Freedom and the Catholic Church

La Inmaculada Concepción - Bartolomé Murillo

by Rudolf Steiner

Lecture 2 of 3 to members of the Anthroposophical Society

Dornach, Switzerland, June 3, 1920 – GA 198

It is my intention today to continue with the subject we began here last Sunday, and I should like first to go back to the few words I then said concerning the Anti-Modernist Oath. I described its nature by saying that since the time of its inauguration anyone who holds a teaching office in the Roman Catholic Church, whether as theologian or preacher, has to take this oath which forbids anyone engaged in Catholic teaching to deviate from what is recognized as dogmatic truth by the Roman Catholic Church; which means, in fact, what is recognized as dogma by the Roman Curia.

Now in face of such a fact the important question to ask oneself is: “What is there actually new about this Anti-Modernist Oath?”

There is nothing new in the adherence of a Catholic preacher or theologian to the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church; please be clear about that. What is new is that the person concerned has to take an oath to adhere to the doctrine of the Church. I want you to be clear about this first, and then to see it in relation to the fact that there has been a prodigious piling up of historical events in the Roman Catholic Church during the last half century. It began with the definition of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception; then came a further extraordinary, subtle, and clever step in the Encyclical and Syllabus of the sixties, in which Pope Pius IX in his eighty Articles declared all modern thinking to be heretical. Then on top of that came the definition of the Dogma of Infallibility, again a very important and extraordinarily clever and subtle advance. The next extremely logical step was the Encyclical “Acterni Patris,” which declared the doctrine of Thomas Aquinas to be the official doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. The crowning of this whole structure for the time being is this oath against Modernism, which in effect is nothing else than the carrying over of something which was always present intellectually into the sphere of human emotion, the sphere of will and feeling. That which always had to be acknowledged has, since the year 1907, had also to be sworn on oath.

Anyone who understands this grandiose dramatic development will certainly not underestimate its importance, for it demonstrates the only wakeful consciousness within our sleeping civilization. I should be interested to know how many people felt as if stung by a viper when they read a certain sentence in the last number of the “Basler Vorwarts,” [Basel daily] which illuminates as by a flash of lightning the whole situation at the present time. I should really like to know how many people, when reading this, felt as if stung by a viper! The sentence runs: “Religion, which represents a fantastic reflex in the minds of human beings concerning their relations one to another and to nature, is doomed to natural decay through the victorious growth of the scientific, clear and naturalistic grasp of reality which is bound to develop parallel with the establishment of a planned society.” This sentence is to be found in an article which has not yet appeared in its entirety, but has yet to be concluded. It is to be found in an article on the measures taken by Lenin and Trotsky against the Russian Catholic Church and the Russian religious communities in general. This article is at the same time an indication of what is regarded as the programme for the future in these quarters.

One knows for a certainty that the number of Lenin’s opponents who feel as if stung by a viper on reading such a sentence is very small. I want to emphasize this as not being without significance, because it brings out to what an extent modern humanity passes lightly over things, usually asleep — how it passes over the weightiest facts, facts which are decisive for the life of mankind on this earth. It is, of course, not a question of any one such sentence; the point is that in certain quarters they will see to it that the content of what is there expressed will be made known throughout the world, that among the widest circles of the European population an outlook will come about which can be thus expressed: “Religion which represents a fantastic reflex in the minds of human beings concerning their relations to one another and to nature, is doomed to natural decay.” The so-called ‘enlightened’ humanity of today is still soundly asleep to the fact that such a view is coming. But the Roman Catholic Church is awake; she alone in fact is awake and is working systematically against the approaching storm. She works against it in her own way. And it is very important that we should understand that way, for I have had much to say about the attacks from that quarter that are being forged against what we have to stand for. Meanwhile the clouds are gathering. The latest is that the bill posters had to notify us that the man who this morning was to have posted up in Reinach the announcement of Saturday’s lecture had the posters taken from him and burnt. You see, these things are getting worse, even here they are getting systematically worse.

