by Rudolf Steiner
A lecture given in Dornach on July 13, 1924 from stenographic note not revised by the speaker. Translator unknown (revised here).
The School of Chartres
Among the spiritual conditions of evolution that have led to the Anthroposophical Movement and that are contained within its spiritual karma, I have mentioned two external symptoms. One is expressed in the rise of the Catechism with its questions and answers, leading towards a faith which is no longer in direct touch with the spiritual world. The other is represented by the Mass becoming exoteric. The Mass in its totality, including the Transubstantiation and Holy Communion, was made accessible to all, even to the unprepared. It thus lost its character of an ancient Mystery.
These two earthly events led those who observed them from the spiritual world to prepare in a very definite way, within the stream of spiritual evolution, for what was to become a spiritual revelation at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, — a revelation fitly adapted to the course of time. For this new spiritual revelation had to come after the Michael event, and in the time when the old, dark age of Kali Yuga had run its course and a new age was to arise for humanity. Today we have a third thing to add. We must first bring before our souls these three spiritual conditions, which were able to draw together a number of human beings even before they descended into the physical world in the last third of the 19th or at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. For only when we are aware of these conditions shall we be able to understand certain extra-karmic events which flowed into the streams of life that are joined together in the Anthroposophical Movement.
The peculiar attitude to nature on the one hand and to things spiritual on the other, which has evolved so greatly by our time, comes down to us only from the period that began in the 14th (15th) century. Before that time, the relationship of mankind, especially to the things of the Spirit, was very different. Man approached the Spirit not in concepts and ideas but in living experiences that still penetrated to the Spiritual, however slightly.
Today, when we speak of nature, it is as a dead abstraction — devoid of all being. And when we speak of the Spirit, we have something vague whose existence we presume somehow or other, and comprise it in abstract concepts or ideas. It was not so in the time when the souls who are now finding their way together in the longing for a new spirituality, had their important former incarnation, — when in that incarnation they listened to what Initiates and leaders of mankind had to tell them for their inner needs. To begin with we have the age that goes on into the 7th or 8th century, when we still find a delicate connection of the human soul with the spiritual world — a conscious experience of the spiritual world itself. Even the people with knowledge and learning in that time were still in a living relationship to the spiritual world. Then we have the age beginning in the 7th or 8th century and going on to the great turning point in the 14th and 15th, — the time when the human souls who had lived in the first Christian centuries were once more in the life between death and a new birth.
But although — from the 6th, 7th or 8th century onwards — there was no direct connection with the spiritual world, nevertheless a certain awareness of this connection still found refuge, if I may put it so, in isolated centres of learning. In isolated centres of learning men still spoke, in knowledge, in the way they had spoken in the first Christian centuries. It was possible for single, chosen human beings to receive deep inner impulses from the way in which the spiritual world was spoken of, impulses enabling them, at certain times at least, to break through into the spiritual world. There were indeed isolated centres where teachings were given in a manner of which the people of today can have no conception.
This only came to an end in the 12th, 13th century, when at length it all flowed into a great poem which found its consummation for the experience of humanity. I mean the Divina Commedia of Dante.
In all that lies behind the origin of the Commedia we have a wonderful chapter of human evolution. For at this moment the influences from the earth and from the cosmos are found in perpetual interplay. The two were ever flowing into one another. Human beings on the earth had lost, to some extent, the connection with the spiritual world. And in those who lived above — who, while on earth, had still experienced such a connection, — the earthly conditions which they now beheld called forth a strangely painful feeling. They saw the slow death of what they themselves had still experienced on earth. Then from the super-sensible world they inspired certain individualities in the sensory world, so that here or there at any rate there might arise a home and centre for the real connection of man with the spiritual world.
