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From Limestone to Lucifer
GA 349

IV. The essential nature of man—life and death

17 March 1923, Dornach

Good morning, gentlemen! I have a few things to say on the second part of the question that was asked the other day. The fact is that if questions are asked about major aspects of life one has to talk a very great deal about them; one would really always need to draw on the whole body of knowledge, for that exists so that these major questions may be answered.

Now as I told you, someone wishing to understand human life in soul and spirit must really study the human being. The last time we did so by looking at memory. I showed you that memory—things we recall—is indeed something that is wholly of the spirit in man. Today I want to look at the human being from a completely different angle and consider some things we have been discussing before. But we need to keep all these things together.

Let us compare the way an animal develops with the way a human being develops. An animal may learn many things in its life, but the most important things it already has of itself. An animal would only be able to learn very few things if it did not have so many skills already. Just think, a chick hatching from the egg will instantly pick the right grains of com. This is something that comes naturally to it. Human beings first have to learn everything. There are three things human beings must learn at the very beginning of their life on earth. The first thing is the activity we call walking. Animals have it easier, for they walk more easily. They have four legs and it is easier to walk on four legs than on two. Walking on two legs one must first find one's balance. An animal is already in balance because it has four legs.

Now you may well say that there are animals that use their forelimbs in a way similar to human beings, apes for example, and also other creatures. Well, you must always remember that an ape is really not very skilful in its front limbs relative to its whole organization. It may not always touch the ground with its forelimbs, but it does have need to hold on to something with them. And when it does not hold on, when it is not climbing, it is definitely clumsy. It cannot use its forelimbs in the right way. Most animals walk on all fours, however, and human beings also walk on all fours to start with. They must first find their balance in learning to walk. This is something human beings have to learn in life—first of all, they must learn to walk.

Secondly, as you all know, human beings learn something animals do not get to do, or at least not in the same way. Only someone whose ideas are divorced from reality would say that animals get to do it the same way. It is human speech. I won't say that animals are not able to communicate. I have told you enough things to show that animals are able to communicate. But they do not do so by speaking. They will sniff one another or something like that, but they do not communicate by speech. The second thing a human being has to learn, therefore, is to talk.

The third thing a human being has to learn, again something animals do not develop in the same degree, is thinking. These are the three things a human being must learn—to walk, to talk and to think.

You may say: 'Ah, but surely we can't easily tell the thinking which a human being does from the thinking of an animal. We simply don't know if animals aren't able to think as well.' But someone who says we are unable, well from just looking at animals, to know if they do not think is more or less like someone who says: 'If my grandmother had four wheels and a steering rod up front, she'd be a bus!' One can of course say anything if one does not consider the facts. One can of course say, if one does not consider the facts: 'Why should not a stone speak as well, or think?' But if you consider the facts the situation is that animals do everything in such a way that the sense that lives in them is not personal but cosmic. They do not do it personally; because of this the things they do may be much more sensible, but they are not personal. They think a great deal, as we have heard, but their thinking is not personal.

You see, these three things are something human beings must first learn—to walk, to talk and to think. A normally developing child will first learn to walk, then to talk, and only then to think. It is quite wrong to think that people think before they talk; they first learn to talk by imitating others. They imitate the words they hear, and it is only in those words that they learn to think. Man learns to think by using speech. This is why the whole of humanity only learned to think at such a late date. The primitive peoples did talk, but people only learned to think later on. They learned to think by using speech.

Consider what the whole of human life would be like if man did not learn to walk, talk and think in his childhood. But you'll also realize that man needs a body to do these three things—walking, talking and thinking. This is perfectly obvious in the case of walking. The whole way the body is made shows you that man needs his body to be able to walk. You cannot even imagine someone walking without a body. Human beings therefore need a body to be able to walk. As to talking—well, I have told you how speech evolves—human beings need a larynx for this, a tongue and all kinds of things. So they need their bodies to be able to talk. And they also need their bodies to be able to think. They need their brains and their nervous systems for this. You can easily investigate this. If someone is not able to think well and you examine the brain, you will find that it has turned to mush. The human being therefore needs his body specifically for the things he learns on earth.

