by Rudolf Steiner
A lecture for members of the Anthroposophical Society based on stenographic notes not revised by the speaker
Aristotle teaching Alexander the Great
Dornach, September 10, 1924
We understand only the very smallest part of human history and of our own life if we consider it in its external aspect, I mean in that aspect which we see from the limited viewpoint of our earthly life between birth and death. It is impossible to comprehend the inner motives of history and life unless we turn our gaze to that spiritual background which underlies the outer, physical happenings. People do indeed describe as history the events that take place in the physical world, and they often say that this history represents causes and effects. Thus they will approach the events of the second decade of the 20th century, describing them as the effects of events in the first decade and so forth. Yet how is so great an illusion possible? It is as though we saw a running stream of water throwing waves up on to the surface and tried to explain each successive wave as the result of the preceding one, whereas the forces bringing forth the waves are really penetrating upwards from below. So it is indeed. That which takes place at any point of historic evolution or of human life in general is moulded out of the spiritual world, and as to these events we can speak of causes and effects only to a very slight extent.
I will show you by a whole series of examples how we must include the spiritual events along with the external happenings in order to gain a true picture of what underlies the latter.
Our present age in its spiritual aspects is connected, as you know, with what is called in spiritual life the dominion of Michael, and this dominion of Michael is connected in turn with what the Anthroposophical Movement in the deepest sense intends, with what this movement ought to be and do. Thus the events of which I shall speak are not unconnected, as we shall see next time, with the destiny, the karma of the Anthroposophical Society, and hence too with the karma of the great majority of the individual human beings who find themselves within this society.
Some of the things on which I shall touch this evening are already known to you from earlier lectures. But today I wish to consider from a certain point of view the known and the, as yet, unknown. Since the Mystery of Golgotha we see a continuous stream of Christian evolution passing through the civilised world. I have often described the directions taken by this Christian evolution in the successive centuries. But it is also not be denied that many other influences entered into this stream of Christian evolution. For had this not been so, the civilisation of our present time could not be permeated by that intense materialism by which it is in fact permeated.
True, it cannot be denied that the Christian creeds and confessions themselves have contributed not a little to this materialism. Yet they have done so not out of truly Christian impulses but out of other impulses which entered the stream of Christian evolution from altogether different quarters.
Let us take a certain period — the 8th and the beginning of the 9th century A.D. We see the personality of Charlemagne, for instance, carrying Christianity in all directions among the non-Christian peoples who were still living in Europe at that time, though he does so by methods of which we with our present humanitarian ideas cannot always approve.
Now among the non-Christian people of that time those especially are interesting who were influenced by the streams that came over from Asia through northern Africa to Europe, proceeding from Arabism and Islam. In this connection we must understand Islam in the wider sense of the term.
Something over 500 years after the Mystery of Golgotha we see the rise of all the old elements of Arabian world-conception in Arabism, Islam and much that was connected with these. We see above all a rich and varied scholarship, but a scholarship that was given an unchristian shape. We see all this spread out of Asia by powerful and warlike campaigns through northern Africa to the west and south of Europe. Then gradually this stream died away and was lost so far as the more outer world is concerned. But it by no means died away in the inward development of the spiritual life. When the more external spread of Arabism into Europe was already dying out, we saw this same Arabism continuing to spread in a more inward way. This is one of the places where we have to look from external history towards the spiritual background. You will remember what I said in our last lecture on karma, that in considering the successive earthly lives of individual human beings, we cannot draw conclusions from the external attitude and features of a person as to the nature of his former life on earth. It is the more deeply inward impulses that matter. Thus it is with the important personalities of history — it is the more inward impulses that matter.
We see the results of former civilisation-epochs carried into later ones by the personalities of history, i.e., by the human beings themselves, but we also see them changing in the process. And by studying the external aspect we may not immediately recognise these impulses in the new form in which a human being carries and expresses them in a new incarnation. Let us now consider a deeply inward stream of this kind.
When Charlemagne was spreading Christianity — in a somewhat primitive manner — in the then primitive civilisation of Europe, there lived in the East a personality who stood really on a far higher level of culture, I mean Haroun al Raschid.
