The Fifth Gospel

Seven lectures by Rudolf Steiner

 From stenographic notes in German not revised by the speaker - GA148

Oslo, Norway, October 1, 1913


Lecture 1

Translated from the German by Frank Thomas Smith

The theme I intend to speak about seems to me to be especially important in view of the times and conditions in which we live. I would like to emphasize from the start that it is not due to a wish for sensationalism or similar things that the theme is The Fifth Gospel. For I hope to show that, given our present circumstances, it is especially important, in the sense that is meant, that no other name is more appropriate than The Fifth Gospel. This Fifth Gospel, as you will hear it, does not yet exist in a recorded document, although in the future of humanity it will certainly exist in a specific record. But in a certain sense this Fifth Gospel is as old as the other four Gospels.

In order that I may speak about this Fifth Gospel, however, an introduction is necessary in order to clarify certain important points for a complete understanding of what we will now call the Fifth Gospel. And I want to start by saying that the time is not too far distant in which in the lowest school levels, in the most primitive instruction, the content of the subject usually called History will be taught in a quite different way than is the case today. Namely the concept of Christ will play a different and a much more important role in the future of historical considerations � even in the most elementary historical considerations - than has been the case until now. I realize that in saying this I am describing an enormous paradox. But let�s just consider that we can go back to a not so far distant time when countless hearts directed their feelings to Christ in a much more intensive way than is the case today by the most learned faithful in western countries. That was the case to a huge extent in the past.

If we study today�s books and observe what interests contemporary people, where their hearts are, we have the impression that the enthusiasm, the emotion and feelings for the Christ idea is in abatement, especially where claims to contemporary learning are involved. Nevertheless, as I have already emphasized, the Christ idea will play a much more important role in future historical considerations than has been the case until now. Does this seem to be a contradiction?

Let�s then approach the other side of these thoughts. I have often spoken here in this city about the meaning of the Christ idea. And in books and lecture cycles we find diverse elaborations from spiritual science about the secrets of the Christ Being and the Christ concept. Each must come to the conclusion that when he absorbs what is contained in our books and lecture cycles a large amount of knowledge is required for a full understanding of the Christ Being; that one must depend on the profoundest concepts and ideas for a full understanding of what Christ is and what the impulse is which has traversed the centuries as the Christ-Impulse. One could even come to the conclusion � were it not otherwise contradicted � that it is necessary to know all of Theosophy or Anthroposophy in order to work one�s way up to a correct concept of Christ.

If we put that aside though, and look at spiritual development during the past centuries, we see from century to century a detailed, well-grounded science with the goal of understanding Christ and his appearance on earth. For centuries people have utilized their highest, most meaningful ideas in order to understand Christ. Here also it would seem that the only the most significant intellectual activity would be sufficient to understand Christ. Has it been the case though? A very simple consideration can prove that it has not.

Let us place on a spiritual scale all that has contributed until now to the understanding of Christ by scholarship, science, also Anthroposophy. Let us place all that on one scale of the spiritual balance and let us place on the other scale all the deep feeling, all the impulses in people�s souls which have aimed at what we call Christ, and we will find that all the science, all the scholarship, even all the Anthroposophy which we can muster to explain Christ, surprisingly rises up, and all the deep feelings and impulses which have directed people to the Christ Being push the other scale far down. It is no exaggeration to say that a tremendous impact has come from Christ, and that the knowledge of Christ has contributed least to this impact.

It would have gone most badly for Christianity if people had to depend on all the learned disputes of the Middle Ages, the Scholastics, the Church fathers; or if people were only to depend on what we are able to muster through Anthroposophy for an understanding of the Christ idea. If that were all, it would be very little indeed. I don�t think that anyone who has objectively followed the path of Christianity through the centuries could seriously contest these thoughts.

Let us direct our attention to the times when Christianity did not yet exist. I need only remind you of what most of you are familiar with. I need only remind you of the Greek tragedies in ancient Greece, especially in their older forms, when they presented the battling gods, or the men in whose souls the battling gods acted; also how the divine forces were directly visible on the stage. I need only to indicate how Homer thoroughly weaved his significant poetry with the working of the spirit; I have only to point to the great figures of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle. With these names a spiritual life of the highest order appears before our souls. If we put all else aside and look only at the great figure of Aristotle, who lived centuries before the founding of Christianity, we realize that in a certain sense no increase, no advancement has taken place up to our time. Aristotle�s thinking, his scholarliness is so awesome that it is possible to say that he reached a peak in human thinking which has not been improved upon until now.