But we need to understand what really happens when we walk, for example, and when we move altogether. When we move in any way, part of us is always perishing. If I stand here and just walk over there, and if I were to examine my body after taking those steps, I would find more ash in my body than it contained before. This is because substances have been burned in it. I cannot move at all, cannot relate to balance, to gravity, unless I burn something or other inside myself. I must therefore bring about combustion inside myself when I use the ability I gain with walking and with movement in the proper sense altogether. Now if I were to be active all the time and would therefore all the time burn things inside me, well, then I'd soon perish. I must all the time also restore the things I have burned.

But you see, the outside world does not do this for me. The outside world does not restore the things I have burned inside me. For you only have to look at a human corpse to see this. This has been completely given over to the outside world, which destroys it by combustion. The outside world burns the body up. You'll say: 'Well, not all people are cremated, some are also buried.' But the decomposition that happens in the grave is merely a slow burning process. It is exactly the same process. If one quickly cremates a body, it burns up in a short time. Someone put in a grave will burn slowly. It always is a real combustion process, as I explained when I spoke of a candle the last time, only on one occasion the body is burned quickly, totally, and on the other occasion the body burns slowly in the grave.

So when we give ourselves to the earth as corpses, we burn. And we also burn when we walk, when we move. Now we cannot bring the corpse back to life, for we are unable to use it for the other process which compensates for the combustion. We would be able to bring a corpse back to life at any time if we were able to reverse the combustion process. Now you see, this is something we are able to do for as long as we live. Then we are really able to reverse the combustion process. Why? If we only had the body that is laid in the grave, we would not be able to reverse the combustion effect. Apart from the body that is laid in the grave we also have an ether body. This is a subtle body. So to do a proper drawing of the human being we have first of all his physical body and then his ether body [Fig. 15]. Having an ether body we are quite rightly able to make good the combustion caused by our movements. And so we do not just have a physical body, we also have an ether body. When we are sleeping, the ether body is all the time mending the damage caused by combustion processes in the course of the day. This means that we also have our ether body when we are asleep. It is therefore the physical body and the ether body of the human being which lie in the bed.

physical and ether bodies
Figure 15

Now, how does the ether body differ from the physical body? You can feel this. It is gravity which causes the combustion in you when you give yourself up to the outside world. And the ether body does not have gravity. If we now really think of the thoughts that we are able to recall, we have to say that they do not belong to the physical body, they belong to the ether body. And the situation is that in his ability to remember man is not subject to gravity. You can work and think at the same time, though it is difficult—but that is due to something else. We may discuss it later. But we can work and think at the same time. Everyone knows this, because work will in the first place only wear down the physical body. The ether body is not worn down by physical work. This is the important point. The ether body works in such a way in the human being that in this ether body the human being has something which in the first place enables him to have recall, to have memory.

Now let us go on to the second thing a human being is able to learn—speech. When we learn to talk it is not the same as it is with walking. When we do physical work we also move about in the outside world. We relate to the something or other in the outside world which offers perceptible resistance. Speech is something we produce and we do not really find that talking gets difficult if the air is heavy or stale. Other things make us notice what the air does to us when it is stale and upsets us. We do not notice it in the process of talking. And yet, we would not be able to talk if it were not for the air, for we move the air when we speak.

Combustion processes in us are not only related to outer work, for when you eat something this must first of all go through your mouth into your stomach. There it has to be processed. Then it must become part of the whole body. This is inner work; it, too, burns up the physical body. If the ether body were to be inactive for just a moment—well, that would be the end of it for the person. He would then kill himself all the time with those combustion processes inside him. Everything a person does in this world is really designed to kill.