At his court in Asia Minor, Haroun al Raschid gathered the most eminent spiritual and intellectual figures of his time. Illustrious was the court of Haroun al Raschid, and held in high esteem even by Charlemagne himself. Architecture, poetry, astrology, geography, history, anthropology — all of these were brilliantly represented by the most illustrious of men. Some of these men still carried in them much of the knowledge of ancient Initiation-Science.
Haroun al Raschid himself was an organiser in the grandest style. He was able to make a kind of universal academy of his court where the several departments of what the East at that time possessed in art and science were joined into a great organic whole. And side by side with him there stood above all one other personality, who truly bore within him the elements of ancient Initiation.
It is indeed not the case that an Initiate in a former incarnation must necessarily appear as an Initiate in a later one. You may indeed raise the question, my dear friends, for it is suggested by many things that have been stated in these lectures: Were there not Initiates in ancient times? Where then have they gone? Have they not been reincarnated? Where are they today? Where were they in recent centuries? They were here indeed but we must bear in mind that one who was an Initiate in a former incarnation must above all make use in a later incarnation of that external bodily nature which the new age can provide. And the recent evolution of mankind provides no bodies so plastic, so soft and mobile that what lived in such an individuality in a former incarnation can come to light in him directly. Thus the Initiates receive quite different tasks in which what they had in their former initiation does indeed work unconsciously, in the power of the impulses they give, but does not appear in the outer form of the working of an initiate.
Thus at the Court of Haroun al Raschid there lived a certain counsellor, who possessed an extraordinarily deep insight, though it was not in that incarnation the direct insight of an initiate. He rendered the very greatest service to Haroun al Raschid.
These two men, Haroun al Raschid and his counsellor, went through the gate of death, and having arrived yonder in the spiritual realm, they still witnessed the final phases of the spread of Arabism, on the one hand through Africa to Spain and thence far into Europe, and on the other hand into Central Europe. They were great powers, these two individualities, and Haroun al Raschid did many things during that life contributing to the spread of Arabism here in the physical world.
Indeed Arabism had taken on a peculiar form at the court of Haroun al Raschid. It was a form proceeding in its turn from many and varied formations which art and science had received for a long time past in Asia. The last great wave of evolution towards Asia had gone forth from the preceding age of Michael. It was the Grecian spiritual life, the Grecian spirituality and artistic sense, synthesised in the community of Alexander the Great and Aristotle. The flower of the Grecian spiritual life had been carried across to Asia and Africa by Alexander the Great with extraordinary impetus and energy, yet at the same time in a way that was exemplary for the spreading of a spiritual impulse. All this was permeated with the spirit which found its scientific expression in Aristotelianism in Asia Minor and Africa. Thus we may say in general that the mind of Arabism and Orientalism was shaped and permeated by those impulses which ancient Greece brought forth in Aristotle and which were spread into the world so brilliantly by Alexander. We look back even several centuries before the Mystery of Golgotha. We look back to the campaigns of Alexander the Great where the treasures of wisdom to which I just referred were spread far and wide. And from that time throughout the centuries down to Haroun al Raschid who lived in the 8th century A.D., we find in Asia a mind and a receptiveness for Grecian spiritual life in its Aristotelian form.
Nevertheless this spiritual life had taken on a peculiar shape there. Powerful as it was, magnificent and penetrating, deeply united with Arabism and permeating it, this Aristotelianism that flourished at the court of Haroun al Raschid and was cultivated by him and his counsellor and those around them, nay more, that was even permeated there by ancient oriental wisdom of Initiation, it was not that genuine spiritual life which had been cultivated between Aristotle and Alexander themselves, for example. It had taken on forms which were little inclined to enter into Christianity. Thus yonder in Asia we see a certain Aristotelianism and Alexandrianism, brilliantly cultivated under the aegis of Haroun al Raschid and his counsellor. It represented one pole of Aristotle, that pole which is averse to Christianity, which took on a spiritual form (above all a kind of Pantheism), but which by its very essence never would nor could unite with Christianity.
With this tendency of an ancient spiritual life that would not enter into Christianity, Haroun al Raschid and his counsellor went through the gate of death. And having gone through the gate of death, all their effort, all their longing, all their power was directed from the spiritual world to continue to play a part in historic evolution in the spreading of the spiritual life of Arabism from Asia into Europe, thus continuing what had formerly been achieved by war and other methods. From the spiritual world after their death they sent down spiritual rays intended to penetrate Europe with Arabism in its spiritual life.
