Karmic Relations

Rudolf Steiner

Volume Four, Lecture Five

Cathedral of Chartres-interior

Dornach, September 14, 1924 (GA 238)

Having spoken so often about the School of Chartres and its great significance for the inner spiritual life of the West, I have received a welcome gift during the last few days: a gift of pictures, some of which have been put up here for you to see. Others will be added next Tuesday. In these pictures you will see what wonderful architectural works and works of sculpture in the mediaeval sense, arose at the place where flourished that spiritual life of which I have now spoken so often.

The personalities who were gathered in the School of Chartres still had the impulse, even in the 12th century, to enter as teachers or students into the living spiritual life that had arisen in the turning-point of time — I mean in the epoch of European evolution when humanity, inasmuch as they were seekers after knowledge, still sought it in the living weaving and working of the nature-beings, and not in the conception of empty and abstract natural laws.

Thus in the School of Chartres there was a deep devotion to spiritual powers, notably to those that hold sway in Nature. All this was cultivated there – no longer, it is true, by initiates into the ancient Mysteries – but by personalities who had the heart and mind to receive from tradition much that had once been direct spiritual experience. And I have told you of the mysterious radiations of light from the School of Chartres which we can truly recognise in the spirit of Brunetto Latini, the great teacher of Dante. I tried to explain how the individualities of Chartres worked on in the spiritual worlds in unison with those who afterwards descended [to earth], mostly in the Dominican Order, as the bearers of Scholasticism. We may put it thus: The individualities of Chartres were obliged to see, out of the signs of the times, that there would be no place for them within the earthly life until the time of Michael, which was to begin at the end of the 19th century, should have been working for a while on earth.

In a far-reaching sense these individualities of Chartres took part in the super-sensible teachings of which I spoke last time — teachings that were given under the aegis of Michael himself, so as to pour forth impulses which were to hold good for the spiritual life of coming centuries. And it may be said indeed that anyone who would devote himself to the cultivation of spiritual life today must necessarily stand under the influence of those great impulses.

Broadly speaking we may say that there have been very few reincarnations of the spirits of Chartres hitherto. Nevertheless it was granted to me to look back upon the School of Chartres through a certain stimulus, if I may describe it so, which came to me out of the life of the present time.

There was a monk in the School of Chartres who was altogether devoted to the life that existed in that school. But in the School of Chartres, especially if one was truly devoted to it, one felt as if it were a twilight mood of the spiritual life. All that was reminiscent still of the great and deep impulses of spiritual Platonism that had been handed down — all this was living in Chartres. But it lived in such a way that the bearers of the spiritual life of Chartres said to themselves: In the future, alas, the civilisation of Europe will no longer be receptive for this living Platonic spirituality.

It is touching to see how the School of Chartres preserves the portraits of the inspiring genii of the Seven Liberal Arts, as they were called: Grammatica, Dialectica, Rhetorica, Arithmetica, Geometría, Astronomía and Musica. Even in the reception of the Spirit that was contained in the Seven Liberal Arts, they still saw in them the living gifts of the gods, coming to man through spiritual beings. They did not see the mere communication of dead thoughts about dead laws of Nature. And they could see that Europe in the future would no longer be receptive to these things. Hence there was a feeling of twilight in spiritual life.

One of those monks who was especially devoted to the teachings and the works of Chartres was, after all, reincarnated in our time. He was reincarnated, moreover, in such a way that one could find in this case most wonderfully the echo and reflection of the former life. This personality lived in our time as a writer who was not only my acquaintance, but my friend. [Marie Eugenie delle Grazie.] She died a considerable time ago. She bore within her a strange mood of soul, about which I have not spoken until now, although I observed it many years ago. To speak of these things has indeed only been possible since the Christmas Conference took place in our Anthroposophical Society. For this has brought a peculiar illumination over these things, and it is possible, as I have already said, to speak about such matters openly and without embarrassment today.

When one was in conversation with that writer, she returned again and again to the idea that she would like to die. But her desire to die did not spring from a sentimental or hypochondriac, nay, not even from a melancholic mood of soul. If one had the psychological vision to enter into such things, one found that far, far back into her soul: it is the echo and reflection of a former life on earth. In a former life on earth a seed was planted which now comes forth, I will not say in the longing for death, but in this feeling that the soul, being now incarnated, yet has nothing really to do in this present age.

Her writings, too, are of this nature. They seem to be written out of a different world — not indeed as to their facts and communications — but as to their mood and feeling. And we can understand this mood only if we find the way from the dim light of her writings, from the dim light that lived as a fundamental disposition in her own soul, back to that monk of Chartres who felt in Chartres the twilight mood of a living Platonism.

