Roman Catholicism

by Rudolf Steiner

Lecture I

Dornach, May 30, 1920

My Dear Friends,

To carry our spiritual understanding of things farther, we shall need more and more to turn our attention to certain historical facts. During the last decades our members have led a pleasant life, devoted entirely to the acquisition of knowledge from the lectures and discussions which have been held in different places. Nevertheless, this has formed an impenetrable wall, over which in many cases there has been a great reluctance to look out at what was happening in the outside world. But, if we want to see what is happening in the world in the right light, if we do not wish to found a sect but an historical movement — something which no other movement than ours can be — then we need to know the historical background for what is all around us in the world. And the way in which we ourselves are treated, particularly here in this place, where we have never done anything in the slightest degree aggressive, makes it doubly necessary for us really to look over the wall and to understand something of what is going on in the world. Therefore, I should like to combine what I have to say in the next few days with some historical comments, in order to draw attention to certain facts, without a knowledge of which we shall probably not now be able to get any further.

Today I want first of all to point out one thing. You know that about the beginning of the last third of the Nineteenth Century something found a foothold in the various civilized states of Europe and America, which was known as a realistic conception of life, a conception of life which was in essentials based on the achievements of the Nineteenth Century and on those which had prepared the way for that century. At the beginning of the last third of the Nineteenth Century people everywhere spoke in quite a different way, their underlying tone was different from what it became in the later decades, and still more in the decades of the Twentieth Century. The forms of thought which dominated wide circles became during this time essentially different. Today I will only mention one example. At the beginning of the last third of the Nineteenth Century the belief prevailed among educated people that the human being ought to form his own convictions out of his own inner self, about the most important affairs of life; and that even if, helped by the discoveries of science, he does so, a common social life is, nevertheless, possible in the civilized world. There was, so to say, a kind of dogma, but a dogma freely recognized in the widest circles, that, among people who had reached a certain degree of culture, freedom of conscience was possible. It is true that in the decades that followed no one had the courage to attack this dogma openly; but there was more or less unconscious opposition to it. And at the present time, after the great world catastrophe [the First World War], straightaway this dogma is something which in the widest circles is being repressed, is being nullified, though, of course, that fact is more or less disguised. In the sixties of the Nineteenth Century the belief prevailed in the widest circles that the human being must have a certain freedom as regards everything connected with his religion. The emergence of this belief was noted in certain quarters, and I have already pointed out how on the 8th December, 1864, Rome launched an attack against it. I have often told you how this whole movement was handled by Rome, how in the Papal Encyclical of 1864, which appeared at the same time as the Syllabus, it is expressly said: “The view that freedom of conscience and of religion is given to each human being as his own right is a folly and a delusion.”

At the time when Europe was experiencing the high tide, a provisional high tide, of this conception of freedom of conscience and of religious worship, Rome made an official pronouncement that it was a delusion.

I only want to put this before you as an historic fact; and in so doing I want to call your attention to what took place at a time when, for a large number of people, this question had arisen and called for a response from out the very springs of human conscience — the question: “How do we as human beings make progress in our religious life?” This question, posed in deep earnestness and really in such a way as to show that consciences were involved, was a significant question of the time. I should just like to read you something which illustrates how the cultured people of the day were deeply preoccupied with it.

There are in existence speeches of Rumelin whom I mentioned recently in connection with Julius Robert Mayer and the Law of Conservation of Energy. There exist speeches of Rumelin made in the year 1875, thus in this very period of which I am now speaking. In them he analyzed the difficulties humanity experiences in this very matter of the further study of religious questions. He also points out how necessary it is to follow these difficulties with clear insight. Anyone with intimate knowledge of this period knows that the following words of Rumelin expressed the conviction of many hundreds of men. Of course we do not need to advocate the peculiar form of science which arose at that time; insofar as we are Anthroposophists we are equipped to develop those scientific tendencies further, with a clear perception of their relative errors; and we are also equipped for recognizing that if science remains stationary at that standpoint we can get absolutely no farther with it. In the widest circles judgments arose on many points to do with religion, and we should recall these judgments today. The thoughts of thousands of people at that time were expressed by Rumelin in 1875 in the following words: “There has indeed at all times been a line of demarcation between knowledge and belief, but never has there been such an impassable abyss between them as that constituted today by the concept of miracle. Science has grown so strong in its own development, so consistent in its various branches and trends, that it flatly and without further ado points the door to the miracle in every shape and form. It recognizes only the miracle of all miracles, that a world exists and just this world. But within the cosmos it rejects absolutely any claim that interruption of its order and of its laws is something conceivable or in any way more desirable than their immutable validity. For to all the natural-historical and philosophical sciences the miracle with all its implications is nonsense, a direct outrage on all reason and on the most elementary bases of human knowledge. Science and miracle are as contradictory as reason and unreason.”

