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From Beetroot to Buddhism
GA 353

VI. The Trinity. Three forms of Christianity and Islam. The Crusades

19 March 1924, Dornach

The question which has been asked, Gentlemen, is wide-ranging, and we'll need a few sessions to discuss it.

Today I'd like to go into more detail about the later part of the time when Christianity spread. If we look at Christianity today, it has three forms. These have to be considered if we want to find the right way of tracing what really happened because of the Mystery of Golgotha, considering the ideas that are held today.

Let us first of all consider Europe. As I have shown the other day, we have Asia over there, with Europe really a kind of peninsula of Asia. As you know, it looks like this [sketching]. This would be Norway, then Russia over here; this takes us to the north coast of Germany; and here is Denmark. Over here we come to Holland, France, and this would be Spain. Here we have Italy, Greece, the Black Sea, and we then come to Asia. Africa would be down below.

It is difficult to speak about the spread of Christianity in the present day and age because conditions are unusual in this respect. But if we consider Christianity as it was before the World War in these parts of Russia we are able to say: This eastern Christianity still had more of the original religious character that came from Asia. I have spoken of the different forms it took with the Egyptians, Indians and Assyrians. Much of the ritual, the offering ritual, for instance, that was well understood in Asia has flowed into the religion into which Christianity then entered in these eastern parts. When you get to know the religious practices of these parts you get a direct feeling that the ritual is much more important than the teaching. The teaching seeks to express something that belongs to the world of the spirit in human words, or at least as much as human feeling can grasp of that world. It always seeks to address the human intellect. The ritual on the other hand is much more conservative, and religion is conservative by nature in areas where ritual predominates. We may thus say that the eastern religion is conservative by nature, with ritual considered more important in bringing religion, religious life, to human hearts than in areas that lie more to the west.

The second stream in Christianity came from Rome, spreading to the north, and was then strongly influenced by missionaries coming from Ireland. This southern and central European Christianity under the influence of Rome has kept its ritual, but it also put more emphasis on teaching than the eastern religion. People are thus much less aware of the significance of ritual than of the preaching, the teaching. There has been much more dispute about the teaching within the Roman Catholic Church than in the Eastern Church.

There was also another influence. Christianity arose at the beginning of our era, with Islam arising five or six centuries later. I drew Arabia for you the other day. If I draw Asia Minor again, we come to Arabia down here, with India over there. This would be Africa, with Egypt here. Here in Arabia, Islam came through Mohammed.39Mohammed (Arabic for 'the one who is praised') (570–632). Islam spread with great rapidity in the second half of the first Christian millennium, from Asia initially towards Syria and here to the Black Sea, then through Africa over to Italy, Spain and the west of Europe. The special characteristic of the Islamic religion is that it combines a fantasy element with one that is sober and rational. The main principle of Islam, which spread so rapidly in the seventh to ninth centuries, is that there is only one God, the one proclaimed by Mohammed.

We need to understand what it means in world history that Mohammed insisted on this principle of one God. Why did he stress this point so much? He knew the Christian faith; this does not have three gods, but it has three divine figures. People are no longer conscious of this. They do not realize that Christianity has from its very beginning not had three gods, but three divine figures—Father, Son and 'Holy Ghost'.

What does this mean? You see, the original Latin meaning of 'person' was 'figure, mask, the character represented'. And in the original Christian faith people did not speak of three gods but three figures through whom the one God was revealed. They had a feeling for the true nature of those three figures.

Let us consider what is the real situation with those three figures. Today, we have a science that is distinct from religion, and so we are no longer able to understand this situation. Scholarship has become quite independent of religion, and people do not think of religious life when they speak of the life of scholarship or science. It was different in earlier times, including early Christian times. All scholarship was gained together with religion. They did not have separate priests and scholars, for their priests were also scholars. This was above all the case in the late mysteries I have described to you.

In those mysteries the human being was seen to be part of nature, born from the womb as a physical human being with the aid of natural forces. This, they felt and thought, was where forces of nature were active in the human being. If I consider the way a physical human being comes into existence, I am looking at forces that can also be seen in a growing tree, in evaporating water and in falling rain. These are forces of nature. But in earlier times people perceived spiritual forces behind those forces of nature. Spiritual forces are at work throughout nature. They are at work when a crystal develops in the mountain, and the stone grows, when a plant appears in spring, when water evaporates, clouds form and rain falls. The same spiritual forces are active in the human embryo developing in the womb. They are active in the blood coursing through the veins and the breath going in and out. The ancients saw everything in nature as spiritual and everything in the human being as the Father Principle, calling it the 'Father' because nature study was also religion at the time.

