The Event of the Appearance of Christ in the Etheric World
1. The Appearance of Christ in the Etheric
Karlsruhe, 25 January, 1910
When a person who has concerned himself for some time with the world conception of spiritual science permits the various thoughts, ideas, and knowledge he has thereby acquired to work upon him, this knowledge suggests to him the most manifold questions. Indeed, one develops oneself as a spiritual scientist through associating such questions — which are in reality questions of sensation, feeling (Gemuet), and character, in short, questions of life — with the ideas of spiritual science.
These ideas do not serve merely to satisfy our theoretical or scientific curiosity. Rather, they elucidate the riddles of life, the mysteries of existence. Indeed, these thoughts and ideas become truly fruitful for us only when we no longer merely think, feel, and sense their content and significance but when, under their influence, we learn to look differently at the world about us. These ideas should permeate us with warmth; they should become impulses in us, forces of feeling (Gemuet) and mind. This they do increasingly when the answers that we have obtained to certain questions present us in turn with new questions, when we are led from question to answer, and the answer gives rise to further questions, and so on. In this way we advance in spiritual knowledge and in spiritual life.
It will be some time yet before it will be possible to reveal in public lectures the more intimate aspects of spiritual life to present-day humanity, but the time is approaching when the more intimate questions can be discussed within our own groups. In this connection it will continually happen that new members of the Anthroposophical Society may be taken by surprise by one thing or another and may be shocked. We would never progress in our work, however, if we were not to advance to discussion of the more intimate questions of life out of the depths of spiritual scientific research and knowledge. Today, therefore — though it may give rise to misconceptions on the part of those of you who have immersed yourselves in spiritual life for only a comparatively short time — we shall once more bring before our souls some of the more intimate facts of spiritual knowledge.
Without doubt, a significant question arises before us when we do not merely consider abstractly the idea of reincarnation, of repeated earthly lives, but when instead we allow ourselves to become thoughtfully absorbed in contemplation of this fact of spiritual life. Then, with the answer given to us in reincarnation, which provides such valuable fruit for our lives, there will in turn arise fresh questions. We may, for example, raise the following query: if a person lives on earth more than once, if he returns again and again in new embodiments, what can be the deeper meaning of this repeated passing through life? As a rule, this is answered by saying that we undoubtedly keep ascending higher in this way, and, through experiencing in later earthly lives the fruits of previous lives, we finally perfect ourselves. This, however, still represents a rather general, abstract opinion. It is only through more exact knowledge of the whole meaning of earthly life that we penetrate the significance of repeated lives on earth. If, for example, our earth were not to change, if man were to keep returning to an earth that remained essentially the same, then indeed there would be little to learn through successive embodiments or incarnations. On the contrary, their real meaning for us lies in the fact that each of these incarnations on earth presents us with fresh fields of learning and experience. This is not so apparent over short periods, but if we survey long stretches of time, as we are able to do through spiritual science, it becomes obvious at once that the epochs of our earth assume quite different forms and that we continually face new experiences.
Here we must realize something else, however. We must bear in mind these changes in the life of the earth itself, for if we neglect something that should be learned, something that should be experienced during a certain epoch of our earthly evolution, then, although we will come again into a new incarnation, we will have missed something entirely; we will have failed to allow something to stream into us that we should have allowed during the preceding epoch. As a result we will be unable in the succeeding period to employ our forces and faculties in the right way.
Speaking still quite generally, one can say that during our time something is possible on earth, almost anywhere on the globe, that was not possible, for example, during the previous incarnations of the people who are living now. It seems strange, but this fact is nonetheless of definite, indeed, of great significance. In the present incarnation it is possible for a certain number of persons to come to spiritual science, that is, to take up such conclusions of spiritual research as can be taken up today in the field of spiritual science. Of course, it may be regarded to be of trifling significance that a few people should come together who allow the discoveries of spiritual research to stream into them. Those who find this of little import, however, do not understand at all the significance of reincarnation and of the fact that one can take something up only during a particular incarnation. If one fails to take it up, one has missed something entirely and will lack it then in the following incarnations.
