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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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The Gospel of St. Mark
GA 139

Some Preliminary Remarks

Readers of this lecture-cycle who do not know from their own experience what was taking place when it was being delivered in the Theosophical Society, then headed by Annie Besant, will perhaps object to the polemical tone of several passages, especially those in which the conception of Christ held by this individuality is criticized. To understand this tone it must be realized that at that time the authority of Annie Besant still counted for much among many of those for whom the lectures were intended, and that the lecturer had to defend his own interpretation of Christ which, however, was in no way different from what he had hitherto maintained.

Now, since these battles lie far back in the past, some readers may well think that the polemical passages should be deleted. This is not the view of the present editors, who believe that, for historical reasons, the lectures should be preserved just as they were given. In addition, some readers may find it not without interest to know the superstitions against which the interpretation of Christ advanced here had to be defended, and how contrary to all Western feeling such superstitions were. Anyone who envisages the matter correctly is bound to see that for the lecturer it was really not a question of quarreling in the way characteristic of those societies and sects which hold their own views of the world. On the contrary what was at stake was the validity of his views, for which he had to answer before his own scientific conscience, as against a distorted belief motivated by personal interests. Reasonable people may certainly conclude that this belief was self-evidently absurd. Nevertheless it was such absurdities that were advanced in the Theosophical Society against what the lecturer had to say. In the world of reality, even things contrary to rational thinking may play their part.

Now, because the lecturer could not abandon his interpretation of Christ, which he had advanced since 1902 and which had been entirely unchallenged by leading members of the Theosophical Society, the Society, under Annie Besant's authority, among other similarly glorious deeds excluded all those members who, convinced by the lecturer's arguments, refused to accept Mrs. Besant's muddled beliefs. In this respect the Theosophical Society behaved like all inquisitors in a case which the lecturer himself had not thought of as a quarrel over dogma and had not treated as such. All he wished to do was to make an exposition based purely on facts. However, this is the kind of thing that usually happens when there is a collision between a valid factual presentation and a fanaticism reinforced by personal interests. In the course of time those who had been excluded from the Theosophical Society converted themselves into an Anthroposophical Society, which has continually increased its membership since then. Indeed, if we take into account the foolish calumnies directed so violently against the Anthroposophical Society and the lecturer in particular by the idol of the theosophists, Annie Besant, and by some of her idolizing followers, we can certainly not regard the separation of the Anthroposophical from the Theosophical Society as in any way a misfortune—especially if we also take into account many other things that since that time have emerged from the bosom of the Theosophical Society, supposedly as products of “the most noble philanthropy!”

Many readers of this cycle, who were at that time interested in the separation, will look upon the consequence of these battles, an echo of which appears here and there in these studies, as a kind of document that can be understood only in connection with the words that had to be spoken here. It may also be regarded as a demonstration of the manifold difficulties encountered by someone who believes he must defend something on purely factual grounds. However, if anyone does not agree with this viewpoint, he should be tolerant enough to skip, without resentment, those passages which in his opinion do not concern him. However, those for whose sake the lectures were given at the time they were delivered found in such passages a certain significance that should not be underestimated.

Rudolf Steiner.
Berlin, 1918