What was written by a man who frequently hides behind the bushes and calls himself ‘Spectator’ — a pack of sheer lies, I told you last time about the most egregious of them — now goes through the whole Roman Catholic press, and this burning of our posters really takes one back out of modern times altogether.

I have already raised the important question as to why the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church today must take an oath in support of what they were already pledged to maintain. No one will deny that the enforcement of such an oath strengthens the external grasp of the matter. Nor will anyone deny that if it is felt necessary to make people take this oath, the assumption is that without such an oath they would no longer go so firmly forward. But there is, of course, still a third point, which it would be well for you to ponder. For verily things enter in here which must not yet be called by their right names; yet the question may nevertheless be thrown out as an aside. Must not confidence in a thing be already to a certain extent shattered if it has to be sworn on oath? Is it a possibility to administer an oath for the truth? Can there be such a possibility? Is it not necessary to assume that the truth of its own inherent force is its own guarantee in the human soul? Perhaps it is not so important to ask whether an oath is moral or good or useful; perhaps it is far more important historically to ask whether it has become necessary, and if so, why?

In view of this oath something else is now necessary. It is necessary that a certain number of human beings should feel how without spiritual science there must inevitably come over Europe the consequence of the frame of mind expressed in the words “Religion, which represents a fantastic reflex in the minds of human beings concerning their relations to one another and to nature, is doomed to natural decay through the victorious growth of the scientific, clear and naturalistic grasp of reality, which is bound to develop parallel with the establishment of a planned society.”

What is it that is to bring about the decay of the old religions one and all? It is all that has arisen during the last three to four centuries as modern science, enlightened science — all that is taught as objective science in the educational institutions of civilized humanity. Bourgeois teaching and bourgeois methods of administration have been adopted by the proletariat. What the teachers of the universities and high schools right down to the elementary schools have put into the souls of men, comes out through Lenin and Trotsky. They bring out nothing but what is already taught in the institutions of civilized humanity.

Today there exists an antithesis which one should contemplate without prejudice. It is this. What is to be done to prevent the influence of Lenin and Trotsky from spreading over the entire civilized world? The primary necessity is no longer to allow our children and our youth to be taught what has been taught right up to the Twentieth Century in our universities and in our secondary and elementary schools. To grasp this seeming contradiction demands courage, and because people do not want to have this courage, they go to sleep. That is why one has to say that whoever reads a declaration such as the one I have just quoted, even if it only appears in a few lines of an article, should feel as if stung by a viper; for it is as if the whole situation of present-day civilization were illumined by a flash of lightning.

Face to face with this situation, what should spiritual science do? What spiritual science should do, I would characterize somewhat as follows. The Roman Catholic Church, as a mighty corporation, represents the last withered remains of the civilization of the fourth post-Atlantean Epoch. It can be well authenticated in all detail that the Roman Catholic Church represents the last remnant of what was the right civilization for the fourth post-Atlantean epoch, what was justified right up to the middle of the Fifteenth Century, but what has now become a shadow. Of course products of a later evolution often herald their arrival in an earlier period, and its earlier products linger on into a later epoch; but in essentials the Roman Catholic Church represents what was justifiable for Europe and its colonies up to the middle of the Fifteenth Century.

Spiritual science, however, as we understand it, has to further the needs of the fifth post-Atlantean civilization. The Roman Catholic Church represents in a number of dogmas, as a self-contained structure which is dead but which still exists as a corpse, something which hangs together inwardly through a well-constructed logic, a logic of reality. In this structure there is spirit, the spirit of a past epoch, but it is spirit. The way in which spirit is contained within it I have, I think, shown in the lectures I held here on St. Thomas Aquinas. There was spirit in these teachings, in these dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church, a spirit which had been perceived by those great ones whose last stragglers we find in Plotinus and others, and with which St. Augustine had yet to wrestle.

Since the middle of the Fifteenth Century, what has appeared as philosophy, science, public opinion, worldview, apart from the Roman Catholic Church, is, for the most part, void of spirit. For the spirit of the fifth post-Atlantean age begins only to emerge with such principles as those of Lessing and Goethe. And it wants to enter into what the natural-scientific trend inaugurated by Copernicus, Galilee and Kepler was able to yield without spirit, and out of which Darwin, Huxley, and so on have blown the last remnant of Spirit. It wants to enter into that and fill it with Spirit. And spiritual science wishes to make manifest the Spirit which has to be the spirit of the fifth post-Atlantean age.

