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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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The Transfiguration & The Great Initiation

Transfiguration by Raphael, 1516-1520.

August 2, 2023

August 6th commemorates the transfiguration of Jesus on Mount Tabor. This momentous occasion was discussed by Steiner in his lectures on the four gospels and in Christianity as a Mystical Fact, as highlighted below. We invite you to read the full lectures to realize the astounding importance of this event. In The Gospel of St. John, Lecture 3, Steiner teaches:

Jesus goes with three disciples Peter, James and John, up a mountain: this means into the inner sanctuary where one is initiated into higher worlds and where one also speaks in occult language. The disciples were carried up into a higher state of consciousness. They saw then that which is not transitory but eternal. Moses and Elias appear and Jesus himself with them.

What does this mean? In occult science the word Elias means the same as El — the goal, the way. Moses is the spiritual scientific word for truth. By the fact that Elias, Moses and Jesus appear you have the fundamental Christian truth: I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. Jesus himself says — this is a fundamental Christian mystical truth — “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” (John, ch. 14, v. 6)

See The Gospel of St. John, GA 94, Lecture III

Through the transfiguration, “the whole power of the elements was renewed.”

The three disciples were taken up to Mount Tabor and called by their initate names: Peter meaning earth, John representing air, James meaning water, and finally Jesus is “the one who governs the occult forces of fire.”

Think of these four together on the Mount of Transfiguration. There you have at the same time, the initiates who govern the four elements: fire, water, air and earth. What happened? It was made manifest spiritually that through the appearance of Jesus, the whole power of the elements was renewed in such a way that the life pulsing through the elements passed through a new, important phase of its development. This is the transfiguration seen occultly. If somebody goes through the transfiguration in this manner, if he has within himself the stages of water, earth and air, and even rises to the forces of fire, then he is a reawakened one, someone who has gone through the crucifixion. Ibid.

It began a new process of direct initiation through Christ.

Christ Jesus was to initiate in a particular way those of His disciples who were specially fit for it, so that they would be able not only to see the spiritual worlds with Imaginative vision, as it were in astral pictures, but actually to hear what was taking place in those realms — this, as we know, indicates ascent into Devachan. Hence, having been transported into the higher worlds, these disciples would now be able to find in those worlds the personality known to them on the physical plane as Christ Jesus. They were to become clairvoyant in regions higher than the astral plane.

See The Gospel of St. Matthew, GA 123, Lecture X

Steiner paints a picture of this remarkable scene of the three in the heavens.

To the clairvoyant eyes of these three which were now opened there appeared, transfigured, that is in their spiritual nature, Elijah on the one side and Moses on the other, with Christ Jesus Himself in the middle. And it is imaginatively indicated in the Gospel that Christ was now in the form in which in His spiritual nature He could be recognized. This is shown with sufficient clarity in the Mark Gospel:

And He was transfigured before them. And His garments became gleaming bright, brighter than any fuller on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they conversed with Jesus.
—Mark 9:2-4

The Gospel of Mark tells us, "And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, 'This is my beloved Son; listen to him.'"

After the great monologue of God comes a conversation among these three. What a wonderful dramatic crescendo! Everywhere the Gospels are full of such artistic sequences. Indeed they are wonderfully composed. After hearing the monologue of God we now have a conversation among these three, and what a conversation! First we see Elijah and Moses, one on each side of Christ Jesus. What is the significance of Elijah and Moses?

See The Gospel of St. Mark, GA 139, Lecture VIII

With the initiation of the 3 disciples, 3 streams of cosmic powers flowed together.

Steiner discusses the significance of the presence of Moses and Elijah as two different spiritual streams flowing into the world. Moses had been initiated into the secrets of Judaism as well as other traditions. He carried the secrets of initiation of the whole surrounding world in the first stream. Elijah respresented the second stream accessed through revelation which is acquired through lineage. He had previously incarnated as Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron, and later as John the Baptist. (See Matthew 17:10-13) Thus, Elijah carries the stream of revelation held by Hebrew priests and prophets.

