The Fifth Gospel
by Rudolf Steiner
Lecture 1, Berlin, October 21, 1913
Translated from the German by Frank Thomas Smith
There has been a long pause in our work here in Berlin; but this pause was not only because of the performances and the lecture cycles in Munich, but also because of the laying of the Foundation Stone of our building in Dornach and all the different kinds of work associated with the construction. So perhaps this evening, when we find ourselves together after such a long time, I may begin by informing you about what is expressed for us in that building. It is to be hoped that this building will act as an outward symbol of our anthroposophical view of the world as well as a symbol of togetherness for all those hearts and souls who feel themselves united with the spiritual-scientific striving to cultivate this worldview.
Basically, everything in present day spiritual life indicates how the humanity of our times unconsciously thirsts for what a truly spiritual worldview can give it. And not only those people who today express their need for such a worldview in a somewhat positive way strive for such a worldview, but also many who know nothing about such a worldview. Yes, even those who perhaps pronounce hostile concepts and ideas, unconsciously yearn, from the needs of their hearts, for what they consciously are unaware of: what our worldview can give them.
So it was really a very special feeling when, with a handful of our friends who were close at hand and who could be present, we laid the foundation-stone for our building in Dornach. [The first Goetheanum, which burned to the ground on New Years Day 1924. Trans.] It was a sublime feeling that we were standing at the start of a building that is to become an outer symbol for our common striving.
Standing up on the hill where the building will be constructed, from which one could see out to the surrounding distant land, one had to think about humanity's cry for spiritual truths, for the announcement of a spiritual worldview which can be supplied from within our spiritual movement. And how in these times, still more than what is said or felt, it is a spiritual necessity for such a spiritual worldview to imbue humanity with a meaningful soul-life. That was the strongest sensation we had as we planted the stone upon which our building will rise. And this building will express our intentions in its form, so that once completed those who view it from without and from within will see it as a kind of symbolic script that expresses what we want to see accomplished in the world.
When one thinks about such a foundation and has such feelings, it seems appropriate to also consider how karma works, not only in an individual's life, but also in human evolution as a whole. In an individual life lesser karma works, so to speak; in the evolution of the earth and humanity, greater karma works. And this is the great, uplifting thought which one may feel: when something like this happens on spiritual ground, one is, together with all those who strive spiritually and participate, the instrument, if only in a minor one, still the instrument of the spirit which works through world-karma. This feeling of togetherness with the spirit of world-karma – that is the meaningful, outstanding sensation. This feeling, which should be combined with everything we can cultivate as anthroposophical contemplations, is what can provide the soul with peace when it needs peace, can provide harmony to the soul when it needs harmony, and can also give it strength, capacity to act, stamina and energy.
When the spiritual world-concepts flow into our souls in all their truth, they are like an inner pulsing life that becomes a force we can feel, one which directs us not only to the highest level to which we can send up our thoughts, but also to the smallest detail of everyday working life; they become something to which we can always return when we need strength, to which we can always look when we need comforting in life. Also genuine morality, genuine ethical strength will only be accessible to humanity by directing the soul's attention to true spirituality, to real spiritual life.
The Mystery of Golgotha, the Christ-impulse was born in the world. During which epoch did it come into the world? We know from our spiritually profound knowledge what it was that flowed into the human body at that time in order to become a participant in the evolution of man and the earth. What we have previously studied has enabled us to grasp to a certain extent the meaning of the Mystery of Golgotha. We have often said: future times will be able to grasp it much better. For today we stand in a different kind of world-karma than humanity stood in at the time we have often called the midpoint of earthly evolution: the Mystery of Golgotha.
How was the Mystery of Golgotha understood at the time it took place? It is imperative for us to understand the facts of what really happened. Was it because of what people were taught? It that were the case, then those who say that most of the teachings of Christ Jesus were already present in earlier times could claim to be partly right. But that's not the most important thing. What is most important is what happened on Golgotha – which would have happened even if no one on earth had understood it. For it is not of great importance that an event is immediately understood, but that it happens. The importance of the Golgotha event is not how much people understood it, but what took place for humanity in such a way that the stream of the event was expressed in the world as a spiritual fact.
