Donate books to help fund our work. Learn more→

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Lectures to Priests: The Apocalypse
GA 346

Lecture XVII

Dornach, 21 September 1924

Aside from the more obvious content of the Apocalypse which we have discussed, it is also an initiation book. We can definitely look upon the Apocalypse as an initiation book through the way that the successive stages of evolution are presented—through the inner nature of the thing—, the stages that can be experienced by those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, whereas they will of course pass people by who have no eyes or ears.

We should realize that when we enter the world with our cognition that increasingly becomes a perception, that content of our soul life which is basically a kind of a reflection of outer nature disappears. In other words, the physical sense world disappears and the spiritual world gradually appears from the other side as if out of the background. The Apocalyptist clearly shows that he has a very intense, correct idea of this way of entering into a relation with the spiritual world. This enabled him to find the things in his imaginative visions as objectively as he found them.

It is simply a fact that one can arrive at a view of the world in two ways. The one way is to lovingly devote oneself to the physical sense world and to become familiar with all its aspects; thereby one increasingly becomes familiar with the work of the gods. If one looks at nature in an inner, spiritual way and not just in an external mechanical one, one then has what one could call nature in the widest sense of the word. However, one could also imagine—and the idea is a correct one—that one can get the same world content in a purely spiritual way from within through one's own soul. So that someone with sufficient inner force will be able to see that some natural phenomenon is involved at a particular point in world events, even if he has no access to any historical reports about it. One can definitely say that it's possible to arrive inwardly at the knowledge that earthquakes or something else occurred in some year when something was going on in mankind. Many people have the more or less clear feeling that they can know concrete details about the world from within, and it is a perfectly correct one. Now one can ask what is actually involved when a man gets into the spiritual world in this Imaginative way.

We can definitely discuss what is involved here in connection with the Apocalypse, for we encounter a number of series of stages where the Apocalyptist sees something that leads into the spiritual world in each case, first he presents the letters, then the seals, then he passes on to what can only be expressed in auditory terms in our human language, namely, to the trumpets, and then he goes on to what I described yesterday as divine love, whose counterpart is divine wrath.

If we understand the Apocalyptist rightly, he's saying that wherever he gives the content of the Apocalypse through the letters he was inspired to write, it refers to the physical world. The moment he goes over to the seals and treats them seriously, what he has to say with these seals refers to the astral, Imaginative world or to what one can call the soul world. When he passes over to the trumpet sounds we get into spirit land, and when we experience divine love and divine wrath in accordance with their content we really get into the interior regions of spirit land.

Now one should consider that while man treads this Imaginative path, he's basically standing in the world with his experiences, so that his experience of things is the world's experience. However, he doesn't notice this at first. During the course of his esoteric training he gradually becomes aware that everything that happens to him, through him and in him is a world event at the same time. He increasingly feels that he is poured out into the objective world content, and the Apocalyptist makes this very clear. So that we can say: physical world = the content of the letters.

Now let's take a look at the way the physical world appears to us. This physical world is more than it seems to be. This physical world would not present us with its manifold nuances of color and warmth and all the rest of what inundates us from all parts of our environment if it weren't permeated by spirit. We should realize that what we think of as a physical content in our present age is really spiritual.

One could say that one has to learn the soul language of someone like the Apocalyptist if one wants to try to imagine what his soul is like. And when we adopt this soul language for our own personal, spiritual use we must become so united with it that it passes over into our flesh and blood, to use a rather trivial expression.

I would like to give you a few examples of the inner soul language of an initiate, which he doesn't always use outwardly or exoterically, but inwardly in order to form his ideas about his particular experience of the spiritual world. For instance, he might say: Dampen lightning and you will understand color. That is initiates' language. What does it mean? An initiate sees flashes of lightning; he sees something flaming up as it comes out of the universe; he looks upon it as a flickering up of the spirit in world space, and he imagines that when this lightning becomes ever dimmer or milder he gets a dampened or mild development of colors. Lightning spreads out, as it were, and becomes a colored surface. This is the way initiates think of it.

Or an initiate says: Let thunder become quieter and ever more quiet; then listen to its modulation—and musical things will arise. Thus initiates look upon the sensory tapestry that is spread out before us as one side of revelation, and it is a real idea for them to think the following: One has the colored manifold world content;—what I'm drawing here could be sounds just as well as colors. It could be like the world content that approaches our senses, that is, like the sensory, physical veil that is spread out before us as our world of perceptions, into which we weave our abstract, unreal thoughts.

