The Risen Christ and the Etheric Christ

Alfred Heidenreich

Lecture I.

The Fall from Paradise and its Redemption by Christ

Tonight we are undertaking a very serious task — historically, one not undertaken for some fifteen hundred years or more. Not since the first three Christian centuries have any thinking people presumed to speak in detail about those intimate, esoteric problems connected with the nature of the resurrection body of Christ. In order to trace historical dates we shall have to go back to the days when the Gnostics — that sect in early Christian times which considered such subjects — were an honored part of early Christianity, to that time when such matters were still discussed by the seekers and also by the teachers of Christian thought and knowledge. In retrospect we can perhaps understand why the discussion of these deeply esoteric subjects had to be discontinued.

The suppression of the Gnostic movement in the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries, although it robbed Western civilization of a vast measure of spiritual truth, can possibly be justified because of the fact that they were almost one-sided in their emphasis on the spiritual, the cosmic nature of Christ. If the Gnostic movement had survived it seems possible in the light of history that knowledge of the cosmic nature of Christ might indeed have been handed down and survived. But there was great danger that the fact of the incarnation of the cosmic Christ in the historic Jesus would have been lost because it was the Gnostics who developed the theory of “the apparent body of Christ,” a theory known as Docetism. This theory suggested that either someone else died on the cross (some had the idea that Simon of Cyrene took the place of Jesus in the last moment) or, as other Gnostics taught, Christ had really withdrawn from the body of Jesus before the Passion.

There was great danger that these thinkers, who had largely drawn their concepts from the ancient mysteries, might indeed have missed the vital fact of the full indwelling of Christ in Jesus throughout the hours on the cross, which ultimately produced the resurrection body. Because this fundamental truth that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” might have been lost, it becomes possible to see some justification for the fact that the Gnostics were suppressed and finally exterminated.

We should gather from this brief recapitulation that if now after fifteen hundred years or so we reconsider such a tremendous subject, we are indeed making history. Actually this gathering of Anthroposophists tonight could truthfully be described as a continuation of those earnest meetings of early church fathers in the second and third centuries where, in the inner circles of the instructed and partly initiated, these things were discussed. Nothing less fits the historic situation in which we find ourselves today. We can approach this subject only with great humility and with full appreciation of the fact that our knowledge and faculties, and our efforts in the study of Rudolf Steiner's writings, are not yet adequate to deal with it in a satisfactory manner.

I take my start from certain considerations contained in the cycle Building Stones Towards an Understanding of The Mystery of Golgotha. In one of those lectures Rudolf Steiner speaks about the nature of human death. He introduces this subject by pointing out that death in the animal world and death in the human sphere are two totally different phenomena, a fact which does not immediately appeal to popular understanding. So far as we can see there is great similarity between the two. But Steiner, viewing it more inwardly, says that from an adequate study of the physiology of the animal, every organ, the total process of the animal body, indicates that it is organized for death. In the actual formation, in the very substance, in the cooperative functioning of those organs which make up the animal body, there is implicit an indication of an organization towards death — that when its organs reach a certain stage of development they cease to function and die. Then the Group-soul withdraws from that particular part of its physical manifestation. But, he continues to say, if you study the organs of the human body in the same way you find no such indication; you find in fact that the human body is organized for immortality. Steiner says that the human Group-soul, the Species-soul which makes the human body a manifestation of the species MAN and produces this individual body as the bearer of an individual human spirit — this Group-soul should operate in such a way as to render the body immortal. It would not withdraw from its parts but would dwell in these bodies as long as the Earth exists. Then he points out the spiritual problem posed by the fact that obviously we die and leave behind a corpse, the manifestation of death. How then did this come to be? He says that one discovers that death or dying issues from the soul; that it is through the soul that the possibility and then the necessity for death occurs. This is what lies hidden in that old and mysterious expression “original sin,” which is not anything that an individual commits but which refers to that event which we describe as “The Fall.” As a moral event this has so affected human souls that they carry the necessity of death into the human body. Human death cannot be understood by any concept formed along the lines of natural scientific thought. It can be comprehended only if one understands that a moral event can have a natural result; that the moral order of existence can affect the natural order; that at a certain time, through the event described in the Old Testament as “The Fall,” an impulse was given to the human soul which gradually so corrupted the organs of life in the human body that they received the necessity of death. Then through the great act of Christ this impulse was undone.

