Evolution and the Struggle for Human Consciousness


by Keith Francis


Lecture IV: February 12, 2009






This is the fourth of a series of lectures in which Rudolf Steiner’s perceptions of the evolution of consciousness have been related to the history of thinking in Greece, Arabia and Western Europe. In ancient times people had experienced the thoughts and the actions of the hierarchies as part of their perception of the world around them, but thinking was to become an inner experience, while sense perceptions would still be felt as something external. The gradual descent of the divine intelligence and loss of this ancient unity began in the seventh century BC, and was the driving force behind the outflowering of pre-Socratic philosophy and the later work of Plato and Aristotle.  Its continuation coincided with the growth of both Christianity and Islam, and many generations of Islamic and Christian philosophers wrestled with the task of reconciling an earthly philosophy based on Aristotle with their religious faith and revelation. Many of them still adhered to the old idea of an overarching cosmic intelligence which infused thoughts into the human mind, and it was very hard to reconcile this with the perception that the human being thinks and acts as an individual. What made the problem so difficult was that they were working in the midst of a continuously evolving situation, so that in trying to hit the philosophical bullseye they were like marksmen shooting at a moving target. In the thirteenth century the scholastic philosophers had the task of clarifying the relationships of our thinking to nature, to ourselves and to divine revelation, and St. Thomas Aquinas created a great synthesis of Aristotelian philosophy and Christianity. One reason why this was possible was that by that time the downloading of the cosmic intelligence into the human mind was nearing completion but, as we shall see later, help was coming from divine regions. But the difficulties didn’t end there. People were now in control of their own thinking, but were they still able to perceive thought processes in the outer world? This took us into the question of realism and nominalism and as Rudolf Steiner put the matter:

“This uncertainty runs through the teachings of the Scholastics… The Realists, with Thomas Aquinas and his circle at their head, still felt the old connection between Thought and Thing… they looked on Thoughts as actual realities, existing in the Things. The Thoughts of a man they viewed as a real something flowing from the Things into his soul. The Nominalists felt strongly that the soul makes her own thoughts… [that] thoughts were only the names men made for things….

“Even though thoughts had fallen from his domain and into that of men, [the Realists] yet wanted as thinkers to go on serving Michael as Prince of Intelligence in the cosmos. The Nominalists, in the unconscious parts of their souls, completed the falling away from Michael. They regarded not Michael, but man as the owner of the thoughts.”[1]

            So we talked about the work of the Archangel Michael, his stewardship of the cosmic intelligence and the mystery of his relationship to the higher hierarchies. Michael is one seven Archangels who guide and direct the fundamental tendencies of successive ages in relation to humanity and he is the one to whom we look in our struggle for healthy individuality and spiritual freedom. Since the year 1879 he has been the ruling archangel and ever since the incarnation of Christ he has worked for us in the spiritual world in ways that I’ll come to later. Now I’d like to pursue the question of realism and nominalism a bit further and see how it leads us back to the personality of Francis Bacon, about whom we had a preliminary discussion last time.

            The realists, as represented by Thomas Aquinas, felt that thinking was at the same time an individual human activity and a reality in the external world and that the thoughts inherent in physical objects could flow into the human mind. This perception of reality faded in the fourteenth century and was to a large extent replaced by the nominalist view that thinking is an abstract process that merely collects and categorizes information. To the extreme nominalist the physical object is just so much matter, but it can’t be just a coincidence that one lion looks very much like another, so if it isn’t cosmic thought that generates classes of similar creatures, plants or rocks, what is it? The answer must be the purely physical structure – in the lions’ case the genes and in the rocks’ case the molecular arrangement. If we object that genes look very much like something that someone had thought out, we shall be told that they are just the results of self-replicating molecular structures. Francis Bacon didn’t know about genes or molecular structures and thought that the forms were God’s handiwork, but Rudolf Steiner considered that his scientific method was the epitome of nominalism, and that he played a pivotal role in transference of key elements of Arabian thinking into Western European society. In what follows I’ll be quoting from two of Bacon’s major works, The Advancement of Learning and the Novum Organum.[2]




Bacon’s Scientific Method


Bacon condemned the Scholastic movement as a source of degenerate learning, quoting St. Paul’s advice to “Turn a deaf ear to empty and worldly chatter and the contradictions of so-called knowledge.” His contempt for the thought processes of the schoolmen was exacerbated by their devotion to Aristotle’s philosophy, which he believed to have put a considerable damper on experimentation and discovery. It seemed to Bacon that Aristotle was “far more anxious about how anyone delivering an opinion should explain himself” than about the “inner truth of things.” He thought that the older Greek philosophers had “a taste for the things of nature and experience… Whereas in Aristotle’s Physics you hear little more than dialectic… ”

Aristotle, he says, often cites experiments, but this doesn’t count for much since “he had come to his conclusions beforehand, without taking proper account of experience.”