If you imagine that this blackboard is a tapestry that is spread out everywhere and that it consists of sounds, colors and warmth, an initiate sees lightning flashes behind it. The real flashes of lightning that are sometimes visible simply break through this sensory tapestry from behind and from the spiritual world. Wherever lightning appears there is a radiating in of the spiritual world. And if we look at the way this lightning is dampened and toned down to an even display of colors in nature we have our colorful earth before us.

If we look up to the heavens and its stars, we have points that also appear to us out of the spirit, except that they are an enduring, living revelation of flashing lightning. However, an initiate looks upon all of this as the outer I manifestation of what is behind it. He tells himself: You should really see—and he does see it, as his soul becomes increasingly active—you should really see the red in a rose begin to spray out above and below as tiny flashes of lightning, and whereas the front part becomes dulled, the red in the rear interacts with the sphere of the Seraphim, and all sounds are linked with the sphere of the Cherubim, and everything that we touch I is connected with the sphere of the Thrones. When one sees nature around one in the physical world it is really all an illusion, for in reality it is the toned down work of the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones.

If we look out into the colorful world and at the way it appears,—it is only the evenly toned down lightning flashes and action of the Seraphim. People in ancient times used to speak about the Maya character of the sensory, physical world, but that was only because they didn't know that there are Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones everywhere in it. Now let's go a little further on the path of initiation. Let's go to where the Apocalyptist emphasizes the opening of the seals. What is going on there? Here color and warmth separate off from the world and increasingly spiritual effects appear which become similar to the true shapes of the lightning-like things which form. Instead of the spiritual world breaking through the sensory tapestry in a zig zag way, we see more gentle lightning flashes, etc., behind it (drawing). We know that the beings who live in them are the servants of the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones. Something similar applies to sounds, warmth and barely perceptible touches.

Now just as the earthly, sensory tapestry fades away and such lightning-like and enclosed figures behind it form out of the astral fire and expand ever more, so the stars begin to shine down and their threads of light enable us to see what they are. Starry threads, starry radiations or lights mingle with things that work in an elemental way. Earthly and heavenly things become connected, and we realize that we are in a second world—that was the first one—, and we arrive at the first condition of the second world, where everything is still shining in a natural way, and where we have an inkling that there are beings behind it. At most we perceive elemental beings here, but we know that these beings are the agents of powerful, important and sublime beings; we get to the first precinct, as it were, of the Kyriotetes, Dynamis and Exusiai. They are still behind this, as it were, but they mingle with these beings. The real nature of the Kyriotetes, Dynamis and Exusiai is gradually revealed, the further we go on the path of initiation. This is connected with the emergence of the harmony of the spheres that resounds through the world. The Apocalyptist presents the individual sounds of this world harmony as trumpet sounds, although they really only combine into harmonies and melodies during the course of long periods of time, when time becomes a unity. So we have the pure life of the second hierarchy in the clear sounds of the trumpets, whereas the very powerful beings in the first hierarchy underlie actual sense experiences. This is a world in which one could say that all the sensory effects have become flowing, grand and majestic, so that they're not just located around the things and processes of the physical world, but they have become the expression of beings who work in and with the second hierarchy and through elemental beings. Then we eventually arrive at a third region where we no longer perceive anything natural, or any natural things that have been broken up into elemental things, for if we want to perceive something there we have to perceive it in a spiritual way.

We arrive at a region of the spiritual world which we have to describe as follows. When you went through what is like a dissolving and a reshaping of earthly sense perceptions, that are taken hold of by the expanding sense perception of the stars, you were able to see everything that is working in the universe in Kyriotetes, Exusiai and Dynamis as if it were in the last residues of sense perception—in such a way that these beings are as if inwardly bound to the real substantiality of the stars.

The starry world has become transformed into the beings of the hierarchies for us; instead of looking up to the stars' sensory semblance we live in the world of the hierarchies. Here the hierarchies are still saturated with what I would like to call sprayed and dissolved sensory knowledge. We now get to the third region where we no longer perceive earthly things in a sensory way and where we must perceive souls and supersensible things without sensory inclusions. We arrive in the actual spiritual world, and we become acquainted with its angels, archangels and Archai.

We get to know the spiritual aspects of these beings, and when we depict them in paintings and the like we should realize that they only have the sensory forms we give them because they are woven into the soul, spiritual elements and essences of the higher hierarchies. For instance, the wings we paint on them get their substantiality from the beings of the second hierarchy, and the shape and contents of their heads are derived from the first hierarchy. We should realize that we can only see what is within the third hierarchy of angels, archangels and Archai in a spiritual; way.

