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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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From Beetroot to Buddhism
GA 353

VII. Past and more recent ideas of the Christ

26 March 1924, Dornach

Good morning, gentlemen. Today we shall add something more concerning the question of Christianity. I am sorry I was not able to talk to you last Saturday, when I had to go to Liestal. We have tried to say something about the true nature of Christianity and the elements that entered into it in the course of human evolution. We have spoken of the struggles that arose over Christianity in Europe, struggles that for a long time were essentially due to one party putting the emphasis more on the Father Principle, which would be the Christianity of the East, the other party more on the Son Principle, as the Roman Catholic Church did, and a third party, the Protestant Church, on the Spirit Principle.

It is really difficult to speak about these things because most people ask today: 'Can you really fight over such issues?' Today people fight over other issues in this world, as you know, and it is difficult for them to understand that people once made war on each other in the most terrible way because they put the emphasis on some principle or other. But this is something that needs to be understood, for times will come when people will be unable to understand why there has been strife over the things that are fought over today. This will happen in the not too far distant future. And if you consider this you'll also understand why people in earlier times fought over very different issues than people do today. But we should know what they fought over, for it is still alive among us.

What has survived most strongly as an outer impression of Christianity? For a long time now it has been the dying Christ — the cross, and on it the dying Christ. If we go back to very early times we find that the most commonly accepted image of Christ Jesus was of a youngish man with a lamb on his shoulders — a shepherd. He was known as the good shepherd. This was really the most widely known image in the first, second and third centuries of the Christian era. The images representing the dead Christ hanging on the cross really only came up in the sixth century — the crucifix, Christ crucified. The early Christians did not really use images of Christ crucified.

Something important lies behind this. You see, the early Christians still believed that the Christ entered into Jesus from the sun, and that the Christ was a spirit from beyond this earth. This was later misunderstood and the whole was made into the dogma of the immaculate conception, saying that Jesus himself was not conceived and born in the ordinary human way. It was only when people no longer understood that Jesus had initially been a human being — though a very special human being — and that the spirit called the Christ only entered into him in his 30th year that the idea came up to show the dead Christ on the cross, the dying Christ, and on the other hand put the time when the Christ entered in the spirit back to the time of the birth. This misunderstanding only arose in the sixth century. It allows us to look deeply into things. Between the time when Christians still saw Jesus Christ as the good shepherd and the time when he was represented as Christ crucified lay a particular event. It was decreed at a Council 46This was a long process which culminated in decisions taken at the 8th Ecumenical Council held in Constantinople in 869. that the human being consists not of three parts — body, soul and spirit — but only of two parts — body and soul. The soul, they said, had some spiritual qualities.

This is most important, gentlemen. For you see, the trichotomy, the division into three, of the human being was said to be heretical throughout the Middle Ages. No adherent of the true faith was allowed to believe in the threefold nature of the human being. They were not allowed to say: 'The human being also has spirit' but had to say: 'The human being has body and soul, and the soul has some spiritual qualities.' When the spirit was thus got rid of, as it were, the way to the spirit was blocked for humanity. Today knowledge of the spirit has to be regained, restoring to humanity what has been taken from it.

The early Christians knew above all that the Christ who lived in them could not be born, nor could he die. This was not something human. A human being is born and he dies. But the Christ, who entered into Jesus during his life, was lot born in a human way, and cannot have been touched by the death of Jesus on the cross. Just as a person may put on another suit and still be the same, so the Christ took another form, a spiritual form. To represent something spiritual — you'll agree we cannot see it with our eyes — we have to use an image. The people at that time wanted to show that the spirit is on guard above the human being, that the spirit is a good counsellor, by representing Christ Jesus as the good shepherd.

Something of this has survived, but people no longer understand it. It happens quite often that only part of an image survives. People will often say 'the Lamb of God' when speaking of the Christ. It appeared in the pictures produced in the early centuries. The part of the picture that showed the lamb, carried on the shoulders of the Christ, remained. In earlier times it was customary to call people by some part. So if someone was called Kappa, or Cappa, that was once a small cap worn on the head, and some people got their name from it. Someone called Eagle would once have had an eagle in his coat of arms, and so on. And the name 'Lamb of God' has remained, having once been a part of the picture.