We must above all impress it upon our minds that what we learn today through spiritual science unites with our souls and that we bring it with us again when we descend into the next incarnation.
We will endeavor today to gain an understanding of what this means for our souls. Toward this end we must link together many facts of spiritual life, which are more or less new or even entirely unknown to you, with much that you already know from other lectures and from your reading. To begin with, we must go back to earlier periods in the evolution of humanity. We have often looked back to earlier periods of our earthly evolution. We have remarked that we are now living in the fifth period after the great Atlantean catastrophe. This fifth period was preceded by the fourth or Greco-Latin period, in which the Greek and Latin peoples indicated the principle ideas and feelings for the earth-will. This, in turn, was preceded by the third or Egyptian-Chaldean-Babylonian-Assyrian period, and this by the ancient Persian, which followed the ancient Indian. If we delve even further into antiquity, we come upon the great Atlantean catastrophe that destroyed an ancient continent, an ancient mainland, Atlantis, which once extended into the place where today lies the Atlantic Ocean. This cataclysm gradually engulfed the continent and thereby gave our solid earth its present countenance. Then, going further back, we come upon still earlier periods that existed before the Atlantean catastrophe; we arrive at those civilizations and conditions of life that developed on this Atlantean continent, the civilizations of the Atlantean races. Even earlier conditions preceded these.
If one considers what history tells us — and it does not, indeed, reach very far back — one can fall quite easily into the belief (although this is, even in relation to shorter periods of time, an entirely unfounded belief) that things on earth have always appeared as they do now. This, however, is not the case. On the contrary, conditions on our earth have altered fundamentally, and the soul conditions of human beings have also changed to a tremendous extent. The souls of the persons sitting here were incarnated during each of these ancient periods in bodies that were in keeping with the various epochs, and they absorbed what was to be absorbed in these periods of earthly evolution. With each succeeding incarnation, then, the soul developed new faculties. Our souls were entirely different from what they are today — perhaps not so noticeably different during the Greco-Latin era, but in the old Persian period they differed greatly from those of today, and still more in the ancient Indian period. In those ancient periods, our souls were endowed with quite different faculties, and they lived under quite different conditions.
Today, therefore, in order that we may clearly understand each other with reference to what follows, we shall call before our mind's eye as distinctly as possible the nature of our souls in the age, let us say — so as to be dealing with something full of significance — after the Atlantean catastrophe, when they were incarnated in the bodies that were possible on earth only during the first Indian civilization. We must not understand this first Indian civilization as having been of value only in India. The Indian people were at that time merely the most advanced, the most important, but the civilization of the whole earth derived its characteristic qualities from what the leaders indicated to the ancient Indians.
If we consider our souls as they were at that time, we must first say that the kind of knowledge human beings have today was as yet utterly impossible. At that time there was no such clearly defined consciousness of self, no such clearly defined I-consciousness. It had hardly occurred to human beings that they were I's. To be sure, the I already existed as a force in human beings, but knowledge of the I is something different from the force of the I, from its effectiveness. Human beings were not yet endowed with such an intimate inner life as they now have. They possessed instead entirely different faculties, for example, what we have often called an ancient, shadowy clairvoyance.
When we consider the human soul as it was during the daytime in that period, we find that it did not actually feel itself to be an I; instead, man felt himself to be a member of his tribe, of his people. Just as the hand is a member of the body, so the separate I represented, as a member, the whole community formed by the tribe, the people. Man did not yet perceive himself as an individual I, as he does today; it was the tribal-I, the folk-I, on which he fixed his attention. One thus lived during the day not knowing clearly that one was a human being. When evening came, however, and one passed into sleep, consciousness did not become totally darkened as it does today, but instead the soul during sleep was able to perceive spiritual facts. One thus perceived in one’s environment, for example, facts of which the modern dream is only a shadow — spiritual events, spiritual facts, of which the dreams of the present day are as a rule no longer true representations. Such were the perceptions of the human beings of that time, so that they knew that a spiritual world existed. To them the spiritual world was a reality, not through any kind of logic, through anything that required proof, but simply because each night they found themselves within the spiritual world, though only with a dull and dreamlike consciousness.