Unaware that the changing nature of consciousness has made their efforts both necessary and extremely difficult, Bacon feels that philosophers from Aristotle to Aquinas and the later scholastics have been too preoccupied with their own thought processes and have lost contact with nature, experience and the inner truth of things.

In addition to dissatisfaction with two whole millennia of philosophy, Bacon had a more immediate cause for distress, in the shape of the science and philosophy that he encountered as a young man. Just so that you know the kind of thing he was talking about let me tell you about the natural history of the whale, late mediaeval version[3];

“Sailors mistake [the whale] for a promontary, land on him and light a fire. The whale dives and they are drowned.” This seems excusable – after all, if you were swimming along and someone lit a fire on you you’d probably do the same thing. However, there seems to be more to the story: In another version the sailors mistake him for an island, and he dives not because he can feel the fire, but out of sheer malice. ‘When the brute, skilled in ruses, perceives that the voyagers are fully settled and have pitched their tent, glad of fair weather, then of a sudden at all adventure, down he goes into the salt flood.’” Bacon comments on the credulity with which such tales are received; reports “which, though they had passage for a time, by the ignorance of the people… yet, when the mist began to clear up, they grew to be esteemed but as old wives’ fables, impostures of the clergy, illusions of spirits, and badges of the antichrist, to the great scandal and detriment of religion.” The habit of recycling fabulous tales persisted well beyond Bacon’s time. Twenty years after the Lord Chancellor’s death, Sir Thomas Browne published a large tome called Vulgar Errors, in the first part of which he attributes the huge volume of mistaken beliefs to our inclination to error, false deductions, credulity, adherence to authority, and the work of the devil. The rest of the book is a vast repository of quaint beliefs.[4]

Bacon was equally distressed at the haphazard ways of reaching supposedly scientific conclusions by using what he called “ordinary induction.” “Induction” means “reaching general conclusions from particular examples”, and as Isaac Newton pointed out long ago, however well you do it, the process lacks logical force. And as Rudolf Steiner said more recently, the fact that the sun has risen in the East every day of your life so far doesn’t prove that it’s going to do so tomorrow. Newton added, however, that we must put up with the deficiencies of the inductive process because it’s the only way in which science can proceed, and therefore we must do the job as thoroughly as possible. Here is an example of the kind of “ordinary induction” that caused Bacon such mental anguish. It comes from an influential sixteenth century textbook on logic[5], in which the author illustrates the process with an example concerning the effect of drinking wine. “Rhenyshe wine heateth, Malmesey heateth, Frenchewine heateth, neither is there any wyne that doth the contrary: Ergo all wine heateth.” So first you bring a few specific examples to support your thesis; then you anticipate your conclusion by asserting that no contrary examples exist; finally you state your conclusion as if you had proved it. No wonder Bacon took so much trouble in describing how to do the inductive job properly!

The first thing, he says, is to clear our minds of all preconceptions, so that we can allow nature to reveal her secrets to us; and, if nature is not forthcoming enough she must be persuaded. The Greek philosophers took the world very much as they found it and let nature and spirit speak to them as they would; by Bacon’s time the spirit in nature spoke only in the subtlest terms and nature had to be persuaded. So he declared that his natural philosophy should be “not only of Nature free and untrammelled… but much more of nature constrained and vexed”[6].

So we already have one principle in which Bacon’s ideas are reminiscent of Steiner’s Goethean approach and two in which they are utterly opposed. Science must be thoroughly phenomenological, which sounds good, but this is taken to an extreme so that no intuitive ideas or imaginative leaps are allowed. Furthermore, rough treatment may be used to force nature to give up her secrets. Another principle, basic to Bacon’s system, is found at the beginning of the Novum Organum. If we wish to command nature we must first understand her. Knowledge of how things work gives us the power to produce the effects we want. So, he says, “human knowledge and human power meet in one.”