When, about the turning point of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, I began to speak in public lectures on certain anthroposophical questions, a last echo of the mood I have just described still existed. I do not know whether there are many here who followed these first lectures of mine, but in many of them I drew attention to the problems of repeated earth lives and of the destiny of human beings as they pass through one life after another. Now in dealing with these problems you will find that I always pointed out right at the end of the lecture that if one believes in the old Aristotelian idea that every time a person is born a new soul is created that has to be implanted into the human embryo, a miracle is thereby ordained for every single life. The concept of miracle can only be overcome in a sense that is justified if one accepts reincarnation, whereby each single life can be linked up with the previous life on earth without any miracle. I still remember well that I concluded one of my Berlin lectures with these words: “We are going to overcome in the right way that most important thing, the concept of miracle.”

Since then, of course, things have changed throughout the civilized world. That is primarily a historical fact, my dear friends, but it comprises something which is of the utmost interest to us. That is, that in the measure in which man loses the capacity to see the spiritual in the world, to explain the world of nature around him by the spirit, in that same measure must he place a special world side by side with nature and the ordinary world, which has as its content the world of miracle. The more natural science takes its stand on mere causality, the more the life of human feeling is driven, by a quite natural reaction, to accept the concept of miracle. The more natural science continues along its present lines, the more numerous will be those who seek refuge in a religion which includes miracles. That is why today so many men embrace Catholicism, because they simply cannot bear the natural-scientific conception of the world.

Take that sentence which I have just read, and compare it with what has been said in recent lectures here, and you will at once see what is in question. In this exposition of Rumelin occurs this sentence: “It recognizes only the miracle of all miracles, that a world exists, and just this world. But it rejects absolutely any claim that within the cosmos interruption of its order and of its laws is conceivable or in any way more desirable than their immutable validity.” Thus one thinks the primeval miracle, that the cosmos has come into being at all, but then, within this cosmos, one studies the Laws of Indestructibility of Matter and Conservation of Energy, and then everything rolls on with a certain necessity, so to say fatalistically.

That conception of the world is untenable, but it can only be overcome through the knowledge which I ventured to put before you last week, when I showed you that the Laws of Indestructibility of Matter and Conservation of Energy constitute an error, and that error is what above all has to be vigorously combated in our time. We have to do not merely with a continuous conservation of the universe, but with its continual destruction and coming into fresh existence. And if we do not establish in the cosmos the idea of a continual arising and passing away, we are obliged because we are human to affirm a special world side by side with the cosmos, a world which has nothing to do with the laws of nature that we demonstrate so one-sidedly, and which must include miracle. That unjustified concept of miracle will only be overcome in the measure in which we understand that everything in the world stands in a spiritual ordering in which we no longer have to do with an iron necessity of nature but with a cosmic guidance full of wisdom. The more we keep our gaze fixed upon the spiritual world as such and upon what we acquire through spiritual science, the more do we realize that what natural science puts before us today needs to be permeated by spiritual knowledge. It must therefore become our task to direct our attention more and more upon every science and upon all branches of life in such a way that they become permeated by what only spiritual science has to say. Medicine, jurisprudence and sociology must all be permeated by what can be known and seen through spiritual science. Spiritual science does not need any organization similar to that of the old churches, for it appeals to each single individual; and each single individual, out of his own inner conscience, through his own healthy understanding, can substantiate the results of spiritual-scientific investigation, and can in this sense become a follower of spiritual science. It puts forward something which makes a direct appeal to every single individuality just in this search for truth. It is the true fulfillment of what men were seeking in the time now past, in the last third of the Nineteenth Century — true freedom — freedom in their conception of the world, in their research and even in their opinions. That is just the task of spiritual science- to provide for the genuine justifiable claims made by the conscience of modern humanity. Hence for spiritual science there are no such things as closed dogmas, only unrestricted research which does not draw back in fear at the frontiers either of the spiritual world or of the world of nature, but which makes use of those human powers of cognition which have first to be drawn from the depths of human feeling, just as it also uses those powers which come to us through ordinary heredity and ordinary education.