So in which time did the Mystery of Golgotha take place? Really in a curious time. Let us just consider Post-Atlantean evolution. We have often indicated that humanity first evolved in the ancient-Indian cultural epoch, and have shown how very different souls were at that time, how they were much more amenable to the spiritual life, and how this amenability decreased from epoch to epoch. We have also described how the direct experience of the spiritual world was even less pronounced during the Egyptian-Chaldean period. For in the ancient Indian epoch man had absorbed into his etheric body everything the world could communicate to him, and he experienced it in his etheric body – at least those who truly participated in that epoch. What they experienced in their etheric bodies had, to a large extent, the character of clairvoyance. During the ancient-Persian epoch one experienced the soul in the sentient-body, during the Egyptian-Chaldean in the Sentient-Soul. At that time a lesser degree of clairvoyance existed. Then came the fourth, the Grecian-Latin epoch; the Mystery of Golgotha took place during it. It was the epoch in which the human mind reached out to exterior perceptions. The culture of comprehension, which concentrates on exterior things, began.
In our fifth Post-Atlantean epoch human experience has been reduced to this exterior world of the senses. But this fifth Post-Atlantean epoch must lead to a renewed receptivity for spiritual life, for it must give full expression to the Consciousness Soul.
If we then ask, in view of the first four epochs of Post-Atlantean evolution, which epoch was least conducive for an understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha, for the descent of Christ, one could say: if the Mystery of Golgotha had taken place, if Christ has descended into a human body during the ancient Indian culture, innumerable souls would have been able to understand him, for they possessed the necessary spiritual understanding. Also in the ancient Persian and Egyptian epochs understanding for the Mystery of Golgotha would still have been easy, had it taken place then according to world-karma. During the fourth epoch human souls were at an evolutionary phase which made comprehension of the Mystery of Golgotha closed to them. I will still speak about the curious fact that the Mystery of Golgotha waited for an epoch in which spiritual comprehension of what was to occur had already disappeared, was no longer there. During the Grecian-Latin times the Comprehension or Sensitivity Soul was in full process of development. People lovingly directed their attention to the outer world, which is evident in Greek culture. The Mystery of Golgotha, which was only accessible to inner vision, was essentially shut out of the contemporary culture, like that woman [Mary Magdalene] who came to the grave of Christ Jesus, looked for the corpse, found the tomb open but with corpse no longer within, and to her question where the body of the Lord was, heard the answer: He whom you seek is no longer here.
Thus, as when they sought Christ in the exterior world and received the answer: He whom you seek is not here – was the case for the whole epoch is respect to understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha. Humanity of the fourth Post-Atlantean epoch looked for something that was not there where they looked. And they still searched towards the end of the fourth Post-Atlantean epoch, which ended with the fifteenth century; and they still searched in the same way. What happened to the woman at the tomb can be compared, but on a larger scale, to the Crusades. Through very many European hearts coursed the desire: We must seek what is precious to us in Christ's tomb. And huge hordes went to the east in order to find in this way what they sought, because it accorded with their feelings. And how can we characterize what these crusaders felt? It was as though the whole Orient had answered them: He whom you seek is no longer here! Symbolically this expresses the fact that during the whole of the fourth Post-Atlantean epoch humanity had to seek him on the physical plane, whereas Christ must be sought on the spiritual plane, even when he was on the earth.
Where then was Christ when the woman was looking for him in the tomb? He was where he could appear to her and the apostles when they opened their souls in order to see Christ transformed in the etheric body.
Where was Christ when the Crusaders sought him in the east? We see him at the same time in the souls of the western mystics. The Christ force – this Christ-impulse was present there. While the crusaders traveled eastward looking for him, he lived in the souls of such as Johannes Tauler and Meister Eckhardt, lived in those who could seek him according to the times. He had left where he had been – where those who sought him received the answer: He whom you seek is no longer here! – and gone over to the western culture.
The fifth Post-Atlantean epoch is dedicated to the development of the I – which means it is dedicated to the Consciousness Soul. Man goes through the Consciousness Soul stage in order to be fully conscious of his I; we have often spoken of this. I am speaking now of truths with a very special feeling.
It is understandable that at present the proclamation of this conception attracts much animosity. But important for the feeling I refer to is the following. It has become necessary for me to prepare the new edition of my book Riddles of Philosophy. The book had to be extensively revised in some aspects. Among other things, in the introduction I was obliged to give a long description of the evolution from the Grecian-Latin epoch up until our century. Therefore, I had to review the worldviews of Thales, Pythagoras, and so forth up until our times. I did not only take the spiritual side into consideration, but also philosophical tradition, and I made it my business to include only philosophical developments and to exclude all religious impulses. By that process, the truth of the notable changeover which took place during the inception of the Grecian-Latin epoch became evident, when the old understanding of the world in pictures developed into understanding through thinking, and how around the fourteenth, fifteenth century full consciousness of the I-impulse developed from it. Of course the I itself was present much earlier.
