The Scholarly Steiner


by David W. Wood


Review of Rudolf Steiner, Schriften über Mystik, Mysterienwesen und Religionsgeschichte. Volume 5 of Schriften – Kritische Ausgabe (SKA), edited by Christian Clement, published by frommann-holzboog Verlag, Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt, 2013 (in joint distribution with Rudolf Steiner Verlag Basel), LXXX + 377 pages, 78 Euros, ISBN 978-3-7728-2635-1.[1]



Overview of the Critical Edition



An exciting new development in Steiner research is currently taking place with regard to the publication of his written works in German. The first volume of a critical edition has appeared, edited by Dr. Christian Clement, associate professor of German studies at the Brigham Young University in the United States, and published by the respected frommann-holzboog publisher in Germany. This publishing house is renowned among others for its long tradition of critical editions and collected works of thinkers such as Jacob Böhme, Johann Valentin Andreae (the author of Rosicrucian texts), F.W.J. Schelling, J.G. Fichte, and G.W.F. Hegel. Considering the philosophical, cultural and spiritual roots of Steiner’s thought, it is a perfectly appropriate venue for an edition of his works. Moreover, Dr. David Marc Hoffmann (a leading Nietzsche specialist and head of the Rudolf Steiner Archive) and the executive committee of the Rudolf Steiner Nachlassverwaltung are to be congratulated for their forward-thinking decision in proposing a joint distribution between Rudolf Steiner Verlag and frommann-holzboog. With this editorial undertaking it can now be said that Steiner’s written work has finally arrived in the scholarly world.

Christian Clement’s critical edition is a natural complement to the existing Rudolf Steiner Gesamtausgabe (GA).[2] Whereas the latter was conceived as a reading edition of the final published version of Steiner’s writings, the Kritische Ausgabe (SKA) builds on this by additionally showing all the textual variations, additions, omissions and modifications carried out by Steiner over the duration of his career. In this respect it is directly in line with Steiner’s own intentions. Writing in his autobiography Mein Lebensgang (The Course of My Life) in an installment published 8th March 1925, i.e. a few weeks before his death, Steiner harboured the hope that future readers might examine the different editions of his writings and see that the various changes were a testimony of his desire to attain greater scientific clarity in his presentations: “And whoever wishes to take the trouble to examine how in the successive editions of my book Theosophy I continually recast the chapter on repeated earthly lives, precisely to bring its truths into connection with ideas which can be won from the sense world, will find that I endeavoured to do so by doing justice to the recognized methods of science.”[3]

The first published volume of the Kritische Ausgabe is actually volume number five of a projected eight-volume edition of Steiner’s main published writings from 1884-1910. It contains two of his central texts on religion and mystical/scientific thought which originally appeared in 1901 and 1902: Die Mystik im Aufgange des neuzeitlichen Geisteslebens (Mysticism at the Dawn of Modern Spiritual Life)[4], and Das Christentum als mystische Tatsache (Christianity as Mystical Fact).[5] The contents of volume five (SKA 5; henceforth cited by page number) are as follows: a foreword by the Swiss expert on mysticism Alois Maria Haas that highlights the intellectual climate at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and correctly draws attention to the continuing inspiration of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra for Steiner around this time (pp. VII-XXII).[6] This is followed by Christian Clement’s excellent and lengthy Introduction in which he outlines the principles of the edition, the Goethean and philosophical origins of Steiner’s thought, as well as providing a detailed overview of the structure, content, context and reception of the two texts under consideration and their various printings (pp. XXV-LXXIX). The core of volume 5 is of course Steiner’s own two texts on Mysticism (pp. 3-101) and Christianity (pp. 103-230). Especially of note is the hundred-page Appendix that includes a commentary on various passages with extensive references to Steiner’s textual sources, citations and his other works (pp. 231-339). The volume concludes with a bibliography, a name index and an index of Bible passages (341-377). The hard-back cover, unobtrusive footnote system, and clear page layout are attractive and of high quality. The appearance of the next volume – containing Steiner’s texts on the paths and methods of spiritual knowledge (edited and commentated by Clement and with a foreword by Gerhard Wehr) – is expected to be in October 2014.



Clement’s Approach



The SKA is evidently a labour of careful, exact and extensive work on Clement’s part – for which one can only be grateful – and a progressive model for modern academic research into the life and work of Rudolf Steiner. Although similar isolated attempts had been made in the past to present the textual evolution for single works of Steiner such as the Philosophie der Freiheit [The Philosophy of Freedom] (edited by Kurt Franz David in 1983, and by David Marc Hoffmann and Walter Kugler in 1994 for the Gesamtausgabe, volume 4a) and Theosophie (edited by Daniel Hartmann in 2004), Clement’s scholarly apparatus is more sophisticated, yet still easy to follow, and when it is completed his edition will consist of over fifteen of Steiner’s principal writings. The SKA not only greatly facilitates the possibility of examining Steiner’s pronouncements such as the scientific basis of his spiritual views and their confirmation in the sense world, but sheds additional light on the working of the man himself. Steiner considered his written texts to be both his most objective and most personal works (cf. GA 28: 443). – Thanks to this new critical edition one can see Steiner’s ongoing intellectual efforts to find the most accurate formulations, and it will better resolve disputed questions such as Steiner’s originality by putting the reader in a position to more directly compare his ideas with those of his contemporaries.