This basic tendency of spiritual science is very naturally a thorn in the flesh to those who are forced to teach in accordance with a fixed, dogmatic, circumscribed aim. And that brings us to a fact of considerable concern to spiritual science, and one of the illuminating circumstances making possible the present untrue fight against us today; that brings us to something which is only the result of what began in 1864 with the Encyclical and Syllabus of that time; that brings us to the fact that the whole of the Catholic clergy and especially the teaching clergy, by the Encyclical of the 8th September, 1907: Pascendi Dominici gregis, which makes such a deep incision into modern life, were made to swear the so-called oath against modernism. This oath consists in this — that every Catholic priest or theologian who teaches either from the pulpit or from the rostrum is obliged to accept the view that no knowledge of any kind can contradict what has been laid down as doctrine by the Roman Church. That means that in every Catholic priest who teaches or preaches we have to do with a person who has sworn an oath that every truth that can ever take root in humanity must agree with what is given validity as truth by Rome. It was a powerful movement which, at the time this Encyclical “Pascendi Dominici gregis” appeared, swept over the Catholic clergy’ for the whole civilized world, even the clergy, had in a sense been influenced by that mood which I have described as characteristic of the last third of the Nineteenth Century. There were always certain clergy who worked to bring about a certain freedom in Catholicism.

I say quite frankly that in the sixties of the Nineteenth Century in a large number of the Catholic clergy seeds of development of the Catholic principle were present which, if they had passed over into a free science, might in large measure have led to a liberation of modern humanity. There were most promising seeds in what was attempted at that time in various spheres on the part of the Catholic clergy. One day we must go into all this more closely and in great detail. But today I just want to draw your attention to it. And it was directly against this tendency inside the Church that the Encyclical of 1864 with its Syllabus was promulgated, and thus began that conflict which came to an end for the time being in the Anti-Modernist Oath. I may say that in the subconsciousness of many of the Catholic clergy, even as late as 1907, there was a trace of inward revolt, but in the Catholic Church there is no such thing as revolt. There it was a question of ceaselessly pressing home the axiom that what is promulgated by Rome as doctrine must be accepted. Then those who were obliged to go on teaching had to come to terms with what they had not the courage to deny, the freedom of science. Under the influence of what had arisen in the last third of the Nineteenth Century, the freedom of science had become a household word, a household word that, of course, even in liberal circles, often remained nothing more, but it was nevertheless a household word, and even learned Catholics had not the courage to say that they would break with the freedom of science and have nothing further to do with it. So they had the task of proving that one may only teach what is recognized by Rome as doctrinally valid (this they had to swear on oath) and that the freedom of science was consistent with this. I should like to read you a few sentences illustrating such a method of proof, given by the Catholic theologian Weber of Freiburg in this book Catholic Doctrine and the Freedom of Science. He there attempts specifically to prove that although a man may admittedly be obliged by his oath only to teach the content of what he is instructed by Rome to teach, he can notwithstanding remain a free scientist. After having argued at length that even mathematics is something given to one and that one does not surrender the freedom of science because one is bound by the truths of mathematics, he goes on to show that one does not surrender one’s freedom because one is compelled to teach as truth what is given by Rome; and one of his sentences is as follows: “A scholar is bound to specific methods of explanation or proof; just as the obligation of a soldier to rejoin his regiment at a certain time does not take from him his freedom, for he can either go on foot or by coach, by slow train or express, so the teacher still remains free in his scientific task in spite of his oath.”