And now for a moment we would like to consider a curious hypothesis, one which is necessary for the following days. Let us imagine that there are no Gospels from which we can learn something about Christ. We want to imagine that the documents known as the New Testament do not exist, that there are no Gospels. We will ignore what has been said about the founding of Christianity and will only consider the facts about Christianity�s historical process in order to see what occurred during the following centuries. This means that without the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the Pauline Letters and so forth, we only want to consider what has really happened. This is of course only a hypothesis. What has happened?

If we look first at Southern Europe, we find a profound spiritual development at a certain point in time, as we have just seen in its representative Aristotle � a highly developed spiritual life, which in the subsequent centuries went through a special schooling. Yes, at the time Christianity began to make its way through the world there were many people educated in the Greek way, people who had absorbed Greek culture. Even including a certain unusual man who was an energetic opponent of Christianity, Celsus, and who later persecuted the Christians. We find in the Italian sub-continent up to the second, third Christian century, highly educated men who adopted the profound ideas which we find in Plato, whose brilliance really appears as a continuation of Aristotle�s brilliance � refined, strong figures with Greek culture � Romans with Greek culture, which added Greek cultural delicacy to Roman aggressiveness.

The Christian impulse pushed itself into this world. At that time the representatives of the Christian impulse were truly uneducated people in respect to intellectuality, to knowledge of the world, compared to the many Greek-Roman educated people. People without education pushed into the middle of a world of mature intellectuality. And now we can observe a strange scene: those simple, primitive natures who were the bearers of early Christianity were able to propagate it in a relatively short time in Southern Europe. And when we approach these simple, primitive souls who at that time spread Christianity, we may say: those primitive natures understood the Being of Christ. (We don�t have to consider the great cosmic Christ thoughts, but only much simpler Christ thoughts.) The bearers of the Christ impulse who entered into the arena of highly developed Greek culture didn�t understand it at all. They had nothing to bring to the market of Greek-Roman life except their personal inwardness, which they had developed as their personal relationship to their beloved Christ; for they loved as a member of a beloved family just through this relationship. Those who brought Christianity to Greece and Rome were not educated theosophists; they were unlettered. The educated theosophists of that time, the Gnostics, had elevated ideas about Christ, but they could only give what we would have to place on the rising scale of the weighing balance. If it had depended on the Gnostics, Christianity would surely not have made its way through the world. It was no particularly educated intellectuality which came from the east and in a relatively short time brought ancient Greece and Rome to their knees. That�s one side of the story.

From the other side we see intellectually superior people such as Celsus, Christianity�s enemy, and even the philosopher on the throne, Marcus Aurelius, who used every contrary argument imaginable. Look at the immensely learned Neo-Platonists, who formulated ideas compared to which contemporary philosophy is child�s play, and which surpasses our current ideas in profundity and horizon. And look at how these highly cultured people argued against Christianity, how they argued from the standpoint of Greek philosophy, and we have the impression that none of them understood the Christ-impulse. We see that Christianity was spread by bearers who understood nothing of the essence of Christianity; it was fought against by a high culture which could not understand what the Christ-impulse meant. It is noteworthy that Christianity entered the world in such a way that neither its adherents not its enemies understood its underlying spirit. Nevertheless those people had the strength in their souls to spread the Christ-impulse triumphantly throughout the world.

And such as  Tertullian, who represented Christianity with a certain greatness. We see in him a Roman who was in fact, when we look at his language, almost a re-creator of the Roman language, who with an unerring accuracy enlivened words to the extent that we recognize him as an important personality. When we ask ourselves, however, about Tertullian�s ideas, it�s something else. We find that he showed very little intellectuality or high culture. Even Christianity�s defenders didn�t accomplish much. Nevertheless, such as Tertullian were effective, effective as personalities, for which reason educated Greeks could not really do much. He was awe-inspiringly effective through something. But what? That is the important thing. We feel that this is really important. Through what did the bearers of the Christ-impulse work when they themselves didn�t understand much about what the Christ-impulse is? Through what did the Christian Church Fathers work, even Origenes, who is considered unskillful. What is it that even Greek-Roman culture could not understand about the essence of the Christ-impulse? What is it all about?