In the modern world this studied statement of principle has been thoughtlessly corrupted into “Knowledge is power”[7], which is the one thing that people generally think they know that Bacon said. Bacon hoped that knowledge of nature would give the power to provide his fellow human beings with the necessities of life, whereas the corrupted version has acquired sinister overtones that have nothing to do with Bacon’s intentions. Far too much has been made of this equation; the really pernicious elements of Bacon’s work are to be found elsewhere, notably in his belief that the individual human mind is simply not up to the task of reading the secrets of nature, which he expressed as follows:


The cause and root of nearly all the evils in the sciences is this – that while we mistakenly admire and extol the powers of the human mind, we neglect to look for true ways of helping it.

            The subtlety of nature is greater many times over than that of the senses and the understanding, so that all the specious meditations, speculations and glosses in which men indulge are to no purpose…


Bacon maintains that in relying so heavily on Aristotelian logic the scholastics had already conceded that the mind was in need of help, but that the “remedy had come too late to do any good.” His perception was that this logic "has had the effect of making the errors permanent rather than disclosing truth”, so the only thing to do is to commence the entire work of the understanding afresh. “The individual mind [must] be from the very outset not left to take its own course, but guided at every step; and the business be done as if by machinery…” 

He says that trying to erect a great edifice of science using only the powers of the individual mind is as mad as trying to erect a huge obelisk with the power of the human body, when mechanical assistance is available. We should start with sense impressions and after “a gradual and continuous ascent… arrive at the most general axioms last of all. This is the true way, but as yet untried.” This always makes me think of an old-fashioned sausage machine in which you feed the ingredients in at one end, turn the right handles and receive a string of nicely formed sausages at the other. I may have thought of this because of the association with bacon and I want to emphasize that I have nothing against sausage machines. What is open to objection is that in the burgeoning age of individuality, Bacon (large B) proposes a system in which each participant is involved in only a small part of the whole operation, a system which smacks of the assembly line, and makes each individual just a cog in a cognitive machine.

A large part of the Novum Organum is devoted to explaining how this is to be done, using “the investigation of the form of heat” as his example. It involves the collection of observations into tables of examples, counter-examples and partial examples, and a lengthy screening process that searches for common factors in the whole mass of information. The method is extremely cumbersome, the conclusion not very enlightening and the whole thing could hardly be more different from the way science actually developed from Bacon’s time to the present day.

To put it briefly, most of the great developments in physical science from Bacon’s time until the twentieth century came from individuals making increasing use of mathematical and atomic models, whereas Bacon had little use either for mathematics or for atoms. Bacon’s opinion of the capabilities of the human mind is belied by the work not only of famous individuals from Galileo to Einstein but also of less publicized loners like the impecunious Swedish pharmacist, Carl Wilhelm Scheele, whose astonishing record of discovery shows that until the age of the megabillion dollar machines it was possible for pertinacity and insight to overcome shortages of time, money, space and apparatus.

When we realize that Bacon never finished his project and that what there was of it was never put into practice, we may well ask, “So what is all the fuss about?” One answer is that the ideas inherent in the Chancellor’s work that did survive were those with the greatest negative potential, and another is that, in view of his karma, it may well be that whatever his achievements had been, the spirits of materialism would have found ways to use them for their own purposes. In fact, some of his ideas were good or, at least, well-intentioned. He hoped that by achieving mastery over nature his new science might contribute generously to the material well-being of the human race, but he insisted that understanding should come before utility:

... At the beginning and for some time, I look only for light-bearing experiments, not fruit-bearing ones, following, as I have often said, the example of the divine creation, when on the first day, God made the light only, and devoted a whole day to that alone, without introducing any material work in that time. (Aphorism 121)

As Paolo Rossi remarks in The Cambridge Companion, people have generally “ignored the many pages Bacon wrote against the utilitarian desire of immediate results and the foolish habit of abandoning the natural course of scientific enquiry and turning aside… after profit and commodity.” Bacon was not after an easy conquest and a quick profit. It takes time to develop an understanding of the natural world, and once it is obtained, not only will it bring material benefits – it may also bring us into contact with the workings of the divine mind. Bacon, who strove to keep his science free from anything contrary to Christian faith, puts it this way:

            “… The ideas of the divine mind… are the creator’s true stamp upon created things, printed and defined on matter by true and precise lines. In this respect, therefore, truth and utility are the very things themselves;[8] so works are of greater value as pledges of truth than as comforts in life. (Aphorism 124)

            Or, if I may paraphrase: It will be wonderful if my discoveries about heat enable us to have an abundant supply of hot water, but it will be more wonderful still if they give us true knowledge about what God has put into the world.