It was an inspired choice to begin the critical edition with these two texts of 1901-1902. As Clement himself remarks, it is exactly Steiner’s writings on the history of mystical and religious thought that directly concern many of the current disputes in the scholarship, especially the controversial relation between Steiner’s earlier and later thought and the place of Christianity in it (p. XXIX). Clement’s overall methodological approach is a balanced one: using the texts themselves he sensibly draws attention to earlier ideas – such as the importance for Steiner of the Goethean principle of morphology – and then points out how certain conceptions reappear in later presentations, as well as signaling other elements which do not (cf. pp. XXIX-XXX, XXXV-XLV). Alternately, in line with this Goethean image of plant morphology Clement sees the “seeds” of some of Steiner’s later works prefigured in these same two texts: e.g. that Steiner’s interest in Paracelsus’s tripartite conception of the human being and employment of terms like ‘astral’ in the 1901 book Mysticism at the Dawn of the Modern Age had an influence on his spiritual-scientific expositions in later books like Geheimwissenschaft [An Outline of Esoteric Science] (cf. Clement’s commentary, p. 275). Or the perceptive observation that one can already perceive in certain passages of the book Christianity as Mystical Fact the seeds for Steiner’s later 1913/14 lectures on the Fifth Gospel (p. 323).[7] Naturally, one has to be careful here of projecting continuity and unity into aspects of Steiner’s work in which there is none, but Clement seems to avoid many of the dangers here by noting the differences and changes as well. For example, on the one hand he shows how certain compositional motifs and key concepts in Steiner’s 1894 Philosophie der Freiheit are carried over into the Mysticism book of 1901, yet on the other hand we find a radical modification in the language of the later volume. Clement remarks: “Already the Introduction to the [Mysticism] book conceptually corresponds to The Philosophy of Freedom of 1894. […] The terminology is obviously new: What was called ‘intuitive thinking’ or ‘moral phantasy’ in 1894, is now termed ‘rebirth’ or ‘resurrection’ of the ground of existence in human self-knowledge.” (p. XLIII). In other words, there is conceptual and compositional continuity between the two works, but a rupture or change in their terminology.

Naturally, like in any other domain of scholarly research, it should not be expected that one is in agreement with all of an editor’s judgments, principles and sources, and this reviewer too has a few reservations and differing opinions. For instance, while agreeing with Clement regarding the fascinating nature and occasional helpfulness of the stenographic notes of a listener (Franz Seiler) to Steiner’s 1901/02 lecture-cycle on Christianity[8], notes which do not seem to substantially conflict with Steiner’s other pronouncements, I would still not give them as much weight as Clement occasionally does (among others, cf. pp. XXXIV, XLIX-LI, LIV, and in commentary, pp. 296-303). For on account of their fragmentary nature and late publication history by a third party they obviously retain a serious potential for error and misrepresentation of Steiner’s views. To understand the worldview of an author I am of the conviction that one is on the surest interpretative ground when priority is given to, and one immanently begins with, the writings and artistic works that were published or made publicly available by the author during their own lifetime.

Clement also expresses the following opinion concerning Steiner’s transition from a scholar of philosophic/natural-scientific works to mystical/religious writings: “[Steiner] now entered the fields of classical, Hellenistic, medieval, and early modern literature, without being able to read the relevant Greek and Latin texts in the original.” (p. XXXI; cf. p. XLVII). This statement concerning Steiner’s inability to read the original languages is, if not incorrect, then surely open to debate, as Steiner’s 1897 work on Goethe’s Farbenlehre (Theory of Colour) shows. Steiner’s commentary contains direct citations and references, suggested alternate translations and meanings for selected words, from the original texts of a variety of philosophers and thinkers writing in ancient Greek and Latin.[9]

Just before this statement Clement had written: “In addition, with his book on the nature of the ancient mysteries Steiner approached a field of ancient science for which at that time there hardly existed any reliable sources, and for which he did not possess the necessary philological armory to carry out an examination. In 1883 he had left the Technical College in Vienna without completing his degree, and in the following years until the turn of the century he had essentially published on Goethe and philosophy and natural science of the late 18th and 19th centuries.” (p. XXXI). To me, here and in the above first example Clement appears to be making the point that not only was it a radical move of Steiner to join the Theosophical Society in October 1902, but already beforehand in 1901 and early 1902 he had surprised many of his intellectual contemporaries by speaking and writing on subjects like medieval mysticism and contemporary Bible scholarship without having traversed the orthodox academic paths. Some readers have interpreted the above words of Clement to be a dismissive rejection of Steiner as a serious scientist. I do not share this opinion. Clement certainly considers Steiner’s manner of referencing and citing as unconventional or unacceptable at times according to modern academic practices (cf. p. XXXI); and though it may be said he strikes the occasional false note in his judgments, I find Clement’s overall tone to be balanced and respectful, and sufficiently critical in the positive sense of the word.

Unfortunately, because of these and a few other passages in his introduction and commentary, a number of shameful personal attacks have been made on Clement’s editorial skills and scientific qualifications, his supposed religious beliefs, and even the level of support of David Marc Hoffmann and the Rudolf Steiner Verlag for Steiner’s work has been called into question.[10] Do isolated errors and occasional disagreements with a scholar mean fundamental and fatal flaws in their general competence and objectivity? And should the Rudolf Steiner Verlag and Nachlassverwaltung henceforth cease all cooperation with the publisher fromman-holzboog, as some concerned critics have demanded and even petitioned? I personally would not draw these conclusions. Any possible errors and differences of opinion should be far outweighed by the SKA editor’s informed and fine understanding of Steiner’s intellectual development, not to mention the overwhelming usefulness and quality of the SKA as a whole. Moreover, as we saw, Steiner himself was not against a critical edition of his works. The SKA is obviously not for every reader, but it furnishes a solid, readable and accessible presentation of the evolution of Rudolf Steiner’s own writings, and as such, offers interested scholars and researchers a much-needed common textual basis for scientific discussions of his conceptions.



Three Contested Issues  



From the Kritische Ausgabe one can see that Steiner carried out numerous modifications to his texts. However, in the foreword to the second 1910 edition of his book Christianity as Mystical Fact Steiner claimed that nothing “essential” (Wesentliches) had been changed from the first edition of 1902: “While working on the second edition, the author did not feel the need to change anything essential in the first edition. On the other hand, one will find supplements to what was written eight years ago. Also, the attempt has been made to express a number of things more precisely and extensively than was possible at the time.” (p. 113). Thus, similar to the cases of the second edition of The Philosophy of Freedom[11], and the second edition of the Mysticism text: “This text can therefore appear again essentially (im wesentlichen) unchanged” (p. 10), readers are asked to freely decide for themselves what is essential or primary in Steiner’s work, and what is secondary or of a peripheral nature.