But let�s go farther. The phenomenon becomes more pronounced as we consider subsequent history. We see how over the centuries Christianity spread within Europe to peoples who, like the Germanic, derived from completely different religious traditions and who were united as a people, or at least seem to be united in their religious traditions. Nevertheless they accepted the Christ-impulse with all their strength, as though it were their own life. And when we consider the most effective messengers of faith in the Germanic peoples � were they the scholastic theologically educated ones? By no means! They were relatively primitive souls who went about among the people and in a primitive way, using ordinary ideas, speaking to the people, and captured their hearts completely. They knew how to use words in such a way that they touched the deepest heart strings of their listeners. Simple people went out to all regions, and it was they who worked most effectively.

So we see the spread of Christianity over the centuries. But then we wonder at how this same Christianity is the grounds for so much significant scholarship, science and philosophy. We don�t underestimate this philosophy, but today we want to direct our attention to an extraordinary phenomenon: that up until the Middle Ages Christianity spread among peoples who had quite other ideas in their minds, until it belonged to their souls. And in the not too distant future still other things will be emphasized about the spread of Christianity. When we consider the effect of the Christian impulse, it is easy to understand that in a certain time enthusiasm arose through the spreading of Christianity. But when we come to modern times this enthusiasm seems to be muted.

Let us consider Copernicus and natural science up to the nineteenth century. It could seem that this natural science, which since Copernicus has penetrated western culture, was opposed to Christianity. Certain facts can substantiate this. The Catholic Church, for example, placed Copernicus on the so-called Index until the twenties of the nineteenth century. But that didn�t change the fact that Copernicus had been a canon. And when the Catholic Church burned Giordano Bruno at the stake, it didn�t change the fact that he was a Dominican. Both of them came to their ideas through Christianity. They acted from the Christian impulse. Those who held to the Catholic Church and thought that these things weren�t the fruits of Christianity, understood wrongly. It only proves that the Catholic Church did not understand the fruits of Christianity.

Whoever looks more deeply will recognize that everything the peoples did, also in later centuries, is a result of Christianity; that through Christianity humanity looked up from the earth to the vastness of the heavens as a result of the Copernican Laws. That was only possible within Christian culture and the Christian impulse. And he who does not consider only the surface, but delves into the profundities of spiritual life, will find something which seems paradoxical, but is nevertheless true. For such a deeper consideration it would seem impossible that a Haeckel could appear in all his animosity towards Christianity without his having appeared from out of Christianity. Ernst Haeckel is not even possible without the prerequisite of Christian culture. And modern natural scientific development, despite being so occupied with animosity towards Christianity, is a child of Christianity, a direct continuation of the Christian impulse.

Once the teething problems of natural science have been overcome, humanity will realize what it means that the starting point of modern natural science, logically followed, leads directly to spiritual science, that there is a logical path from Haeckel to spiritual science. When that is understood, it will be accepted that Haeckel had a Christian mentality, even though he didn�t realize it. Not only what is called and has been called Christian has been brought forth by the Christian impulse, but also what has agitated against Christianity has been brought forth from the Christian impulse. One must not only investigate things according to their concepts, but also according to their reality in order to arrive at this knowledge. Darwin�s Theory of Evolution leads directly to the teaching of repeated earth lives, as you can read in my book Reincarnation and Karma.

In order to stand on solid ground in relation to these things, one must in a certain sense observe the force of the Christian impulse impartially. Whoever understands Darwinism and Haeckelism and is familiar with what Haeckel did not know (Darwin knew quite a bit), knows that the Darwinist movement is only possible as a Christian movement. Understanding that, one comes quite logically to the reincarnation idea. And if he has the help of a certain clairvoyant power, he will arrive on this path quite logically to the spiritual origin of the human race. It is of course a detour, but when clairvoyance is added it is a true path from Haeckelism to the spiritual origin of the earth.

But it is also possible that one takes Darwinism as it is presented today, but without being conversant with the principles of life in Darwinism itself; in other words, if you accept Darwinism as an impulse and don�t realize the profound understanding of Christianity which lies in Darwinism, something very peculiar happens. What can happen is that you have as little understanding of Christianity as you have of Darwinism. One may then be abandoned by the good spirit of Christianity as well as by the good spirit of Darwinism. If one is imbued with the good spirit of Darwinism, however, then one can be ever so materialistic, and still be led back to a point in the history of the earth where it becomes clear that man never evolved from lower animal forms, that he must have had a spiritual origin. One goes back to a point in time and sees man as a spiritual being hovering over the earth. A logical Darwinism will lead to that.