            So we find great idealism channeled into a system with a diabolical potential that its creator never suspected. Bacon’s hope that the study of God’s works might reveal something of His will and militate against atheism has been replaced by a strong presumption that science will be able to explain away that weird human property previously known as the soul, including its capacity for imagining transcendent being. To see how this came about and what it means for us we must go back to Steiner’s insights.




Bacon and Nominalism


Steiner speaks repeatedly of Bacon in the Karma Lectures, identifying him as the reincarnation of the individuality who had previously appeared on earth as Harun al Rashid. As such he became the arch-exponent of nominalism, the progenitor of modern technological materialism and the conduit through which unhealthy tendencies from Arabian thinking entered Western civilization. In The Riddles of Philosophy, first published in 1914, and The Riddles of Humanity, a lecture cycle given in 1916, the Novum Organum is discussed at considerable length.

            “With [Bacon]”, Steiner comments, “Nominalism has become such a thoroughgoing and avowed philosophy that he says: ‘We must sweep away man’s false belief in a reality which is, in point of fact, nothing but a name. Reality presents itself to us only when we look out on the world of the senses. The senses alone provide us with realities, the realities of empirical knowledge.’ …For him the spiritual world has evaporated into something which can never well up from the inner life of man with any scientific certainty or security.”[9]

These remarks are not Bacon’s own words, but represent Steiner’s perception of his frame of mind and intentions. In Bacon’s time realism versus nominalism was no longer a big issue and realism was not Bacon’s ostensible target. It was the whole scholastic movement and its decadent aftermath that offended his sense of rightness. As Steiner says, the paths that were open in Aristotle’s time were closed to Bacon and his contemporaries; and as we can see for ourselves, the problem of living amid the detritus of spent world-views is that what is real, valid and still fruitful becomes extremely elusive. The whole tangled mass of sixteenth century learning, if I may change the metaphor, had become a jungle too thick either to be penetrated or to be cultivated, and this is what Bacon wanted to sweep away. Bacon’s scientific method flowed vigorously into the nominalist stream, but his view of the world, with its implication that categories are created by God and not by man, was closer to that of the traditional realists. He hoped that his elaborate system of scientific research would actually draw these ideas from nature into the human mind, thereby revealing to some extent God’s purposes, and he thought that by these means he might establish “forever a true and lawful marriage between the empirical and the rational faculty [i.e. between the sense world and the thought world], the unkind and ill-starred divorce of which has thrown into confusion all the affairs of the human family.”[10] Bacon saw clearly that the thought and the thing had come apart but he didn’t know how it had happened. As students of anthroposophy we believe that it was the result of the actions of divine powers, but Bacon was under the impression that it came about only through human frailty and that it might be reversed if we commit ourselves to the kind of intellectual machinery described in the Novum Organum. In his time the separation of the human being from the spiritual world was reaching its most acute stage, and there was the cosmic expectation of a response by which the gap might be closed through free human spiritual activity. Bacon’s inductive machine excluded spiritual activity, which he kept in a different compartment of his mind; but he thought that if we worked hard enough we might actually catch a glimpse of the forms of things, by which he meant their God-given inner order. He expressed this aspiration in the following words:

“To God, truly, the Giver and Architect of Forms, and it may be to the angels and higher intelligences, it belongs to have an affirmative knowledge of forms immediately, and from the first contemplation. But this assuredly is more than man can do, to whom it is granted at first to proceed only by negatives, and to end at last in affirmatives after exclusion has been exhausted.”

We have to figure it out, whereas God and the angels “just see it.” It is our hope that through our spiritual activity we may at some future time be able just to see it, as Goethe eventually was able to see the archetypal plant. Bacon did not realize that his Novum Organum was a product of the “ill-starred divorce”, not a solution to it, so that we have the spectacle of a man with realist ideals producing an utterly nominalistic system of science.