They would say to themselves: 'Someone who has achieved the highest level of enlightenment in the mysteries is an image of this Father Spirit; he knows about everything that exists in nature.' This was the 7th stage in the mysteries.

The next level was that of the Sun Spirit, as I have told you. What did people mean by this Sun Spirit who was later called the Son? As I said, the Christ referred to himself as Sun Spirit. People would say: 'Human beings are born through forces of nature, the same forces that make plants grow, and so on; but they develop during their lives on earth. In the state in which they are born through the forces of nature, we can no more call them good or evil than we can a plant.' You would never dream of calling a deadly nightshade plant evil because it is poisonous to humans. You would say it cannot help it. A deadly nightshade plant does not have a will living in it, whereas a human being does. And when a child is born we cannot say that it may be good or evil because of the forces of nature. It becomes good or evil because the human will gradually develops. In contrast to the forces active in nature, therefore, people would call the principle active in the human will—a principle that may be good or evil—the Son of God or the Sun Spirit. Someone able to reach the 6th stage in the mysteries would merely be a representative of this. All the individual representatives of the 6th level were representatives of the God principle on earth. And people knew the sun to be not merely a body of gas; the sun was giving out not only light and warmth, but also the powers that developed the will.

Thus not only light and warmth came from the sun but also the sun spirit. The Son God was also the Sun Spirit. People would say, therefore, that the Father God was to be found everywhere in the natural world, and the Son God wherever human beings developed an independent will. People then thought of something very strange. They would ask: Does it make a human being worth more or worth less when he develops an independent will? They were still asking themselves this question at the time when Christianity came.

Gentlemen, think of any natural product, even going as high as an animal. Now if a cow has grown old, you may say people pay less for it than when it was young. It would then be worth less than it was when it was young. This is true, but it is not the point, for we realize that the cow has become worth less not because of something active within it as will, but because of a natural event. A human being who does bad things, however, developing his will in a way that is not good, will be worth less than he is by nature. Human beings therefore need a third deity who can guide them to make their will good again, really good, to hallow a will that has grown unsound. And that was the third form of the divine, the Holy Spirit, who was always represented as the 5th level of initiation in the mysteries, and given the name of the nation.

The people of past times thus said the divine principle came to revelation in three ways. You see, they might have said: there is a god of nature, a god of will, and a god of spirit, where the will is hallowed again and made spiritual. They actually did say this, for the old words meant just that. 'Father' was something connected with the origins of the physical world, a natural principle. In the languages we have now, the significance of these words has been lost. But those people of old would add something when they said there is a god of nature, the Father, a god of will, the Son, and a god of spirit, the Holy Ghost who heals all that has grown sick because of the will. They would add: 'These three are one.' Their most important statement, their greatest conviction therefore was this: 'The divine has three forms, but these three are one.'

Something else they would say was: 'If you look at a human being, you see a big difference from the natural world. If you look at a stone, what is active in it? The Father. If you look at a plant, what is active in it? The Father God. If you look at the human being as a physical human being, what is active in it? The Father God. However, if you look at the human being as soul, in his will, what is active in this? The Son God. And if you consider the future of humanity, how it shall be one day when all shall be healthy again in the will—that is where the Spirit God is at work.' All three gods, they would say, are active in the human being. There are three gods or divine forms; but they are one, and they also work as one in the human being.

That was the original Christian belief. Going back to early Christian times we would find people still saying they were convinced of this. They would say: 'Yes, this healing spirit that brings health must act in two ways. In the first place it must act on the physical aspect that comes from the Father, because nature can fall into sickness. And it must act on the principle that comes from the Son, because the will, too, must be healed.' What they said, therefore, was that the Holy Ghost had to act in such a way that it arose from both the Father and the Son. That was the original belief held by Christians.

Mohammed may be said to have grown anxious, as it were. He saw that ancient paganism with its many gods would go into a decline and ruin humanity. He saw Christianity evolve and said to himself that this, too, held the danger of a multiplicity of gods, that is, three gods. He did not realize that these were three forms of the divine and he therefore went into opposition, emphatically saying that there was only one God, proclaimed by Mohammed and that everything else said about the gods was wrong.

