Evolution and the struggle for human consciousness

by Keith Francis

Lecture V – March 12, 2009

 

 

My last lecture ended with Rudolf Steiner’s description of the supersensible conference in which the great individuals who had been teachers at the School of Chartres came to an agreement with those who were about to descend to earth as the leading exponents of Scholasticism. According to this agreement the latter would bring Aristotelian Christianity into the world in its purest form, while the former would wait in the spiritual world until the time was ripe for the return of Platonism and the beginning of the new age of the Archangel Michael. Before going on it will be very helpful to give a thorough recapitulation of the earlier lectures, and I’ll have to ask you to forgive me if this means that tonight’s session goes on longer than usual. I also wish to say that there will be times when I seem to be assuming that everyone here is a member of the Anthroposophical Society. I hope no one will leave on that account – the lectures that Steiner gave on the Karma of the Anthroposophical Society have been in the public domain for many years now and I’m pretty confident that anthroposophical work is being done all over the world by people who have never heard of anthroposophy.

The story of the human race began in a remote age of the world, long before our present states of matter appeared. As Steiner describes the situation in An Outline of Esoteric Science, we must imagine a state of consciousness in which we lacked any sense of individuality or separation from the heavenly powers who were to foster our evolution. The whole process of evolution has been one of physical densification and increasing self-awareness, and has been guided by successive levels of spiritual beings who have appeared to humanity as gods and angels and have supplied the divine intelligence that is inherent in the human and natural world. For a very long time the human race lived in a state of dependent communion with the spiritual world, but at a certain point a weaning process began so that eventually we would be individually responsible for our thoughts and actions. The intention was that through our increasing connection with the physical world, we should become independent and eventually reunite with the spirit out of our own free will as living, conscious people. In our past incarnations we have moved further and further from our spiritual home, and in future incarnations we may freely return. Or, if the spiritual powers opposed to human freedom have their way, we may not.

The Revelation of St. John the Divine, the last book of the New Testament, tells us that “there was war in Heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not… and the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the devil and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world. He was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” My point in mentioning this is that when we talk about people as beings created by God and aspiring to free will, we tend to forget that on higher levels of existence something similar applies to angels and all the other beings of the hierarchies. In these lectures we have seen that disagreements between the members of the hierarchies have deeply affected the evolution of the human race and the natural world, and we have yet to speak of Ahriman, Michael’s great antagonist in the modern world. The ancient plan for human evolution has been subverted and a big part of history has been the constant effort to transform evil into good so that we can return freely to the spirit instead of becoming stuck in materialism or drifting in a warm and pleasant sea of easy spirituality.

The features of the weaning process that we have considered most deeply are the decision of the spiritual powers to allow the divine intelligence to descend into the human soul and the concomitant loss of the ancient unity of thinking and perception. The onset of these processes, which began in the seventh century BC and took roughly two thousand years to complete, created conditions under which the earliest Greek philosophers felt the need to explain their perceptions of the natural world by appealing both to their own reason and to Gods whose presence they still felt. Changing conditions caused great confusion; some looked for principles of unity to explain the multiplicity of nature, but others, including Parmenides, became so locked up in their thinking that they came to regard the sense world as deceptive, contradictory and without value as a path to the truth. Meanwhile Heraclitus seems to have reveled in contradictions, believing that the world is in a state of continuous change and that it is possible to use one’s senses and intelligence to understand the way things work.[1] One proposed solution was the atomic theory of Democritus, which promised to reconcile these opposing views but eventually created doubt as to whether it was possible to know anything at all.

Out of this philosophical chaos, Plato, whose philosophy contained echoes of a more ancient mystery wisdom, and Aristotle, who provided a system of logic and a wealth of natural observations to go with it, created paths along which human thinking would travel for the following two thousand years. In all these years the task was to find the relationship to thinking that would carry us into the next age of Michael, and this proved to be a very difficult task.

Michael is one of seven Archangels who guide and direct the fundamental tendencies of successive ages in relation to man, each one occupying the leading position for a period of between three and four hundred years. Michael was involved in the evolution of human intelligence from the very beginning and at the crucial time when the earliest stirrings of Greek philosophy took place he became the leading Archangel. His reign began in the presocratic period, lasted through the age of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and Alexander the Great and ended soon after the death of Alexander. Steiner describes Aristotle and Alexander as Michaelic figures and they continued to work from the spiritual world for the healthy evolution of humanity. Michael’s influence did not end at that point, but his relationship to the administration of the cosmic intelligence changed. In Karmic Relationships Steiner tells us how Michael and his hosts witnessed the descent of Christ to the earth and realized, at the same time, that Michael was gradually losing his dominion over the Cosmic Intelligence and that human beings would soon have to work with their own intelligence on the earth. “It was”, Steiner says, “a significant and incisive event to see the Intelligence pouring down to the earth.”