It is not like this when we talk. If someone were to stop his heart function for a moment, that is, if the combustion caused by the activity of the heart were not immediately made good again by the ether body, the heart would stop beating. But we cannot say the same about speech. Quite the contrary. Someone who talks all the time would soon arouse our loathing. And he would not exactly be helping himself either. When it comes to speech, it is not the case that people should talk all the time. They may talk, if they wish, but they may also let up. But they cannot let up when it comes to the ether body balancing out the activity of the heart. This is something they must do from the beginning to the end of their life on earth.

There is a big difference, therefore, between the things we do inwardly when we speak and those we do just to live. We talk when we wish to do so. But we also destroy something inside us when we talk. We really destroy something. You see, when we breathe we are all the time taking in oxygen, combining the oxygen with the blood, and releasing carbon dioxide. We do not have the same kind of use for nitrogen. But when we talk we always take in too much nitrogen. The strange thing about talking is that we take in too much nitrogen. We poison ourselves in a way. Taking in too much nitrogen means getting more similar to cyanide. For cyanide is a compound of carbon and nitrogen, just as carbon dioxide is a compound of carbon and oxygen. A person is constantly cyanizing himself when he talks. And this, too, must be balanced out. When someone sets his organs of speech in motion he kills himself, in a way, just as he kills himself with the combustion that develops through movement. This needs to be balanced out. And this is done by the astral body. Please don't worry about the term 'astral'. I might also use another term. It is immaterial. So this is what the astral body does. This astral body is also present in the human being, and it lives in our breathing and speech.

And you can now see the big difference between the astral body and the ether body. If we did not continue to make up for the combustion that has happened during the day even when we are asleep at night, we would not sleep but die. We must therefore always leave the ether body with the physical body during life on earth. We cannot talk when we are asleep at night; we'd first have to wake up. Talking has to do with the astral body. And so we simply withdraw the astral body from the physical and ether bodies during the night. Because of this we also breathe a little bit differently during the night. We exhale less carbon dioxide during the night than we do in the day. In short, we have a third body in us, an astral body [Fig. 15]. And the astral body lives in our speech.

Looking at an animal we note it can walk, too; it can move around, only it does not have to learn this but has it instinctively. But when you look at the animals you find that they cannot talk. They do also have organs of speech. It should really surprise us that a dog does not talk, that it merely barks. It cannot use its astral body to talk. It does not learn to talk. As human beings we must therefore learn to move, to walk, and we must learn to talk. The animal learns nothing for its ether body, learns nothing for its astral body. But we human beings learn things.

Now you see, the fact that we are able to learn something is due to the fact that we have thoughts. All learning consists in having thoughts. To talk, the human being merely needs to imitate. To think, he must be active himself. Man learns through thoughts, therefore. He also learns to walk and he learns to talk through thoughts; only he does not yet know it. He does not yet have the thoughts when he walks and talks. And we are able to learn, which is something animals cannot do, due to the fact that apart from the physical, the ether and the astral body we also have an I, which is present in every part of us. So we also have an I [Fig. 15]. Those, then, are the four aspects of the human being—physical body, etheric body, astral body and I.

What I have just told you is based on looking at the whole human being in the right way, a truly scientific way. Ordinary science is not truly scientific. It does not care about the real facts. It is quite clear that everyone who really learns anything at all would have to say: the human being has a physical body, an ether body, an astral body and an I. But he does not say so, for people simply do not care to consider the facts.

Let us now consider what really happens when we die. You see, this is something one cannot really consider unless one takes the learning process a bit further than is usually done today. The situation is that today's civilized people, as they call themselves, are terribly lazy. What do these civilized people do? It is altogether of little interest to them that a human being learns to walk, for it just happens when a child imitates the grown-ups. No particular attention is paid to this.

Nor does it surprise people that human beings learn to talk. There was a time on this earth when human beings could not talk at all. They had a kind of sign language. Then human beings learned to talk. But this is something humanity has long since forgotten. The study of history today simply consists in considering early human beings who were already able to talk. And people take no interest in the fact that speech is something else we have to learn by doing. This is why nation goes against nation. If they were ever to discover that they have learned to talk, and that speech is something human beings have learned, they would not be so arrogant about language and speech, nor want to be separate nations. People have completely forgotten that speech is something that has to be learnt out of our inner being.