That, however, was not the essential thing. Besides the conditions of sleeping and waking, there were also in between states during which the human being was neither wholly asleep nor wholly awake. At such times the I-consciousness abated even more than by day, but at the same time the perception of spiritual events, that dreamlike clairvoyance, was substantially stronger than during the night. There were thus intermediate states in which human beings lacked consciousness of self, to be sure, but in which they were endowed with clairvoyance. In such states the human being was as though entranced, so that he knew nothing of himself. He was not able to know, “I am a man,” but he clearly knew “I am a member of a spiritual world in which I am able to perceive; I know that there is a spiritual world.” These were the experiences of the human souls of that time, and this consciousness, this life in the spiritual world, was much clearer still in the Atlantean period — very much clearer. When we survey this, therefore, we look back to an ancient era of dim, dreamlike clairvoyance for our souls, which gradually diminished during human evolution.
If we had remained at the stage of this ancient, dreamlike clairvoyance, we could not have acquired the individual I-consciousness we have today. We could never have known that we are human beings. We had to lose that awareness of the spiritual world in order to exchange it for I-consciousness. In the future, we shall have both at the same time. While maintaining our I-consciousness, we shall all gain once more what amounts to full clairvoyance, as is possible today only to one who has traveled the path of initiation. In the future, every person will be able once more to look into the spiritual world and yet feel himself as a human being, as an I.
Picture to yourselves again what has taken place. The soul has passed from incarnation to incarnation. At first it was clairvoyant; later, the consciousness of becoming an I grew ever more distinct and with it the possibility of forming one's own judgments. As long as one still looks clairvoyantly into the spiritual world and does not feel oneself to be an I, it is impossible to form judgments, to combine thoughts. The ability to form judgments gradually emerged, but in exchange the old clairvoyance diminished with each succeeding incarnation. A person dwelt less and less in those states in which he could look into the spiritual world. Instead, he became acclimated to the physical plane, cultivated logical thinking, and felt himself as an I; clairvoyance thereby gradually receded. The human being now perceives the outer world and becomes ever more entangled in it, but his connection with the spiritual world becomes more tenuous. One can therefore say that in the distant past man was a kind of spiritual being, because he associated directly with other spiritual beings, was their companion, so to speak; he felt that he belonged with other spiritual beings to whom he can no longer look up with normal senses today. As we know, there are also today, beyond the world that immediately surrounds us, other spiritual worlds inhabited by other spiritual beings, but the person of today cannot look into those worlds with his ordinary consciousness. Earlier, however, he dwelt in them, both during the sleeping consciousness of the night and in that intermediate state of which we spoke. He lived in the spiritual world and had intercourse with these other beings. He can no longer do this normally. He has been, as it were, cast out of his home, the spiritual world, and with each new incarnation he becomes more and more firmly established in this world of the earth below.
In the sanctuaries of spiritual life and in those fields of knowledge and science in which such things were still known, it was always taken into consideration that our incarnations have passed through these different earthly periods. They looked back to an ancient period, even before the Atlantean catastrophe, when human beings dwelt in direct contact with the gods, or spirits, and when they naturally had entirely different feelings and sensations. You can imagine that the human soul must have had quite different sensations in an age when it knew certainly that it could look up to the higher beings and when it was aware of itself as a member of that higher world. It has thus learned to feel and to sense entirely differently.
When you consider these facts, you must picture to yourselves that we can learn to speak and to think today only if we grow up among humankind, because these faculties can be acquired only among human beings. If a child were to be cast upon some lonely island and were to grow up there, lacking association with human beings, he would be unable to acquire the faculties of thinking and speaking. We thus see that the way in which any being develops depends in part on the kind of beings among which it lives and matures. Evolution is affected by this fact. You can observe this among animals. It is known that dogs removed from association with human beings to some place where they never meet a human being actually forget how to bark. As a rule, the descendants of such dogs are unable to bark at all. Something depends upon whether a being grows up and lives among one kind of being or another kind. You can therefore imagine that it makes a difference whether you dwell on the physical plane among modern human beings or whether you — the same souls, as it were — lived earlier among spiritual beings in a spiritual world that can no longer be penetrated by the normal vision of today. At that time the soul developed differently; the human being had within him different impulses when he dwelt among the gods. The human being developed one kind of impulse among men and another kind when he dwelt with gods.