“In the earliest Christian centuries we still see those human beings who were capable of it, having at least a few glimpses of what was flowing to them as revelations from beyond the earth. This went on even into the 8th or 9th century A.D.” As this ability faded, “Michael and those who belonged to him had to say: ‘Men upon earth are beginning to become intelligent themselves — beginning to bring forth their own power of understanding from within…’ Men were beginning to form their own thoughts for themselves.”

The early Christian centuries were the time of Neoplatonism, in which people still aspired to communion with the divine intelligence and the great unity that lay above and beyond it. While this movement faded, Aristotelian philosophy flowed into Arabia, Islam was founded, and the court of Baghdad grew in power and splendour until it reached its apogee in the reign of Harun al Rashid at the end of the eighth century AD. Over the next four centuries Arabian philosophers flourished but they were very often at odds with Muslim theologians, particularly over questions of individual consciousness and immortality. Their interpretations of Aristotle’s concepts of the active, cosmic intellect and the potential, human intellect made it difficult to see how thinking could be an individual matter and how human individuality could survive death. The theologians accepted individual responsibility and immortality but had the very difficult task of reconciling the former concept with their belief in predestination. Philosophically the situation was almost as messy as it had been in the presocratic days, and this can be seen partly as a response to the ongoing change in the human relationship to intelligence and partly as a result of influences from members of the hierarchies who wished to retard human evolution towards freedom. One important expression of this was the supersensible conference in which Aristotle and Alexander the Great debated the future evolution of the human race with Harun al Rashid and his counsellor. Aristotle and Alexander wished to keep us on schedule to achieve independence of thought and action in the coming era of the consciousness soul, while Harun and his counsellor strove to maintain the situation in which our thinking belonged to the group as a whole. The latter influence undoubtedly contributed to the genuine difficulties that such Arabian and Moorish philosophers as Al Farabi and Averroes had in providing a sound basis for individual thinking and immortality. Aristotle and Alexander, however, were ready to play their part in fostering the Scholastic Movement which culminated in the great reconciliation of Christianity and Aristotelian philosophy achieved by St. Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century.

In the twelfth century, while this period of Arabian philosophy reached its conclusion in the work of Averroes, the Platonist School of Chartres flourished, and the Scholastic movement gathered momentum. The School of Chartres was one of the results of the educational zeal of Charlemagne and its development was deeply influenced by the Platonic vision of Christianity created by John Scotus Erigena in the ninth century. Exoteric history tells us that in the twelfth century, under the guidance of such teachers as Alanus ab Insulis and John of Salisbury, Christian Platonism reached its highest point before the new wave of Aristotelianism arrived.

Steiner adds spiritual insight to recorded history. John of Salisbury and Alanus ab Insulis taught that Platonism, with its echoes of ancient mystery wisdom, must for a time give way to Aristotelianism which, with its sharply defined conceptions and ideas, would have to work for a while on earth, in order to prepare for what must come again as spirituality at a later time. At the end of the twelfth century the departing spirits of the great Platonist teachers of Chartres met with those who were about to descend as luminaries of Aristotelian Scholasticism and their message was as follows: “For us it is impossible to work on earth for the present… What we, the last bearers of Platonism, were still able to cultivate must now give place to Aristotelianism. We will remain up here.”

Those who were to carry the Scholastic Movement joined in this “supersensible contract,” with the great spirits of Chartres, agreeing with them that they would descend in order to continue the cultivation of knowledge in the Aristotelian form. Those on the earth would remain in touch with those who remained above, and the two groups would reunite in the spiritual world to prepare for the time when the period of Scholasticism would be completed and it would be possible to unfold Spirituality together.

The Scholastics of the thirteenth century generally experienced thinking as an individual human activity which could draw on the realities of thought in the natural world, but in the fourteenth century it was increasingly felt that outside the mind there are only particular objects and events and that our universals and concepts are merely convenient names or labels. So the Aristotelian realism[2] of Aquinas and his colleagues was replaced by the nominalism often associated with William of Ockham.[3]

As Rudolf Steiner put the matter:

“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.”[4]

From the fourteenth century onwards the Michaelic stream of Scholasticism declined on earth and was replaced by the nominalistic stream that became dominant in modern Western European thought. The age of the Archangel Gabriel began at the end of the fifteenth century and Michael, being no longer able to exert a direct influence on earthly spirituality, withdrew to a celestial region where for the next three centuries he would prepare his hosts of angelic beings and human souls for the next age of Michael. Meanwhile Galileo, Kepler, Descartes, Newton and many others were laying the foundations for the coming era of scientific and technological society, and the individual to whom Steiner gives the greatest prominence from the point of view of his Karma is Francis Bacon, the reincarnated individuality of Harun al Rashid, through whom a renewed stream of Arabian thinking entered Western Europe. Steiner speaks of Arabism, without, as far as I know, ever characterizing that term in so many words, and it seems to me to be important to avoid blaming mediaeval Arabian society for the objectionable features of our own. If we try to imagine how future generations will think of our present society we may well conclude that “Judge not, that ye be not judged” is a very apt saying.