An institution permeated by a certain spirit as its own soul, if it is to maintain itself as an institution, can only fight for the past. To demand of the Catholic Church that it should fight for the future would be folly, for an institution which carried the spirit of the fourth post-Atlantean epoch cannot possibly carry that of the fifth. What the Catholic Church has become, what has spread over the civilized world as the configuration of the Catholic Church, and has its other aspect in Roman law and the abstractness of the whole Latin culture, all that belongs to the fourth cultural epoch. And the Catholic Church configuration has permeated the entire of civilization far more than men think. The monarchies, even if they were Protestant ones, were in their structure at bottom Latin Catholic institutions. For the fourth epoch it was necessary that people should be organized according to abstract principles, and that certain hierarchical ordinances should form the basis of organization. But what is to come as the spirit of the fifth post-Atlantean age, which we seek to cultivate through spiritual science, does not require such a firm structure, does not need a structure organized according to abstract principles, but requires such a relation of one human being to another as is characterized in my Philosophy of Freedom as ethical individualism. What that book has to say on the subject of ethics stands in the same contrast to the social structure fostered by the Roman Catholic Church as spiritual science stands to Roman Catholic theology.

Spiritual Science was never meant to appear in the role of belligerent; spiritual science was only meant to state what it saw to be the truth. Anyone who examines our activities here will have to admit that never, never have I taken an aggressive stance. Of course, one has had constantly to defend oneself against attacks which came from outside, and that is the essential thing. But it is simply a demand of the age that what spiritual science has to give should be stated quite concretely. One has to remember that modern civilization is asleep, and that Rome is awake. That Rome is awake is revealed by the mighty drama unrolled in the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception; in the publication of the Encyclical of 1864, with its Syllabus condemning eighty modern truths; in the declaration of the Infallibility of the Pope; in the naming of Thomas Aquinas as the official philosopher of the Catholic priesthood; and finally in the anti-Modernist Oath for the teaching clergy.

In face of the rising tide of Darwinism, in face of the rising tide of naturalism in the fifties, something was done which, although it can only be understood out of the spiritual demands of the fourth post-Atlantean epoch nevertheless throws down the gauntlet before all this rising materialism. The rest of the world lets it come, or at best counters it with foolish arguments such as those of Eucken. Rome, however, sets up the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, which states clearly: “Naturally, no one can accept the Immaculate Conception and at the same time ascribe to Darwinism; thus we establish the incompatibility of the two things.” Not more than a decade later, the whole structure of the modern world conception, void of spirit, is condemned by the Syllabus. The definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was already a departure from all the earlier traditional development of the Catholic Church. In what, in former times, consisted definition by an Ecumenical Council? Within the Catholic Church a fundamental condition for the definition of any dogma — I am simply relating, not criticizing — was that the Fathers gathered together in the Council in which the dogma was to be defined should be illumined by the Holy Spirit; so that in reality the originator of the dogma is the Holy Spirit. It is really a question of recognizing whether the Holy Ghost is really inspires the dogma to be defined. How does one know, how did they know that? Because what was about to be defined as a dogma by an Ecumenical Council was already the opinion of the whole Catholic Church. Now that was not the case with the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception; consequently, one of the fundamental principles of the Catholic Church was broken, the principle which required that a doctrine shall only be made into a dogma if the faithful have previously signified an inclination towards it. Of course, as regards these modern definitions of dogma, one was already living in the events of the fifth post-Atlantean epoch; and it was no longer so easy as in the Middle Ages so to prepare the faithful that a common opinion prevailed among them which could then be defined. But you see, the ground had been well prepared — preparations had really been going on all through the last three or four centuries for these latest revelations; that is to say, these last revelations so far. Even then the Roman Catholic Church was already awake; and if you remember when the Jesuit Order was founded, you will easily draw the inference that the foundation of that Order is essentially connected with the fact that some means had to be found to overcome the difficulties of working on the faithful in modern times and generally to take these difficulties into account. One ought to pay attention to the course things have taken. I am only relating, I am not criticizing. 1574 was the year in which the citizens of Lucerne expressed a desire for Jesuitism. Let me repeat that it was Canisius, the immediate disciple of Ignatius Loyola, who founded the Jesuit College in Freiburg in 1580 which later established its colony in Solothurn [Switzerland]. I should like too, to say that after the suppression of the Jesuit Order by Clement XIV, the Jesuits had, of course, to disappear from Switzerland, and they then continued their activities only in the countries of Frederick II of Prussia and of Catherine of Russia, to whom the Jesuit Order really owes its continued existence.