Now when one wants to come into anthroposophy, then, I'd say, one has to learn one's language all over again. For you'll find that when someone gives a talk nowadays—wow, it's as if it comes from a machine. Observe it—you'll find it is as if it were coming from a machine. It is different from the way it is when someone gives a talk about something out of the science of the spirit, out of anthroposophy. There one must all the time try and find the words, take them up again in a new way inwardly. And then, having shaped the words, one really begins to worry that they did not really present things correctly. In anthroposophy, the relationship to those who listen to one is very different than it is with academics today. Modern academics no longer take care with their speech. In anthroposophy, one must always take care of speech and language.

You see, this is something that shows itself especially when I write my books nowadays; I then find myself in a constant state of inner unrest, I would say, concerned to shape the language in such a way that people may also understand what is being written. Something new has to be created here, using language. Modern academics simply say, 'My style is poor; I don't write very well,' for they are used to putting one word after the other, the way we use the mechanics of walking. And so they are not accustomed to someone shaping his sentences a bit differently from the way they do it. And you can see that people today do not care much about language.

And now the third thing, thinking. Well, modern people are particularly proud of their thinking. But I would say that people do not think at all today. People usually do not think at all today. Let me give you an example to show that people do not think at all today. We can see this if we take religion, for example. Religions exist. And yet, they did not always exist. People have only come to religion in the course of evolution. And if you really study history, you'll see how people struggled to develop their religious convictions. This is why in earlier times such a thing as struggling to gain religious convictions did exist. What do people do today? They accept the old religious elements as their inheritance. But they do not want to take in new ideas about things beyond the world of the senses or the like. If human beings had always been like that they'd still be beasts today—for that is the truth—because they'd never have taken thought about anything beyond the world of the senses. Today people are unable to take in ideas about anything supersensible. They will only take in what has been preserved in the churches, thoughts people have been thinking in earlier times. Scientists will of course tell you that they are quite independent of the church and develop their own ideas. That is not true. For if you know the church you'll see that the ideas academics have today are merely the ideas that were developed in the church in earlier times.

Some time ago there was a great scholar in Berlin. His name was Du Bois-Reymond.20Du Bois-Reymond, Emil (1818-86), physiologist in Berlin. His Ignorabimus speech had the title 'On the limits to our knowledge of nature', and was given at the second general session of the 45th German Naturalists and Medical Conference on 14 August 1872 in Leipzig. He really was a great scholar. Above all he was a very elegant speaker, for it all went quite mechanically, it was inherited—just as your great-aunt likes it if the vicar says things she's already familiar with in his sermon; she'd probably not like it so much if he were to say anything new, and she'd fall asleep over it. Du Bois-Reymond, then, a great scholar, made a major speech at a naturalists' gathering in Leipzig in the 1870s. This speech has become very famous. He said, more or less, that as human beings we can understand the things we perceive through the senses. We do not understand things that go beyond the senses. This we do not know. The speech has become famous as the 'Ignorabimus speech'—ignorabimus means: we'll never know anything. That was his conclusion: we'll never know.

Now why did Du Bois-Reymond make that speech? If one of you had gone there and said to him: 'You are a pupil'—or, if you like, one of you might have said: 'Your excellency, you are a pupil—of Thomas Aquinas, one of the Church Fathers!' Du Bois-Reymond would have gone as red as a beetroot and been really upset at being told he was a pupil of Thomas Aquinas, a teacher of the Roman Catholic Church. This would not have been to his liking. He did say in another speech: 'German scholars are a scientific bodyguard of the Hohenzollerns.'21Literally: 'Berlin University, placed opposite to the royal palace, is the academic "sovereign's own regiment" of the House of Hohenzollem.' Du Bois-Reymond in an academic address given on 3 August 1870. He was speaking of the scholars of whom he is one. But even if he cheerfully acknowledged the House of Hohenzollern, he would not have acknowledged Thomas Aquinas.