But between this act and ultimate redemption there lies a vast process and many detailed facts which we may now presume to consider. Where can we trace in MAN spiritually, psychologically, medically, symptoms of this sickness originally produced by the soul, which has so transformed and corrupted human nature that it must die? I think we may point to four functions in man where a deep natural instinct would show some evidence. Our sense perception is the first process to consider. This has become crude, purely external, materially defined and circumscribed. We no longer see the aura, that spiritual counterpart of the material world, not even in living things. In this connection we may cite the book of Genesis: “Their eyes were opened and they saw that they were naked.” The human figure itself is only a focal point for the fact that as a result of The Fall we see all things naked, that is to say in material outline only. Deep in the human soul is a sense which will always respond to the suggestion that there is something wrong with us as a species, though we may regard ourselves as natural and normal human beings, that in fact our sense perception is more material than it need be.

The second functional sphere in man is breathing, which we take more or less for granted, breathing out carbon dioxide and breathing in oxygen, which we use up so completely that were this room to be hermetically sealed and we to go on breathing, by tomorrow morning we should all be dead. Literally we breathe in the breath of life, and breathe out the breath of death. In Eastern tradition the fact is not simply taken for granted that the plant world, through the opposite process of assimilation, establishes an equilibrium. Rather it is felt that there is a kind of moral compensation; the plants in their innocence redeem the guilt of MAN which shows itself in his poisonous breath. This moral view of nature makes an Eastern mind deeply grateful, deeply indebted to the innocent world of plants which so redeems the guilty world of MAN. Among medieval mystics and alchemists the realization of this fact was very much alive, too.

Another sphere to which one can point in this matter of the senses is that of the whole method of procreation of the human race, which one feels instinctively is nearer the level of the animal world than innate human dignity demands and desires.

And finally one would point to the whole sphere of metabolism, particularly that of digestion, where a fine spiritual instinct might feel that the extensive destruction which works there (and it is possible to go into a detailed study of those processes and the poisonous nature of human excretion, etc.) — that this gives a picture of an almost tangible egotism. That the human excretions, the secretions, are charged with a kind of destructive egotism is again evidence of some kind of sickness, some kind of “Fall.” Indeed, in some agricultural experiments one can trace a sphere of destruction in us on which we naturally must live.

As a step, therefore, towards understanding that body which Christ has turned into a resurrection body, we should mobilize what we have left in us as spiritual instincts and see that natural, healthy man as he is and must be today still shows traces of a descent from what one could surmise as his original, better, more spiritual nature. We can perceive that there has been a descent, that it is one of the basic facts of human nature that we live as individuals of a species, as members of a universal earthly family, which are below what they might be and were at one time.

I have purposely put this in a somewhat simple way at first so that if we now go on to describe this disease in spiritual scientific terms we shall perhaps have brought a little of our heart into the matter. Because the worst error we could make is to describe these things, however brilliantly and cleverly, as a kind of theory and not be able to unite our sense of responsibility, the full forces of the artist, the heart-man in us, with this tremendous problem. [This paragraph is presented exactly as it was published ... the reader is free to interpret it in their own, individual way. e.Ed]

But now let us review the more specific description which Rudolf Steiner gives of the corruption of the human being. Perhaps the most extensive contribution towards this is to be found in the third and fourth lectures of the cycle The World of the Senses and the World of the Spirit given in Hanover in 1911. Steiner approaches the subject by viewing the disturbed interaction of the four bodies, of the four constituent members of the human being, which came about through that moral event which, in its mythological vesture is called “The Fall From Paradise.” He follows it, step by step, through the relationship, always of two of the several bodies together. He begins by showing the disturbed balance between the physical and the etheric bodies, saying it resulted from the poison injected into the soul at that time — that in certain regions of the organism the physical body became more active, intruding upon the etheric body more than it should. Consequently certain organs are heavier and more material than they should be. Those are the sense organs.