By the sixth century all understanding of the spirit had really been lost, and people believed one could only speak of the human destiny of Christ Jesus. They did not see the living Christ, who is spirit, but only Jesus, the mortal human being, and their interpretation was that this was the Christ. The event of his death thus gained real importance from the sixth century onwards.

You see, materialism was already playing a role then. And we can really see materialism develop when we study the evolution of Christianity. Many things that happened in later times would not have happened without this.

As I told you, gentlemen, 47Lecture given on 12 March 1924. the knowledge that the Christ is a spirit coming from the sun, a spirit who lived in Jesus, the human being, is reflected in a symbol we can see on every altar today during high mass: the monstrance [Fig. 2] — the sun at the centre and the moon supporting it. This made good sense when people still knew that the Christ was a spirit from the sun. What is kept in the monstrance? A wafer made of flour. How did the flour come into existence? It came into existence because the sun's rays reach the earth, the sun lets light and warmth come to the earth, the corn grows and is made into flour. It is therefore a real sun product. We may call it substance created by sunlight. For as long as people knew this, the whole had meaning.

monstrance
Fig. 2

What is more, the moon was shown as a sickle because this seemed the most important aspect. And as I told you, the powers that give human beings their physical form come from the moon. The whole had meaning when people still knew these things to be what they are. But they gradually lost significance. Let me tell you something that will show you the significance that lies in such things. The Turks, or Muslims, as I told you, considered only the one God, not the three forms. They related everything to the Father God. What sign did they have to use therefore? The moon, of course. The Turks therefore have the half moon for their symbol.

Christendom ought to know that their symbol is the one where the sun gains victory over the moon. And the early Christians had this as their main sign — that the sun gains victory over the moon through the Mystery of Golgotha. What does this mean, however? You see, now everything is topsy-turvy in the life of the spirit. For if you understand what the image of the sun signifies you say to yourself: 'Anyone who knows about this image of the sun assumes that human beings have free will in life, that something can enter into them that has significance for life.' Those who believe only in the moon will think that human beings were given everything at birth and cannot do anything of their own accord. That, of course, is Turkish fatalism. And the Turks still know something of this today. In a way they are wiser than the Europeans, for the Europeans once had the sun for their sign but they have forgotten its significance.

If you consider that people really no longer knew anything of the spiritual Christ you will understand why in medieval times — around the tenth, eleventh, twelfth, thirteenth centuries — disputes suddenly arose about the meaning of the eucharist. It has meaning only for those able to see an image of a spiritual quality. This they were no longer able to do and so they fell into dispute. Some would say: 'The bread truly changes into the body of Christ on the church altar.' Others could not believe this, for they could not imagine the bread to have become flesh, seeing it looked just the way it did before. Disputes thus arose in the Middle Ages that were to have dreadful consequences. Those who said it did not matter whether the thing could be understood or not, but they believed that the bread had indeed become flesh, later became the Roman Catholics. Those who said they could not believe this and that the whole could at most have symbolic meaning later became Protestants.

All the religious wars of medieval times really were over this issue, culminating in the dreadful Thirty Years War from 1618 to 1648. This started because Catholics and Protestants could not agree. As you know, it began with the event called the Defenestration of Prague. Two governors were thrown from a window by the opposition. It was only from the second floor and they fell on a dung heap and therefore were not harmed. The dung heap was not made of cow dung or horse manure but bits of paper and so on, for it was the order of the day in Prague simply to throw bits of paper, envelopes and so on out of the window. It served well, however, for when governors Martinitz and Slavata together with private secretary Fabricius were thrown from the window — this was quite common in those days and far from unusual — all three were saved. But it started the Thirty Years War.

You must not think, of course, that the whole of that war was over religious disputes. In that case it probably would have ended sooner. But added to this were disputes among the princes. They made use of the strife between people. One joined one side, another the other, and they pursued their own aims under the pretence of religious disputes, with the result that the war lasted 30 years. But it really started with the event I have told you about.

Now people were fighting over such issues until the Thirty Years War, that is until the seventeenth century, which is not that long ago. And the Protestant Church may be said to have developed out of this dispute.