When one considers the individual philosophers it is historically tangible how true this is. Therefor I speak of these things today from a different point of view and with a very special feeling. For one can also see in external historical considerations how the I-consciousness, the I-feeling penetrated into the human soul approximately during the fifteenth century. That century was eminently suitable for man to be forced to bring the energy, the force of his I to the surface, to be ever more conscious of his I. It was especially suitable for the narrowing of his attention to sensory phenomena – as is manifest in modern natural science. When man no longer encountered the powerful images that appeared to him during the Grecian-Latin epoch – great thought-tableaus available to people like Plato and Aristotle – but he only saw what the senses offered, then the I, because it is the only spiritual entity that can sense itself, had to grasp its own essence and seek the force of its own self-consciousness. And one can observe how all the philosophers since the fifteenth century who can be taken seriously have struggled to create a worldview in which the human I, the Self-Consciousness-Soul is possible and can exist.
The fourth Post-Atlantean age, when the Comprehension or Sensitivity Soul developed, had, however, something which could bring the Mystery of Golgotha closer, although human comprehension was far from having a real grasp of this mystery. We also call the Comprehension Soul the Sensitivity Soul, for this soul is truly a duality, because sensitivity, feeling, is active in humanity as well as comprehension. Due to the fact that sensitivity was also active, the heart could feel what was closed to comprehension, and a sensitivity-comprehension arose – which one can also call faith – for the Mystery of Golgotha. This means that the human soul had an inner feeling for the Christ-impulse, people felt the Christ-impulse internally, they felt themselves united to the Christ-impulse in their souls, even when they did not understand his being. Christ was there for them.
But this “being-there”, in the epoch of the I-culture in which we stand, must disappear further, because the I, in order for it to be fully grasped in its individuation, must close itself off from the spiritual impulses which directly penetrate the soul. Thus we see a curious spectacle. We see clearly that, with the inception of the new age, in place of the old incomprehension a new incomprehension came – yes, an incomprehension that went even further than the old one. Whoever verifies the facts of spiritual life must find it plausible that the fourth Post-Atlantean epoch could only receive the Christ-impulse with sensibility, could not, however, spiritually comprehend it; but one knew that he was there and was active, one felt it.
With the new, the fifth Post-Atlantean age, something quite different was introduced. Not only did man develop incomprehension of the Christ-being, but also incomprehension of everything of a divine-spiritual nature. One could find many proofs of this, but one proof clearly shows it to be the case. In the twelfth century, prefiguring the I-culture, Anselm, the Archbishop of Canterbury, invented the so-called proof of God, that is, he found it necessary to “prove” God's existence. What does one prove in this way? What one knows, or what one does not know? When someone steals something from my garden, and I can observe the thief from the window, then it is not necessary to prove that it is this person who has done the stealing. I only try to prove it if I don't know him. The fact that one tries to prove God's existence is proof that he know longer knows him, no longer experiences him; for what one experiences one does not prove. And incomprehension has gone so far that we are now in a curious situation. Enormous misunderstandings have arisen in the last [19th] century about what the Mystery of Golgotha, what Christ Jesus is, to the point where from the theological side Christ has not only been belittled to a human teacher, albeit an outstanding one, but his very existence has been denied.
But all this is related to more profound characteristics of our times; only the accelerated tempo of our times is not prepared to pay attention to them. But the facts speak an eloquent language for those who do pay attention.
Let's take one fact, a minor one, but such trifles are symptoms. Recently a curious article appeared in a well known weekly. The author claimed that when one considers the worldviews which have appeared in the past centuries, one encounters concepts which are unclear, meaning that they are not translatable into our language. So this writer finds the philosopher Spinoza difficult to understand when he attempts to understand the world by using a single concept, the concept of the divine substance. In order to reform philosophical understanding, he therefor suggests that it is a concept after all, but the peak, and from this peak the concepts divulge, they divide. In short, he suggests that Spinoza's thought edifice be visualized in the same way that one often draws a diagram, in order that we no longer have to follow how the thoughts are conceived in Spinoza's mind. We should do it in a clear sensory way – as a film! So perhaps we shall soon go to the cinema in order to see and follow the cinematographic presentation of the thoughts and ideas of prominent people.
It is a significant symptom of how far people of our times have gone, a symptom which one must mention because they have not perceived what should have been perceived. There should have been loud guffaws about such foolishness, about the lunacy inherent in such a reform of philosophy. The zeal in such a reaction could be called an unholy necessity.
This is a symptom of how necessary a true spiritual deepening is in our times. For this deepening, which must accompanied by truthfulness, is what is needed by people of today, who are too inclined to be satisfied with appearances which are far removed from true spirituality, especially where worldviews are concerned. But such appearances lead, when absorbed in the way meant here, to inner untruthfulness. As illustration, another symptom.