Steiner then speaks in greater detail of the problem I first mentioned in biblical terms: “Their eyes were opened.” He says that in the sphere of the sense organs the physical body asserts itself in an illegitimate way against the organizing forces of life in the etheric body. It is for this reason that our eyes are so comparatively material. An eye is less permeated by life than almost any part of the body; it is almost a telescopic lens, a photographic camera in its construction. If it had not been for the disturbance of The Fall we would not have this material eye as we have it now, but would have seeing activity in its place. That seeing activity would not observe the outer world of light and color but would feel an immensely differentiated world of flowing, ruling will. MAN would be aware that he lives in a universe which is essentially an ocean of spiritual will intensely differentiated. For our present perception the world appears in a great variety of created things. But the human body was originally so organized that MAN would not have seen the finished material creation but would have witnessed the process of creation, the will forces in action. Instead of the camera eye, we would have had a living activity which would have been able to touch, to sense in the most differentiated way, this great ocean of creative will. This would have been our seeing. In a similar way our hearing would have operated. Steiner says you can compare the set of little bones inside the ear with the keyboard of the piano — a surprising comparison; but he goes on to say it is something almost as material as a piano in its action. The physical forces assert themselves; they intrude into a sphere which should be fully permeated by the process of life. So we hear sounds externally, and as we know, very often suffer from them; whereas, we should have had an organ of perception for the universal spiritual harmonies which permeate this ocean of differentiated, creative will.

Rudolf Steiner says that the only sense organ in which to some extent we can still feel the creative will is the hand. We can still use the hand freely as a kind of creative organ. We can also use it as a kind of sense organ, primarily for the sense of touch. The hand is in a halfway position between Paradise and The Fall. While our hands can still operate creatively, our eyes can not, our tongues hardly at all. With smell we come upon a kind of borderline. We know that we can smell in sleep, that a person's dreams can be influenced by scent. Experiments show that dreams can be induced to reproduce the scene of one's first conscious encounter with a particular smell. I am speaking only of the five senses, not attempting in this lecture to go into the full physiology of the twelve senses which Steiner differentiates. It is enough for the moment to see the principle by which he describes the disturbance of the interaction between the physical and etheric bodies.

Similarly he continues to describe the very complicated disharmony between the etheric and astral bodies. Where the etheric asserts its dominance over the astral, it involves the whole glandular system. As a result we can cry. Weeping is actually a result of The Fall. The glands react through over-assertion of the etheric forces on the astral. The secretion of tears is a result of the lack of balance. Perspiration is another one. “In the sweat of thy brow thou shalt eat thy bread” relates to the story of The Fall. Steiner specifically mentions perspiration, but generally he refers to the whole glandular system. The ductless glands, the whole endocrine system and their secretions, and ultimately the glands of the procreative organs operate as they do as a result of the disturbed balance brought about by the intrusion of the etheric upon the astral. And that too, as we shall see, has certain results on the whole material nature of man. It produces in him an almost animalistic enjoyment of sensuous comfort.

He then continues to show in another functional sphere, the digestive, that the astral overpowers the etheric, which is the reason why metabolism, digestion, is so destructive. If it were not so, if there were proper balance, our digestive system would operate as a creator of beauty, an etheric sculptor, so to say. It cannot do so. The intrusions of astrality over the etheric in the digestive sphere break down and destroy the food and produce those tremendous poisons which can be analyzed in the secretions and excretions which result from metabolism.

Finally he describes the disturbed balance between man's ego and his astrality — and here I should like to translate from the German, as I go, in order to present the subject as nearly as possible in Rudolf Steiner's own words. Again he asks the question, “Just what was this temptation in Paradise?” Then, “Let us put it as simply as possible. It consisted in this, that Lucifer approached the human ego which MAN should have received in purity along with his astral body given him on the Moon, and said, ‘Look here, MAN, it's very boring always to walk about with this simple center I AM and look at the rest of the world from outside. It would be much more interesting to plunge into the astral body. I will give you the power to do so, then you need not hold back but look into this astral double of yours. You can really immerse yourself in it. Of course you might get drowned in it, but I will help you. I will give you power so that you can immerse yourself without drowning.’ So, the ego immersed itself — and became inoculated with Luciferic power. Thereby was brought about the preponderance of the power of the ego over the astral body.”

As a result of this overpowering element in the ego, which is Luciferic, MAN is deeply bound into the processes of thought, feeling, and willing, which otherwise he would merely have used as instruments, somewhat as one plays upon musical instruments. But now he is drawn right into them. He lives in them, they absorb him. And because he retains his egotism by Luciferic means he makes thinking, feeling, and willing also Luciferic. That is the secret of the disturbed interaction between our ego and our astrality.