In this regard the research landscape is often dominated by several extreme and entrenched positions: partisan critics who naively assume that modifications in a text signify a radical change in a conviction, readers who do not see any value at all in close philological or historical examinations, or again, certain commentators who believe that academic analyses of Steiner’s work constitute an assault on the integrity and authority of his spiritual knowledge. This situation is unfortunate, especially since it is well-known that Steiner himself did not make any appeals to authority, but particularly wanted independently-minded, logical and critical readers: “The author says it outright: above all he would like to have readers who are not willing to accept on blind faith the material offered here, but those who make the effort to test what is communicated using their own knowledge and their own life experiences. He above all wishes careful readers, who only allow what is logically justified.”[12]

Because the SKA clearly shows what Steiner wrote, and did not write, what he modified, added or omitted in the subsequent editions of his writings, it can be especially of value to careful readers of this kind wishing to critically and logically examine Steiner’s work, as well as for settling many current unresolved issues. I will briefly illustrate this by means of three specific examples:

1. Western or Eastern Theosophy? When he became secretary of its German section in October 1902, Rudolf Steiner became officially attached to the more Eastern-inclined Theosophical Society co-founded by Madame Blavatsky. Yet as early as 1899 Steiner had already positively cited another older stream of theosophy: the Western current associated with the seventeenth century German theosophist Jacob Böhme, and then devoted half a chapter to him in his 1901 book on mysticism (pp. 85-89). Hence Clement is surely correct in pointing to the continuing impact of Böhme on Steiner’s conception of theosophy (pp. XXXIX-XLV). Despite the engagement with Böhme’s conceptions in Steiner’s writings from 1899-1901, contrasted with the conspicuous absence of references to Blavatsky in his published books at this time, and the fact that the title of Böhme’s Morgenröte im Aufgang (1612)[13] is directly echoed in Steiner’s own title Mystik im Aufgange, surprisingly little academic research has so far been carried out on the theosophical legacy of Böhme in Steiner’s thought. This critical edition will therefore be able to assist researchers in more accurately distinguishing between the Eastern and Western theosophical influences in Steiner’s writings.

2. Reincarnation. Another controversial topic is when Steiner first began to adhere to or explicitly speak about the doctrine of reincarnation, and whether it plays any role in his book Christianity as Mystical Fact. In his Introduction Clement cites the judgment of the scholar Helmut Zander (p. LVIII), in which the latter had asserted: “Reincarnation as terminus as well as topic (Sache) is also missing in 1902 from the book Christianity as Mystical Fact. […] In 1902 Steiner did not speak about reincarnation.”[14] In Zander’s opinion, although Steiner spoke of “metempsychosis” (Seelenwanderung or Seelenwandelung) at this time, this term should not be considered as a synonym for the reincarnation of the human individuality, but rather for the soul’s “participation in the eternal, the divine”; or in the chapter on Philo of Alexandria and the Essenes, it is to be essentially understood in connection with their “stages of initiation”.[15] Clement rejects Zander’s interpretation of metempsychosis as too restrictive: “This passage clearly shows that with regard to the concept of ‘metempsychosis’ it is obvious that Steiner was actually thinking of reincarnation already in the first edition, and not, as Zander presumed, merely of a ‘participation in the divine’” (p. 333).[16] Clement further seeks to show the untenability of Zander’s opinion by pointing to the stenographic listener notes of the 1901/02 lecture-cycle on Christianity which demonstrate that Steiner already explicitly spoke of reincarnation at this time (cf. pp. XXXIV, L, LVIII, esp. LXVIII).  

A further point could be made here. In addition to “Seelenwanderung” and “ewige Wandelung der Seele” etc., in the first edition of the text Steiner had employed other terms for metempsychosis, such as the “wiedererstandene – the reborn or resurrected – when discussing for instance Philo of Alexandria: “Philo was designated as the ‘son of god’, and of which one said he was the reborn Plato” (1902 p. 52; SKA 5, p. 152). – Close attention should be paid to Steiner’s exact phrasing, for he does not say that it is his own view, but merely ‘one says’.[17] From this chapter there is a natural transition to the discussion of Philo of Alexandria’s exposition of the Essenes, especially their belief in “metempsychosis” and Messianic-like expectations of the return of a highly developed figure with a “Buddha-nature” (1902 pp. 118-120; cf. SKA 5, pp. 207-210). – In other words, further analyses of the first edition reveal a concept of metempsychosis rather similar in spirit to Steiner’s doctrine of reincarnation elaborated elsewhere. Moreover, anyone with a serious interest in Steiner’s subsequent remarks on Jeshu ben Pandira and the Bodhisattva question will find here an open and immanent textual basis for examining this problem, as opposed to an external and ultimately unfruitful research tendency in this field that places greater value on private and unverifiable oral reports instead of Steiner’s own works. 