While the mediaeval Arabian philosophers moved forward in medicine and physical science, there was a tendency to cling to the past in their spiritual lives, to be unable to relinquish the aspiration to a selfless union with or absorption in the spiritual being of the world – a consummation devoutly to be wished by anyone who feels the terrible weight of individual responsibility.[5] The Muslim theologians had a dilemma of their own, which, as far as I know, they were never able to solve satisfactorily – how to reconcile the firmly held doctrine of predestination with the perception that one is responsible for one’s actions. And it is somewhat misleading to speak of the “Muslim philosophers”, since the two groups were so often at odds with each other.

These old problems emerged in new forms in Bacon’s work: in the strict separation between religious life and scientific exploration, and in the impulse to create a scientific method which functioned like a machine or an assembly line, excluding individual insight and giving each worker a small part to play in which no larger meaning was to be found. Individuality was to be suppressed and the bifurcation was such that a man who believed that God’s thinking was inherent in the natural world could still propose a scientific method that was the epitome of nominalism.

So while Michael was up above, preparing for his next period of rulership, the Ahrimanic spirits of materialism from the lower regions of the earth were doing their utmost to deprive us of our freedom and individuality. As Steiner expresses the situation, “the Nominalists were under an Ahrimanic influence, for their real aim was to banish Michael’s dominion from the Earth. In asserting that ideas are only names and have no reality, their actual aim was to prevent Michael's domin­ion from prevailing on Earth. And at that time the Ahri­manic spirits whispered to those who would lend their ear: The Cosmic Intelligence has fallen away from Michael and is here, on the Earth: we will not allow Michael to resume his rulership over the Intelligence. However, in their heavenly conference, the Platonists and Aristotelians had together formed a plan for the furtherance of the Michael Impulses.”

“So two streams of spiritual life are to be perceived in Middle and Western Europe: on the one side, the stream with which Bacon and Amos Comenius[6] were connected; on the other side, the stream of Scholasti­cism that was and is Christian Aristotelianism, which takes its place in the evolution of civilisation in order to prepare for the new Age of Michael. When the Scholastics looked up into the spiritual realms they said to themselves: Michael is there in the heights; we must await his rulership. But some preparation must be made for the time when he once again becomes the Regent of all that which, through cosmic evolution, fell away from him.

“An intense will was present in the spiritual life of Europe to take strong hold of the thoughts. And in realms above the Earth these happenings led, at the beginning of the nine­teenth century, to a great, far-reaching Act in the spiritual world where what was to become Anthroposophy on the Earth was cast into mighty Imaginations. In the first half of the nineteenth century those who had been Platonists under the teachers of Chartres, who were now living between death and rebirth, and those who had estab­lished Aristotelianism on Earth and who had long ago passed through the gate of death—all of them were united in the heavenly realms in a great Ritual.

“Many drops trickled through to the Earth. Up above, in the spiritual world, in mighty, cosmic Imaginations, prepara­tion was made for that creation of the Intelligence—an entirely spiritual creation—which was then to come forth as Anthroposophy.”

This was how Steiner expressed the matter in a lecture given in Arnhem on July 19, 1924. (Karmic Relationships, Vol. 6, Lecture 8) It’s worth reading also the corresponding passage from a lecture given a few days later in Dornach. (Vol. 3, Lecture 7)

“At the beginning of the fifteenth century there arose under the leadership of Michael something which we may call a supersensible School. What had once been the Michael Mystery — what had been told to the Initiates in the ancient Mysteries of Michael, and must now become different, since the Intelligence had found its way from the cosmos to the earth — all this Michael himself now gathered up. It was a wonderful summing-up of the Platonism that had been continued in the Aristotelian manner, and of all that Alexander the Great had carried into Asia and down into Egypt. In this supersensible School all the souls took part who are now destined to belong to the Anthroposophical Movement. For all that was taught in that School was taught from this point of view, that in the evolution of humanity below, the Michael principle must thenceforth be developed in a different way, namely through the Intelligence of the human soul itself.

“Towards the end of the 19th century Michael himself would once again assume dominion upon the earth, but this new Michael Age must be different from the others. For what Michael had administered through many aeons had now fallen away from him. But he was to find it again when at the end of the seventies of the 19th century he would begin his new earthly rule. He would find it again at a time when an Intelligence intensely exposed to the Ahrimanic forces and bereft of spirituality had taken root among men. For while the Intelligence was descending from the cosmos to the earth, the aspirations of the Ahrimanic powers grew ever greater, striving to wrest the Cosmic Intelligence from Michael.

“Such was the crisis from the beginning of the 15th century until our day, which expresses itself as the battle of Ahriman and Michael. For Ahriman is using all his power to challenge Michael's dominion over the Intelligence that has now become earthly. And Michael, with all the impulses that are his, though his dominion over the Intelligence has fallen from him, is striving to take hold of it again on earth at the beginning of his new earthly rule. Human evolution stood at this decisive point in the last third of the 19th century.

 “So Michael finds himself obliged to defend against Ahriman what he had ruled through the aeons of time for the benefit of humankind. Mankind stands in the midst of this battle; and among other things, to be an anthroposophist is to understand this battle to a certain extent at least.”