But, you see, what did Thomas Aquinas teach? He also taught that man is able to perceive the world of the senses by himself; that he needed the revelation given by the Church to gain insight into the supersensible world, being unable to find this for himself. Just take out the words 'revelation given by the Church' from this and you have exactly what Du Bois-Reymond was teaching. He merely took out one bit because it gave him some discomfort. He is indeed a pupil of Thomas Aquinas. For it is not at all true that modern science has its own ideas. It also takes up the ideas of the Church. It is just that people do not realize this. It is only through anthroposophy that people are again developing their own ideas. Generally people do not realize that they have no ideas of their own.

And so today no one pays attention to the fact that people learn to walk, to move; that people learn to talk; and that they learn to think. For that is how it is. If you pay attention to the way speech is shaped out of the inner human being, if you pay attention to the way in which combustion has to be made up for from inside us, and if you pay attention to the way in which thinking in particular takes shape in the inner human being, you arrive at the eternal, immortal element in the human being. But if we pay no attention to these things at all, it is easy to see why we cannot arrive at the eternal, the immortal part. You see, it is due to thoughtlessness and lack of attention when it comes to human speech and walking that people are quite unaware that they have something in them that makes them more than a corpse which is put in a grave when they die. They have to fight this corpse all the time; otherwise they'll die any minute. And they must fight it through their ether body, their astral body and their I. Human beings thus must fight death all the time inside themselves. Death is ever-present. We might die at any moment. But we do not die for as long as we are able to connect our ether body, astral body and our I in the right way, both in our sleep and when awake.

What, then, remains for us in death? In the first place the ether body remains. But this ether body is powerfully attracted to the world. It does not have weight, it does not have gravity. But it wants to expand the moment it is free, the moment we cease to live. What does this mean? It means we extract the ether body. But the moment we extract the ether body we must die, for it is, after all, the body that enables us to live. To die thus means in the first place to extract the ether body from the physical body. Then the physical body really begins to burn up, for the ether body is no longer inside it. At the same time the ether body seeks to expand into the whole world. Because of this, human beings still have memory after death, for, as I have told you, this is bound to the ether body. But the ether body will rapidly expand into the whole world. This means that this memory will be gone after a few days. For a few days, therefore, human beings have a memory of their past life on earth, which is just the way it is with someone who is drowning. I explained this to you the other day.

You see, this is what someone who is an anthroposophist will say; he does not invent it, so what is it that he does? Well, he learns something in addition to the things we usually learn. People walk about in everyday human life today. They walk, which means they see how they are constantly burning up. But they never look to see how this is made good again. If they were to observe how the combustion is made good again—that is, what happens if I just move my foot and must then use the ether body to pour compensation for the combustion into it—they would begin to perceive the ether body. But people forget this today. They do not direct their attention to the ether body. But that is the learning process in anthroposophy. You learn to note how a process that goes against death is continually developed in the human being. And then one makes experiments just as people do experiments in physics and chemistry laboratories. Let me describe such an experiment for you. I have described the whole method in my book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds.22See note 19. But let me show you once more how one does these things.

Imagine therefore that I have done something or other during the day, some kind of work, which may have been more physical or more mental. At night, before going to sleep, one puts this very clearly before the mind's eye: there, that's you, this fellow. But you see him outside yourself. And then you visualize how you moved your legs, moved your hands, what you were thinking—all this you bring to mind. And when you thus recall it, quite a different idea will gradually come of its own accord; it is an idea of how it all needs to be made good again. You get an idea of your ether body, a little bit of your ether body. This is certainly something you can call forth.

People today will say: 'Ah well, it is enough if one learns to look at outside life.' No care is taken to see that children also get to know something else at school. That is the easiest way. For people who get to know more grow rebellious. If we developed just this one faculty when children are still in their tenderest youth, all people would be able to perceive the ether body.