This dogma was proclaimed far and wide with great fanaticism, and as a result the thought of three divine figures was completely absent from Islam. They would speak only of the one God whom they felt to be the father of all that exists. The thinking in Islam therefore also was that just as a stone does not grow to be what it is out of its own free will, as a plant does not have its own will but is given yellow or red flowers by nature, so everything in the human being, too, would grow out of nature. This gave rise to a rigid notion of destiny in Islam—we call it fatalism—that human beings have to submit to a wholly unconditional, predetermined fate. If they are happy, this is so because the Father God wills it; if they are unhappy, it is so because the Father God wills it. They have to submit to their fate. That was the religious aspect of Islam.

Mohammed saw everything in the human being to be the same as it is in nature, and this made it much easier for him to accept the whole of the ancient art and the whole of the old way of life than Christianity. Christianity was above all concerned with the healing of the human will. Islam was not concerned with this, seeing no reason for doing so. If it is determined that a person is to be evil, then that is the will of the Father God. Christians would say: "The pagans of old were mainly concerned with the Father God; we must set up the Son God against this.' Mohammed, and above all his followers, did not say this. They said: 'The pagans of old may have had many gods, but they also venerated nature, and the one God is at work in this.' Much of the old knowledge and art has therefore been preserved in Islam. In the ninth century, for example, Charlemagne,40Charlemagne (742–814). king of the Franks and later emperor, one of the greatest medieval rulers in Europe and a well-known historical figure, found it a great effort to learn his letters and was not yet able to write. His achievements in the arts and sciences were very little compared to those made under Harun al-Rashid41Harun al-Rashid (763?–809), Caliph of Baghdad 786–809. who was Caliph of Baghdad at the time. Much of the art and science from earlier pagan times had been preserved there; it came to Europe later, from the south, through Spain.

Christianity spread from Rome. We might say that Islam, coming from Asia, skirted around it. Great battles were also fought between them. And the followers of Islam did something very strange. You know that if there is an army somewhere, much can be gained strategically by secretly moving around it and attacking from the other side. This is really what happened with Islam and Christianity. The followers of Islam skirted around Christian areas in the south and then attacked from the left flank.

But you see, if this had not happened, if all that had happened would have been the spread of Christianity, we would have no science today. The religious element of Islam was rejected, fought against. But the element that did not involve religious strife but preserved earlier knowledge and took it further did come to Europe with Islam. There the Europeans learned the things that have become part of modern science. Two things therefore live in the European soul today: we have the religion that has come with Christianity and the science that has come with Islam, though in a roundabout way. And our Christianity has only been able to develop the way it did because knowledge, science, has been influenced by Islam.

This aroused an ever greater desire in the European west to defend Christianity. Where ritual prevails you have less need to defend religion, for ritual has a great influence on people. Here the tendency coming from Rome was to make ritual less important, though it was retained. Dogma predominated and had to be defended all the time against the Muslim onslaught. The whole of the Middle Ages really passed over these struggles which were fought in the field initially and then in human minds. Everything we call European culture or civilization has gradually evolved in the second half of the Middle Ages. What did evolve there?

Over in the east, all the way to Russia and indeed Greece, Christians could do no other but remain true to the old traditions. This meant to perform outer acts, even if they were purely symbolic by nature. One had to take account of the natural world. And one was much more inclined to put the emphasis on the Father God rather than the Son God. Just as the destiny principle that came to Mohammed was to submit entirely to what the Father God ordained, so this Father God also emerged more strongly in eastern Christianity than the Son, the way the tenor of belief went. The strange shift in thinking that occurred was that the people in the east did hold firmly to the Christ, but they transferred the attributes of the Father God to the Christ. Something of a cloud was cast over it all here; people would speak less of the Son God; they would become Christians, recognizing the Christ to be their God, but they saw in him the attributes of the Father God. The view that evolved in this eastern religion was really: Christ, our Father. This notion of Christ, our Father, is to be found in the whole of the eastern religion.