Steiner tells us of a crucial event that took place behind the scenes at the beginning of the fifteenth century and revealed itself to the pupils of Michael at the very time when they were receiving their teachings in the supersensible. “In Atlantean times, when the Cosmic Intelligence had taken possession of the hearts of men, such an event had taken place; and now for the present earthly realm it once again broke forth in spiritual lightning and thunder. In the age when men were conscious of the earthly historic convulsions only, the earth appeared, to the spirits in the supersensible worlds, surrounded by mighty lightnings and thunderclaps. The Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones were carrying over the Cosmic Intelligence into that member of man's organisation which we call the system of nerves and senses, the head-organization. Once again a great event had taken place, It does not show itself distinctly as yet, it will only do so in the course of hundreds or thousands of years; but it means that man is being utterly transformed. Formerly he was a heart-man; then he became a head-man. The Intelligence becomes his own. All the power and strength that lies in the domain of the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones now had to be applied in accomplishing a deed such as takes place only after many aeons. And one might say: What Michael taught to his own during that time was heralded in the earthly worlds beneath with thunder and lightning. This should be understood, for these thunders and lightnings must become enthusiasm in the hearts and minds of anthroposophists. And whoever really has the impulse towards Anthroposophy still bears in his soul the echoes of the fact that in the circle of Michael he received this heavenly Anthroposophy. For the heavenly Anthroposophy went before the earthly. The teachings given at that time were to prepare for what is now to become Anthroposophy on the earth.”

To us, assembled in this little room, this may be a stupefying thought. As human beings we don’t probably consider ourselves to be anything out of the ordinary or suitable candidates to carry the whole burden of the future evolution of the human race. And when we realize what the opposition has been up to we may feel even more inadequate, for, as Steiner tells us:

“While Michael above was teaching his hosts, there was founded in the realm lying immediately below the surface of the Earth, a kind of sub-earthly, Ahrimanic school. The Michael School was in the super-earthly world; in the region beneath our feet the opposing Ahrimanic school was founded. And in that particular period, when no impulses were streaming down from Michael bringing heavenly inspiration to the Intelligence, the Ahrimanic hosts strove all the harder to send their impulses up from below into the development of the Intelligence in mankind. It is a truly overwhelming picture: Michael above, teaching his hosts and below, the Ahrimanic school in the sub-strata of the Earth. Upon the Earth, the Intelligence that has fallen from the Heavens is unfolding. For the time being, Michael holds his School in heavenly isolation from the earthly world and there below are the Ahrimanic powers, sending up their impulses with all the greater strength.”

Meanwhile, our old friend and enemy Lucifer is still around and he and Ahriman seem to have made a pact. The theme of these lectures has been the evolution of the human race towards spiritual freedom and individuality and we are supposed to reach this stage in the present age, which Steiner calls the age of the spiritual or consciousness soul. But, in their different ways, Lucifer and Ahriman wish to deprive us of the free use of intelligence which makes this possible. Steiner describes their activities in a lecture called The Work of the Angels in Man’s Astral Body, given in Zurich in 1918, and this is very much to the point, since he also explains what it really means to be an anthroposophist, and shows that as long as we are willing, what we are asked to do doesn’t exceed our humble capacities. Here, in condensed and paraphrased form, are parts of this lecture.

First he tells us what the angels are doing. Through the Angels, the Spirits of Form are shaping pictures in our astral body, pictures which contain forces for the evolution of mankind, forming our social life in such a way that in the future no human being is to find peace in the enjoyment of happiness if others beside him are unhappy. An impulse of Brotherhood is to be the governing principle of the social conditions in physical existence.

A second impulse in the work of the Angels is that through the pictures they form in the astral body there will come a time when we shall all see in each of our fellow human beings a hidden divinity, so that we shall see them not merely as more highly de­veloped animals, but as manifesting something from the divine foundations of the world. The basis of all free re­ligious feeling that will unfold in humanity in the future will be the acknowledgement that every human being is made in the likeness of God. Underlying this impulse is the intention that we should achieve complete freedom in our religious life.

“And there is a third objective: To make it possible for us to reach the Spirit through thinking, to cross the abyss and through thinking to experience the reality of the Spirit: So we shall have Spiritual Science for the spirit, freedom of religious life for the soul, brotherhood for the bodily  life. We must gradually come to understand this in our wide ­awake consciousness.”

Unless we become conscious of this work, things will go radically wrong. “This epoch of the Spiritual Soul is heading towards the time when purely through the Spiritual Soul, purely through our conscious thinking, we must reach the point of actually perceiving what the Angels are doing to prepare the future of humanity. Spiritual Science in this domain must become practical wisdom in the life of humanity —practical, because people can be convinced that it belongs to their own wisdom to recognise the aims of the Angels.

“But the progress of the human race towards freedom has already gone so far that it depends upon us whether we will sleep through this event or face it with wide awake consciousness. The essential step has already been taken when Spiritual Science is studied and consciously under­stood. Spiritual Science can be studied to-day without developing clairvoyant faculties. If people study Spiritual Science more and more thoroughly, if they as­similate its concepts and ideas, their consciousness will become so alert that instead of sleeping through certain events, they will be fully aware of them. Then a threefold truth will be revealed to mankind by the Angels.

