the contents of the letter as his own ego-being. Then he stands before the vision with God's ideas and concepts and with spiritual mental images.
If you imagine John the priest in this way, with the vision of Jesus Christ before him, disappearing selflessly, if you see him receiving the letter of God that is sealed with seven seals from the angels there, and if you see the resolve arising in him to unseal God's letter and to communicate its contents to mankind — you have the picture or Imagination which stands at the beginning of the Apocalypse. For we must interpret the words which stand there in what we receive in such a way that it is like the Imagination I described. This is what the author of the Apocalypse wants to say. That is why he says, “Blessed is he that reads and hears the words in the macrocosm and who takes in and preserves what is written in the book, when he understands it. For the time for this has come.”
It has come. It is not just chance that we're discussing the Apocalypse in this context; it lies in the karma of the community for Christian renewal.