That means that one is compelled to teach a definite body of doctrine, and to prove just that body of doctrine; as to how one does it one is left free. Just as free as a soldier who has sworn to join his regiment at a certain time, and who can travel either on foot or by coach, or by the slow or the express train. One ought to ask oneself how this going by foot or by coach, by slow train or by express has to end. Under all circumstances it has to end in joining his regiment. I am not making polemics, I am simply citing a historical fact.

You see in the course of preceding centuries and culminating in the last third of the Nineteenth Century there had gradually developed a mood in wide circles of the cultivated world which seemed full of promise. But all that is now dormant; souls have gone to sleep. Those who share the mood of that time are obviously now very old, are among the old discarded liberals, and those who were young during the last decades have not been awake to the very important claims of humanity. Hence if the decline is not to go further we have to challenge the youth of today to act otherwise. The generation living in the sixties of the Nineteenth Century could become a generation of Liberals but was not able to provide a liberal education. For that it would have had to master the concept of miracle in quite a different way than the way adopted by natural science. For that the concept of miracle would have to be surmounted by the spirit and not by the mechanical ordering of nature. And so, whereas this mood came over modern humanity like a kind of dream, those who worked against it were wide awake, and it was out of their waking consciousness that such things were born as the Encyclical and Syllabus of the year 1864, with its eighty numbered errors in which no Catholic might believe. In these eighty errors is to be found everything which implies a modern conception of the world. Now comes once more out of the fullest waking consciousness, the latest inevitable achievement, the Encyclical of the year 1907, culminating in the Anti-modernist Oath. Not only have these people been awake since the last third of the Nineteenth Century, but for a much longer time than that they have worked radically, energetically and intensively and the task they have achieved is what I might call the concentration of all Catholicism on Rome — the suppression in Catholicism of all that inevitably deprived the freest of all churches of its freedom; for in its essential nature the Catholic Church is capable of the greatest freedom. You will perhaps be astonished that I should say that. But let us go back a little way from our enlightened freedom from authority into the Thirteenth Century, which we have recently discussed in public lectures. I should like to recall to your minds in this connection a document of the Thirteenth Century, when Catholicism in Europe was in full flower.

It has to do with the question of the nomination by Rome of Albertus Magnus, one of the founders of Scholasticism, as Bishop of Regensburg. I need hardly say that in the Catholic Church today there could be no two opinions but that this nomination to one of the foremost bishoprics greatly enhanced the dignity of a Dominican who up to that time had merely laid the foundations of a reputation by numerous important writings and by a pious life spent in the affairs of his Order. For today the Catholic Church is a compact organism, and it has become so by having been completely transformed. When Albertus Magnus was about to be nominated Bishop of Regensburg, the Head of his Order sent him a letter which read somewhat as follows: “The Head of the Order beseeches Albertus Magnus not to accept the bishopric, not to bring such a stain on his good name and on the reputation of his Order. He should not submit to the desires of the Roman Court, where things are not taken seriously. All the good service which he has hitherto rendered by his pious life and writings would be imperiled if he became a bishop and entangled in the business which as bishop he would have to discharge; he should not plunge his Order into such deep sorrow.”

My dear friends, at that time there were voices in the Church that spoke thus. At that time the Catholic Church was no compact mass; within the Church it was possible to be plunged into deep sorrow if someone was chosen for an office which he knew was not regarded seriously in Rome. In the biographies of Thomas Aquinas we find mentioned over and over again that he refused the office of Cardinal. Today I am giving you some of the real reasons why that was so; in the biographies you will find mentioned the bare fact of his refusal. It is not easy to give the reasons after having made him the official philosopher of the Church!

But I should like to translate literally one sentence out of that letter to which I have referred, form the Head of his Order to Albertus Magnus: “I would rather hear that my dear son was in his grave than on the Episcopal throne of Regensburg.”