In this lecture Rudolf Steiner points to the first beginnings of man's spiritual training, the way by which he can escape his servitude. It reminds me of C. S. Lewis's description of the human ego as “a coward, a bully, a tale-bearer, and a liar,” which is a remarkable description. You find in Steiner's lecture a similar description, but he indicates also the remedy. He gives four exercises: the training in wonder, in devotion to truth, in recognizing the marvelous spiritual ordering of the universe, and in man's voluntary cooperation with this order and integration into it. These are four ways in which the healing of the ego can be attempted. This healing may be begun now. MAN may start within himself to reverse that process he once submitted to.

But before we discuss this reversal, and the activity we observe in Christ during his incarnation in Jesus up to the moment of His death, we must try to understand another riddle. How did it come about that our bodies altogether have become as material as they are? Steiner gives a fairly detailed description in Lecture Three of the cycle I mentioned and have quoted from. Most of what I shall now quote you will find in Lecture Four.

There he speaks in a broad way about the origin of matter. It is there that you find this great basic description: Matter is spirit burst into visibility. He makes the remarkable comparison to water falling and splashing in every direction as it meets a resisting surface. But, he says, imagine this to be the invisible spirit radiating. The spirit needs no obstruction, however, but can radiate by its own action, and in this radiation matter originates. Spirit bursts into visible matter. Matter everywhere can be called “broken spirituality.” Paradisal man would have been fully permeated with spirit and so would have had no desire to burst into matter. He acquired a material body because the spirit permeating him was arrested by the disturbed harmonies in his organism. Thus, for the first time it became possible for him to have a corpse.

Then Steiner goes on to say that where the spirit struck against the physical body, allowing the etheric body to be overpowered, nerve substance came into being. If you study the whole cerebro-spinal system with the eye of the spiritual scientist you will find it the type of matter which has come about through the fact that spirit is arrested in a sphere where physical force can overpower the etheric in a disharmonious way. That is the basis for the creation of nerve matter. At the next stage, where the etheric overpowers the astral, muscular matter originates. Where the astral overpowers the etheric, there, in a somewhat complicated way, the substance of our bones comes into existence. But what was paradisal MAN like before all this happened? He was a form created by the Spirits of Form, created as an Imagination. This does not mean merely making a picture of what should be a living reality on the spiritual plane. In this context an Imagination is a spiritual entity, that lives, that is, that has being. That is the form of paradisal MAN. He was then permeated by the Inspiration of the Spirits of Movement which filled that imagination with motion; and he was further permeated by the Spirits of Wisdom, by their Intuitions. Finally, he was given an aura by the Spirits of Will, the Thrones.

Such was MAN before the Fall. Today as a result of the broken harmony and the resulting fall into matter, we have in the bony system the frozen Imaginations of the Spirits of Form; in the muscular system the frozen Inspirations of the Spirits of Movement; and in the nervous system the frozen Intuitions of the Spirits of Wisdom. So we come to the level of existence, material existence, on which we now live. This is the complicated, the tragic history of the human being as we know it, as we know ourselves, as we live.

We must have all this tremendous and complex background in order to appreciate adequately the full significance of the redemptive act of Christ. We can see now, today, how essential the cosmic conceptions are for understanding the Christian Mysteries. With these facts one may attempt to understand the significance of the Incarnation and the redemptive action of Christ. It is not enough to leave it in the sphere of soul experience. We have to bring it into the sphere of the fullness of human nature, into that tangible sphere where we touch the body.

We can describe the Incarnation of Christ into the body of Jesus as a progressive activity, counteracting in that one body all the tragic history of the human race through the vast expanse of evolution. Let us briefly review those stages, which we can also trace in the biblical documents. We know that the Being of Christ entered into the human vehicle of Jesus at the Baptism in Jordan. For the first time in the history of mankind since the Fall a human being was possessed of an ego which was not human but macrocosmic. There followed the progressive permeation by Christ of the astral, etheric and physical bodies of Jesus.

The permeation of the astral body occurred in the Temptation which followed the Baptism immediately. Once again the Luciferic possibilities were laid before Him, but He refused to yield. He conquered the sick relationship between ego and astrality. On the basis of the biblical records one could almost show how at the end of the Temptation He had re-established the true human balance between angel and animal. You can read between the lines this fact of the re-established paradisal balance between ego and astrality.

From the Temptation we go to the next great landmark when the spirit of Christ permeates the etheric body of Jesus in what is described as the Transfiguration, a visionary manifestation of the fully transformed etheric body, which radiates light. No longer does it absorb the light of the Sun, it becomes itself a Sun. The biblical details are very illuminating. Through this event the proper relationship between the astral and ether bodies is re-established. Hereafter, even Christ's relationship to nature changes.