With this writer it was not a question of temperament or melancholy or sentimentality; it was the raying-in of a former life on earth. And her present soul was like a mirror into which the life of Chartres penetrated. Not indeed the content of the teachings of Chartres, but their moods and feelings, had been transmitted from the one life to the other in this personality. Transplanting oneself into these moods, and looking back, one could receive in them spiritual photographs of the personalities who are also to be found by direct spiritual research in the worlds where they now are — the personalities who taught in Chartres.

Thus you see, life brings to me in many ways the karmic possibilities to gaze into these matters. Last time, I described my experiences with the Cistercian Order. Today I would supplement what I then said by referring to the twilight mood of the School of Chartres, which penetrated into the heart and soul of an extraordinarily interesting personality who lived again in the present time. She has long ago found her way back into the worlds for which she longed. She has found her way back to the Fathers of Chartres. And if her whole soul-life had not been dominated by a kind of weariness as the karmic outcome of the mood-of-soul of those monks of Chartres, I could scarcely imagine a personality more fitted to behold the spiritual life of the present day in connection with the traditional life of the Middle Ages.

There is another thing which I would mention here. When there are such karmic impulses working deep in the foundations of the soul, we find what is otherwise a very rare occurrence: we find in the physical expression of the countenance in a later incarnation, a likeness to the former. The face of that monk and of the writer of the present time were indeed extraordinarily alike.

Now in these connections I will pass on to the karma of the Anthroposophical Society, or rather of the individualities of its members. As I said last time, many of the souls who stand sincerely within the Anthroposophical Movement were connected somewhere and somewhen with that stream of Michael which I must now characterise. You will remember all that I have said in this connection about Alexander and Aristotle and about the events in super-sensible worlds at the time when the 8th Council in Constantinople took place. You will remember what I said of the continuation, in the spiritual and in the physical worlds, of the Court of Haroun al Raschid, until at length I spoke of that super-sensible School which stood under the aegis of Michael himself. Deeply significant was the teaching of that School. On the one hand it pointed again and again to the connections with the ancient Mysteries, to all that must now come forth once more in a new form from the content of the ancient Mysteries, to permeate modern civilisation with spirituality. On the other hand it pointed to the impulses which souls, devoted to the spiritual life, must have for their work into the future. And we know that from an understanding of the spiritual stream we may also come to understand how Anthroposophy, in its real essence, signifies the impulse for a renewal, for a true and sincere understanding of the Christ-Impulse.

In the Anthroposophical Movement we find two kinds of souls. A large number of them have partaken in those currents which were, so to speak, the officially Christian ones in the first centuries. They witnessed what came into the world as Christianity, notably in the times of Constantine, and immediately after him. Many of those who approached Christianity with the very deepest sincerity at that time and received it with inner depth, many of them are found in the Anthroposophical Society today with the deep impulse towards an understanding of Christianity. I do not mean so much the Christians who followed such movements as that of Constantine himself; I rather mean those Christians who claimed to be the true Christians, who were distributed in different Christian sects. In those Christian sects we find many of the souls who today approach the Anthroposophical Movement sincerely, though often through subconscious impulses which the surface consciousness may even misinterpret.

But there are other souls: there are those who did not partake directly in that development of Christianity. They either partook in Christianity at a later stage of its development when the deep inner life of the sects was no longer there, or on the other hand — and this is the most important — they still had, living in the depths of their souls, much of what was experienced in pre-Christian time as the ancient wisdom of the heathen Mysteries. They too often partook in Christianity, but it did not make so deep an impression upon them as upon the other souls described before. For there still remained alive in them the impression of the teachings, the rituals and practices of ancient Mysteries. Among those who have entered the Anthroposophical Movement in this way we find many who are seeking for the Christ in an abstract sense. The other souls above described are happy, so to speak, to find Christianity once more within the Anthroposophical Movement. But many of the souls I mean grasp with real inner understanding the Cosmic Christianity which Anthroposophy contains. Christ as the Cosmic Spirit of the Sun is grasped most especially by the souls (and they are very numerous in the Anthroposophical Movement) in the depths of whom much is still living of what they underwent in connection with ancient heathen Mysteries.

Now all this is deeply connected with the currents of the whole spiritual life of mankind in the present time — I mean the present time in a wider sense, reaching over decades and centuries.

Anthroposophy after all has grown out of the spiritual life of the present time, and though in its contents it has nothing directly in common with this spiritual life, karmically it has grown out of it in many ways. We must turn our eyes to many things which do not apparently belong to what works in Anthroposophy directly, if we would include in our spiritual horizon all that partook in the different streams I have mentioned. I said a while ago that we only truly understand what takes place outwardly on the physical plane if we see in the background what is poured down from the fields of the spirit into these events as they take place on the physical plane. We must regain the courage to bring into our present life that feeling of the ancient Mysteries. We must connect the physical events not merely abstractly with a vaguely pantheistic or theistic or whatever spiritual life. We must become able to trace the detailed events, nay more, the inner experiences of people within these events, to the spiritual source and background.