Let us clearly bear in mind what I indicated here many years ago. Even until the 7th or 8th century — in a kind of echo of pre-Christian Initiation — Christianity was taught in centres that had remained as the places of knowledge, relics of the ancient Mysteries. In those centres human beings were prepared, not so much by way of instruction, but by an education towards the Spirit — a training both bodily and spiritual. They were prepared for the moment when they might have at least a subtle vision of the spirituality that can manifest itself in humanity's environment on earth. Then they looked outward to the mineral, plant and animal kingdoms. And they saw, springing forth like an aura and fertilised in turn out of the cosmos, the spiritual-elemental beings that lived in all of nature.
Then above all there appeared to them as a living Being, whom they addressed as they would address a human being — only it was a being of a higher kind, — the Goddess Natura. She was the goddess whom they saw before them in her full radiance, in full reality of soul. They did not speak of abstract laws of nature, they spoke of the creative power of the Goddess Natura, working creatively in all of nature.
She was the metamorphosis of Proserpine of antiquity. She was the ever-creating goddess with whom they who would seek for knowledge must in a certain way unite. She appeared to them from every mineral, from every plant, from every creeping animal, from the clouds, the mountains, the river-springs. Of this goddess, who alternately in winter and in summer creates above the earth and beneath, of this Goddess they felt: She is the handmaid of that divinity of whom the Gospels speak. She it is who fulfills the divine behests.
And when the seeker after knowledge had been sufficiently instructed by the Goddess about the mineral and plant and animal natures, when he was introduced into the living forces, then he learned to know from her the nature of the four Elements: — Earth, Water, Air and Fire. He learned to know the waving and weaving within the mineral and animal and plant kingdoms of the four Elements which pour themselves in all reality throughout the world: Earth, Water, Fire, Air. He felt himself with his etheric body interwoven with the life of the Earth in its gravity, Water in its life-giving power, Air in its power to awaken sentient consciousness, Fire in its power to kindle the flame of the I. In all this he felt his being interwoven, and he felt: This was the gift of instruction from the Goddess Natura — the successor, the metamorphosis of Proserpine. The teachers saw to it that their disciples should gain a feeling, an idea of this living intercourse with nature filled with divine forces, filled with divine substance. They saw to it that their pupils should penetrate to the living and weaving of the Elements.
Then, when they had reached this point, they were introduced to the planetary system. They learned how with the knowledge of the planetary system there arises at the same time the knowledge of the human soul. “Learn to know how the planets hold sway in the heavens, and thou shalt know how thine own soul works and weaves and lives within thee.” And at length they were led to approach what was called “The Great Ocean,” — but it was the Cosmic Ocean, which leads from the planets, from the to the stars. Thus at length they penetrated into the secrets of the I, by learning the secrets of the universe of the stars.
Mankind today has forgotten that such instructions were ever given; but they were. A living knowledge of this kind was cultivated until the 7th or 8th century in the last relics of the ancient Mysteries. And as a doctrine, as a theory, it was still cultivated until that turn of the 14th and 15th centuries of which we have so often spoken. In certain centres we still saw these old teachings cultivated, though with the greatest imaginable difficulties. They were shadowed down to concepts and ideas; yet the concepts and ideas were still living enough to kindle, in one person or another, the vision of all the realities of which I just spoke.
In the 11th and especially the 12th century, reaching on to the 13th, a truly wonderful school existed. In this school there were teachers who still knew how the pupils in preceding centuries had been led to a conscious experience of the Spirit. It was the great School of Chartres. Here there flowed together all the conceptions that had issued from the living spiritual life which I have described.
Wonderful masterpieces of architecture are to be seen in Chartres to this day. Above all a ray of the still living wisdom of Peter of Compostella, who had worked in Spain, had come there. He had cultivated a living, exemplary Christianity, speaking still of Natura, the handmaid of Christ, and describing still how when great Nature has introduced man to the elements, to the planetary world, and to the stars; then and then only did he become mature enough to make acquaintance, in reality of soul, with the seven helpmates, who appeared to the human soul, not in abstract theory, but as the living Goddesses: Grammatica, Dialectica, Rhetorica, Arithmetica, Geometria, Astronomia, Musica. The pupils learned to know them as divine-spiritual figures, living and real.