“Firstly, we shall learn to understand the deeper side of human nature, to see spiritually what out fellow human beings really are. That is the one point—and that is what will particularly affect the social life.

“Secondly: The Angels will reveal to us that the only true Christianity is the Christianity which makes possible absolute freedom in the religious life.

“And thirdly: Unquestionable insight into the spiritual nature of the world.

Let me remind you that “the spiritual nature of the world” provided the working substance for the realist philosophy of the Scholastics and is exactly what is missing from extreme nominalism. Ahriman, being the spirit of materialism, embraced and fostered nominalism, whereas Lucifer found the clear, sharp-edged thinking that went with it quite uncongenial. However, as Steiner explains, the two have managed what we used to call a pincer movement in the Second World War.

“If we fol­low the dictates of our proper nature, we can not very well fail to perceive what the Angels are unfolding in our astral bodies; but the aim of the Luciferic beings is to tear us away from insight into the work of the Angels. And they set about doing this by curbing our free will. True, they desire to make us good. Lucifer wants us to be good and spiritual, but with automatic goodness and spirituality. He wants to lead us automatically to clairvoyance, to remove from us the possibility of evil-doing, so that we act out of the spirit, but as reflections, as automata, without free will.

“The Luciferic beings, having fallen behind at earlier stages of evolu­tion, have not acquired free will and so, they hate the free will of man. They want to lift us to their own spiri­tual heights, to make us automatically spiritual beings, so that our actions will be those of spiritual puppets and we shall sleep through the impending revelation.

“But the Ahrimanic beings too are working to obscure this revelation by destroying the consciousness of our own spirituality and convincing us that we are nothing but com­pletely developed animals. Ahriman is the promoter of materialistic Darwinism, total technology and the refusal to acknowledge the validity of anything except the external life of the senses. The Ahrimanic beings are endeavouring to darken in man the consciousness that he is an image of God.

“From this mention of the streams which run counter to the normal, God-willed evolution of the human race it can be gathered how we must conduct our lives, lest the impending revelation find us asleep. If we are not alert, the evolution of the Earth and the human race will be in grave danger.

The angels are working to achieve something that can be fulfilled only in earthly humanity, and only if we are awake to what is happening. If we sleep through the spiritual processes and events of our time then the Angels will have to fulfill their aims through our physical and etheric bodies while we are asleep, instead of through the astral. This was the great danger for the age of the Spiritual Soul about which Steiner spoke in 1918. This is what might still happen, he said, if, before the end of the century people were to refuse to turn to the spiritual life. He pointed out that there wasn’t much time left and it might still happen that the aim of the Angels in their work would have to be achieved by means of our sleeping bodies while we were not there, because if we were there in the waking state, we would obstruct it. Steiner explains what the results of this process would be and we can consider them in the light of the fact that the year two thousand has come and gone.

First, he says, the effect in the evolu­tion of humanity would be that certain instincts connected with the mystery of birth and conception and with sexual life as a whole would arise in a pernicious form instead of wholesomely, in clear waking consciousness. These instincts would pass over into the social life, and would prevent us from unfolding brotherhood in any form whatever on the earth.

The second aspect is that while everything connected with medicine will make a great advance in the materialistic sense, people will acquire instinctive insights into the medicinal properties of certain substances and treat­ments—and thereby do terrible harm. But the harm will be called useful. People will actually like things that make the human being—in a certain way —unhealthy. It will then be possible either to bring about or not to bring about illnesses, entirely as suits their egotistical purposes.

The third result will be the discovery of forces which, by bringing certain vibrations into accord, will enable us to unleash tremendous mechanical forces in the world. Spiritual guidance and control of mechanical principles will lead technical science into a wasteland which human egotism will find useful and beneficial.

This knowledge of human evolution can be truly understood only through a spiritually informed view of life. An unspiritual conception of life would give no understanding, but would regard these developments as evidence of superhuman progress, of freedom from convention. In a certain respect, ugliness would be beauty and beauty, ugliness. Nothing of this would be perceived be­cause it would all be regarded as natural neces­sity. But it would denote an aberration from the true path of human evolution.

“If we understand how Spiritual Science affects our whole attitude of mind, there can arise the earnestness required for receiving such truths, leading to the acknowledgment of definite re­sponsibilities in life. Whatever we have to do in the world, the essential thing is to foster the thought that our conduct must be permeated and illumined by our anthroposophical consciousness. Then we contribute something towards the true progress of humanity.

True Spiritual Science begets vigilance, and if, in some epoch, those who ought to be vigilant fail in this respect and do not discern what really ought to happen, then nothing real does happen. Instead, the ghost of the preceding epoch walks. In the age of the Spiritual [Consciousness] Soul, one way in which Spiritual Science makes us free is to lead us to the percep­tion of what the angels are doing in our astral bodies. We must not sleep through what is being inculcated into our conscious life in the present epoch. Let us draw from anthroposophical Spiritual Science not only teach­ings, but resolutions as well. They will give us strength to be vigilant and alert.