Over here, in Europe itself, people wanted to fight Islam, the idea of only one God who did not have three forms, and so the concept of the three divine persons took a deep hold. Well, as you know, gentlemen, you can fight for a time; people may sit down together and be in continual dispute; one says one thing to another person, who then says something else. So they fight. But what is generally the result? They finally separate, each going his own way. The end of the dispute is that people agree to differ. It is extremely rare for agreement to be reached, especially if the dispute is of some magnitude. You'll remember how first there was a socialist party; that had many disputes. There was a right wing and a left wing. In due course the wings became separate party organizations. And that is how it was with the spread of Christianity. It spread. Over in Asia, that is in the East, people thought more of the Father God, though they held to the Christ; in Europe they made more of a distinction between the Father and the Son. They disputed and fought over the issue until the ninth or tenth century. Then came the great split. The eastern Church, called the Orthodox Church today because it has continued with the old, original things, separated from the western Church, the Roman Catholic Church. That was the time when the great division appeared between the eastern Church, eastern Christianity, and western Christianity.

This continued for a time. In the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth centuries people got used to the idea of an eastern and a western aspect. But then something happened that in some respects upset it all again. It was the Crusades.

Mohammed had originally worked among the Arabs who were the first to take up Islam. The Arab people had a strong nature religion and therefore were prepared to understand the idea of the Father, and recognize the Father God. In the early days of Islam the idea developed of a Father God who worked through nature, including human nature.

Then, however, tribes came from the far regions of Asia. Their descendants today are the Turks. They fought wars against the Arab people. The strange thing about those Mongols, whose descendants are the Turks, is that they did not really have a nature god. Like the people of early civilizations they did not have the eye for nature which the Greeks later developed so strongly. The Turks came from their original homes with no feeling for nature but a tremendous feeling for a spiritual God, a God to be approached in thought only who could never be seen with one's eyes. This particular way of approaching the Godhead became part of Islam. The Turks accepted the Muslim religion of the people they conquered but changed it to fit in with their ideas. And whilst Islam had accepted much that came from earlier times, both art and science, the Turks really threw out anything that might be called art or science and really became hostile to art and science. They were the terror of the western peoples, a terror for all who had accepted Christianity.

You see, the region where Christianity arose, in Palestine, with Jerusalem, was particularly sacred to the Christians. Many made pilgrimages there from all parts of the West, which called for great sacrifices. Many people were extremely poor and it was hard for them to get the means together for the journey to Palestine to visit the Holy Sepulchre, as it is called. And they made the journey! When the Turks came, the journey became dangerous, for the Turks extended their rule to Palestine and maltreated the Christian pilgrims. The Europeans then wanted Jerusalem to be freed so that people might go there. They wanted to set up their own European rule in Palestine and therefore undertook those great campaigns called the Crusades. These did not achieve what they were meant to achieve but they reflect the war, the battle, between western Christianity and also eastern Christianity on one hand and Turkish Islam. Christianity was to be saved in the face of a Muslim religion grown Turkish.

Many people then went to Asia to fight. What did they find there? The Crusades started in the twelfth century and continued for some centuries, and so they were in the middle of the Middle Ages. What was the first thing the people who went to Asia as Crusaders would see? They saw that the Turks are fearsome enemies to face. But when a Crusader looked around a bit on days when there was no fighting, he might find some strange things. He might have met an old man who had withdrawn to his poor hovel somewhere and did not concern himself with Turks, Christians or Arabs but had shown remarkable faithfulness in continuing the culture, the wisdom and religious knowledge of earlier pagan times. The Turks had paid no regard to this. Official civilization had eradicated it; but there were many such people. And so the Europeans got to know much of the old wisdom that no longer existed in Christianity. This they brought with them to Europe on their return.

Imagine how things were at the time. Earlier on, Arabs had come to Europe via Italy and Spain, bringing their art and a scientific thinking that spread and has become our modern science. Now the ancient wisdom from the East was brought back and the two became mixed. As a result, something special developed in Europe.

You see, the Roman Church adopted the ritual, using it less, however, than the eastern Church did. It adopted the ritual but also went strongly into teaching. But in the old Church teaching, religious instruction was connected with the person. It remained such until the time of the Crusades. Instruction consisted in what was proclaimed from the pulpit and approved by the Councils that were held. And apart from this there was also the 'New Testament', as it was called, the Bible. People who were not priests were, however, forbidden to read the Bible, and this was strictly enforced. It was considered a terrible thing for someone to want to read the Bible in those earlier times before the Crusades. It was not permitted. The lay people, the faithful, therefore had only what the priests taught, they did not have access to the Bible.