Bacon’s Arabian Heritage


Popular studies make the history of science sound like a great voyage of discovery captained by a succession of great geniuses, whereas Bacon’s system suggests a large-scale fishing expedition and seems to make “genius” unnecessary. “The perfection of the sciences”, he says, “is to be looked for not from the swiftness or ability of one inquirer, but from a succession” of them.[11] We have one set of workers making nets, another hauling up whatever fish happen to swim into them, a third sorting the fish out according to size or shape and a fourth trying to come up with generalizations about the form of the fish. No one is involved in the whole process from beginning to end. Bacon acknowledged the need for able individuals, but his system was designed to be independent of individual gifts and to feature what he called the “leveling of wits.” It would be a common duty to allow only the actual data into the pipeline and anything remotely resembling an intuitive idea or a flash of insight would be regarded as distinctly fishy.

In Bacon’s system, therefore, the human intelligence works as a blank page on which nature is to be persuaded to write her own script, just as, in Aristotle’s De Anima[12], the universal active intellect overwrites the potential intellect. The workings of human intelligence had been a matter of great moment for Arabian philosophers, who had never been able to solve the problem of individuality. The great synthesis of Thomas Aquinas had embraced individuality, but it was attacked on other grounds and seriously wounded, after which scholastic philosophy drifted into decadence and occupied itself more and more with futile speculation.

Bacon set out to bypass these philosophical entanglements with something new, vital and fruitful, but his system carries with it the imprint of the old unfathomed dilemma insofar as it assigns to nature the role previously thought to have been played by the divine active intellect. If Bacon’s inductive engine had worked exactly as stated in the Novum Organum, it would have excluded individual insights; all scientific workers would have acquired exactly the same set of thoughts and concepts, and these thoughts and concepts would have come from somewhere outside the individual mind.

As a devout Christian, Bacon believed in individual responsibility, but his scientific machine makes each individual merely a moving part. No one sees the whole picture and his scientific society falls far short of Steiner’s ideal:

“A healthy social life is found only when in the mirror of each soul the whole community finds its reflection and when in the whole community the virtue of each one is living.”




No scientific collective along the lines proposed by Bacon has ever been set up. The development of science has been propelled by intuitive leaps and accidental enlightenments, and the idea that an inductive science might reveal God’s purposes seems to have disappeared with Newton. The relationship between science and religion has changed from separation to opposition and scientists can maintain a religious commitment only through the belief that there are areas of human experience that science cannot penetrate.

 The idea of the scientific collective, in which the individual performs routine tasks that have no meaning in themselves and the only thing that matters is the ultimate product, is a pitifully incomplete picture of what Bacon had in mind, but it is the kind of thing that the daemons of materialism can promulgate when given the chance. In its most obvious form it reappeared as the assembly line, made famous by Henry Ford when he adapted it to the manufacture of automobiles. We must be careful not to assume that Henry Ford was a bad guy. He did, after all, shock his fellow industrialists by paying his workers way above average wages and instituting a profit-sharing scheme which distributed $30 million a year among them. The daemonic corruption of Bacon’s ideas led to the appearance of industrial communities in which workers are treated like indistinguishable, expendable units, but it would be much too simple-minded to hold him personally responsible for the evils of industrial society, against which he uttered some severe warnings. A stream of thought, as Rudolf Steiner says, develops a life of its own, with its own sequence of incarnations and dormancies. Steiner spoke of the danger of entrapment in the material world and of the aspiration to raise matter to the spirit. As long as we are awake we still have a choice, of which one aspect is the wish to integrate the ideals of individuality and community. Great numbers of people, as far as their daily lives were concerned, have had no choice, having been trapped in the industrial machine and having endured terrible privations in order to obtain less than the barest necessities of life.

To be safe, well-fed, housed and able to afford a few luxuries places one in a small minority of the earth’s population. The sacrifice of the majority, in terms of physical misery and death, soul agony and despair, is incalculable, but even out of these abysses of inhumanity elements of transformation and redemption emerge. There is no image that is more moving and apt than that of the Welsh coal-miners ascending from the black depths of the earth and filling the air with glorious song. The great choral societies and religious and educational movements created in large industrial cities form one side of the picture. The other is the formation, against heavy odds, of Trade Unions, and the emergence of socialism and communism. Out of the frying pan into the fire, one might think, but if the loss of individuality is to be accepted, at least it may be turned to economic advantage. People are, in fact, extraordinarily resilient, and there is no doubt that while the diverse powers of the spiritual world have worked with great individualities like Aristotle, Averroes, Aquinas and Bacon to achieve their purposes for humanity, they have also poured their inspiration, for good or ill, into everyone in the whole mass of mankind who was susceptible to the slightest intimation of the divine. It must be really exasperating to Ahriman when, even in the depths of human misery and privation, he encounters the inextinguishable fire of the human spirit. We sometimes have the impression that our technological society is a bit like the weather – everyone talks about it but no one does anything about it – but actually someone has been doing something about it, and to find the source of spiritual fire we can go back to some of the things that Steiner told us about the Archangel Michael.