What. I'm telling you here is of very great historical importance, because you won't be able to read books that are basedon ancient ideas, and which deal with these spiritual worlds in an intimate way unless you are aware of the fact that when we investigate the spiritual world we perceive the lowest hierarchy in a spiritual way, as it were, whereas the higher hierarchies that we perceive still contain the ingredients of the sense world. This is why quite a few misunderstandings gradually arose when spiritual life became decadent, concerning the descriptions that are found in the ancient initiation wisdom.

We find that the more worldly initiates in the Middle Ages always describe the matter in such a way that the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones stand close to the earth, as the lowest hierarchy, and that one ascends through Dynamis, Kyriotetes and Exusiai to the angels, archangels and Principalities. If you look at illustrated books from the Middle Ages you will be confused about what you're seeing and you will ask yourself why the angels are sitting above the Seraphim. This came about because one no longer knew the exact details that are connected with these processes and one didn't imagine these things in a very organic way anymore. The error first arose during the Jews' Babylonian captivity in B.C. times when the whole doctrine became contaminated with Babylonian symbols through the contact of the Jews with the Babylonians, and this error in the order of precedence of the spiritual hierarchies was perpetuated by the Jewish cabala in the Middle Ages.

However, one must be familiar with such matters if one wants to understand the development of ideas about spiritual things in the course of human evolution, and this is the right place in our clarification of the Apocalypse to discuss these things. So we get out to the spiritual world, and the first beings we meet there are those in the third hierarchy. The Apocalyptist shows how well acquainted he is with all of these things whenever he describes something now, because he increasingly tries to let angels appear, and they carry the events. The phenomenal thing is that earth regions can reflect something that angels bring in as the messengers of higher hierarchies; and namely these angel appearances bring us into a region where we see that divine love is the real ingredient of the world to which we human beings belong. For we become aware that the as it were normal angels, archangels and Archai are r something like the embodiments of higher hierarchies, just as we look at|_ the hands, arms, feet, legs and the rest of a person's body and we have the feeling that this is a body for the soul and spirit.

Thus as one ascends into the world of the third hierarchy one gets the impression: these are angels, but they are like the limbs of higher, divine spirits. They are really the soul, spiritual corporeality of higher divine spirits. So that one feels that one is in a pure spirituality and in God's corporeality at the same time. That is something to which one ascends; one has to occupy oneself with such an idea, and that is something which anyone who really wants to get to know the occultism that underlies spiritual life must do.

If you look at a human being on earth in his physical body, one cannot really think of this body's structure in terms of mere growth or in terms of the shooting and sprouting that goes on in it. You must add some degradative processes to the organism, that lead to excretions. They represent degradation and they show that the physical body is in a continual process of destruction which, however, is destined to absorb spiritual things, since it is degradation at the physical level; so that the spirit can then live in the physical, degradative processes. We know that spiritual things don't live in a human organism's anabolic processes. Spiritual things are suppressed and not promoted when man grows and when physical processes are becoming more active. Materialists are very silly when they say that man only has to purify the shooting and sprouting life in his brain, and that a continuation of biological processes becomes refined and transformed there—and that this amounts to thinking. If the brain would only be a continuation of digestive processes it would have dull, vegetative inner experiences. Spiritual things only enter the brain because it is continuously punctured by physical processes, as it were, so that it decomposes and falls apart. Spiritual things intervene in physical things in a creative way via degradation. The physical body absorbs degradative processes. We see that an inhibition and a holding back is built into the growth.

It is extremely interesting to take a look at the details of this phenomenon with one's spiritual perception. For instance, when Fichte's individuality descends into its physical body in that tiny village one sees how the boy grows. One sees that hindrances which are slightly greater than normal are mixed into his growth a little at a time; it's really very little, but it's there. So this little boy Fichte gets bigger and bigger, but he could have grown faster if something wasn't continuously holding back his growth very slightly. Fichte's particular philosophical talent was connected with this inhibition of his growth; he remained small throughout his lifetime. Here the spiritual becomes active within the physical so that one has to look upon degradation in a sympathetic way and not just in an antipathetic one. One can comfort oneself about degradation in a loving way, for hindrances to growing, sprouting life must exist.

When one realizes that the world of angels, archangels and Archai is really the corporeality of the divine spirit, and when one sees the weaving and moving and working of the angels, archangels and Archai and when one sees how individual soul lives are taken care of by their angel, groups of men by an archangel, and how streams of world events are pushed on from age to age by Archai, if one takes this whole weaving of this wonderful garment that is woven there, which is so nicely described in the Proserpina saga—, if one takes this whole garment of the world, one sees that divine love flows in it like the red blood in our bodies, and that this is necessarily accompanied by a stream of divine wrath. The latter is always formed from hindrances to world events by beings who feel things in a really moral way and who must first harmonize their moral characteristics with the course of world events.