3. Uniqueness of the Mystery of Golgotha. A third issue in the research concerns the centrality and uniqueness of Christianity in Steiner’s thought. A prominent interpretation in the secondary literature contends that Christ and the ‘Mystery of Golgotha’ first began to assume central importance in Steiner’s worldview in or after 1903, and that he only came to emphasize its uniqueness as a historical and one-time event from 1907 onwards as a result of his disputes with the leadership of the Theosophical Society and their proclamation that Christ had become reincarnated in the young Indian boy Krishnamurti (cf. Clement’s discussion of these topics, pp. XXXII-XXXIV, XLV-LVIII, especially LVI). A consequence of this theory is that within the development of Steiner’s Christology the value of the vast majority of the 1902 book Christianity as Mystical Fact has become greatly diminished for many commentators. Yet the 1902 edition[18], and consequently the SKA, reveal just how narrow and textually debatable this interpretation is. On the one hand, these two editions show that what was foreshadowed in the ancient mysteries and prophesized by the Jewish prophets, is according to Steiner now to be viewed as a historical fact in Christianity: “Something, which was therefore a mystery process in the development of ancient wisdom: this is to be interpreted as historical fact through Christianity. In this way Christianity becomes the fulfillment not only of what the Jewish prophets had foretold, but also the fulfillment of what the mysteries had prefigured.”[19] Moreover, the first edition and the SKA clearly demonstrate that Christianity and the Mystery of Golgotha were in fact already central and unique for Steiner in the year 1902: “The One, the archetypal mystery, the Christian [mystery], was to replace the many mysteries. […] The cross on Golgotha is the mystery cult of antiquity compressed into a fact. We first encounter this cross in the ancient worldviews; we encounter it as a unique event (als einmaliges Ereignis), which was to be valid for the whole of humanity, at the starting point of Christianity.”[20] The burden of proof is obviously on supporters of the above interpretation to now demonstrate how the historical event of the Mystery of Golgotha was not unique for Steiner in this 1902 text.       



Johannine Christianity


Im Urbeginne war das Wort ...[21]


Another especially heated topic in the research concerns the differences between the first and second editions of Christianity as Mystical Fact, especially with respect to Steiner’s conceptions of Jesus and Christ (cf. Clement’s Introduction, pp. LXVIII-LXXI). Looking at the first edition, one sees that a central component of the book concerns the doctrines of logos in Plato and Philo of Alexandria and their relations to the conception of logos in the Gospel of John. Steiner explicitly equates the Christ with the logos, even directly quoting from the Prologue to the Gospel of John a number of times, “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1: 14; 1902 p. 86; SKA 5, p. 179). It is perhaps especially worth noting that a long quote (and translation in 1910) from the Prologue occurs at the beginning of the chapter on the raising of Lazarus (1902 p. 96; SKA 5, p. 188). Steiner’s view of the Incarnation is explicitly in line with the fourth gospel: the union of Christ and Jesus is to be understood as a historical event in which the logos (Christ) became flesh (incarnated) in Jesus the human being: “Jesus, who received the Christ into himself” (der Jesus, der den Christus in sich gebracht hat) (1902, p. 111; SKA 5, p. 202); or again, in a slight reformulation of John’s Prologue: “Jesus is logos itself, that has become personal. In him the Word has become flesh. (Jesus ist Logos selbst, persönlich geworden. Ihn ihm ist das Wort Fleisch geworden)” (1902, p. 87; cf. SKA 5, p. 180).

Furthermore, it is interesting to note that although the editor of the SKA has been able to successfully and correctly trace many of the key secondary sources that Steiner consulted for the chapter on the raising of Lazarus (e.g. to Plato, Goethe, Schelling, Renan, Du Prel, Burckhardt, etc., cf. pp. 324-327), the SKA does not name – nor the GA before it – a single ancient or contemporary source for Steiner’s ideas and interpretation in the eleven-page chapter on the Apocalypse of John. The only secondary source is the one named by Steiner himself – Philo of Alexandria, when speaking of how the “eternal world-thoughts” are designated as a “seal” (Siegel)[22] in mystical wisdom (p. 201). In other words, the primary source of Steiner’s interpretation of the Apocalypse seems to be himself.[23] Much of the latest academic literature from the domains of philosophy, theology, religious and esoteric studies is remarkably silent about Steiner’s interpretation in this chapter. If after 112 years one is unable to trace his conception to other thinkers and secondary sources, does this not mean that it should be classified as an original contribution to Apocalypse research? 

With this repeated emphasis on the logos becoming flesh from the Prologue to the Gospel of John, with his chapter on the Lazarus miracle as an open process of initiation, and his exposition of the Apocalypse of John, it should be apparent that Steiner’s presentation of Christianity in the first 1902 edition of this book is essentially Johannine. Nevertheless, a certain thesis in Steiner scholarship maintains that a more decisive influence on his conception of Christianity was not the Neo-Platonic/Philonic, and Johannine tradition, but Annie Besant’s 1901 book Esoteric Christianity or the Lesser Mysteries.[24] To be sure, there are similarities: Besant’s volume discusses in relative detail the logos in ancient conceptions and in Plato’s works, and she also endeavours to uncover the secret currents in Christianity, and upon the publication of the book in 1903 in German translation[25] Steiner himself even positively drew attention to it in an essay.[26] Yet the contrasts with Steiner’s treatment in Christianity as Mystical Fact are glaring, and it is presumably due to the ideological nature of some of the research that these differences continue to remain insufficiently underscored. One of the most striking precisely concerns their relationship to the fourth gospel: Besant fails to place importance on the Johannine stream and on the “Word becoming flesh”, and primarily sees the logos as Platonic[27]; nor does she engage in any detail with Philo of Alexandria’s ideas and methodology for understanding the logos of John the Evangelist; she does not discuss at all the raising of Lazarus much less treat it as an initiation event, nor offer an interpretation of the Apocalypse of John.

Just as significant are the divergences in their central conceptions of esoteric Christianity. For Besant, Christianity is merely a “lesser mystery” on the path to the “Greater mysteries”, in which the latter could only be orally communicated to a closed and elite circle of students: the “idea of leveling down to the capacities of the least developed must be definitely surrendered. […] The Greater [Mysteries] will never be published through the printing press; they can only be given by Teacher to pupil, ‘from mouth to ear’”.[28] For Steiner, as we have just seen, Christianity is not a lesser mystery, but it is the “Archetypal Mystery” (Urmysterium), which is “to replace the many mysteries” (1902 p. 115; SKA 5, p. 205). For him, the mysteries have ceased to be for a closed and select circle, because with the advent of Christianity the greatest mysteries have now become revealed: “Christianity is no longer to be for the elect few, as it was in the ancient mysteries. It is to be for the whole of humanity. […] No-one is to be deprived of anything; the path is to stand open for everyone.”[29] And it belongs to the Johannine tradition and method to be able to express the most esoteric truths openly in print, just as we find in Steiner’s interpretation of the Apocalypse: “It is the mystery of the Revelation of St. John that the mysteries are no longer to be closed. ‘And he spoke to me: do not seal up the words of prophecy in this book; for the Godhead is near.’”[30]