Those who were with Peter of Compostella spoke of them still as living figures. His teachings radiated into the School of Chartres. In the same School of Chartres there lived, for example, the great Bernard of Chartres, who inspired his pupils, for though he could no longer show them the Goddess Natura, nor the Goddesses of the seven Liberal Arts, still he spoke of these in so living a way that their at least their images were conjured before his pupils.
There taught Bernardus Silvestris, raising before his pupils in mighty and powerful descriptions what had been the ancient wisdom.
And above all there was John of Chartres who spoke of the human soul with truly majestic inspiration. It was here that John of Chartres, also known as John of Salisbury, unfolded the conceptions wherein he dealt with Aristotle, with Aristotelianism. His chosen pupils were so influenced that they arrived at a new insight. They saw that such teaching as had existed in the first centuries of Christendom could no longer exist on earth, for earthly evolution could no longer bear it. It was made clear to them there there was an ancient, almost clairvoyant knowledge, but it had grown dim: We can only know of Dialectic, Rhetoric, Astronomy, Astrology — we can no longer behold the Goddesses of the seven Liberal Arts. Henceforth Aristotle must work: Aristotle who already in antiquity was equal to the concepts and ideas of the fifth Post-Atlantean epoch.
With an inspiring force, what had thus been taught in the School of Chartres was then transplanted to the Order of Cluny, where it was changed into a more worldly form in the ecclesiastical enactments of the Abbot Hildebrand — Abbot of the Monks of Cluny — who afterwards became Pope under the name of Gregory the Seventh.
Meanwhile in the School of Chartres itself these teachings continued to be given with remarkable purity. The whole of the 12th century was radiant with them. And there was one who was in reality greater than all the others. who taught in Chartres with what I would call a true inspiration of ideas, the Mysteries of the Seven Liberal Arts in their connection with Christianity. I mean Alain de Lille, Alanus ab Insulis. Alain de Lille at Chartres in the 12th century inspired his pupils with true enthusiasm. His great insight showed him that in the coming centuries it would no longer be possible to endow the earth with spiritual teachings such as these. For these teachings were not only Platonism; they also contained the teachings from the old seership of the pre-Platonic Mysteries, with the difference that it had since received Christianity into itself.
To those in whom he presumed an understanding for such things, Alain de Lille taught already in his lifetime that an Aristotelian form of knowledge would now have to work for a while on earth: Aristotelianism, with its sharply defined conceptions and ideas. For in this way alone would it be possible to prepare for what must come again as Spirituality in later times.
To many people of today who read the literature of that time, it appears dull and dry. But it is by no means dry, when we gain some conception of what stood before the souls of those who taught and worked in Chartres.
And in the poetry too, which went out from Chartres, how vitally do we feel the sense of union with the living Goddesses of the seven Liberal Arts. In the poem ‘Bataille des Sept Arts,’ deeply penetrating as it is for anyone who understands it, we feel the living spiritual breath of the seven Liberal Arts. All these things were active in the 12th century.
You see, all this was living in the spiritual atmosphere of that time, and was still making itself felt. It was still to some extent akin to the Schools that continued to exist in Northern Italy, in Italy generally, and in Spain, though their existence was sporadic. Nevertheless these things became transplanted in a living way into all manner of spiritual currents on the earth. Towards the end of the 12th century much of this was still in use at the University of Orleans, where remarkable teachings of this kind were cultivated, and something was still present of an inspiration from the School of Chartres.
And then, one day down in Italy an Ambassador who had been in Spain, standing at that moment under a great historic impression, received a kind of sun-stroke, and there arose in him as a great and mighty revelation all that he had received as preparatory training in his School. All this became a mighty revelation under the influence of the slight sun-stroke which came over him. Then he saw what one could see under the influence of the living principle of knowledge: He saw a mountain mightily arising with all that lived and sprang forth from it, minerals, plants, and animals, and there appeared to him the Goddess Natura, there appeared the Elements, there appeared the Planets, there appeared the Goddesses of the seven Liberal Arts, and at length Ovid as his guide and teacher. Here once again there stood before a human soul the mighty vision that had stood before the souls of men so often in the first centuries of Christianity. Such was the vision of Brunetto Latini which was afterwards handed down to Dante and from which Dante's Divina Commedia took its source.