A higher knowledge has always known this; such a knowledge has always looked back to that time when human beings were in direct intercourse with divine-spiritual beings, on account of which the soul felt itself to belong to the divine-spiritual world. This, however, also engendered forces and impulses in the soul that were divine-spiritual in a totally different sense from the forces of today. At that time, when the soul still operated in such a way that it felt itself to be a part of the higher world, a will spoke out of this soul that also derived from the divine-spiritual world. One could say that this will was inspired, because the soul dwelt among the gods. This period when man was still united with the divine-spiritual beings is spoken of in the ancient wisdom as the Golden Age or Krita Yuga. We must look back to a time preceding the Atlantean catastrophe to find the greater part of this age.
Afterward, a time followed when human beings no longer felt their connection with the spiritual world so strongly as during Krita Yuga, when they felt their impulses to be less determined by their association with the gods, when even their vision began to grow dimmer regarding the spirit and the soul. They retained the memory, however, of having dwelt with the spirits and the gods. This was especially distinct in the ancient Indian world. There they spoke quite easily of spiritual matters; they could call attention to the outer world of physical perception and yet, as we say, recognize the maya or illusion in it, because human beings had had these physical perceptions for only a comparatively short time. That was the situation in ancient India. The souls in ancient India no longer saw the gods themselves, but they still saw spiritual realities and lower spiritual beings. The higher spiritual beings were still visible to a few people, but a living companionship with the gods was obscured even to these. Will impulses from the divine-spiritual world had already disappeared. It was still possible, however, to glimpse spiritual realities during particular states of consciousness: during sleep and during the intermediate state we have already mentioned. The most important realities of the spiritual world, however, which had previously been a matter of experience, had become merely a sort of knowledge of the truth, like something that the soul still knew distinctly but that had only the effect of knowledge, of truth. To be sure, human beings were still in the spiritual world, but their assurance of it was less strong in this later time than it had been before. This is known as the Silver Age or Treta Yuga.
Following this came the period of the incarnations in which human vision became more and more cut off from the spiritual world, became more and more adjusted to the immediate outer world of the senses and accordingly more firmly entrenched in this world of the senses. This period, during which emerged the inner I-consciousness, the consciousness of being human, is known as the Bronze Age or Dvapara Yuga. Although human beings no longer had the lofty, direct knowledge of the spiritual world belonging to earlier periods, at least something of the spiritual world still remained in humanity in general. One could perhaps describe this by comparing it to human beings of the present day who, when they grow older, retain something of the joy of youth. It has indeed fled, but once having experienced it, one knows it and can speak of it as something with which one is familiar. Similarly, the souls of that time were still somewhat familiar with what leads to the spiritual worlds. This is the essential feature of Dvapara Yuga.
A period followed when even this familiarity with the spiritual world ceased, when, as it were, the doors of the spiritual world were closed. Thereafter, human vision became so confined to the outer world of the senses and to the intellect that elaborated the sense impressions that they could now only reflect upon the spiritual world. This is the lowest means by which something about the spiritual world can be known. What human beings now actually knew from their own experience was the physical, sensible world. If human beings wished to know something of the spiritual world, they had to accomplish this through reflection. This is the period when human beings became the most unspiritual and accordingly the most attached to and rooted in the world of the senses. This was necessary in order that consciousness of self might gradually attain the peak of its evolution, since only through the sturdy opposition of the outer world could man learn to distinguish himself from the world and to sense himself as an individual being. This last period is called Kali Yuga or the Dark Age.