The editor of the SKA also rejects the thesis that Besant and the Eastern theosophical current had a significant influence on the book Christianity as Mystical Fact, and places Steiner’s Christology instead within the stream of Western thought: “Steiner too distinguished between ‘Jesus’ and ‘Christ’, yet he did not make any link to Blavatsky or Besant, but referred to models of this topos in the occidental tradition.” (p. LIII) Here Clement specifically traces Steiner’s spiritual worldview back to two major German traditions: “Anthroposophy as a worldview is indisputably a child of the union of German idealism and German mysticism in Rudolf Steiner’s thought.” (p. XLII), and draws parallels between the younger Steiner’s experience of intellectual intuition (of the Schellingian and Fichtean kind), and the older Steiner’s conception of ‘mysticism’ (cf. pp. XXXVII-XLII). And in a more recent text, Clement has again persuasively argued for the importance of Schelling’s thought for Steiner around the years 1900-1902, especially Schelling’s two works, Philosophie der Mythologie (Philosophy of Mythology) and Philosophie der Offenbarung (Philosophy of Revelation).[31]

In 2011 the well-known Steiner scholar Günter Röschert[32] had placed Steiner’s Christology in the Western idealist tradition of Johann Gottlieb Fichte’s 1806 text Die Anweisung zum seligen Leben oder auch die Religionslehre (The Path to the Blessed Life, or also the Doctrine of Religion).[33] The interpretation that there exists a crucial Blavatsky-Besant influence on Steiner’s Christianity as Mystical Fact, however, had already been dealt a fatal blow in the same year, with Hartmut Traub’s 2011 monograph Philosophie und Anthroposophie, which convincingly demonstrated in great detail that the most fruitful tradition in which to locate Steiner’s reading is indeed the philosophical one of German idealism, especially Fichte’s systematic presentation of a logos-based Johannine conception of Christianity found in Die Anweisung zum seligen Leben.[34]

If one agrees that Steiner’s book Christianity as Mystical Fact has an essentially Johannine foundation, then this is where the objection that Steiner did not employ the word ‘Christ’ enough in the 1902 edition, but ‘merely’ logos or Word etc., cancels itself out. – For the terminology Logos, Word, Life, Light and Truth already refer to Christ, just as the expression the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1: 14) is another way of referring to the Incarnation. Notwithstanding, some scholars have concluded that the book is not sufficiently ‘Christ-based’ and hence cannot be a major presentation of Steiner’s views on Christianity. (Cf. Clement’s summary of this interpretation: SKA 5, pp. LXVIII-LXXI). These same scholars should be consistent and state that they do not consider the first sixteen verses of the Johannine Prologue to be a major presentation of Christianity either, because the term ‘Christ’ does not appear there until the seventeenth verse.[35]



The Art of Composition



The SKA is an impressive edition and there is much to admire about Clement’s careful work in editing Steiner’s two central texts. Nevertheless, in addition to the few differences cited above, if I may be permitted to outline another example where my opinion somewhat differs. I do not fully agree with the view that “on the one hand these texts are particularly representative of the work-in-progress character of Steiner’s written oeuvre. […] The resulting texts have retained something of the provisional and open-ended character of the spoken lecture …” (p. XXVIII). There is no doubt that many of Steiner’s texts arose in conjunction with lecture cycles; yet there is a widespread tendency among Steiner’s commentators, critics and even followers to undervalue the extensive textual, artistic and structural interconnections that Steiner composed into his written works. Of course, Clement himself is aware of the dangers of overlooking these factors, and has already given us above an insightful example of the importance of composition for Steiner by pointing out the structural parallels in The Philosophy of Freedom and Mysticism at the Dawn of the Modern Age. Notwithstanding, I believe there are countless other examples in Steiner’s writings, and especially in these two texts on mysticism and Christianity. To take a specific case: first, in the chapter on the miracle of Lazarus Steiner not only relates this event to the Egyptian mysteries with the call of “come forth” (p. 195; cf. Clement’s Introduction, p. LI), but he furthermore presents it using the language and images of drama: “A mystery in the truest sense of the word stands before us. […] Jesus had prepared in this family everything that was to lead to the great final act of the drama: to the awakening of Lazarus […] the final act of an awakening drama”; or again: “for Lazarus had arrived at the final act of the great drama of knowledge (zum Schluß-Akte des großen Erkenntnis-Dramas”); (all quotes from the first edition of 1902, pp. 102, 103, cf. 105; identical phrasing in SKA 5, see pp. 192-195). Second, comparing it to the chapter on Mystery Wisdom and Myth one sees that Steiner talks about initiation into the Eleusinian mysteries using similar language and images as the Lazarus event. The Eleusinian mysteries were especially associated with the destinies of Demeter, Persephone and Pluto (Hades): “The festivities, which were celebrated twice a year, presented that great world drama of the destiny of the divine in the world and the destiny of the human soul. […] Initiations were bound up with the festivities. The symbolic presentation of the world and human drama certainly constituted the final act in the consecration of the mystic” (1902, p. 75; cf. SKA 5, see p. 170). Third, looking again at the raising of Lazarus, in this chapter Steiner specifically incorporates into his presentation references to two of Shakespeare’s dramas: to the ending of Othello and a brief analogy with the plot of Hamlet (1902, pp. 96, 103; SKA 5, pp. 188, 193). As already mentioned, Clement has underscored the benefits of a listener’s lecture-notes of Steiner’s 1901/02 lecture cycle on Christianity for understanding the contents of this 1902 book, yet Steiner’s focus on the dramatic aspects of the Lazarus event, the parallels in language and images to his description of the Eleusinian mysteries, and the specific references to Shakespeare’s dramas are all decidedly absent from these lecture notes. In other words, Steiner consciously interwove these new perspectives into his published written text.  