We are led to do so among other things pertaining to the deepest tasks of the present time. For in the present time we must seek again for a real knowledge of man in body, soul and spirit — not a knowledge rooted in abstract ideas or laws, but one that is able to look into the true foundation of the human being as a whole. To gain such knowledge man must be researched in his conditions of health and sickness; and not in a merely physical sense as is customary today, for then we should not learn to know the human being. By merely physical knowledge we can never learn to know what works so deeply into the life of man, determining his destiny: his unhappiness, his sickness, his abilities or absence of abilities. Karma in all its forms — this we can only know if from the starting-point of the physical we can trace the spiritual life of a man and his inner soul-life.

How do people work, in the ordinary scientific striving of today? They study the human being quite externally as to his organs, his nerves, the blood vessels and so forth. But when the health and sickness of someone are studied in this way one cannot find the spirit and soul in these things.

Indeed the anatomist or physiologist of today may well speak in the words of a famous astronomer of the past, who, in answer to a question which his sovereign had put to him, replied:“I have searched through the whole universe, through all the stars and all their movements, but I have found no God!” So said the astronomer. And the anatomist or physiologist of today could say: “I have searched through them all — heart and kidneys, stomach and brain, blood-vessels and nerves — but I have found neither soul nor spirit.”

All the problems and difficulties of modern medicine are subject to this influence. And all these things must be dealt with in the Anthroposophical Movement today according to the tasks which are placed before it. In general terms these questions must be unfolded before the Anthroposophical Society as a whole; in detail they must be treated in an expert way within the several groups. Thus, for example, I am now speaking on Pastoral Medicine to a group who are prepared for it by training and profession. Here we must seek the way into those great connections which proceed from the workings of the streams of karma. In times to come it will be seen how pathology and therapeutics, how the observation of man in sickness and disease, will make it absolutely necessary to enter into the deep questions of the soul and spirit. As I have said again and again, the external and physical — the physical as presented by natural science — is to be respected in the fullest sense. Yet people will find themselves compelled to take into account the higher members of man's nature when considering disease and health. This will be seen in the book [Fundamentals of Therapy; an Extension of the Art of Healing through Spiritual Knowledge, by Rudolf Steiner and Ita Wegman, English translation by George Adams] on which my dear fellow-worker Dr. Ita Wegman and I are working together, on the subject of man in health and in illness. Now these researches especially, seeking the ways of entry from the physical man into the spiritual, can only lead to good and promising results if we set about them in the right way. For in such work we must not only use the knowledge-forces of the present, but we must use the knowledge-forces which arise by picking up the threads of karma — the karmic threads proceeding from the history and evolution of mankind. We must indeed work with the forces of karma in order to penetrate these secrets.

In the first volume only the beginnings of our work will be published. The work will then be carried forward and from the more elementary expositions we shall proceed to unfold the particular knowledge of man which can arise from this medical, therapeutic and pathological aspect of spiritual science. This work has only been made possible through the presence in Dr. Wegman of a personality whose medical studies have enabled her evolve quite naturally, as a matter of course, towards a spiritual conception and perception of the human being.

Now it is in the course of these researches, when we behold in spiritual perspective all the workings of the human organs, that those perceptions also arise which lead us in turn to the deeper karmic connections. The same manner of perception must be evolved to perceive the spiritual realities that underlie, not the whole man, but his various organs. (For, if you will, it is the Jupiter world that underlies one organ, the Venus world that underlies another, and so forth.) The same insight which we must evolve in this direction, leads also to the possibility of perceiving human personalities in past earthly lives. For in the present earthly life man stands before us within the limits of his skin. But when we become able to gaze into his individual organs, what was contained within the skin expands and expands. Each of the organs points us to a different direction of the universe. The organs prepare the roads that lead us far out into the macrocosm, until far out yonder the human being once again appears as a complete and rounded whole. It is the human being built up once more in the spirit, having transcended the present form, the form that is enclosed within the skin — it is this that we need. For the sum-total of the human organs — which even physically is altogether different from what the present-day anatomist or physiologist conceives — when we trace it out into the cosmos, leads to perceptions which correspond in turn to the spiritual perception of the former earthly lives of man. Then we experience the inner connections that shed their light upon the evolution and history of mankind, explaining what exists physically today. For in reality the whole past of human beings lives in the present time. Yet the vague and abstract saying by itself is of no avail. Materialists too will say the same. The point is to perceive how the past is living in the present.

And of this I would now give you an example, an example which is in itself so wonderful that it called forth in me the greatest imaginable wonder when I first came to it as a result of spiritual research. And many things which I have said before must now be rectified, or at any rate must be completed, by that which I shall now set forth.