We see the sprouting and shooting of the divine corporeality in divine love, as it were, and through its connection with the weak creatures which nevertheless characterize the ways that the gods want to direct the world we see that this spiritual body is permeated by something which is like the secretory products in man's physical body. Something like human glandular secretions become exuded here; the secretory centers appear as the divine vials of wrath which are woven into the course of world events.

We see the connection between divine love and divine wrath within these three worlds, and this gives rise to the idea, which must be accompanied by inner reverence; What happens when the vials of wrath are poured out? Here divine spiritual beings are stimulated by the misdeeds of weak creatures, and they think of how they can keep world events going and of how they can transform the hindrances into a vehicle for spirit-filled events that are pressing forwards, just as a man can make soul and spiritual progress in his body through the degradative processes that occur in it, so that he doesn't just vegetate. The Apocalyptist imagines all of this in accordance with the paths of initiation. As we saw yesterday and also earlier, the Apocalypse acquaints us with concrete physical things that are happening in the world, and it also makes us familiar with the path of initiation in a marvelous way.

If one looks at the Apocalypse in this way it firstly enables us to get an insight into the course of world events, so that we're looking into things in the future that we need and which we can add to our ideas, and it also becomes a meditation book, and it can be used as a meditation book in a wonderful way; it is really marvelous in this respect. If you come to a place in the Apocalypse that seems to be paradoxical or difficult to understand, stop thinking about it and start to meditate on it; for it is always accompanied by a passage where you can become spiritual, as you inwardly absorb and elaborate what you can't grasp intellectually anymore.

For instance, if one runs into a passage that refers to a bad gland, then of course intellectual types will say that glands can only be in men and animals, so what is that supposed to mean, it must be a poetic image—and they race on; but they're wrong about this. The Apocalyptist uses the word gland because he knows that it's just as justified to think of this real thing in the microcosm, as it is to think about the corresponding thing in the macrocosm. You begin to realize that the introduction of such a glandular thing that has to do with secretions leads over to the functions of divine wrath. Thus seemingly paradoxical things in the Apocalypse enable one to pass over from a merely intellectual course of the soul life, which is so common today, to a spiritual one.

Here we come to a point where it is very necessary to see things clearly and accurately, especially for priestly activity. People feel that our age intellectualizes souls completely, and that's why they react, and they long for hearty feelings in all fields. Just look at how religious confessions are resisting the widespread intellectualism; they don't want salvational truths to be preached in intellectual forms anymore; they want them to be shaped out of feelings and irrational things. No doubt this longing is partly justified, but one is in danger of losing the religious element altogether if one only wants to feel religious contents.

Priests should note the strange course which pedagogy has taken. Pedagogy proceeded from the life of instincts, and it was most effective when one did things instinctively, so that one didn't think in a pedagogical way at all. People were not really pedagogically active in ancient times, they just followed their instincts. Teachers only began to talk a lot about pedagogy after they had forgotten how to teach in an instinctive way. All our talk about it proves that we are the worst teachers in the whole of evolution. People begin to talk a lot about something when they don't know much about it anymore. Like one began to talk about transubstantiation when one no longer knew its secret. Whenever one notices predominantly intellectual contents of discussion in a particular age one has to ask: what are these people lacking? At the time when there was a lot of discussion about the labor question, all that this really meant was that they knew very little about it. Of course this applies to an even greater extent to the time when the printing press replaced writing. That was a time when people gradually lost their understanding for the divine script that speaks out of the sun, wind and stars.

It was not at all necessary to write things down at the time when the knights around King Arthur's table could still read the script which arose from the spouting ocean, the waves that sprayed up against the rocks along the shore, and the mingling of spraying billows with air currents that were saturated with light. Thus one basically has to deduce the dying out of spiritual and invisible things from the luster of visible things, and on the other hand one has to perceive how sensory, physical outer symbolism died down during the time when spiritual things became particularly prominent.

This is what makes us realize that we shouldn't react to intellectualism by denying it or by developing a dark, nebulous feeling life, but we should sublimate this feeling life by letting intellectual things run into a metamorphosis of the spiritual life more and more. Then we will find that we can ennoble our feeling life with the spiritual content of revelations that are really objective and no longer subjective.

Blackboard Drawing
Blackboard Drawing