Why is the Lazarus event presented precisely in these dramatic terms, with textual parallels to the Eleusinian mysteries, and references to Othello and Hamlet? What at first sight seems puzzling or even incongruous, or could be regarded as negligible, assumes greater significance if one also examines it in conjunction with Steiner’s earlier writings, especially his chief text on art from 1889, Goethe als Vater einer neuen Ästhetik (Goethe as Father of a New Science of Aesthetics), as well as his pre-1900 views on drama, particularly on Shakespeare. Here it is our scientific conviction that one has to first understand Steiner’s earlier works in order to comprehend his later ones. Steiner’s presentation becomes even more illuminating if one furthermore goes back to the original sources and examines them for oneself, i.e. to chapter 11 of the Gospel of John, the ancient reports on the Eleusinian mysteries and their associated theatre performances, and the two Shakespearean dramas in question. Inversely, one could also consider the possible relation that his Christianity text might have to his own later dramatic productions, the four Rosicrucian plays of 1910-1913.[36] In this regard it is pleasing to note that Clement also sees certain connections between this book and the mystery dramas: such as Steiner’s recounting (pp. 122-123) of the story of Menippus’s journey to Babylon to be led through Hades by the successors of Zoroaster, and certain traumatic initiation experiences portrayed in Steiner’s first and third plays (cf. SKA 5, p. 292).[37]

Despite the origin of many of Steiner’s books in oral lecture cycles, to attain a balanced understanding one should not solely pay attention to their conceptual content, but also carefully examine their composition and artistic structure, as well as possible interconnections with his other writings. Steiner obviously regarded the awakening of Lazarus to have been a historical fact. However, it is his additional depiction of it as a dramatic initiation on the world-stage which distinguishes his presentation from those of Fichte, Schelling and Annie Besant[38] for instance, not to mention the well-known Bible scholars of his day like Ernest Renan[39] and Adolf von Harnack.[40] In addition to his innovative approach for solving the Johannine authorship question[41] and his interpretation of the Apocalypse of John, in my view Steiner’s art of composition should be considered as another crucial and original aspect of his text, Christianity as Mystical Fact.   






On account of the Kritische Ausgabe its editor and the Rudolf Steiner Verlag and Nachlassverwaltung have been subjected to a number of highly disgraceful personal attacks.[42] Of course, Steiner did not wish to have prejudiced, disrespectful and ignorant critics, but as we saw above, his own ideal reader would be someone wholly logical – a reader critically and historically examining his works and taking nothing on authority. He was firmly of the conviction that a comparison of the different editions of his texts would not be an assault on his integrity, or show that he had changed his worldview and tried to cover up his sources, but precisely the opposite: it would reveal his lifelong commitment to scientific methodology by demonstrating how his ideas harmonize with the phenomena of the sense world.

One of the most laudable benefits of Clement’s new critical edition – and one that cannot be matched by any other existing publication – is that by providing a reliable textual basis for the changes in the different editions of Steiner’s writings it should not only help in determining what is primary and essential in them, but greatly assist in clarifying many contested issues in Steiner’s worldview. Some of these include: the place and nature of his Christianity, the legacy in his thought of the Western theosophy of Jacob Böhme, the extent and degree of Steiner’s originality, his ideas on reincarnation, the question of continuity and rupture between the earlier and later publications, and his precise debts to Goethe and German idealism.

Anyone wishing to participate in a scientific discussion of the above topics and of Steiner’s thought on the whole will see that a critical edition of this kind is not superfluous or a luxury, but a standard scholarly necessity. Although one might not agree with all of Christian Clement’s editorial judgments and decisions, there is no doubt that the SKA is a significant publishing milestone for which its editor and the publisher frommann-holzboog have set an extremely high standard. One hopes that this edition will further encourage close textual, historical and scientific studies of Rudolf Steiner’s written works.



David W. Wood has a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) degree in pure mathematics and philosophy from the University of Adelaide, Australia, a Master of Letters (M.Litt.) in philosophy from University College Dublin, Ireland, and a PhD in philosophy jointly from the Sorbonne (Université Paris IV) and the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich. From 2009-2011 he was a post-doctoral researcher at the Bavarian Academy of Sciences where he collaborated on the Johann Gottlieb Fichte Gesamtausgabe. He specializes in the areas of German idealism (especially the work of J.G. Fichte) and Philosophical Romanticism (particularly Novalis).


[1] An abridged version of this review appeared in the September 2014 issue of the Newsletter of the Science Group of the Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain (editor: Dr. David J. Heaf, Wales), pp. 2-4. I would like to thank Thomas O’Keefe for his comments on earlier drafts of this text. A full-length version of this review is available at:

[2] GA = Gesamtausgabe (Dornach/Switzerland: Rudolf Steiner Verlag), the Collected Works of Steiner in German, followed by volume and page number. All translations from the various German texts, including from Clement’s Introduction and Commentary, are by the reviewer.

[3] R. Steiner, Mein Lebensgang, Chapter XXXIII (GA 28) (Dornach/Switzerland: Rudolf Steiner Verlag, 2011), p. 434. For an English translation of Steiner’s autobiography see, among others: The Course of My Life, translated by O.D. Wannamaker (New York: Anthroposophic Press, 1986); or: Autobiography. Chapters in the Course of My Life: 1861-1907, translated by Rita Stebbing (Great Barrington, MA: SteinerBooks, 2006).

[4] Die Mystik im Aufgange des neuzeitlichen Geisteslebens und ihr Verhältnis zu modernen Weltanschauungen. Von Dr. Rudolf Steiner (Berlin: C.A. Schwetschke und Sohn, first edition 1901); second edition, Suttgart: Der Kommende Tag, 1924 (Ausgabe letzter Hand/ final authorative edition by Steiner himself); sixth edition, Rudolf Steiner Verlag, 1987 (Gesamtausgabe, volume 7). This text is available in English under various names, including: Mysticism at the Dawn of the Modern Age, translated by Karl E. Zimmer (New York: Rudolf Steiner Publications, 1980).