Thus we see Haroun al Raschid taking the following spiritual line of development after his death, watching with interest all that took place for the spread of Arabism from Asia Minor through the South of Europe and through Spain — watching it and continuing it further. And correspondingly (for the human being living in the spiritual world partakes in a sense in what is here below in the physical) — the other man took a different path in the spiritual world which in its projection would appear as a more northerly line, from the Black Sea towards Middle Europe. Thus, we may turn and look upward to these two individualities, following them in their spirit-wanderings, which may indeed be thus projected down on to the physical plane.
Now you know how Aristotelianism, Alexandrianism, had spread and entered historically into Christianity. In the 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th and even into the 13th century, one of the most popular subjects of narrative everywhere in Europe was that connected with Alexander the Great. Thus we have the wonderful poem, the “Song of Alexander” by the priest Lamprecht, extolling the works of Alexander but connecting them everywhere with the spiritual world. He describes the education of Alexander, his life, his campaigns into Asia, and everywhere he brings out what was living spiritually in this earthly life of Alexander. For as we know, all earthly life is connected with spiritual things, only the ordinary consciousness does not see it. All these spiritual elements were contained in the medieval treatment of the subject. So too, Aristotelianism spread in Christian Europe even into scholasticism. We find Aristotelian concepts everywhere, only it is the other pole of Aristotelianism. Yonder in Asia it was in an Arabist form; here in Europe, in a Christian form. The “Song of Alexander” is permeated through and through by a Christian spirit, and Aristotelianism too was cultivated in Europe in an essentially Christian form.
Nay more, we find this extraordinary process: the Christian doctors of the Church, their minds equipped with Aristotle, battling against those who had carried the other Aristotle across from Asia into Spain, spreading an unchristian doctrine. On all hands we see the conflict of Aristotelianism in the Christian fathers of the Church, we see it in the pictures that were painted in a later time, the Church fathers holding in their hand what they had gained from Aristotle, and treading under foot Averröes and the others who stood for their kind of Aristotelianism that had come through Alexandrianism into Europe. This was taking place externally. But at the same time, if we may describe it out of spiritual research, Haroun al Raschid and his counsellor lived on, having passed through the gate of death as I just indicated, and needless to say, Alexander and Aristotle themselves lived on. Once only they paid a fleeting visit to the earth in the first Christian centuries in a district not without interest for the Anthroposophical Movement. Then they returned again into the spiritual world and they were together in the spiritual world at a certain time after Haroun al Raschid and his counsellor had left the physical plane once more. They themselves, the real individualities of Aristotle and Alexander, took different paths from Haroun al Raschid and his counsellor. For they went forward with the Christian evolution. They went westward with the evolution of Christianity.
And now the most important and essential events took place in the 9th century. And this is the extraordinary thing.
The event which from the spiritual world was of the greatest importance for the spiritual development in Europe, coincided in the super-sensible worlds with an external event in which it is by no means easy to recognise it. Nevertheless it coincided. In the very year A.D. 869 something of immense significance took place in the spiritual worlds, while down below the 8th Ecumenical Council was taking place in Constantinople where it was declared dogmatically that one must not say, if one would be a true Christian, that man consists of body, soul and spirit. Trichotomy, as it was called, was declared heretical. I have often referred to this fact before and expressed it in these words, that in the Council of A.D. 869 the spirit was abolished. Thenceforth one was bound to say: man consists of body and soul, and the soul has certain spiritual qualities. Now what took place in this way down below in Constantinople was the earthly projection of a spiritual event — an event which men do not recognise but which was of immense significance for European spiritual history, an event extending over many years, which can, however, be dated to this very year.
In the 9th century the time had already come when European humanity, even in its spiritual life, had altogether forgotten what had been quite familiar to the true Christians in the first Christian centuries, I mean that Christ was a Being who had formerly been in the Sun, whose life had been connected with the Sun, and who had then incarnated in the body of Jesus of Nazareth, as we have often described here. This knowledge was familiar to the earliest Christians, the knowledge of Christ as the Sun Being, as a Being connected with the cosmic world through His dwelling in the Sun before the Mystery of Golgotha: the Christ not only as the Sun Being but as the Being united with all the planetary existence that is connected with the Sun.