One hears much praise today for the worldview of the philosopher Rudolf Euken. Not only has he been awarded the Nobel prize, he is also praised as one who has dared to speak about the spirit. This praise is won, however, not because this Euken speaks so well about the spirit, but because people are satisfied with so little when it comes to spiritual things. And because in his work one reads over and over the sentence: It isn't sufficient to know that the world is perceived by the senses, but that man must find himself inwardly and connect with the spirit – and because in his books on every page is written: Spirit, spirit, spirit! Therefore it is a “spiritual” worldview. This is what is considered great in our times. But when we open Euken's latest book, we can read: “Can we still be Christians?” Then we find the following sentence: “Today man is beyond believing in demons as they did in Christ's time” – which is very flattering to the enlightened people of our time. But when we read further we find the sentence: “The contact of the divine with the human engenders demonic powers.”
I would like to ask if all the people who have read this book laughed at Euken's naivety, or rather “wisdom”, which on one page he denies the demonic and on the next admits to it. Naturally the Euken people say: That is the demonic in a figurative sense, not to be taken seriously. Yes, that's where the inner untruthfulness lies. True spiritual science takes words seriously and doesn't speak about the demonic when it is not meant seriously.
Otherwise it would be like what happened to the president of a philosophical society when I gave a lecture there. I drew attention to the fact that in Adolf von Harnack's book The Essence of Christianity he writes that it is not essential to determine what happened on Golgotha, that can be left aside; what cannot be left aside, however, is that faith in the Mystery of Golgotha originated then, regardless of whether that faith was in something real or not. The president of the philosophical society in Berlin – a Protestant of course – told me: I read the book but couldn't find that. Harnack couldn't have said it, it's a Catholic idea. The Catholics say, for example: Whatever the facts are about the holy Tunic of Trier, they are not important; the important thing is to have faith in it. I had to show him the page where the statement is. Perhaps it's the same with many people, who read a book and don't see the most important part, the symptomatic part.
We have underlined something about our times, a necessity for our times, the necessity for spiritual conscientiousness to be developed, that we may learn not to regard things like Euken's words about the demonic with indifference. Admittedly, when one considers that we live in the age of newspaper “culture”, we can not expect a culture of conscientiousness to appear soon. It will be intensively prepared through spiritual science, but we must keep our eyes open in order to see the symptoms of the times.
I want to point out one more fact. The book The Life of Jesus by Ernest Renan had great influence in the 1860s. I mention it to show the level of understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha in our times. When you read Ernest Renan's book, you think: Here is a man who writes in a beautiful, lofty style, who has visited all the sites in the Holy Land and who is ably to nicely describe local color and who, although he doesn't believe in Christ's divinity, writes about him with infinite veneration. But now let us examine it more closely. Renan describes the life of Jesus in a way that shows the situation of anyone who presents a worldview to a larger or a smaller number of people. First he presents what he alone believes; then the crowds come with their needs and misunderstandings and weaknesses, and finally the one who spoke the truth is humbled and is gradually ruined by his followers. Ernest Renan is of the opinion that Jesus was ruined by his followers. Take the Lazarus miracle. Renan shows that it was a swindle. He used it cleverly however, in order to increase the number of followers. That's why Jesus let it happen. At the end of the book there's a kind of hymn, which can only by directed to the Almighty. That is also an inner untruthfulness: a mixture of the beautiful and the sublime with cheap fiction. To whom is this hymn directed? It cannot be to what Renan describes, because it wouldn't fit. The whole thing is an inner untruth.
What have I indicated to you today? That the Mystery of Golgotha took place in a period of human evolution when humanity was not prepared to understand it, but that in our time humanity is still not yet prepared.
But its effect has existed for two thousand years in a way that this effect is independent of humanity's understanding. If Christ were dependent on understanding, he would have had little effect. But in our age comprehension is necessary, for we live in a time in which a certain necessity exists to seek Christ where he really is. For he will appear in the spirit and not in the body, and those who seek him in the body will always receive the answer: He whom you seek in the body is not here in the body!
We need a new understanding, which will perhaps in many respects be a first understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha. The age of not understanding must yield to the age of new understanding. That is what I wanted to indicate today and will continue next time.
Continued in the next issue of SCR.
Lectures which Rudolf Steiner previously gave on this subject in Oslo, Norway in 1913 can be obtained from Amazon as a Kindle e-book at:
Rudolf Steiner's Fifth Gospel (Volume 1)