The science brought by the Arabs and the ancient wisdom of the East made many people feel: ‘This is something the priests who are giving instruction do not know. There is a great deal more wisdom than is taught by them.’ And a tendency, an intention arose to read the Bible oneself and get to know the New Testament. Protestantism, the third kind of Christianity, developed out of this, with Luther42Martin Luther (1483–1546). its special representative, though the intention was there even before he came.

Take the areas, for example, where Czechoslovakia, Bohemia and Bavaria are today; take these areas along the Rhine, from Holland down into Germany—I could mention other areas as well. Brotherhoods were developing everywhere in those areas. Here, down the Rhine, the Brotherhood of Communal Life developed, here, more to the east, the Moravian Church or Renewed Church of the Brethren came into being. What were their aims? The brethren would say: 'The Christianity that has come from Rome is not the true Christianity. The Christian faith is something you have to find out of the inner life.' Initially the aim was to find the origins of Christianity in an inward way. Later they would also say that one had to know the Gospels. Both aims came from the same source.

You see, that was the great difference between Huss,43Huss, John, Czech Jan Hus (1369–1415). who lived and worked in today's Czech region, and Luther. Huss was less concerned with the Gospels; what mattered to him was that Christianity came inwardly alive. Later this took more of an outward form in the study of the Gospels. The Gospels were, however, written under very different conditions of life. They spoke in images, and those images were no longer understood in later times. Let me give you an example.

A Gospel story tells of the Christ healing the sick. At the time nervous disorders were much more widespread in the areas where he taught than diseases connected with particular organs. Nervous disorders can often be cured by kind words, with the love one human being gives to another. Most instances we are given of the sick being healed there are of that kind. But then we read: ‘When the sun had set, the Christ gathered people around him and healed them.’44Mark 1: 32. ‘When evening came and the sun had set, they brought to him all those who were sick or possessed by demons and the whole town was gathered round the door. He healed many people...’ (The Gospel of Mark, translated by Kalmia Bittleston, Edinburgh: Floris 1986). People do not consider the passage significant when they read it today; it seems to them that it merely refers to the time of day. The question is, why is the time given at this point? Because the writer wanted to say: 'The powers a human being develops when he seeks to heal others are greater when the sun is not in the heavens above and its rays come through the earth than they are when the sun is up above in the heavens.' It is most significant that it says there: ‘When the sun had set, the Christ gathered people around him and healed them.’ People no longer take note of this. It was meant to say that the Christ used the natural powers that resided in human beings when he healed them. The Gospels were thus translated in an age when it was no longer possible to understand them. Essentially very, very little of the Gospels is really understood.

It really was true of all these areas, both in eastern Christianity and in western and Protestant Christianity, and I have spoken of this on many other occasions. Something that had originally been well understood continued by tradition but was then no longer understood. I would say each of the three forms of Christianity had one main aspect. Eastern Christianity had the Father God, though he was called the Christ. The Roman Catholic Church of the west had the Son God, merely looking up to the Father as an old man with a long beard who would still appear in their paintings, but they would not speak much of the Father God. And Protestant Christianity had the Spirit God. They would discuss questions such as 'How do we free ourselves from sin? How can we be healed of sin? How does man justify himself before God?' and so on. Christianity originally had one God represented in three figures. It fell apart into three confessions. Each of them has a piece, a genuine piece, of Christianity.

It will not be possible, however, to regain original Christianity by putting the three pieces together. It has to be found again by people finding the right powers in themselves, as I began to show the other day. I wanted to mention this today so that you may see how hard it is to come back to original Christianity. If you ask Christians in the East: 'Which is the true Christianity?' they will say, 'Everything that relates to the Father,' and they will call the Father 'Christ'. If you ask people in the Roman Catholic Church what is the essence of Christianity, they will speak of everything connected with the sinfulness of man, the evils of human nature, and that human beings must be redeemed from their suffering, and so on. They will speak of everything connected with the Son, the Christ. If you ask Protestant Christians about the essential nature of Christianity they will say: 'It all has to do with the principle of gaining health in the will, letting the will be healed, and justification before God.' They speak of the Holy Ghost, calling him the Christ.

This is how everything we have today has come about. People did not think: 'We must now bring together the three different aspects of Christianity.' They said: 'We don't understand any of this any more!' This has created the mood we have today, and the need to find Christianity again.

Next Saturday45The next talk was, in fact, not given on the Saturday but on the following Wednesday. I would like to talk to you about the Mystery of Golgotha in this way. I hope it will then be possible to finish answering this particular question.