I should like to emphasize that these expressions can also be used to refer to more extensive epochs. The designation of Krita Yuga, for example, may be applied to a much broader period, since before the Golden Age even existed, the human being participated with his experience in still higher spheres; hence, all these still earlier periods might be included in the term “Golden Age.” If one is moderate, so to speak, in one's claims, however, if one is content with that measure of spiritual experience that has been described, it is possible to divide in this way what has occurred in the past. Definite periods of time can be assigned to all such eras. To be sure, evolution moves forward slowly, through gradual stages, but there are certain boundaries of which we may say that prior to this, such a thing was primarily true, and after this some other condition of life and consciousness prevailed. Accordingly, we must calculate that, in the sense in which we first used the term, Kali Yuga began approximately in the year 3101 BC. We thus see that our souls have appeared repeatedly on earth in new incarnations, during which human vision has become increasingly shut off from the spiritual world and at the same time ever more restricted to the outer world of the senses. We thus see that our souls actually come with each new incarnation into new conditions from which something new can always be learned. What we can gain from Kali Yuga is the possibility of becoming established in our I-consciousness. This was not possible previously, because the human being had first to absorb the I into himself.
When souls have neglected in a given incarnation what that particular epoch has to offer, it is very difficult to make up for the loss in another epoch. They must then wait a very long time before it becomes possible to make good the loss in a certain way, but we certainly must not depend on this chance. Let us, therefore, remember that something essential took place at the time when, as it were, the doors of the spiritual world were made fast. That was the period in which John the Baptist worked, as well as the Christ. It was essential for this time, which had already witnessed the passing of 3,100 years of the Dark Age, that the people living then had all incarnated several times, or at least once or twice, during this Dark Age. I-consciousness had become firmly established, memory of the spiritual world had already evaporated, and, if human beings did not wish to lose all connection with the spiritual world, they had to learn to experience the spiritual within the I. They had to develop the I in such a way that this I, within its inner being, could at least be sure that there is a spiritual world, that man belongs to this spiritual world, and that there are also higher spiritual beings. The I had to make itself capable of inwardly feeling, of believing in, the spiritual world.
If, in the time of Christ Jesus, someone were to have expressed what was indeed the truth in that period, he might have said, “Once upon a time human beings were able to experience the kingdom of heaven outside of their own I's, in those spiritual distances they reached when they emerged from their lower selves. The human being had to experience the kingdom of heaven, the spiritual world, at a distance from the I. Now this kingdom of heaven cannot be so experienced; now the human being has changed so much that the I must experience this kingdom within itself. The kingdom of heaven has approached man to such an extent that it now works into the I.” John the Baptist proclaimed this to humanity, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand,” that is, approaches the I. Previously, it was to be found outside of man, but now man must embrace in the very core of his being, in the I, a kingdom of heaven now come near at hand.
Precisely because in this Dark Age, in Kali Yuga, man was no longer able to go forth from the world of the senses into the spiritual world, the divine being, the Christ, had to come down into the physical, sensible world. This is the reason that Christ had to descend into a man of flesh, into Jesus of Nazareth, in order that through beholding the life and deeds of Christ on the physical earth, human beings in physical bodies might gain a connection with the kingdom of heaven, with the spiritual world. The period when Christ walked upon earth thus fell in the midst of Kali Yuga, of the Dark Age, when human beings who comprehended their time and did not live in it in a dull and unenlightened way could say to themselves, “It is necessary that the God should descend among human beings in order that a connection with the spiritual world that has been lost can be won again.”
If there had been no human beings at that time capable of understanding this, capable of establishing an active soul connection with the Christ, all human connection with the spiritual world would gradually have been lost and human beings would not have accepted into their I's the connection with the kingdom of heaven. If all the human beings living at such a crucial time had persisted in remaining in darkness, it might have happened that this significant event would have passed by them unnoticed. Then human souls would have become withered, desolate, and depraved. To be sure, they would have continued to incarnate for a time without the Christ, but they would not have been able to implant in their I's what was necessary for them to regain their connection with the kingdom of heaven. It might have happened that the event of the appearance of Christ on earth could have been overlooked by everyone, just as it passed unnoticed, for example, by the inhabitants of Rome. Among these it was said, “Somewhere in a dingy side street lives a strange sect of horrid people, and among them lives a detestable spirit who calls himself Jesus of Nazareth and who preaches to the people, inciting them to all kinds of heinous deeds.” That is how much they knew of Christ in Rome at a certain period! You are perhaps also aware that it was the great Roman historian, Tacitus, who described Him in some such way about a hundred years after the events in Palestine.