Finally in that sublime event of death, the Being of Christ fully permeates the disturbed relationship between the etheric and physical bodies. Rudolf Steiner speaks of certain details here before that inner permeation was actually completed in death — when the processes of decomposition and combustion were finished and all that was left were the salt processes. These, within the body and in connection with the spices, dissolved so quickly that, during those three days when He was in the grave, dematerialization could take place not as a miracle but as the result of the three years of gradual, progressive re-establishment of the paradisal balance between the four constituent members of the human body. Christ came into the world as a pure spiritual ego, and by this ego counteracted death. Throughout three years he overcame the Luciferic sickness which had disturbed the original human harmony. As a result of this progressive permeation by the ego, conditions were created allowing dematerialization to take place — an un-doing, we might say, of the bursting of spirit into matter.

And now, one further word about the resurrection body itself, that body which appeared as related in the stories of the risen Christ and which seemed to possess the power of materializing and dematerializing at will. We find in these lectures of Rudolf Steiner which I have mentioned two sentences which are often overlooked. They are absolutely vital, because, after having described the various forms of matter and how each came about, he speaks of a kind of border-line matter, a peculiar substance which seems to exist on the border of the etheric and the physical. He says, “There is something which goes beyond ordinary matter, which is supersensible, and which we touch upon when we speak of the etheric body which is supersensible; it is something like a subtle, fine emanation of the etheric.” These emanations, he says, “finer than the substance of nerves,” this border-line sphere where the etheric enters into the physical, is something puzzling, tantalizing, even from the ordinary scientific point of view. I believe we have reason to suggest that this borderline matter becomes in Christ's hands, the key to His materialisations and de-materialisations. In other words, it is the reconstituted paradisal organism of MAN.

But in all spiritual history, there is never a simple going back to what once was, to a reconstruction of that which was lost. That is against the spirit of true evolution. If something is recovered, it is recovered on a higher plane. The Bible does not lead back to Paradise, but forward to the New Jerusalem; that is to say, from the garden to the city, from the lesser to the greater. This reveals the great dynamic of spiritual evolution. Therefore, the body which Christ reconstructed is no longer merely the Imagination of the Spirits of Form, the Inspiration of the Spirits of Movement, the Intuition of the Spirits of Wisdom. It has become something more, something He can handle, materialize, and de-materialize at will.

That, I believe, is the closest description — spiritual scientific description — of the resurrection body of Christ which we can today give. In another cycle, From Jesus to Christ, Steiner used a special phrase for that particular reality of the resurrection body. He calls it the Phantom of MAN. He makes it quite clear that the Phantom is not an etheric body but the reconditioned spiritual essence of the physical body. The Risen Christ can materialize and de-materialize this “Phantom” at will. In that cycle Steiner also points out in detail how in the early days of Christianity these things were still known and discussed, albeit they were very soon lost. We may gather that both the Evangelist John and the Apostle Paul had this knowledge. In the first Epistle to the Corinthians Paul proclaims that the human race would be able to partake of this reconditioned paradisal body. St. Paul's phrase is “The Second Adam” who is “a quickening spirit” — a beautiful expression. “As in the first Adam all died so in the Second Adam all shall be made alive.” This is really the secret of the original Christian wisdom of the resurrection of the body, and its significance for the human race.

But it should be remembered that no one, not even in the most primitive Christian creeds, ever spoke of the resurrection of “the bodies” but always of “the body” — the whole body of humanity — a type of creation Steiner calls the Group-soul type. The resurrection applies to us who are now living, and to those who will come after us, and to ourselves as we come again. We continue to touch hands with each other. As Rudolf Steiner puts it, we can think of the Phantom as a cell that will multiply, at first imperfectly. He says that the expression “put on the resurrection body” as used by Paul is a quaint but accurate description, a true picture of what can happen to us.

We should not attempt to discuss these matters merely as a subject of interest, but we should feel responsibility towards them. What we have tried to do, with all its limitations and imperfections, is to give an impulse towards our entering into the renewal of the resurrection body. This can be done outside the Anthroposophical Society, through various forms of Christian organization, but, so far as we know, there is no other movement in the world where these things are so deeply understood; where they are so permeated with thought, reason, and understanding. And this is the unique contribution which our Society has to make.

Thanks to the Rudof Steiner Archive.