You will say, 'Yes, but if the spirit had been got rid off, how can you say that the Protestant Church adopted the spirit, which was one of the three forms of the divine?' The answer has to be that the Protestants did not actually know they were venerating the spirit, which after all had been got rid off. They were not aware of it. But as I have said to you on other occasions, people may not know about something but it can nevertheless exist. And a spiritual principle, though not exactly a major spiritual principle, was active in the Protestant Church, even if they did not know it. You see, if everything professors do not know, for instance, did not exist, what would there be in this world? The point is, gentlemen, you have to understand that it is possible to speak of something people do even when they are not aware of it. And speaking of the origins of Protestantism we may indeed say that the element that mattered was the third form, the spirit.

But you can literally see materialism arise. The earliest Christians did not have to dispute over flat flour cakes being physically transformed into real flesh, for it would never have occurred to them to think about such a thing. It was only when people wanted to think in material terms that this matter, too, became material. This is altogether rather interesting. Materialism has two forms. Initially everything spiritual was seen in material terms, and then the spirit was denied. That is the route people follow in materialism.

It is interesting to see that later on, even after the sixth century, people had a much more spiritual view in central Europe than later. Christianity first became materialistic in the south. In central Europe, we have two beautiful poetic works. One was Otfried's Gospel Harmony, written in Alsace in the ninth century. 48Evangelienhamionie (Harmony of the Four Gospels) written by the Alsatian monk Otfried von Weissenburg c. 800–70 in Old High German verse. The other, called the Heliand, The Saviour, came from the area where Saxony is today. 49Heliand, Gospel Harmony written in stave-rhyme between 822 and 840. Reading the Heliand you will discover that the monk — a monk of peasant origin — wrote of Christ Jesus in a special way, describing him the way the Germans would describe a prince of earlier times who rides at the head of his army, fighting and overcoming his enemies. You feel yourself to be in Germany and not at all in Palestine. The work relates the events that are told in the Gospels, but in a style as if Christ Jesus had been a German prince. The things Jesus did are also told in that style.

We have to ask ourselves what this means. It means that the outer circumstances, the things one would have seen with one's eyes in Palestine of old were of no interest to the writer; he was not intending to give a faithful description of them. The external situation was immaterial to him. He wanted to speak of the spiritual Christ and felt it did not matter if he moved around the world as a German prince or a Palestinian Jew. People really still believed in the spiritual Christ at that time in central Europe; they had not yet become materialists. In the south, this had happened; the Romance and the Greek peoples had already become materialists. But in central Europe people still had a feeling for the spiritual, and the Saxon monk who wrote the Heliand was speaking of the Christ, but in the image of a German prince. You can see from this that it is possible to prove that here in central Europe the Christ was originally seen in a wholly spiritual way, in fact as the Sun Spirit I have described.

If we then study the character given to the Christ in the Heliand we find that the main point is that the Saviour, the Christ, is shown to be a 'free man' in this book, meaning that he has the sun principle in him and not only the moon principle, which makes him a free man.

It is really true that the whole connection the Christ had with the world beyond this earth has been completely forgotten and is no longer perceived today.

There is something else I want to tell you. If you go back to the ancient mysteries of which I have spoken, which were centres of education, religion and art, you find that festivals relating to the seasons of the year were celebrated there. In the spring they would always have the festival of resurrection, as they called it. Nature does rise again at Easter-time. People would say to themselves: 'The human soul can celebrate its resurrection just as nature can. Nature has the Father. In spring its forces are renewed. In the human being, if he takes the right care and works on himself, the powers of the soul are renewed.' The main aim in the ancient mysteries — the aim of those who really knew, the people said to have wisdom — was for the soul to gain a kind of spring experience in human life. This was a spring experience where one might say of oneself: 'Everything I have known before is really nothing. Now I am as if new-born.' It can happen in one's life that a moment comes when one feels as if new-born, born again out of the spirit. Now this may sound strange to you, but throughout the East, in Asia, people were divided into those born once and those born twice. Everyone would speak of the twice-born. Once-born people were born through the powers of the moon and remained like that all their lives. The others, the twice-born, had been instructed in the mysteries, had learned something and knew that human beings can make themselves free, they can act out of their own powers. This would be shown in image form.

Now you can go back a very long way. Everywhere there would be a festival at springtime where it would be shown in the mysteries that a god, who had human form, died, was buried and rose again after three days. This was a real ceremony performed in the spring in the ancient mysteries. People would gather. There would be this image of the god in human form. It was shown how the god died and the image would be buried. After three days the image would be taken from the grave again and carried around the area in solemn procession, with everyone shouting: 'The saviour has risen for us again!' During the three days when the saviour image lay in the grave they had a kind of mourning feast and this would be followed by a joyful feast.