But this cosmic origin of the Christ Impulse was no longer known in the 9th century. The full greatness of the Christ Impulse had been put aside. Nearer and nearer people approached what was called the purely human, that is to say, what takes place on the physical plane alone. They no longer explained in the Gospels that which points out into the Cosmos, but they took the content of the Gospels and told it like an earthly epic narrative. Really to understand what this change signified we must bear in mind that in the true evolution of mankind there was indeed a Christianity before Christ, before the Mystery of Golgotha. We must take in real earnestness such words as those of St. Augustine who declared: Christianity was always there, only those who were Christians before the Mystery of Golgotha were called by other names.
This saying is indeed only the outer expression of something of immense and deep significance. Everywhere in the true Mysteries, nay even in those places which though not in themselves the Mysteries, were permeated by knowledge and impulses from the Mysteries, there was indeed a Christianity before the Mystery of Golgotha. Only they spoke of the Christ Being as of a Being who is in the Sun, and whom one can behold and with whom one can work when through the wisdom of Initiation one has reached the point at which the real Sun life in its spiritual content is actually present to one.
Thus in the ancient Mysteries they spoke of the Christ who was to come. They spoke not of an earthly Christ who had lived or who was present on the earth, but they spoke of the Coming Christ who would be here in the future and whom they still sought for in the Sun.
Now even in later times such knowledge and tradition continued and entered into certain places which Christianity had not yet reached even in the centuries after the fife of Christ.
During our recent stay in England during the Summer Course at Torquay in the West of England, not far from the place [Tintagel, North Cornwall] where Arthur was with his followers once upon a time (we were able to visit this actual place), a result of spiritual research was given to me, pointing to a belated working of this kind in a pre-Christian Christianity. For at this place it had indeed been preserved into a far later time. The content of the King Arthur Legend referred to later times by a scholarship which is not at all scholarly in respect of the real facts, reaches back in reality into a very early epoch, and it is indeed a deep impression which one may receive when one stands at that place, looking down into the sea, as once upon a time the Knights of the Round Table looked out upon the sea from there. Even today, if one is receptive to these things, one receives a very real impression which tells what it was that the Knights of the Round Table of King Arthur did in their gigantic castle. The last relics of the castle, the crumbling stones, the latest witnesses to its existence, stand there to this day. Gigantic is the impression of this place of ruins, entirely broken down as it is, and from there one looks out into the ocean. It is a mountainous promontory with the sea on either side. The weather changes almost hour by hour. We look out into the sea and watch the glittering sunshine reflected in the water. Then the next moment there is wind and tempest. Looking with occult vision at what takes place there to this day, we receive a magnificent impression. There live and weave the elemental spirits evolving out of the activities of the light and air and of the foaming waves of the sea that turn and beat upon the shore. The life and movement and interplay of these elemental spirits gives even today a vivid and direct impression of how the sun works in its own nature in the earth, and meets with what grows from the earth below by way of powers and spirits of the Elements. There we receive even today the impression: such was the immediate original source of inspiration of the twelve who were together with King Arthur. We see them standing there, these Knights of the Round Table, watching the play of the powers of light and air, water and earth, the elemental spirits. We see too how these elemental spirits were messengers to them, bringing to them the messages from sun and moon and stars which entered into the impulses of their work, especially in the more ancient time. And much of this was preserved through the centuries of the post-Christian time, even into the 9th century of which I was just speaking.
It was the task of the Order of King Arthur, founded in that region by the instructions of Merlin, to cultivate and civilise Europe at a time when all Europe in its spiritual life stood under the influence of the strangest elemental beings. More than will be believed today, the ancient life of Europe needs to be comprehended in this sense. We must see in it the working of elementary spiritual beings right into the life of humanity.
The Arthurian life, as I said, goes back into pre-Christian times, and before the Gospel came there, even in its oldest forms, there lived in it the knowledge, at any rate the practical instinctive knowledge of Christ as the Sun Spirit, before the Mystery of Golgotha. And in all that the Knights of the Round Table of King Arthur did, this same Cosmic Christ was living, the Christ who though not under the name of Christ, was also living in the impetus with which Alexander the Great had carried the Grecian culture and spiritual life into Asia. There were, so to speak, later ‘campaigns of Alexander’ undertaken by the Knights of the Round Table of King Arthur into Europe, even as the real campaigns of Alexander had gone from Macedonia to Asia.