[5] Das Christentum als mystische Thatsache von Dr. Rudolf Steiner (Berlin: Verlag von C.A. Schwetschke und Sohn, 1902); fourth edition, Dornach/Switzerland: Philosophisch-Anthroposophischer Verlag am Goetheanum,  1925 (Ausgabe letzter Hand, posthumous); ninth edition, Rudolf Steiner Verlag, 1989 (Gesamtausgabe, volume 8). Among others, available in English as: Christianity as Mystical Fact (New York: Anthroposophic Press, 1997).

[6] See, among others, Rudolf Steiner’s lecture cycle in Berlin from October 1902 to March 1903, with the title: “Von Zarathustra bis Nietzsche. Die Entwickelung des Geisteslebens von den ältesten Zeiten bis zur Gegenwart” (From Zarathustra to Nietzsche. The Development of Spiritual Life from Ancient Times until the Present) Cf. the reproduction of the flyer for this lecture course: illustration no. 61 in: R. Steiner, Mein Lebensgang (GA 28, 2011 edition).

[7] For example, Clement draws attention to the following passage as a prefiguring of the later lectures: “It must have weighed like a nightmare on Jesus’s heart that outside there could still be many who could not find the path.” (1902 p. 95; SKA p. 186).

[8] See R. Steiner, Das Christentum und die Mysterien des Altertums, two volumes (Bad Liebenzell: Archiati Verlag, 2005), cycle of 24 lectures in Berlin from 19 October 1901 to 26 April 1902; this edition is based on the shorthand (stenographic) notes of Franz Seiler, written into longhand years later, and only published for the first time in 2005.

[9] Cf. J.W. von Goethe, Naturwissenschaftliche Schriften, edited, introduced and commentated by R. Steiner, Kürschner edition, volume 4 (= GA 1d) (Stuttgart/Berlin/Leipzig: Union Deutsche Verlagsgesellschaft, 1897), pp. 20-25, 37-38, 5-55, 132, 138, 144, 146, etc.

[10] The editor Christian Clement has gathered many of them together on the official website of the critical edition:  This reviewer obviously does not consider all critical reactions to the SKA as shameful personal attacks; he naturally welcomes every genuinely critical reaction and every kind of factual scientific discussion. What he does not agree with is when factual disagreements with elements of the SKA move into personal territory that has nothing at all to do with this edition.

[11] In the second edition of 1918 Steiner stated that he had added new supplements and changed anything that he thought had been clumsily expressed in the original 1894 edition. However, he believed the content of the book to be essentially (im wesentlich) the same: “This has occasioned me now, after twenty-five years, to republish the content of the text essentially almost entirely unchanged.” (Dies alles hat mich veranlasst, jetzt, nach fünfundzwanzig Jahren, den Inhalt der Schrift im wesentlich fast ganz unverändert wieder zu veröffentlichen.) R. Steiner, Die Philosophie der Freiheit, 2nd edition (Berlin: Philosophisch-Anthroposophischer Verlag, 1918), p. 8. (Cf. 16th edition, GA 4, p. 10). For an English translation of this book, see The Philosophy of Freedom, trans. M. Wilson (London: Rudolf Steiner Press, 1979).

[12] Rudolf Steiner, Die Geheimwissenschaft im Umriß (GA 13), Preface to the first edition, dated Dec. 1909 (Dornach/Switzerland: Rudolf Steiner Verlag, 1989), p. 15. Among others, this book is translated into English under the title: An Outline of Esoteric Science, trans. C.E. Creeger (Great Barrington MA: Anthroposophic Press, 1997).    

[13] Cf. J. Böhme. Aurora, oder Morgenröthe im Aufgang durch Jacob Böhmen, in: Theosophia Revelata, volume 1, edited by Johann Georg Gichtel. S.I., 1730.  

[14] Helmut Zander, Anthroposophie in Deutschland, volume 1 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2007), p. 556, footnote 35, and p. 817.

[15] Ibid., pp. 817-818.

[16] Clement is commentating on the Chapter “On the Essence of Christianity” (Vom Wesen des Christentums), especially the passage centered around the sentence: “The belief in the soul’s eternal transformation became the belief in personal immortality” (Aus dem Glauben an die ewige Wandelung der Seele wurde der persönliche Unsterblichkeitsglaube) (1902 p. 122; SKA 5, p. 212).

[17] Clement’s commentary suggests Saint Augustine as the possible original source for this statement on Plato and Philo, cf. SKA 5, p. 310.

[18] Das Christentum als mystische Thatsache von Dr. Rudolf Steiner (Berlin: Verlag von C.A. Schwetschke und Sohn, 1902).

[19] Etwas, was also Mysterienvorgang in der alten Weisheitsentwickelung war: das wird durch das Christentum als historische Thatsache gedeutet. Dadurch wurde das Christentum die Erfüllung nicht nur dessen, was die jüdischen Propheten vorhergesagt hatten; sondern es wurde auch die Erfüllung dessen, was die Mysterien vorhergebildet hatten.” (First edition of 1902, p. 134; cf. SKA 5, p. 221).

[20]An die Stelle der vielen Mysterien sollte das Eine, das Urmysterium, das christliche, treten […] Das Kreuz auf Golgatha ist der in eine Thatsache zusammengezogene Mysterienkult des Altertums. Dieses Kreuz begegnet uns zuerst in den alten Weltanschauungen; es begegnet uns als einmaliges Ereignis, das für die ganze Menschheit gelten soll, am Ausgangspunkte des Christentums.” (First edition of 1902, pp. 115, 134; cf. SKA 5, pp. 205, 221-222).

[21] Steiner’s translation into German from the ancient Greek of the opening words of the Prologue to the Gospel of John. (SKA 5, p. 188). 