You see, for one who studies history with feeling for its inner meaning, a certain event in the first centuries of Christianity is wrapped in the atmosphere of a strange mystery. We see on the one side a personality of whom we may well think that in his inner life he was little fitted to grasp Christianity or to make it what it then became, the official Christianity of the West. I mean the Emperor Constantine, of whom we have so often spoken. Then, side by side with him (not literally of course, but gazing back into that age from a considerable distance in time), side by side with Constantine we see Julian the Apostate. Julian the Apostate was one in whom the wisdom of the Mysteries was living. He spoke of a Threefold Sun. Indeed he lost his life through being regarded as a betrayer of the Mysteries, because he spoke about the Threefold Sun. Of these things it was no longer allowed to speak in his time; still less would it have been allowed in earlier times. But Julian the Apostate stood in a peculiar relation to Christianity. In a certain sense we must again and again be surprised that the genius, the fine spirituality and intellect of Julian was so little receptive to the greatness of Christianity. It was simply due to the fact that in his environment he saw very little of what he conceived as a true inner sincerity, whereas among those who introduced him to the ancient Mysteries he found great sincerity, positive, active sincerity. Such was the case with Julian the Apostate.

Yonder in Asia he was murdered. Many a fable is told about the murder. The truth is that it took place because he was regarded as a betrayer of the Mysteries. It was a murder altogether pre-arranged.

Now if we make ourselves to some extent acquainted with what lived in Julian we cannot but be deeply interested in the question: How did his individuality live on in later times? For his was a peculiar individuality, one of whom it must be said that he would have been better fitted than Constantine, better than Clodvig and all the others, to make straight the ways of Christianity. This lay inherent in his soul. If the time had been favourable, if the conditions had existed, he could have brought about out of the ancient Mysteries a straightforward continuation from the pre-Christian Christ, the true macrocosmic Logos, to the Christ who was to work on within mankind after the Mystery of Golgotha. He was indeed a vessel well prepared. Strange as it may sound, we find it so, if we enter into his true spirit. We find in the foundations of his soul the true impulse to grasp Christianity. But he did not let it emerge, he suppressed it, misled by the stupidities which Celsus had written about Jesus. It does indeed happen now and then that men of real genius are led astray by the stupidest effusions of their fellow-men. Thus we may have the feeling: Julian would really have been the soul to make straight the ways of Christianity and to bring Christianity into its true and proper channel.

We now leave the soul of Julian the Apostate in that earthly life and follow the same individuality with the highest interest through spiritual worlds. But there is always something vague and unclear about it. Only the most intense spiritual striving can come at length to a clear perception of his further course.

On many matters very adequate ideas existed in the Middle Ages. They might be legendary, but they were adequate; they corresponded to the real events. Legendary though they may be, how adequate are the narratives that centred round the personality of Alexander the Great. How vividly his life appears, as I already said, in the description of Lamprecht the Priest!

But that which lives on of Julian, lives on in such a way that we must say again and again: It seeks to disappear from before the vision of humanity. And as we seek to follow it we have the greatest difficulty in keeping it within our spiritual field of vision. Again and again it escapes us. We trace it through the centuries into the Middle Ages and it escapes us. But when at length we do succeed in following it to the end, we land at a strange place, which though it be not historic in the proper sense, is in reality more than historic. We come at length to the figure of a woman, in whom we find again the soul of Julian the Apostate. It was a woman who accomplished an important deed in her life under the impression of an essentially painful event. For she beheld, not in herself, but in the person of another, an image of the fate of Julian the Apostate, inasmuch as Julian the Apostate went on a campaign to the East and there lost his life by treachery.

The woman whom I mean is Herzeleide, the mother of Parsifal, who was an historic character, though history itself tells nothing of her. In Gamuret, whom she married and who lost his life through treachery upon an Eastern campaign, she was pointed to her own destiny in the former life as Julian the Apostate. This went deep into her soul, and under this impression she achieved what is told to us in a legendary way — yet it is historic in the truest sense — of the education of Parsifal by Herzeleide.

The soul of Julian the Apostate who had remained thus in the depths and of whom one would believe that it should have been his very mission to prepare the right way for Christianity — this soul is found again in the Middle Ages in the body of a woman who sent out Parsifal to seek and to find the esoteric paths for Christianity.

Mysterious like this, full of riddles, are the paths of mankind in the background, in the foundations of existence. This example — and it is strangely interwoven with the one which I already told you in connection with the School of Chartres — this example may make you realise how wonderful are the paths of the human soul and the paths of evolution for all mankind.

We shall continue speaking of it in the next lecture, when I shall have more to say of the life of Herzeleide and of what was then sent forth, physically, in Parsifal. I shall begin next time at this point where we must break off today.

Thanks to the Rudolf Steiner Archive.