I mention this as an example, which could be investigated in the most recent times, to show how the worship of the sun, that is to say, the ancient worship of the Christ, was cultivated in such a place, though needless to say it was the Christ as He was before the Mystery of Golgotha. There all things were cosmic, even to the transition of the cosmos into the earthly Elements, the elemental spirits who lived in light and air and water and in the earth, for even in these there lived the cosmic forces. It was not possible at that time in the knowledge of these Elements to deny the cosmic principle that they contained. Thus even in the 9th century, in the paganism of Europe, there still lived much of the pre-Christian Christianity. That is the remarkable fact. Moreover even in that time the belated followers of European paganism understood the Cosmic Christ far more worthily and truly than those who received the Christ in the Christianity that was spread officially under that name. Strangely we can see the life around King Arthur radiate into the present time, continued even into our time, placed into the immediate present by the sudden power of destiny. Thus I beheld clairvoyantly a member of the Round Table of King Arthur, who lived the life of the Round Table in a very deep and intense way, though he stood a little aside from the others who were given more to the adventures of their knighthood. This was a knight who lived a rather contemplative life, though it was not like the Knighthood of the Grail, for this did not exist in Arthur's circle. What the knights did in the fulfilment of their tasks, which in accordance with that age were for the most part warlike campaigns, was called by the name ‘Adventure’. But there was one who stood out from among the others as I saw him, revealing a life truly wonderful in its inspiration. For we must imagine the knights going out onto the spur of land, seeing the wonderful play of clouds above, the waves beneath, the surging interplay of the one and the other, which gives a mighty and majestic impression to this very day. In all this they saw the Spiritual and were inspired by it, and this gave them their strength. But there was one among them who penetrated most deeply into this surging and foaming of the waves, with the spiritual beings wildly rising in the foam with their figures grotesque to earthly sight. He had a wonderful perception of the way in which the marvellously pure sun-influence played into the rest of nature, living and weaving in the spiritual life and movement of the surface of the ocean. He saw what lived in the light nature of the sun, borne up by the watery atmosphere as we can see to this day, the sunlight approaching the trees and the spaces between the trees quite differently than in other regions, glittering back from between the trees, and playing often in rainbow colours. Such a knight there was among them, one who had a peculiarly penetrating vision of these things. I was much concerned to follow his life into later time to see the individuality again. For just in this case something would needs enter into a later incarnation of a Christian life that was almost primitive and pagan, that was Christian only to the extent that I have just described. And this in fact was what appeared, for that Knight of the Round Table of King Arthur was born again as Arnold Böcklin. This riddle which had followed me for an immensely long time, can only be solved in connection with the Round Table of King Arthur.
Thus you see that we have a spiritually tangible Christianity reaching to this very day, a Christianity before the Mystery of Golgotha which shed its light even into the time that I have just outlined.
Now while the 8th Ecumenical Council was being held in Constantinople, the human beings who had gone through the gate of death, and who knew well what had been the Christianity before the Mystery of Golgotha, met together, if I may put it so, in a simultaneous heavenly council in which Aristotle, Alexander, Haroun al Raschid and his counsellor, and many of the circle of the Round Table of King Arthur, were foregathered.
There they were at pains to overcome the Arabism living in the individualities of Haroun al Raschid and the other — to overcome it by the Christian impulses that lived in the will of Alexander and Aristotle. But this did not succeed. The individualities were ill-adapted to it.