[22] The reference to the seal originally comes from Philo’s De specialibus legibus I: VII, 47, which discusses the relation between the invisible purest powers of the intellect and their visible sensible expression, just as the form of a seal can be expressed in sensible wax without forfeiting part of itself.

[23] Clement rightly points out (pp. 328-329) that Steiner seems to have drawn the Philo citation from volume II of Otto Willmann’s book Geschichte der Idealismus (Braunschweig: Friedrich Vieweg und Sohn, 1896), p. 206 (where it occurs in a discussion of Philo and Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite). – This does not invalidate our general point, which is of course not about the sources of Steiner’s citations, but about the sources of his ideas and interpretation of the Apocalypse. On the importance of Otto Willmann’s book, in a chapter discussing Christianity as Mystical Fact, see chapter XXX of R. Steiner, Mein Lebensgang (GA 28, pp. 399-400).    

[24] Annie Besant, Esoteric Christianity or the Lesser Mysteries (London and Benares: The Theosophical Publishing Society, 1901).  

[25] The German translation appeared under the title, Esoterisches Christentum oder die kleineren Mysterien: Von Annie Besant. Autorisierte Übersetzung von Mathilde Scholl (Leipzig: Th. Grieben, 1903).

[26] Among others, Steiner says of Besant’s book: “It is a book that unveils the hidden sense of Bible words to the devoted reader.” R. Steiner, “Einweihung und Mysterien” (1903, in: GA 34), p. 63; see especially pp. 42, 45-53.

[27] Besant cites the Prologue to the Gospel of John once in a footnote, where she states her conception of the Logos to be Platonic: “See on this the opening of the Johannine Gospel, i. 1-5. The name Logos, ascribed to the manifested God, shaping matter – ‘all things were made by Him’ – is Platonic, and is hence directly derived from the Mysteries”. Annie Besant, Esoteric Christianity or the Lesser Mysteries (1901), p. 172. 

[28] A. Besant, Esoteric Christianity or the Lesser Mysteries (1901), pp. viii-ix.

[29]Das Christentum sollte nicht wie die alten Mysterien für wenige Auserwählte sein. Es sollte für die ganze Menschheit sein. […] Keinem soll etwas vorenthalten werden; jedem soll der Weg offen stehen. (1902, pp. 113, 115; cf. SKA 5, pp. 203, 206).

[30]Es ist das Mysterium der ‚Offenbarung St. Johannis’, dass die Mysterien nicht mehr verschlossen sein sollen. ‚Und er spricht zu mir: Versiegle nicht die Worte der Weissagung in diesem Buche; denn die Gottheit ist nah.’  (1902, p. 116; SKA 5, p. 206).

[31] See Christian Clement, “Rudolf Steiner und sein romantischer ‘Doppelgänger’: Zum Einfluss Schellings auf die beiden Grundlegungen der Anthroposophie”, written version of a lecture held at the Alanus Hochschule, 24th May 2014, available on the website of the Steiner Kritische Ausgabe: 

[32] See Günter Röschert: “[Steiner’s] Christology wishes to be Anthroposophical, because – following the procedure of Johann Gottlieb Fichte’s Way to the Blessed Life – it attributes individual spirit to the human being and is accessible to pure thinking.” – G. Röschert, “Die Entstehung der anthroposophischen Christologie”, in: Rahel Uhlenhoff (ed.), Anthroposophie in Geschichte und Gegenwart (Berlin: Berliner Wissenschafts-Verlag, 2011), p. 255, footnote 1.

[33] J.G. Fichte, Die Anweisung zum seeligen Leben, oder auch die Religionslehre. Durch Johann Gottlieb Fichte. (Berlin: Im Verlag der Realschulbuchhandlung, 1806).

[34] Cf. Hartmut Traub, Philosophie und Anthroposophie. Die philosophische Weltanschauung Rudolf Steiners – Grundlegung und Kritik (Stuttgart: Verlag W. Kohlhammer, 2011), especially pages 908-973. 

[35] According to Steiner, in esoteric Christianity the first 14 verses of the Prologue to the Gospel of John are a central meditative text: “The first fourteen verses of this Gospel were for the Rosicrucians the object of a daily meditation and a spiritual exercise.” Lecture Paris, 31 May 1906 (GA 94: 49). 

[36] See R. Steiner, Vier Mysteriendramen (GA 14). Available in English: Four Mystery Dramas, trans. R. & H. Pusch (SteinerBooks, 2007).

[37] Cf. SKA 5, pp. 293-294. Clement also draws attention to Franz Seiler’s lecture notes of Steiner’s 1901/02 lecture-cycle on Christianity, stating: “The idea of art as a phenomenon that has arisen from the mysteries, plays a more central role in the lecture-notes than in the book. […] Also the idea of karma as a ‘knot that draws together life’ is expressly discussed here [in these notes].” In the latter image Clements sees a link with the ‘knot’ of karma in the first drama (SKA 5, p. LXVI and footnote 68).

[38] Readers of Annie Besant’s Esoteric Christianity will see that she employs the term ‘Mystery Drama’ in a chapter on the ‘Mystic Christ’, writing: “In the true Mysteries this evolution is undergone – the disciple’s life is the Mystery Drama, and the Great Initiations mark its stages.” Annie Besant, Esoteric Christianity, 1901, p. 178. Here Besant clearly considers initiation to be a mystery drama, but that thought is extremely ancient and not new; our main contention is that she does not interconnect drama, the raising of Lazarus, and the mysteries.  

[39] Ernest Renan, Das Leben Jesu (Leipzig: Reclam, 1890).

[40] Adolf von Harnack, Das Wesen des Christentums (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1900).

[41] See the section ‘The Johannine Question’ in my review-essay: “On the Spirit and Letter of Rudolf Steiner’s Philosophy: A Critical Reading of Hartmut Traub’s Philosophie und Anthroposophie” in the open access journal RoSE: Research on Steiner Education, July 2013, Vol. 4, No. 1, pp. 181-201.

[42] Cf. footnote 10 above.