Indeed, it is true, not everyone realized that something of the utmost importance had taken place, an event which, striking into the unearthly darkness as divine light, was capable of carrying human beings over Kali Yuga! The possibility for further evolution was given to humanity through the fact that there were certain souls who comprehended that moment in time, who knew what it meant that Christ had walked upon the earth.
If you were to imagine yourselves for a moment in that period, you could then easily say, “Yes, it was quite possible to live at that time and yet know nothing of the appearance of Christ Jesus on the physical plane! It was possible to dwell on earth without taking this most significant event into one's consciousness.” Might it not then also be possible today that something of infinite importance is taking place and that human beings are not taking it into their consciousness? Could it not be that something tremendously important is taking place in the world, taking place right now, of which our own contemporaries have no presentiment? This is indeed so. Something highly important is taking place that is perceptible, however, only to spiritual vision. There is much talk about periods of transition. We are indeed living in one, and it is a momentous one. What is important is that we are living just at the time when the Dark Age has run its course and a new epoch is just beginning, in which human beings will slowly and gradually develop new faculties and in which human souls will gradually undergo a change.
It is hardly to be wondered at that most human beings are in no way aware of this, considering that most human beings also failed to notice the occurrence of the Christ event at the beginning of our era. Kali Yuga came to an end in the year 1899; now we must adapt ourselves to a new age. What is beginning at this time will slowly prepare humanity for new soul faculties.
The first signs of these new soul faculties will begin to appear relatively soon now in isolated souls. They will become more clear in the middle of the fourth decade of this century, sometime between 1930 and 1940. The years 1933, 1935, and 1937 will be especially significant. Faculties that now are quite unusual for human beings will then manifest themselves as natural abilities. At this time great changes will take place, and Biblical prophecies will be fulfilled. Everything will be transformed for the souls who are sojourning on earth and also for those who are no longer within the physical body. Regardless of where they are, souls are encountering entirely new faculties. Everything is changing, but the most significant event of our time is a deep, decisive transformation in the soul faculties of man.
Kali Yuga has run its course, and now human souls are beginning to develop new faculties, faculties that — because this is precisely the purpose of the age — will cause souls, seemingly out of themselves, to exhibit certain clairvoyant powers that were necessarily submerged in the unconscious during Kali Yuga. There will be a number of souls who will have the singular experience of having I-consciousness and at the same time the feeling of living in another world, essentially an entirely different world from the one of their ordinary consciousness. It will seem shadowy, a dim presentiment, as it were, as though one born blind were to have been operated on and had his sight restored. Through what we call esoteric training, these clairvoyant faculties will be acquired much more readily, but because humanity progresses they will appear, at least in rudimentary form, in the most elementary stages, in the natural course of human evolution.
It might easily happen in our epoch (indeed, more easily than has ever been the case before) that human beings would not be able to comprehend such an event that is of the utmost significance for humanity. It could be that they would fail to grasp that such a thing is an actual glimpse into the spiritual world, though still only shadowy and dim. There might, for example, be so much wickedness, such great materialism on earth that the majority of humanity would not show the slightest understanding but would consider those people who had this clairvoyance as fools and would clap them into insane asylums along with others whose souls develop in a muddled fashion. This epoch could pass by humanity without notice, as it were, although we are letting the call sound forth today, even as John the Baptist, as the forerunner of Christ, and Christ Himself once let it resound: A new age is at hand, in which the souls of human beings must take a step upward into the kingdom of heaven!
It could easily happen that this great event might pass by without the understanding of human beings. If, then, in the years between 1930 and 1940, the materialists were to triumph and say, “Yes, there have indeed been a number of fools but no sign of the great happenings that were anticipated,” it would not disprove what we have said. If they were to triumph, however, and if humanity overlooked these events, it would be a great misfortune. Even if they were unable to perceive the great occurrence that can take place, it will nonetheless occur.