This means that we must learn to know this Ahriman, who strives to take the divine intelligence for his own purposes and tries to snare us by encouraging us to do the same. “Ahriman stands before us as a cosmic Being of the highest imaginable Intelligence, one who has already taken the Intelligence entirely into the individual, personal element. If ever we let ourselves in for a discussion with Ahriman, we should inevitably be shattered by the logical conclusiveness, the magnificent certainty of aim with which he manipulates his arguments. In Ahriman’s opinion, the really decisive question is this: Will cleverness or stupidity prevail? And Ahriman calls stupidity everything that does not contain Intelligence within it in full personal individuality.

“Michael, however, is not in the least concerned with the personal quality of Intelligence. We human beings are always tempted to make our Intelligence personal as Ahriman has done. But Michael wills only to administer the Cosmic Intelligence and not to make it personally his own. And now that people have the Intelligence, it should again be administered by Michael as something belonging to all mankind — as the common and universal Intelligence that benefits all of us alike.”

This last comment may seem confusing. We have learnt from Steiner how the universal intelligence came down into the hearts and minds of individual people, and now he is speaking about “the common and universal intelligence that benefits all of us alike.” The point is that in the distant past the divine intelligence thought in us and, for good or ill, there was nothing we could do about it. Now we have the freedom either to use our thinking in the service of the Michaelic impulse for humanity or to let it be bent into a means of aiding and abetting Ahriman.

When we look at the way logical thinking has developed over the past several hundred years we see that the whole thrust of the developing scientific consciousness has been to make the intelligence abstract and impersonal. This has been done in logic, mathematics and science by removing the content and dealing only with relations between objects that no longer have any substantial being. To take the simplest possible case, if A = B and B = C, then A = C. It doesn’t matter in the least what A, B and C are. Euclid’s geometry was about the points, lines and planes of everyday experience. He thought he knew what these words meant, but in today’s high school textbooks they are merely convenient undefined terms. J. J. Thomson thought of the electron as an actual particle of matter with an electric charge, but by the 1930’s the questions of what it was made of and how its electric charge was constituted had become meaningless and all that remained was a set of equations. The odd thing is that these happenings, together with an infusion from the theory of relativity, brought elements of subjectivity into what was supposed to have been a totally objective study and this was part of a general relativization of everything, so that in the course of conversation about anything under the sun, one was almost bound to hear someone say, “Well, it’s all relative, isn’t it?” We each have our own little niche from which we construct our personal view of the universe. Ahriman persuades us that we are seeing the whole picture, that our particular view is the right one, and perhaps even that we should try to impose it on everyone else. So if we are not watchful, the result of our becoming free and independent in our thinking is that we each become trapped by Ahriman in a little world of our own. How can we escape?

Steiner gave some answers in scientific courses given in 1920 and 1921. Modern scientific method, he says, is necessary and important but in the process we lose contact with the actual world of experience. But this doesn’t mean that modern mathematical science should be shunned. In The Boundaries of Natural Science, Steiner links it with the development of spiritual science.

            “…nobody can attain true knowledge of the spirit who has not acquired scientific discipline, who has not learnt to investigate and think in the laboratories according to the modern scientific method. Those who pursue spiritual science have less cause to undervalue modern science than anyone…”[7]

            In Anthroposophy and Science, he deals with the mathematical treatment of the natural world and points to the feeling of certainty which arises from this

            “A clear knowledge of the feeling that accompanies the use of mathematics [in natural science] will lead us to acknowledge the necessity that a spiritual science must come about with an equal degree of certainty... This spiritual science will conform in every discipline to the scientific consciousness of the times; it will, in addition oppose all that is brought forward by modern science that is suspect, and it will answer questions that often go unanswered. Spiritual science will be on a very sure mathematical foundation.[8] [My italics]

            However, what a spiritual scientist wishes to build on that foundation doesn’t carry with it the usual penalty – loss of the immediate experience of the natural world.

            “Especially in our age”, Steiner says, “in which there is real proficiency in the handling of facts in an outer experimental way… what is investigated experimentally must be permeated with the results of spiritual research.” Our experimental, mathematical way of dealing with our surroundings brings “order and harmony into the otherwise chaotic stream of everyday facts… [but] one has to admit that all the knowledge obtained in this way stands as a closed door to the outer world in that it does not allow the essence of this outer world to enter our cognition… As long as we remain in this field of knowledge, we cannot see through the outer appearances; we also, of course, do not claim to do so… Basically we need this kind of knowledge to maintain our normal human consciousness.” [My italics]

The mathematical treatment of nature helps to give us a feeling of unity with an outer world, but the abundance of sense impressions – colors, sounds, smells, tastes, textures – is lost, and nothing in the whole world of mathematical representation can replace it. The equations which enable us to design optical instruments and explain rainbows give no inkling that there is such a thing as the actual sensation of color.