If on the other hand one is abandoned by the good spirit and goes back in time as a believer in reincarnation, one can think that he once lived as an ape during an incarnation. If one can believe that, it means that he has been abandoned by the good spirits of both Darwinism and Christianity and understands nothing of either. For logical Darwinism could never lead one to believe that. This means that the reincarnation idea must be quite openly transmitted to this materialistic culture. It is certainly possible to divest Darwinism of its Christianity. If not, however, one will find that the Darwinist impulses were born of Christianity, and that the Christian impulses also work where they are denied.

So we have not only the phenomenon that Christianity spread during the first centuries irrespective of scholarship and the knowledge of its followers and believers; that it spread during the Middle Ages with very little help from the scholastics; then we have the paradoxical phenomenon that Christianity appeared as a kind of counterpart in Darwinism. And the greatness of the idea in Darwinism derives its force from Christian impulses. The Christian impulses which underlie it will lead this science away from materialism.

There is something curious about the Christian impulses! Intellectuality, knowledge, learning appear not to have been present during the spreading of these impulses. One could say that Christianity spread regardless of what people think for or against it, so much so that it seems to have found its antithesis in modern materialism. What is it then which spreads? Not Christian ideas, not the science of Christianity. One could still say that the moral feelings which are planted through Christianity are spread. One has only to observe the rule of morality in these times and one will find much justification for the anger of the representatives of Christianity against real or alleged enemies of Christianity. Also the morals which could reign in the souls of the less educated do not impress us much when we observe to what extent they are Christian. What is it then which spreads? What is so curious? What is it which marches through the world like a victorious procession? What worked in the people who brought Christianity to the Germanic, to the foreign world? What works in modern natural science where the teaching is still veiled? What works in all those souls if it isn�t intellectual, not even moral impulses? What is it? It is Christ himself, who goes from heart to heart, soul to soul, who traverses the world over the centuries, whether or not people understand him!

We are obliged to put aside our ideas and our science and point to the reality, in order to show how mysteriously Christ himself changes into many thousands of impulses, immersing in thousands and thousands of souls and suffusing humanity. It is Christ himself who strode in the simple men through the Greek and Italian world; it is Christ himself who stood at the side of the later teachers who brought Christianity to the Germanic peoples. It is He, the real, true Christ, who goes from place to place, from soul to soul, regardless of what the people think of Christ, and immerses in their souls. I would like to use a trivial comparison. How many people are there who know nothing about the composition of food, yet eat according to all the rules of the art. They would starve if they had to know about nutrients before they could eat. Eating has nothing to do with the knowledge of foodstuffs. The spread of Christianity over the earth had nothing to do with the knowledge brought to bear on it. That is what is curious. This is a mystery, which can only be clarified if the answer is given to the question: How does Christ work in human minds and feelings? And if spiritual science, clairvoyant observation, poses this question, it will be guided to an event which in reality can only be revealed through clairvoyant observation, which is in complete agreement with all I have said today. Firstly, the time is over in which Christ worked as I have characterized, and the time has come when people must understand and recognize him.

Therefore it is necessary to answer the question: Why, during the age which preceded ours, could the Christ-impulse spread without an understanding of it? And the event to which clairvoyant consciousness points is the so-called Pentecost event, the sending out of the Holy Spirit. Therefore the clairvoyant gaze, inspired by the true Christ-Impulse in an anthroposophical sense, is directed to the Pentecost event, the sending out of the Holy Spirit. 

What occurred at that moment in the evolution of the world on earth, which is presented as the Holy Spirit descending upon the apostles, which at first seems quite unintelligible to us? When one views this clairvoyantly and investigates, one arrives at a spiritual scientific answer as to what is meant by simple people, which the apostles were, suddenly began to speak in various tongues about what they had to say from the depths of spiritual life, and which was not expected of them. Yes, then Christianity, the Christian impulses, began to spread independently of the people�s understanding of them.

The stream which has been described flowed out from the Pentecost event. What was then the Pentecost event? The question was asked of spiritual science, and with the answer to this question, the spiritual scientific answer to the question: What was the Pentecost event? the Fifth Gospel begins.                  


Continued in the next issue of Southern Cross Review