You see, gentlemen, this means a great deal; it signifies that the event which happened on Golgotha had been celebrated in image form year after year in the ancient mysteries.

When the Gospels tell us of the cross on Golgotha on which Christ died, this is a historical event. But the image of it had existed throughout antiquity. For the early Christians the actual event was thus the fulfilment of a prophecy. And they would say: 'The people of the ancient mysteries were prophets of what happened in the Mystery of Golgotha.'

One of the most important saints in the Roman Catholic Church is St Augustine, who lived in the fourth and fifth centuries. 50Marcus Aurelius Augustinus (354–430). The 'strange words' may be found in his Retractiones I,13,3. Initially pagan, he converted to Christianity and became one of the most renowned priests and saints in the Roman Catholic Church. He wrote a strange thing, saying that Christianity existed before the coming of Christ Jesus; the wise people of old had been Christians, though they were not yet called such. It is tremendously significant that it was admitted that Christ Jesus openly revealed a Christianity that had already existed in the ancient mysteries at a time when the mysteries no longer survived. It thus had to be an event that happened once and for all for the whole earth. Awareness of the fact that Christianity had been part of ancient paganism has also been lost. Materialism simply destroyed many things which humanity had already discovered.

The wise initiate of old saw his own destiny reflected in the image that every spring represented the resurrection of the human god who had died. He would say: 'That is what I must become; I must develop a wisdom within me that allows me to say that death only has significance for the part of me that has come into being through forces of nature and not for the part of me that arose in me on a later occasion, something I have gained through my own human powers.'

In early Christianity people still said to themselves: 'To be immortal, human beings must awaken the soul in themselves; then they will truly be immortal.' A false view cannot go against this, of course. But there was a false view that did fight against it. In the early centuries the people who spread Christianity would say: 'We must nurture the human soul so that it does not die.' Later the Church preached a different view. Instead of letting human beings care for their souls it wanted to do this for them. The Church was to take on the care of human souls. This also meant that people could no longer see that to care for the soul in the right way meant to let the spirit, the sun principle, be reborn in it. I think you'll agree that we cannot take care of the sun principle in a materialistic way. How would one take care of the sun principle in a materialistic way? Well, perhaps by organizing an expedition to the sun so that one might collect from there whatever people were to be given. This, of course, cannot be done. And so the whole of it was falsely presented.

You see, gentlemen, everything I have to tell you in this respect shows that materialism gradually took hold more and more, with the spiritual element in man no longer understood. Today we have a situation where the principle according to which human souls must not care for themselves but be cared for by the Church has taken the life of the human soul. If this principle were to continue it would not take long before souls would die with their bodies. Today, human souls are still alive; they can still be woken up if there is the right knowledge of the spirit. In a century or two this will no longer be possible unless there is a science of the spirit.

What would happen if materialism continued? Well, you see, this materialism would gradually and inevitably make itself ridiculous. Even education has to be out of mind and spirit. You cannot teach and educate without speaking of mind and spirit. But if things were really to go that far — and we can already see it in some places — materialism will either have to make itself ridiculous when speaking of mind and spirit, or it will have to become honest.

When I myself and some anthroposophical friends had spoken at the congress held in Vienna in 1922, an article 51So far it has not been possible to trace this. was published afterwards in which the author said: 'We wage war against the spirit!' He wanted to dispose of us with these words. The question is, what would happen if the war against the spirit was waged honestly? People honestly wanting to educate a 6-year-old child would have to say: 'Confound it! This is actually matter, and it actually presupposes the spirit! Perhaps we should give the child a pill or something similar so that his matter is changed; this will make him clever, and then he'll know things.' This is what you get when materialism is honest. Children would enter school and just as today we vaccinate them against smallpox, for instance, we would have to vaccinate each in turn with cleverness. If cleverness is a material thing it must be possible to inoculate it. Human children would thus have to be inoculated with cleverness. And materialism would then be honest. For if someone says he thinks with his brain, not with his soul and spirit, then it must be possible also to make the brain clever in a material way and not through mind and spirit. That is the kind of terrible contradiction in which materialism would get itself caught up.

The only salvation is to gain knowledge of the spirit again. It has indeed been necessary for a science of the spirit to come in this day and age. For otherwise human souls would die.