This brings Steiner to the key question: “Is it possible that what is first experienced mathematically as pale abstractions can become inwardly, spiritually concrete? …This we can see as a third step in attaining knowledge. The first step would be the familiar grasping of the real outer world. The second would be the mathematical penetration of the outer world. The third would be the entirely inner experience, like the mathematical experience but with the character of spiritual reality.” Steiner didn’t mention Michael in these lectures, but these processes exemplify what Steiner was talking about three years later in the Karma Lectures when he put things more bluntly: “The blundering, inadequate, and frequently repulsive attempts of modern natural science must be transmuted by a spiritual world-conception, so that a true reading of the Book of Nature will arise from them. This is the impulse of Michael. Now that the Intelligence administered by him has come down to us, it is his impulse to lead us again to the point where we shall read once more in the Book of Nature. In reality, all of us in the Anthroposophical Movement should feel that we can only understand our karma when we know that we are called to read once more, spiritually, in the Book of Nature — to find the spiritual background of Nature.”

I don’t know whether some of you are saying to yourselves, “Why can’t he stick to one thing or one lecture at a time? Why all this popping about from one course to another?” And it is true that the mind tends to boggle at the sheer amount and variety of substance that Steiner dealt with in the last few years of his life. Few people have the time to study even a fraction of it, and the temptation to become a kind of professional anthroposophist who has read it all and can quote chapter and verse is to be avoided. In the course of a fairly long life I have studied the books and lectures that had to do with my professional life, my inner needs and the fact that I have an insatiable desire to understand how things work. People’s lives and needs vary immensely and another person would quote from different books and lectures, but I believe that the message would be essentially the same; that knowledge of the spirit can enable us to take Ahriman’s weapons and turn them against him. We are required to be earnest, to dig in and take our responsibilities as members of the Anthroposophical Society seriously, not for the furtherance of the Society but for the future of the human race. This is the Karma that Steiner refers to in the last paragraph that I quoted. So we avoid the Luciferic tendency to slide along the surface and dwell only on what makes us feel happy, we embrace the battle between beauty and ugliness, we seek the spirit that remains in the natural world and we are aware that, in Steiner’s words,

“Behind the scenes of existence is raging the battle of Michael against all that is of Ahriman. And this is among the tasks of the anthroposophist. ... to feel that the cosmos is as it were in the very midst of the battle. But Michael insists that his dominion shall prevail at any cost. Michael is a Spirit filled with strength, and he can only make use of brave people who are full of inner courage.”

This would be a fine note to end on, but I have to admit that when someone tells me that I have to be brave the first thing that happens is that I feel scared. I don’t feel like the sort of person on whom the future of the human race ought to be depending and I don’t suppose many of you do either. So here are a couple of encouraging thoughts, of which the first is that one of the ways in which Michael operates is to give people courage. Steiner talks about the benefits of studying spiritual science and it is especially heartening to read about the Archangel Michael, which you can do in this book [The Archangel Michael – His Mission and Ours, ed. Christopher Bamford], in the Karma Lectures, in the collection of Michaelmas Lectures, in the Letters to Members, in the Four Seasons and the Archangels and in many other places. It strikes me that Michael is not the sort of Archangel who embraces lost causes, but one who takes the initiative and never lets go. Steiner says that he is determined to win whatever the cost, and the cost may be great. Whatever the catastrophes that lie in the future, the most important thing is that we keep our souls intact. I don’t say pure – we are all tainted in one way or another – but in some part still devoted to what is good, true and unselfish. And for this we have help from the great source of all sources, of whom Michael is the representative.

 In other words, it’s not sufficient to decide on a generalized state of alertness – yellow, orange or red, depending on how great the threat from Ahriman is on any particular day. We start from where we are, noting the miracles that occur in our daily lives, including things that for some reason didn’t happen, and realizing that if we don’t find any we’ve been missing something. Cultivating awareness in this fashion starts us on a direct path to the work of the angel. And while we’re looking at ourselves in this way, we may remember that before complaining about our neighbors and shaking our fists at the evil empires of computerized society we should do our best to clean up our own acts. If we allow the good spiritual beings to work in our hearts, brotherhood, freedom and spiritual insight will spread among people of good will, but we can’t hope to make all the bad stuff disappear. Individual selfishness and corporate greed, genocide, abuses in what has become known as the health industry, the culture of the megachurches, the treatment of people as statistics, and the poisoning of the earth – all these things will continue.

So it was not by accident that, a few years after Michael’s new reign began, the Anthroposophical Society was founded, in the belief that, having been kicked out of the nest by the divine beings who fostered our evolution for so long, we can now find our way back to the spirit in freedom.