So in the Transfiguration, in the Transformation on the mountain, we have before us a streaming together of the entire spirituality of earth evolution, the essence of which flowed through the Jewish blood into the Levitical line. Thus the soul of Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron stands before us; Moses stands before us; and there stands before us also He who fulfilled the Mystery of Golgotha. And the three disciples who were to be initiated, Peter, James and John, were to perceive in imaginative knowledge how these forces, these spiritual streams, flowed together. [...] The disciples Peter, James, and John were to be initiated into what these three souls had to discuss together; one soul who belonged to the people of the Old Testament, one who carried within himself much of what we know about the Moses soul, while the third, as cosmic deity, is uniting Himself with the earth. This the disciples were to see [...]

But then our understanding is better able to adapt itself to what had previously been seen. We can feel how on the mountain there were the three cosmic powers, while down below were the three who were to be initiated into these great cosmic secrets. And from all these things the feeling can arise in our souls that the Gospel, if we understand it correctly, and especially if we allow the dramatic intensification and the artistic composition which is itself an expression everywhere of cosmic facts, does truly point to the great revolution that really happened at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha. Ibid.

The Christ-principle could now enter man in a new way that could be nurtured or destroyed.

Previously, there were only two methods of entrance into higher worlds: revelation and initiation. Now, spiritual wisdom would no longer be transmitted by revelation from the outside to the etheric body of men of a particular lineage, nor from within an initiate from the astral body to the etheric. The disciples were able to be initiated into the secrets of the spiritual world through the Ego and Christ Himself.

‘Here is something which enables a man who has made himself ready for it in his Ego, to unite his being with what belongs to the kingdoms of Heaven.’ The forces and powers from those kingdoms unite with the virginal part in the human soul, the part that belongs to the kingdoms of Heaven and that men can destroy if they turn away from the Christ-principle, but can cultivate and nurture if they receive into themselves what streams from the Christ-principle. [...]

The disciples did not understand that it was they themselves who, being closely around Him, were chosen to experience the tremendous power of the Christ principle which would enable them to penetrate directly into the spiritual world. [...] But it is evident that they are still novices, for they fall asleep immediately after being torn out of their physical and etheric bodies by the stupendous power of what was happening. Christ finds them asleep. This account was meant to indicate the third way of entering the spiritual world [...]. Anyone capable in those days of interpreting the signs of the times would have known that the Ego itself must develop, that it must now be directly inspired, that the Divine Powers must work directly into the Ego.

See The Gospel of St. Luke, GA 114, Lecture X

Buddha's life ended with transfiguration, but Christ-Jesus' continued strengthened.

In Christianity as Mystical Fact, Steiner recounts the sublime end of the Buddha’s life that parallels the Transfiguration of Jesus, but Jesus goes further.

[Buddha] lay down on a carpet spread for him by his favorite disciple, Ananda. His body began to shine from within. He died transfigured, a body of light, saying, “Nothing endures.” … The death of Buddha corresponds with the transfiguration of Jesus: “And it came to pass about eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray. And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistening.” At this point Buddha's earthly life ends, but the most important part of the life of Jesus begins here: Passion, Death and Resurrection. The difference between Buddha and Christ lies in what necessitated the continuation of the life of Christ Jesus beyond that of Buddha.

See Christianity as Mystical Fact, GA 8, Chapter 5

With the Transfiguration, Jesus began the most important part of his life: the Passion, Death, and Resurrection.

Buddha's life ends with the transfiguration. The most significant part of the life of Jesus begins after the transfiguration. In the language of the initiates, Buddha reaches the point where divine light begins to shine in man. He stands before the death of the physical. He becomes the cosmic light. Jesus goes further. He does not die physically at the moment the cosmic light transfigures him. At that moment he is a Buddha. But at the same moment he enters upon a stage which finds expression in a higher degree of initiation. He suffers and dies. The physical part of him disappears. But the spiritual, the cosmic light does not vanish. His resurrection follows. He reveals himself to his community as Christ. At the moment of his transfiguration, Buddha dissolves into the hallowed life of the universal Spirit. Christ Jesus awakens this universal Spirit once more to present existence in a human form. Such an event had formerly taken place in a pictorial sense at the higher stages of initiation. Those initiated according to the Osiris myth attained to such a resurrection in their consciousness as a pictorial experience.

In the life of Jesus this “great” initiation was added to the Buddha initiation, not as a pictorial experience, but as reality. Buddha demonstrated by his life that man is the Logos and that he returns to this Logos, to the light, when his physical part dies. In Jesus the Logos itself became a person. In him the Word became flesh. Ibid.