My dear friends, it is not enough simply to speak of the dark ages and to compare them with our own times, in which we are supposed to have made such magnificent progress; but, if we want to form judgments, we must know some of the historical facts as to how things have developed in the course of time. No doubt you are aware that Jesuit influence is behind many of the attacks on us. You know, for instance, that form the Jesuit side came the most flagrant lies; for instance, the accusation that I myself had once been a priest and had forsaken the priesthood. And you know that a few years later the person who uttered this lie could not think of anything else to say except that this hypothesis could not further be held. In the Austrian Parliament a member named Walterkirchen once shouted at a Minister: “If a man has once lied, no one believes him even if afterwards he speaks the truth.” But Jesuitism stands behind all these things; one can point to many things growing on the soil of Jesuitism, but in this respect also I only want today to point to a historic fact.

It is a fundamental point of the Jesuit rule to render absolute obedience to the Pope. Now in the Eighteenth Century there lived a Pope who suppressed the Jesuit Order irrevocably for all eternity — literally for all eternity. If the Jesuits had remained true to their own rule they would, of course, never have appeared on the scene again. However, they did not disappear but took refuge in countries where there were rulers at that time less favorable to Rome, rulers who thought that by serving Jesuitism they could serve the future, not of humanity but of themselves and their successors. For the Jesuit Order was saved by two rulers, Frederick II of Prussia and Catherine of Russia. In Roman Catholic countries the Jesuit Order was not recognized as having a valid existence. The Jesuits of today owe it to Frederick II of Prussia and Catherine of Russia that they were able to survive that period when they were persecuted by Rome. I am not making polemics, I am merely stating historic facts. But these historic facts are quite unknown to most people, and it is necessary that they shall be borne in mind, because we must no longer be a sect which has built a wall round itself. We must look at what is around us and learn to understand it. That is our undoubted duty if we desire to be true to that movement in which we profess to live.

You see, it is one of the worst and most harmful signs of the time that people trouble so little about facts and have no inclination to ask how they have come about, to ask whence has come the present revolt against us, from what source it is being nourished. Such judgments as proceeded from the mood which I characterized as the mood of the last third of the Nineteenth Century are less and less to be heard today. It is really astounding how little human beings today know of what is going on in the world. For they slept through the event of the Encyclical “Pascendi Dominici gregis” of September 8, 1907, whereby the oath against Modernism was imposed on the Catholic clergy. Voices such as would certainly have been raised by such a man as the Dominican General who preferred to see his dear son in the grave rather than on the Episcopal throne of Regensburg, are no longer heard; instead of that, people listen nowadays to voices which explain that a man can still be a free scientist if he swears that he can use any methods he likes to prove what he teaches; it does not matter whether he travels by express train or slow train, in a coach or on foot.

What leaps logic has to make if such proofs are to be used! I need not enlarge on this. But most people have no idea of the power lying in what at the present time is specially directed against us, who have never attacked anyone, and of what that power signifies. It is not sufficient to say that these things are really too stupid to notice. For, my dear friends, in the assertions constantly made about us, you will only find two things that can be affirmed with truth. For instance, when “Spectator” was reproached for having said his source was a book, the “Akashic Record,” and was told that that must have been a deliberate lie, for he must have known that he could not possess the “Akashic Record” in his library, he extricated himself as follows: “First, let me say that a printer’s error slipped into our second article. Akaskic Record instead of Akashic Record. This mistake Dr. Boos has noted with glee. He seems to strain at gnats and to swallow camels. In the same article there is another misprint; for Apollinaris, of course, one should read Apollonius of Ryana! This Dr. Boos has overlooked — perhaps intentionally!”