            I’ve already mentioned the conference in the spiritual world in which, if I put things in human terms, Aristotle and Alexander the Great debated the future evolution of the human race with Harun al Rashid and his Amos Comenius. When Thomas Aquinas worked to establish our intellectual independence and true relationship to thinking, he did so with the blessing of Aristotle and Alexander, and through them, of the Archangel Michael. A little exoteric history will be helpful here.

            The most famous ruler in mediaeval Europe was Charlemagne, Charles the Great, who was anointed Emperor of the West in 800 AD. His achievements included reclaiming parts of Spain from the Moors, annexing Bavaria and Christianizing the Saxons but, for our purposes, his importance lies in his commitment to education. I’ll mention, by way of comic relief, that Charles the Great was the son of Pepin the Short and was succeeded by Charles the Bald, who was followed by Charles the Fat.

            Charlemagne imported scholars from far and wide to propel his educational reforms. The greatest scholar associated with this movement was John Scotus Erigena[13], or John the Scotsman from Ireland, which, like everything Irish, makes sense, sort of. In the ninth century Ireland was referred to as Greater Scotland and the Irish as Scots. In 850, when Scotus Erigena took a post in the court of Charles the Bald, there was an ongoing controversy about predestination. This had figured prominently in the writings of St. Augustine, so when Scotus Erigena entered the fray on the side of human freedom, he was suspected of heresy. This may be why he turned his attention to other matters, delving into more ancient philosophies to produce a strongly Platonic vision of Christianity. He became the most prominent figure in the educational movement that eventually led to the all-important School of Chartres, where the Seven Liberal Arts were taught and Christian Platonism reached its highest point before the new wave of Aristotelianism arrived.

            Our knowledge of twelfth century Chartres comes mainly from an Englishman called John of Salisbury, who was born some time before 1120. John studied under Peter Abelard in Paris as a young man, and later was secretary to Thomas á Becket, with whom he was sent into exile after falling foul of Henry II. He wrote lives of both Becket and Anselm and is thought to have been present in Canterbury when St. Thomas was murdered. He became Bishop of Chartres in 1176 and is generally regarded as the outstanding writer of his time and the inspiration for what has been described as the mini-Renaissance of the 12th century. Although admired as a true Platonist, he was part of an effort to harmonize the Platonic and Aristotelian views of reality that we discussed last time. That sounds very academic, so let me repeat that understanding how our inner life relates to our outer perceptions was of a matter of supreme importance to these thinkers of the Middle Ages.

            Steiner adds a great deal of spiritual insight to this recorded history.[14] At Chartres, he says, the living realities of human perceptions of the spiritual world were kept alive in an imaginative way:

 John of Salisbury showed how it was possible to work with Aristotle, giving his chosen pupils a new insight. They saw that earthly evolution could no longer bear the kind of teaching that had been given in the first centuries of Christendom, since the ancient, almost clairvoyant knowledge had become darkened. Now they must work with Aristotle, who already in antiquity had grasped the thought processes of the future fifth Post-Atlantean epoch. In the School of Chartres itself these teachings were given with remarkable purity and 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 the Mysteries of the seven Liberal Arts in their connection with Christianity. This was Alain de Lille, Alanus ab Insulis, who saw that in the coming centuries it would be impossible to continue spiritual teachings such as these since they were infused with substance from the old seership of the pre-Platonic Mysteries. Alain de Lille taught that Aristotelianism, with its sharply defined conceptions and ideas, would now have to work for a while on earth, for this was the only way in which it would be possible to prepare for what must come again as Spirituality at a later time.

Steiner now tells us of another spiritual conference, which took place at the end of the twelfth century between the Platonists of Chartres and the Aristotelians of the forthcoming Scholastic Movement:

The last great ones of the School of Chartres passed again through the gate of death and arrived in the spiritual world while those individualities who afterwards brought forth the full flower of Scholasticism were still there, and at the beginning of the 13th century there took place an exchange of ideas between those who had carried up the old Platonism, inspired by spiritual vision, from the School of Chartres into the supersensible world, and those who were preparing to carry Aristotelianism down to earth…

It is as if a conversation took place in which the individualities from the School of Chartres 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.”