You see, you may have done tremendous exercises to perceive the things you yourself do as you move about, as you work—this may also be mental work. You may get very clear ideas, but the whole is undone again, for after three days those ideas will have gone. When you learn something about the physical world, swot it up, it will stay with you if you swotted it up properly. The ideas you develop of the supersensible world, doing it in the ether body, will have gone after three days; they will have gone unless you have first made them into physical notions. Why? Because it is just as if one is producing artificially, in an experiment, what will happen after death. The etheric images slip away after death. And they'll also slip away if one produces them artificially. You can get to know this through the science of the spirit, doing the right kind of experiments on yourself, just as with physical science you get to know the compounds of oxygen, let us say, in the laboratory. But this means that we must not stop at ordinary science. And my book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds therefore takes the things people learn further, but takes them further the way it does this fact—that a human being only has those experiences in the ether body for two or three days. This fact can be established again, and it then becomes science.

Well, you see, that is how we can experience the ether body. But it is also possible to experience the astral body. When someone looks at some water, he does not normally know right away that it contains hydrogen and oxygen. He must use a galvanic apparatus to separate the two substances. He then has hydrogen and oxygen in two containers side by side. And if we want to perceive the astral body we must first be able to separate it from the physical body. We thus have to work in a truly scientific way for this. For example one has to observe: 'You took some water, drank some water, at a particular time of the day. Then you did not drink any for a long time. You grew thirsty.' When one gets thirsty one wants to drink again. This is exactly as you must want speech to come before speech actually appears. It is exactly the same. With speech, we have to want to speak; when we are thirsty, we want to drink. Thirst means no more and no less but that one wants to drink. This is the will to drink. We may thus say that one discovers with self-observation that one gets desires, that real desires arise. Please note. First we have memory. Memories will sometimes come if we will this, but most of the time they come of their own accord. They rise up, those memories. They are connected with the ether body. Our desires—thirst, hunger or desires in mind and soul—rise up in such a way in the human being that they are like willing something. The will of the human being comes to expression in them. The desire will continue until it is satisfied, until the will has been given its due.

But note carefully what it is one really wills when one is thirsty, for instance. What is it we will in that case? When we are thirsty, we want water to circulate in there the way water does circulate in the body. We are thirsty because it is not circulating. So what is it that we really want then? We want our body to be functioning in the proper way. When we are hungry we also want the body to be functioning in a particular way. So we really always want something that has to do with ourselves. And you see, this something which we want to be like that in ourselves is something the body cannot bring about. You know, if the body had to work all the time to meet desire, it would have to consume itself in the process. The body cannot develop desire.

So where do desires come from? They come from the soul. They do not come from the ether body. Something like memory comes from the ether body. Desires come from the astral body. And desire is not always there, whilst life, coming from the ether body, is always there. Desire alternates with satisfaction, because it belongs to the astral body. That is how we discover the connection between desire and the astral body.

What, then, does desire seek to achieve? It wants to have the astral body in a particular condition. Now by learning more in the way I have told you when talking of learning things connected with the ether body, we can also learn more with regard to our desires. Strangely enough, as we continue the learning process, we go further and further back in life and come to the point where we were in childhood. There we had nothing but desires. At the time which we no longer remember, we had nothing but desires. The infant kicks and struggles, has nothing but desires. A child is sheer desire when it comes into the world. And we go back to that desire. There we get to know the astral body.

You do not get to know your astral body unless you use the methods I have described in Knowledge of the Higher Worlds, for otherwise you will only remember as far back as the point in childhood when the astral body had already united with the physical body in such a way that you can no longer distinguish between them. But if you develop this faculty you will be able to go back, remembering how as a very young infant you willed the whole physical body. And you then begin to grasp what we do after death, when memory has been taken away after just a few days. We then continually desire the physical body we had in the last life. And this takes longer.

It is something one can also try out. For if someone has reached the age of 60, let us say, and makes this inner experiment, remembering back to his childhood and there finding the astral body, he will get to know this astral body quite well. But he'll find that the process is very different now that he is 60 than it would have been if he had done the exercise ten years earlier. This changes with one's age. For it is easier to go back when you are 60 than it is with 50. And at the age of 25 one hardly manages to go back at all. At the age of 20 you can't go back at all to your astral body. This, then, is something that changes as life progresses.