Now, my dear friends, if Akaskic Record had been allowed to stand, I should not have complained, for that could be a misprint! And I would even go so far as to accept that a man of intellectual caliber to which the article bears witness could write Apollinaris instead of Apollonius of Tyana. I do not even hold it against him that he quotes as being among the sources from which we draw, someone whom he dubs with the name Apollinaris! But, my dear friends, it must be called a downright falsehood when it is maintained that the Akashic Record is something from which Anthroposophy is unjustifiably derived as from an ancient book. How does the gentleman wriggle out of this? He does not admit that there is anything with which to reproach him. He says: “This Akashic Record is a legendary secret writing which contains traces of the eternal truths of all ancient wisdom; it plays a part similar to that of the obscure book ‘The Stanzas of Dzyan’ which Madame Blavatsky claims to have found in a cave in Tibet, etc. etc.” Thus he makes clear to his flock that he can speak of this Akashic Record as of any other record once written down; and naturally they believe him. But I want to draw attention to two things. One is his statement: “Steiner considers he has rendered great service by rejuvenating Buddhism and enriching it by the introduction of the doctrines of reincarnation and karma, his own specialties.”

Needless to say I never made any such claim, not one single sentence of what has so far been published is true, or at most one thing, a thing which will perhaps always cause a headache to those who write in this strain. The one thing which can be looked upon as in any way true is in the passage in which he says: “The Gnostics also professed an esoteric doctrine and divided men into the Hyliker (ordinary people, the general run of men) and the Pneumatiker (theosophists) in whom was the fullness of the spirit and among whom therefore a higher knowledge (initiation) prevailed. The latter refrained from meat and from wine.”

This sentence: “refrained from meat and wine” is the only one of which we can say that, as it stands here, it is strictly true; and the doctrine it represents is to many an uncomfortable one. But now this gentleman (for it appears he wishes to be thought a gentleman) says further on: “That is, however, not true.” What is not true? “Buddhism speaks of the migration of souls, Steiner of reincarnation; both are the same. According to this theory Christ is none other than the reincarnated Buddha, or Buddha reappeared. Whether it is said that a person reincarnates or that his earthly life is repeated, it comes to the same thing. All these long arguments reveal the sophistry of Steiner and his so-called scientific mind.”

I beg you to notice that in both these forms really one of the most mischievous pieces of dishonesty possible has been perpetrated. Every possibility is removed which might enable those who read it to judge for themselves what the truth is. Up to the present, in all these long articles, no notice has been taken of Dr. Boos’ answer to the first attack, in which he mentions, I think, twenty-three lies. The other piece of dishonesty lies in the following sentence: “This path is, however, not false but correct.” He had previously talked a lot of nonsense about the will, and then he goes on to say: “This path is, however, not false but correct, for the claims of Christ are based upon the will. Christ Himself says: ‘I have come into the world to do the will of my Father.’”

Therefore, it is no longer permissible to say that it is a question of spiritual initiative or anything of that nature. Then he goes on: “This little example shows how far Steiner is removed from the true Christian impulse, and proves that to him Christ cannot be the Divine rules (the Way, the Truth, and the Life) but only the ‘wise man of Nazareth,’ or in theosophical language, a Jesu ben Pandira or Guatama Buddha.”

Now compare that with everything that has been said here in refutation of the modern theological view that one has to see in Christ Jesus merely the wise man of Nazareth. Think of all that has been said in this place against this materialistic theory! Yet here, by our nearest neighbors, we are calumniated, and what I have unceasingly contested is spread abroad as my own belief. I ask you, is greater falsehood possible? Can there be a more dishonest method than this? It is not sufficient to recognize the stupidity of these things, for you will more and more become aware of the real effects of such tactics. Therefore, it is essential that we here should really not sleep through these things, but that we should grasp them in all earnestness, for today it is really not a question of a small community here, but it is a great human question; and this great human question must be clearly seen. It is a question of truth and falsehood. These things must be taken seriously.

My dear friends, these observations are to be continued here next Thursday at the same time, and as has been the case today, a few eurhythmy exercises will precede the lecture. Then I want to take the opportunity, perhaps next Saturday, of holding a public lecture from this platform, without polemics, a purely historical lecture showing the historical basis of all that preceded and led up to the Papal Encyclical “Pascendi Dominici gregis” of September 1907, and the results that have followed from it. Therefore, if at all possible, we shall try to arrange a public lecture here next Saturday. Next Thursday there will be a kind of continuation of today’s theme, when we shall go deeper and shall see in particular what the spiritual life itself has to say to what is happening today.

Lecture II

Thanks to: The Rudolf Steiner Archive