And those who were to carry the Scholastic Movement joined in this “supersensible contract,” 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.”

We had seen already how Scholasticism arose on earth from the point of view of exoteric history, and now we have the spiritual basis for the movement as Rudolf Steiner explained it. It is not a coincidence that new and fuller translations of Aristotle’s work appeared just at the time when the ancient Platonism with its basis in pre-Platonic wisdom could no longer be cultivated. The old paths were closed and a new way had to be found. But there was the promise that the two streams would reunite.

Steiner continues: We need only look into the works that arose out of Christian Scholasticism to see how they wrestled to understand what is the real and deep significance of Intelligence, for mankind and for the things of the world. The great conflict between Nominalism and Realism was developed especially in the Dominican Order, of which St. Thomas Aquinas was a member… The whole of Scholasticism is a wrestling of mankind for a clear understanding of the Intelligence that is pouring in. No wonder that the main interest of those around Michael was directed above all to what was unfolding upon the earth in this Christian Scholasticism. In all that St. Thomas Aquinas and many other Schoolmen, were bringing forth, we see the earthly stamp and impress of the Michael stream of that time — the administration of the light-filled Spiritual Intelligence.

Now people had to strive for clarity as to its meaning. Looking down from the spiritual world, on to the earth, one could see how that which had belonged to the realm of Michael was now unfolding down below, outside of his dominion, for it was unfolding in the beginning of the dominion of Gabriel.

Of the seven Archangels, Gabriel is the one whom Steiner describes as being least optimistic about the future of mankind. It was near the beginning of his reign that Francis Bacon and Rene Descartes appeared as signs not only of the dominance of nominalism but also of the coming victory of the quantitative over the qualitative. Meanwhile, as Steiner puts it, the great spirits of Chartres remained in the supersensible, not only working in harmony with those who descended with their Aristotelianism to the earth, but also helping in the formation of great Imaginations in the spiritual world that would be formed in the first half of the 19th century in preparation for the new age of Michael and the increasingly intense struggle for human consciousness. This will take us into next month’s lecture.



[1] Rudolf Steiner, Letters to Members


[2] The former in its original English and the latter in the translation by James Spedding et al., published in the 1850’s and 60’s.


[3] Quoted from its late mediaeval source by C. S. Lewis in The Discarded Image, Cambridge University Press, 1961


[4] Browne is much better known for his Religio Medici, an extraordinarily perceptive account of what it means to be both a Christian and a doctor.


[5] Thomas Wilson, The Rule of Reason, conteining the art of logique, set forth in Englishe, quoted in the editors’ introduction to Bacon’s Novum Organum, Peter Urbach and John Gibson trans. and ed. Open Court, Chicago, Illinois, 1994.


[6] The Great Instauration; Plan of the Work.


[7] It’s worth noting that on the only occasion when Bacon stated explicitly that knowledge is power he was talking about God’s knowledge and power: Nam et ipsa scientia potestas est. (Meditationes Sacrae, 1597)


[[8] “The term ipsissimus, much used in scholastic terminology, recurs in other passages of the Novum Organum with a precise technical meaning. The translation, ‘truth and utility are the very same things,’ broadly diffused among English and American scholars, is undoubtedly wrong…” Paolo Rossi, in The Cambridge Companion to Bacon. In fairness to James Spedding it must be mentioned that he footnoted his apparently incorrect translation with the comment, “Ipsissimae res: I think this must have been Bacon’s meaning, though not a meaning which the word can properly bear.”


[9] The Riddles of Philosophy


[10] The Great Instauration, Preface


[11] Quoted by Rose-Mary Sargent in The Cambridge Companion.


[12] “…the intellect is in a manner potentially all objects of thought, but is actually nothing until it thinks: in the same way as in the case of a tablet which has nothing actually written on it yet the writing exists potentially. This is exactly the case with the intellect.” Aristotle, De Anima.


[13] See Steiner, Riddles of Philosophy, p.50-53 and Coplestone, A History of Medieval Philosophy, U. of Notre Dame, 1972, p.60-63.


[14] The following paraphrases passages from Karmic Relations, Vol. 3, Lecture 6.

Continued in the next issue of SCR.