There was, however, another result of that heavenly council. Thenceforth the ancient Cosmic Christianity lived still more deeply in the human beings who came from the Round Table of King Arthur than in their former, more rough-and-ready attitudes as Knights of King Arthur. And in that council that was held above the earth, face to face with what was likely then to happen in the future, which they could foresee through the Michael power that was working with them, Alexander and Aristotle made their resolutions, so to speak, resolving how the spiritual life in Europe was to receive the new impulses of a Christianised Aristotelianism. But Haroun al Raschid and his counsellor adhered to their old ways. Now it is of the greatest significance to trace the further development in European spiritual history of what had taken place in that heavenly council, if I may call it so. For looking at their further wanderings in the spiritual life, we find that the great organiser Haroun al Raschid who had lived so mightily on earth in the time of Charlemagne, returns again. He appears at a later time in the very midst of Christendom, but he has taken his Arabism with him through the life between death and a new birth. Nor need it be outwardly similar to the Arabic element in its outward configuration as it appears again in the physical world. It clothes itself in the new forms, the while in these new forms it still remains in essence the old, Islam and Arabism. It appears again, active and effective in European spiritual life, inasmuch as Haroun al Raschid is reincarnated in Francis Bacon of Verulam.
And it appears once more in a different way, even very strangely permeated with Christianity, inasmuch as Haroun al Raschid's counsellor is born again in Central Europe, and carries his influence far and wide in Europe as Amos Comenius. Much in the spiritual life of Europe took place in connection with what the resurrected spirits of the Court of Haroun al Raschid in these two human figures founded in Europe.
All this had first been prepared before it took place in actuality; for that which afterwards came forth in Francis Bacon and Comenius had been working spiritually from the spiritual world for a long time, and it had taken on the most intense forms as a result of the heavenly council of 869. And against it there now worked the other pole, the pole which had accepted Alexandrianism and Aristotelianism for the stream of Christianity. It was expressed in the most manifold influences which worked themselves out in lonely centres of cultivation of Christian spiritual life.
We recognise one such centre especially in the School of Chartres, to which I have now often referred in the hearing of some though not of all who are present today. The School of Chartres which flourished especially in the 12th century, contained a mighty spiritual impulse. Sylvester of Chartres, Alanus ab Insulis and other spirits who taught like those two, or who were otherwise connected with the school, had very much in them of the ancient wisdom of Initiation. And though they themselves could not be called Initiates in the full and true sense of the word, nevertheless there was much within them of the old wisdom of Initiation. The books which they produced look like long catalogues of words, but at that time it was not possible to express in any other way what one wished to give in fullness of life in books. It had to be in rhetoric as a kind of catalogue of words. He however who knows how to read will perceive very much in these books of what was taught in a most wonderful way to many pupils spiritually permeated by the great teachers of Chartres.
Truly a wonderful spiritual star shone over the spiritual life of Europe in that School of Chartres, where to this day there stand the wonderful architectural forms of the Cathedral, revealing most beautifully the work of many centuries. In other places too, this spiritual life was living. It was a spiritual life working in spiritual ways and giving an altogether different and more spiritual insight into nature than what afterwards took its place. It is interesting to see the manifold ways in which that spiritual life rayed out. In France, in one place after another we can see how in the teaching that was given, the spirit of Chartres lived on in the universities carried over into Southern France, and even into Italy. But it lived not only in the teachings, it lived on in an immediately spiritual way. It is interesting how Brunetto Latini, having been an Ambassador in Spain during a certain time, returned to Florence, the city of his fathers, heard of its misfortune even from a distance, and thus suffered a powerful convulsion of his mind, to which was added a slight attack of sunstroke. In this bodily condition the human being is easily accessible to spiritual influences that work in a spiritual way. It is indeed well known how Brunetto Latini on his way to Florence experienced what was actually a kind of elementary initiation. Brunetto Latini became Dante's teacher, and the spirituality of the Commedia proceeds from the teachings which Brunetto Latini gave to his pupil Dante.
In all this there lives what was agreed supersensibly, if I may put it so, in the spiritual Council of 869. For the inspiration of the teachings of Chartres, the inspiration of Brunetto Latini, and even the inspiration of Dante, enabling cosmic things to live in Dante's poem — all these things are connected with the impulse that proceeded from that super-sensible Congress in the 9th century A.D.
We must see all these things together, the spiritual life of Europe from the old time of Alexander, in the time of the Mystery of Golgotha, in the time of the School of Chartres; and we shall see how we can trace it still farther into later times. We must see in their mutual interplay what takes place in the super-sensible and its shadowed image down here in the physical world. Then only do we really begin to understand what must be called the stream of Michael today, and what this stream of Michael intends.
Then we can grasp the will of the Anthroposophical Movement according to the stream of Michael. I shall say more about this in the next lectures.