It is thus possible to get to know the astral body, and you are then able to say: the astral body becomes different the older you get. The older you get, the more desires do you develop, and people therefore also have more desires if they have gone through death after reaching more of an age than if they are still very young. Then the human being has fewer desires. After death the human being will live in his astral body for as long as he has not learned no longer to desire his physical body. The next time we meet I'll show you why we have to say: man lives a third of his lifetime in the astral body after death, but only a few days in his ether body. There is not enough time to go into this today.

And then the human being will be completely free of all desires. He'll then no longer desire his physical body, and at this point something strange happens. He will no longer have the desire for the physical body which he had before, but he is given the possibility of making provisions for the physical body he will have in the future. And he then goes through a work process in the world of the spirit that will enable him to have a physical body again in his next life on earth. This takes the longest time of all. This is how he comes to have another life on earth again.

The next time we meet I'll show you that 'eternity', as we call it, can well be shown to be a reality. I'll bring the matter to a conclusion then. This has in fact been part of the question put to me.

But, gentlemen, the way I have explained the matter to you was to take you first of all, really, into the spiritual aspect. I told you that in addition to the physical body we also have an ether body, an astral body and an I. The I is already there before a human being is not just born but before he has entered into embryonic life, been conceived. It is there.

But you see there is a particular dogma of the Church that says something very strange. This was in fact soon after Christianity had spread.23The dogma of pre-existence was rejected for the followers of Origen at a synod held in Constantinople in 543 and for the Priscillianists at a synod held in Braga in 561. In the dogma, the Roman Catholic Church forbids people to believe in life before life on earth. Why? You see, people do not concern themselves much with life before life on earth. They'll say: 'Well, I'm here. Life before this life is of no concern to me.' But life after death is something people are very much concerned with, for they do not want to stop being alive. This is of interest to people.

It is, however, impossible to learn about life after death if one does not always learn about life before birth, that is, before conception. The one is not possible without the other. So what happened when the dogma was established that one should not consider life before life on earth? People's view of the supersensible was cut off. But does it serve a purpose for the Church to cut off this view of the supersensible? Oh yes, it serves a purpose, for since human beings desire to have life after death, the Church is then able to make itself responsible for everything to do with death. People will not be able to know what happens after death, and have to depend on what the Church tells them. And this will make people long to believe above all in the Church. It was therefore a good thing—that is, for the Church—to establish the dogma that human beings go on living after their life on earth. For with this the Church took control of everything connected with death and dying.

I once had a talk with a famous astronomer.24Probably Wilhelm Foerster (1823-1921). He did not believe anything about anthroposophy. But it is true nevertheless that astronomers find it easiest to understand that we cannot stop at the physical world. We were talking about Church and State. His attitude to the two was that he rather liked the State, but liked the Church less, saying it guides people to mere faith and not insight. And he then put things rather well, saying that the Church has it easy, much easier than the State, for the State only has to control life, whilst the Church controls death and dying. And because it looks after death and dying, the Church has much more in its favour, has much more success.

The science of the spirit, anthroposophy, wants to help people realize that they have responsibility for their own dying. That is the thing. You see, gentlemen, that will mean real progress. People will then no longer just want to feel dependent, but to take their lives into their own hands. And that is what matters.

People are already aware today that things cannot go on the way they have done in the past. In the past they would think: ‘I'll have to work for a time in my life, that has to be, for if one did not work, life could not go on; but afterwards I'll get my State retirement pension.’ That was the general idea. And when I die, they would say, the Church will put my soul in retirement. You see, they then retire to enjoy eternal bliss, doing so without insight and without doing anything about it themselves.

Real progress will consist in people taking their lives into their own hands, not letting themselves be organized by State or Church, but getting somewhere by themselves, out of their own resources, insight and will. And for this they will need to have scientific understanding of their own immortality.