But there was still another outcome for all those who had worked in Chartres, when they passed again through the gate of death, and, having passed through the gate of death, entered the spiritual world. Deeply significant was the spiritual life which they had led: Peter of Compostella, Bernard of Chartres, Bernardus Silvestris, John of Chartres (John of Salisbury), Henri d'Andeli, author of the poem “Bataille des Sept Arts,” and above all, Alain de Lille. Alain de Lille, in his own style of course, had written the book Contra Hereticos, where on behalf of Christianity he turned against the heretics, writing directly out of the old vision which was in fact a vision of the spiritual world. And now, all these souls, these individualities who had been the very last to work within the echoes of seership, the wisdom seen in fullness of spiritual light, — they all entered into the spiritual world. And in that spiritual world they came together with other souls of great significance who were preparing for a new earthly life just at that time. For they were preparing to descend in the very near future into an earthly life where they would work in the sense that was necessary to bring about the subsequent turning-point: the turning-point of the 14th and 15th centuries. We have a great spiritual life before us, my dear friends. The last great ones of the School of Chartres had just arrived in the spiritual world. Those individualities who afterwards brought forth the full flower of Scholasticism were still there in the spiritual world, and at the beginning of the 13th century there took place one of the most important exchanges of ideas behind the scenes of human evolution, an exchange of ideas between those who had carried up the old Platonism, inspired by spiritual vision, from the School of Chartres into the super-sensible world, and those on the other hand who were preparing to carry Aristotelianism down to earth, as the great transition to bring about a new Spirituality that was to flow into the evolution of humaniy in the future.
They came to an agreement. The individualities from the School of Chartres spoke, as it were, to those who were preparing to descend into the physical world, who were preparing to cultivate Aristotelianism in the Scholastic system which was right for that age. They spoke to them, as it were, and said: For us it is impossible to work on earth for the present; for the earth is not now in a condition to cultivate knowledge in this living way. What we, the last bearers of Platonism, were still able to cultivate must now give place to Aristotelianism. We will remain up here.
Thus the great spirits of Chartres remained in the super-sensible world, nor have they returned hitherto in any earthly incarnations of significance. But they were working mightily, helping in the formation of that mighty Imagination in the spiritual world that was formed in the first half of the 19th century and of which I have already told you. They worked in full harmony with those who descended with their Aristotelianism to the earth.
The Dominican Order, above all, contained individualities who lived in this kind of “super-sensible contract,” if I may so describe it, with the great spirits of Chartres, for they had agreed with them: “We will descend in order to continue the cultivation of knowledge in the Aristotelian form. You will remain up here. On earth too we shall remain in union with you. Platonism for the present cannot prosper on the earth. We shall find you again when we return, and then together we will prepare for that time when the period of Scholastic Aristotelianism will have been completed in earthly evolution, and it will be possible to unfold Spirituality once more in communion with you, with the spirits of Chartres.”
It was an event of profound significance when Alain de Lille, as he had been called in earthly life, sent down to earth a pupil well instructed by him in the spiritual world. For in this pupil he sent down to earth all the discrepancies, it is true, which could arise between Platonism and Aristotelianism, but he sent them down so that they might be harmonised through the Scholastic principle of that time. Such was the spiritual working, especially in the 13th century, to the end that there might flow together the workings of those who were on the earth, for example in the garb of Dominicans, and those who had remained in yonder world. For the time being, these latter could find no earthly bodies in which to stamp their spirituality. For theirs was a spirituality which could not descend to the Aristotelian element.
So there arose in the 13th century a wonderful co-operation of what was being done on earth with that which was flowing down from above. Often those who were on earth were not conscious of this working from the other side, but those who were working on the other side were all the more conscious. It was a truly living co-operation. One might say that the principle of the Mysteries had ascended to the heavens and sent down its sun-rays thence upon all that was working on the earth.