But in this extraordinary interregnum between the suppression of the Jesuit Order in 1773 by Clement XIV and its reinstatement by Pius VII in 1814, strange things nevertheless happened. For you see, during this interval, in Sion [Switzerland], for example, the institution which had been conducted by the Jesuits naturally remained; and as a matter of fact for the most part, too, the same teachers remained in it; only up to 1773 these teachers were Jesuits, and from that date onward they were no longer Jesuits, but one spoke of the Fathers of the Faith as teaching in such institutions. Therefore, it is not surprising that after Pius VII had in 1814 withdrawn the decree of Clement XIV, these Jesuit colonies were again reinstated — in Brigue the same year, in Freiberg in 1818, in Schwyz in 1836 [Switzerland].

It is not my task to criticize these things, but I want you to know about them, and I should further like to say this. From my explanations you will have seen that from the 21st of July, 1773, when Clement XIV issued the Bull “Dominus ac Redemptor Noster” until Pius VII caused his Bull “Solicitude omnium Ecclesiarum” to appear, the Jesuit Order was officially suppressed. Now comes something extraordinary. There exist memoirs written by a man who was called Cordara, a Jesuit, one who had gone through all the grades of the Jesuit Order. From his memoirs it is evident that he was not an ignoramus like Count Hoensbruch, whose speeches and writings are unimportant, for, of course, the Jesuits are clever and Hoensbruch is very foolish. It is a question of not being asleep over these things today, but of knowing how to distinguish the important from the unimportant. I should like to mention one point in Cordara’s memoirs, where he remarks that it was strange that the Jesuit Order should have been suppressed by Pope Clement XIV, who had a great liking for the Jesuits and was at the same time an extremely tolerant man and no fool. Thus Cordara gives Pope Clement an excellent character, almost lauds him to the skies, in spite of the fact that he suppressed the Jesuits. Therefore, Cordara naturally asks how it was that they had to be suppressed by this kindly Pope. “One must ask,” says Cordara, “What were the intentions of Divine Wisdom in the suppression of the Jesuits and why it was permitted?” Now, of course, Cordara was a Jesuit, but a man who had even been taught by them to think logically, and therefore, he does not ask abstract questions but very concrete ones. He said, “We have to look for what was blameworthy in the Order,” and he goes on to say, “I find that as regards morality, the Jesuit Order has gone admirably to work; as to lack of chastity or the like, we are very strict, nobody can deny it. But we are very lenient towards everything of the nature of slander, calumny, and abuse.” Cordara actually says that God probably allowed the suppression of the Jesuit Order by Pope Clement XIV because there had gradually crept into the Order a certain tendency to slander, calumny, and abuse. Now I am not criticizing this, I am only relating facts. I should only like to add that the Jesuit Cordara further says: “One of our chief faults is pride, which causes us to regard all other Orders as of no account and worthless, and all secular clergy as worthless.”

Now, if one puts together everything in these memoirs which is said, not as a reproach to the Jesuit Order but simply as a kind of mea culpa, as an examination of conscience by a Jesuit, one finds in the first place striving for political power; second — pride, arrogance; third — contempt of other Orders and secular priests; fourth — accumulation of wealth. But if one gradually comes to know what it means to maintain dead, withered truths by means of power, one cannot do better than to use such an Order to provide for their maintenance. The Roman Catholic Church in Pius VII well knew what it was doing. It discharged its debt of gratitude to world history, history made by Frederick II, King of Prussia, and by Catherine of Russia, both now dead, when it reinstated the Jesuit Order. And among the first ‘foreign’ Jesuits to teach here in Switzerland again were many of those who had been protected by Catherine, many who came back from Russia. You can read all this in the relevant historical documents.