I say “belief” rather than “knowledge” because it is not a foregone conclusion that things will work out that way. We must strive to create the Michaelic spirit of courage within ourselves so that we can defeat the Ahrimanic powers that wish to bind the human being to the material world and take the divine intelligence for themselves. At an earlier stage of our history the human heart was united with the cosmic intelligence, but now, through the work of the hierarchies, the intelligence has moved into our brains and nerves, a process so powerful that it was accompanied by cosmic thunders and lightnings. We became head-men instead of heart-men, and when Michael returned he found an intelligence bereft of spirituality through its exposure to Ahriman’s forces. As Steiner says, if we are to succeed in following the path of Michael, “these thunders and lightnings must become enthusiasm in the hearts and minds of anthroposophists.” Head and heart must be united so that, in Steiner’s words, “hearts begin to have thoughts.”

We live in a world in which, at one time, idea and object, thought and perception were united. By the will of divine beings, the realm of thought became detached from the realm of sense perception and gradually came closer to the human being. By the end of the fourteenth century this process was complete and people felt that their thoughts were their own. This coincided with the end of the great period of Scholasticism, in which people had tried to work out the relations between sense perception, thinking and the divine, and in which nominalism had largely triumphed over realism. The drift into materialism became an instrument in the divine plan for humanity. Our task is to stop those powers opposed to this plan from binding us permanently to the material world and preventing our re-ascent to the spirit.

In spiritual science, as in orthodox science, we have learnt to expect contradictions. As Emerson remarked, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.” Unfortunately, the Sage of Concord forgot to tell us how to identify foolishness, so we must rely on our own resources in deciding whether consistency is desirable in any particular case. As mere mortals we rightly condemn the use of foul means to arrive at fair ends, although ideal behavior is much easier to formulate than to emulate. If, in the spiritual world, things seem to be different it is because of our almost ineradicable habit of seeing things in terms of only one incarnation. It seems quite right and understandable that in our individual lives we have to go through very bad times to achieve some sort of redemption: in the larger context we can preserve our sanity only by seeing the undeserved agonies and extinctions suffered by whole groups or even nations and races as belonging to a great cycle in which origins and consequences work over successive incarnations. This does not mean that we condone evil acts of persecution, murder and genocide. We know that we must do everything in our power to prevent them and that in so doing we may alter the course of karma for the persecutors as well as for the victims. But we also have some consolation in the knowledge that when the intentions of the good spirits are subverted by the activities of those who have their own ideas about the evolution of the human race, the evils which result can be turned to good, even though the process may take centuries or millennia. So the plunge into materialism “that from a certain point of view, must be resisted, nevertheless can make its appearance in the world in accordance with the rightful cosmic plan.”

Thinking is a divine gift, and, like many gifts, it can become a burden, so that one is often tempted to remain in a realm of unformed feeling. To unite heart and mind is to bring feeling and thinking together, so that feeling is given form and direction and thought is endued with warmth. Let us use our capacities joyfully and remember that when the divine powers decided to download the cosmic intelligence into the human soul they certainly expected us to use it.

The life of man between birth and death — in the post-Atlantean age — had, however, its influence also upon the body-free state after death. The more the human being turned his interest toward the physical-sensory world, the greater was the possibility of Ahriman penetrating into the soul during earth life and of his retaining power beyond death. Among the peoples of ancient India this danger was still insignificant, because they had, during earth life, felt the physical world of the senses to be an illusion. As a result, they were able to elude the power of Ahriman. The danger of the prehistoric Persian people was much greater, because in the life between birth and death they had turned their interest toward the physical world of the senses. They would have fallen prey to Ahriman to a high degree, had Zarathustra not through his teaching about the God of Light drawn attention in an impressive manner to the fact that behind the physical-sensory world there exists the world of the Spirits of Light. In proportion to the absorption into the soul of this visualized world by the people of the Persian culture did they escape from the clutches of Ahriman during earth life and likewise during the life after death, when they prepared for a new earth life. During earth life the power of Ahriman leads to the consideration of physical-sensory existence as the only one, thus barring all outlook into the spiritual world. In the spiritual world this power leads the human being to complete isolation, to concentration of all interests only upon himself. Human beings who at death are in the power of Ahriman are reborn as egotists.

 

Notes:

 

[1]“Heraclitus says that the universe is divisible and indivisible, generated and ungenerated, mortal and immortal, Word and Eternity, Father and Son, God and Justice. He praises and admires the unseen part of his [God’s] power above the known part. That he is visible to men and not undiscoverable he says in the following words: ‘I honour more those things which are learned by sight and hearing...’ ” (Hippolytus)

 

[2]“Aristotelian realism” may jar on people who are familiar with the idea of “Platonic realism”. Aristotle’s was a modified form which maintained the capacity of the human mind to receive the thought content of the natural world, but abandoned the notion of generative archetypes in the spiritual world.

[3] Nobody is a 100% nominalist.

 

[4] Rudolf Steiner, Letters to Members

 

[5] Hamlet

 

[6] The reincarnation of Harun’s counsellor.


[7] Rudolf Steiner, The Boundaries of Natural Science, Dornach, 1920; Anthroposophic Press, Spring Valley, NY, 1982.

 

[8] This and the quotations that follow are drawn from Rudolf Steiner, Anthroposophy and Science, Stuttgart 1921; Mercury Press, Spring Valley, NY, 1991.



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