This went into all the details and can be traced above all in the detailed things that happened. Alain de Lille, in his own earthly life as a teacher at Chartres, had only been able to go so far that at a certain age he put on the garment of the Cistercians. He became a priest of the Cistercian Order. In the Cistercian Order at that time, in the exercises of that Order, the last relics of a striving to awaken Platonism — the Platonic world-conception, in unison with Christianity — had found a refuge.
The way in which he sent a pupil down to the earth expressed itself in this: he sent his pupil down to continue through the Dominican Order the task that was now to pass over to Aristotelianism.
The transition expressed itself outwardly in a remarkable symptom. For the pupil of Alanus ab Insulis of whom I am speaking, — his pupil, that is to say, in the worlds above the earth, — having descended to the earth, first wore the garments of a Cistercian, which he only afterwards exchanged for that of a Dominican.
Such were the individualities who worked together: those who afterwards became the leading Schoolmen and their pupils, — human souls long connected with one another, — and these in turn united with the great spirits of the School of Chartres, united in the sensible and super-sensible worlds during the 13th and on into the early 14th century.
Such was the mighty cosmic-historic plan. Those who could not descend to Aristotelianism upon the earth remained in the spiritual world above, waiting until the purposes in which they were all so intimately united should be carried forward by the others upon the earth, under the influence of the sharply outlined concepts and ideas proceeding from Aristotelianism.
It was really like a conversation upward and downward from the spiritual to the earthly world, from the earthly to the spiritual world, in that 13th century.
Indeed it was only into this spiritual atmosphere that true Rosicrucianism was able to exert its influence.
When those who had descended to the earth to give the impulse of Aristotelianism had accomplished their task, they too were lifted into the spiritual world and went on working there: Platonists and Aristotelians together. And now there came and gathered round them the souls about whom I have already spoken to you — the souls of the two groups I mentioned.
Thus we find entering into the karma of the Anthroposophical Movement a large number of disciples of Chartres. Entering into this discipleship of Chartres we find the souls who had come from one or other of the two streams of which I have spoken here in the last few days. It is a large circle of human beings, for many are living in this circle who have not as yet found their way to the Anthroposophical Movement. Nevertheless it is so: what we find in the field of Anthroposophy today has been prepared through these manifold experiences.
A remarkable influence came over the Cistercian Order for example, when Alain de Lille, Alanus ab Insulis, put on the garments of a Cistercian — when he with his Platonism became a Cistercian priest. Indeed this element never left the Cistercian Order. In relation to these things which we must now unveil, I may perhaps be allowed a few personal observations that could not be included in my autobiography. There was a circumstance in my life which was destined to lead me to the knowledge of many inner connections in this domain, (other connections were revealed to me from different quarters). I was led to many things through the circumstance that in my life, before the Weimar period, I could never escape from the presence, in one way or another, of the Cistercian Order; and yet again I was always somehow kept at a distance from it. I grew up, so to speak, in the shadow of the Cistercian Order, which has important settlements in the neighbourhood of Wiener-Neustadt. Those who had to educate most of the youth in the district where I grew up were priests of the Cistercian order. I had the robe of this Order perpetually before me, the white robe with the black band around the waist, or, as we call it, the stola. Had I had occasion to speak of such things in my autobiography I could have said: Everything in my life tended in the direction of a classical education at the Gymnasium and not of that modern education which I actually underwent in the Real-Schule in Wiener-Neustadt. Now the Gymnasium in that place was at that time still in the hands of the Cistercians. It was a strange play of forces that drew me to them and at the same time held me at a distance.
The circle of monks in the Theological Faculty at the University of Vienna, — the circle around Marie Eugenie delle Grazie, — consisted of Cistercians. With these Cistercians I had the most intimate theological conversations, the most intimate conversations about Christology. I only indicate this fact, seeing that it enters into my perception of that period of the 12th century, when the power of the School of Chartres poured its life into the Cistercian Order. For indeed, in the peculiarly attractive scholarship of the Cistercians there lived on — albeit in a corrupted way — something of the magic of the School of Chartres. Important and manifold enquiries were pursued by Cistercians whom I knew well. And to me those things were most important which revealed: It is indeed impossible for any of those who were the disciples of Chartres to incarnate at present, and yet it seems as though some of the individualities connected with that School became incorporated, if I may call it so, for brief periods, in some of the human beings who wore the Cistercian garments.