You can see, therefore, that Rome was wide awake and made in advance her necessary preparations. Wide awake preparation was made. Now comes the next step, the condemnation of all that mounting tide of science — ripe for condemnation since after four centuries of effort to drive out the spirit, it remained void of spirit and mankind remained asleep. The next step was the Encyclical of 1864 with its Syllabus. If the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception had already been a break with all earlier custom of the Roman Catholic Church, undoubtedly what was promulgated in the doctrine of Infallibility constituted a far greater break. For all the acumen of the practiced logic of the Catholic Church was needed to justify the contention that the Pope is infallible after Pope Clement XIV in 1773 had suppressed the Jesuit Order, and his successor Pope Pius VII in 1814 had reinstated it. A goodly number of such things could be adduced. But the logic which had been so well cultivated was not applied to produce sharply defined concepts. What was needed was a well-formed concept which could justify infallibility. Not what the Pope expresses as his private opinion is regarded as infallible, only what he says ‘ex cathedra’. Then it was not necessary to decide whether Clement XIV or Pius VII was infallible, but whether Clement XIV or Pius VII had spoken ‘ex cathedra’ or privately. Clement XIV must have spoken privately when he suppressed the Jesuit Order, and Pius VII ‘ex cathedra’ when he reinstated it! But, you see, the trouble is that the Pope never states whether he is speaking ‘ex cathedra’ or privately. That he has never yet said! One must admit that it is difficult to distinguish in the individual instance whether it is subject to the dogma of infallibility, but the dogma is there, and with it a good blow was struck at what can arise as the fundamental culture of the fifth post-Atlantean epoch. It then became necessary to draw the consequences and that was well done by Pope Leo XIII, a man full of insight and of very great intelligence. Pope Leo XIII sought to adopt the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas as it was in the fourth post-Atlantean epoch. The Church needed that philosophy which is so great but great for the last culture epoch, for, of course, objectively everything in the way of philosophy which has subsequently arisen is small compared to what blossomed as Philosophy in Scholasticism. But what is small is still a beginning, whereas what was in Scholasticism was an end, a climax.

Now we must remember that mankind is nevertheless trying to progress and therefore it happened that, both in the sphere of natural-scientific research and in historical research, strange vagaries cropped up among the Catholic clergy. Very well then, it now became necessary to adopt strong measures in support of the Catholic doctrine derived from St. Augustine. Hence the Oath against Modernism.

Of course nothing can be said against all that if it is pursued by any community out of a free impulse, but when in 1867 the Jesuits were again allowed into Munich, a Jesuit priest in his first sermon then said that the Rules of the Order forbade Jesuits to meddle in politics, that a Jesuit never has taken any part in politics; then it appears to me that modern people are not likely to believe that.

What I am really trying to bring home to you is that all those who seriously want knowledge, progress and the good of humanity will have to recognize the threefold nature of the social organism. For how little political measures avail against the Roman Catholic Church has shown itself in the course of the German ‘Kultur’ campaign. But what I am primarily trying to bring home to you is how slow people are to see what, as the necessary consequence of spiritual-scientific endeavor, must come into the world as the impulse for the threefold order of society. That is what we need, a wide awake understanding for the phenomena of the time.

Now I have plunged into a theme into which I would certainly not have entered had it not been for recent events here, of which we shall see further developments. You know that on Saturday I am to give a public lecture on “The Truth about Anthroposophy and its Defense against Untruth.” But in any case I must contrive next Sunday to continue the comments which I cannot complete today. So next Sunday at half-past seven we will meet here once more. In these troubled times one cannot do otherwise, and so on Saturday, despite the burning of our posters, the public lecture also will take place here.

Lecture Three