Separated, if I may put it so, by a thin wall only, there ever continued to work on the earth what was being prepared, as I have described it, in super-sensible worlds, leading to that great preparation in the first half of the 19th century.
And for me it was a highly remarkable experience to have that conversation to which I referred in my autobiography, — that conversation on the Christ Being with a priest of the Cistercian Order, which took place not in delle Grazie's house, but as we were leaving her house together. For the conversation was carried on, not from the present-day dogmatic standpoint of theology, but from the standpoint of Neo-Scholasticism. It went with full depth into the things that had once existed upon the earth, with Aristotelian clarity and definition of concept, and yet at the same time with Platonic spiritual light.
That which was to arise in Anthroposophy shone through already, though in secret and mysterious ways, through the events of the time. Though indeed it could not shine through into human souls where they were harnessed to one religious or social group or another, nevertheless it shone through, through the connections which certain human souls still had with the great spiritual currents that do, after all, work upon the earth.
Between the beginning of the Michael Age and the end of the Kali Yuga, it was indeed possible to recognise, in much that was working in individual human beings in the most varied domains of life, the language of the Spirit of the Time. For the speaking of the Spirit of the Time was a great call for the anthroposophical revelations to come. We saw the living rise of Anthroposophy as of a being that was to be born but that was still resting in a mother's womb. For it was resting in the womb of preparation that had worked from the first Christian centuries towards the School of Chartres, then to be continued in super-sensible spheres, in cooperation with what was here on the earth, in the Aristotelian defence of Christianity. It was out of these impulses, as we find them expressed in Alain de Lille's work Contra Hereticos, that there afterwards arose such a work as the Summa Fidei Catholicae contra Gentiles of Thomas Aquinas. And there arose that characteristic feature of the time which speaks to us from all the pictures in which we see the Dominican Doctors of the Church treading Averroes, Avicenna and the others under foot. For this indicates the living and spirited defence of spiritual Christianity, and yet also the transition to intellectualism.
My dear friends, I cannot describe this world of facts in any theoretic way; for by theorising these things are weakened and made pale. I wanted to place facts before your souls, — facts which will enable you to perceive those souls who passed before their present earthly life through a spiritual experience between death and a new birth in such a way that when on the earth they longed for Anthroposophy.
The most divergent, the most opposite conceptions work together in the world, weaving a living whole.
And today, those who were working in the great School of Chartres in the 12th century, and those who were united with them at the beginning of the 13th century in one of the greatest spiritual communities, — albeit in the super-sensible world — today again they are working together. The great spirits of Chartres are working with those who in unison with them subsequently cultivated Aristotelianism on the earth. It matters not, that some of them are working here on the earth, while others cannot yet descend to the earth. They are working together now, intending a new spiritual epoch in earthly evolution. And their great purpose now is to collect the souls who for a long time have been united with them, — to gather together the souls with whose help a new spiritual age can be founded. Their purpose is, in one way or another and within a comparatively short time, in the midst of an otherwise decadent civilization, to make possible a renewed cooperation in earthly life between the spirits of Chartres from the 12th century and the spirits of the 13th century who are united with them. Their purpose is to prepare, so that they will be able to work together in an earthly life, cultivating spirituality once more within the civilization which, apart from this, is heading into destruction and disintegration.
These are intentions that are being cherished today, not upon earth, but between earth and heaven, intentions I have wanted to explain to you. Enter deeply into all that lies in these intentions and you will feel, as a living influence upon your souls, the spiritual background of which the necessary foreground is the streaming together of human souls in this Anthroposophical Movement.
Thanks to The Rudolf Steiner Archive.
Continued in the next issue of SCR. Seven