The event to which we refer is that human beings can acquire the new faculty of perception in the etheric realm — a certain number of human beings to begin with, followed gradually by others, because humanity will have 2,500 years in which to evolve these faculties increasingly. Human beings must not miss the opportunity offered in this period. To let it pass unheeded would be a great misfortune, and humanity would then have to wait until later to make up the loss, in order ultimately to develop this faculty. This ability will enable human beings to see in their surroundings something of the etheric world, which up to now they have not normally been able to perceive. The human being now sees only man's physical body; then, however, he will be able to see the etheric body, at least as a shadowy image, and also to experience the relationship of all deeper events in the etheric. He will have pictures and premonitions of events in the spiritual world and will find that such events are carried out on the physical plane after three or four days. He will see certain things in etheric pictures and will know that tomorrow, or in a few days, this or that will take place.
Such transformations will come about in human soul faculties, resulting in what may be described as etheric vision. And Who is bound up with this fact? That being Whom we call the Christ, Who appeared on earth in the flesh at the beginning of our era. He will never come again in a physical body; that event was unique. The Christ will return, however, in an etheric form in the period of which we have been speaking. Then human beings will learn to perceive Christ, because through this etheric vision they will grow upward toward Him Who no longer descends as far as into a physical body but only into an etheric body. It will therefore be necessary for human beings to grow upward to a perception of Christ, for Christ spoke truly when He said, “I am with you always, even unto the end of the earth.” He is here; He is in our spiritual world and those who are especially blessed can perceive Him always in this spiritual-etheric world.
St. Paul was convinced through such perception in the event of Damascus. This same etheric vision will be cultivated as a natural faculty by individual persons. To experience an event of Damascus, a Paul event, will be an increasing possibility for human beings in the coming period.
We thus comprehend spiritual science in a completely different sense. We learn that it imposes a tremendous responsibility upon us, since it is a preparation for the concrete occurrence of the reappearance of Christ. Christ will reappear because human beings will be raising themselves toward Him in etheric vision. When we grasp this, spiritual science appears to us as the preparation of human beings for the return of Christ, so that they will not have the misfortune to overlook this great event but will be ripe to seize the great moment that we may describe as the second coming of Christ. Man will be capable of seeing etheric bodies, and among these etheric bodies he will also be able to see the etheric body of Christ; that is, he will grow into a world in which the Christ will be visible to his newly awakened faculties.
It will then no longer be necessary to prove the existence of Christ through all sorts of documents, because there will be eye-witnesses to the presence of the living Christ, those who will experience Him in His etheric body. Through this experience they will learn that this being is the same as the One Who consummated the Mystery of Golgotha at the beginning of our era and that this is the Christ. Just as Paul was convinced near Damascus that this was the Christ, so there will be human beings who will be convinced through experiences in the etheric realm that Christ truly lives.
The greatest mystery of our time is this one concerning the second coming of Christ, and it takes on its true form in the way I have described. The materialistic mind, however, will in a certain way usurp this event. What has just been said, namely, that all genuine spiritual knowledge points to this time, will often be proclaimed in the coming years. The materialistic mind today corrupts everything, however, and so it will come about that this sort of mind will be unable to imagine that the souls of human beings must advance to etheric vision and with it to Christ in the etheric body.
The materialistic mind will conceive of this event as another descent of Christ into the flesh, as another physical incarnation. There will be a number of persons who in their colossal conceit will turn this to their own advantage by letting it be known among human beings that they are the reincarnated Christ. Accordingly, the coming period may bring us false Christs. Anthroposophists, however, should be people who will be so ripe for spiritual life that they will not confuse the second coming of Christ in a spiritual body, perceptible only to a higher vision, with such a reappearance in a physical body. That will be one of the direst temptations that will beset humanity. To help humanity overcome this temptation will be the task of those who learn through spiritual science to raise themselves to a comprehension of the spirit — of those who do not wish to drag the spirit down into matter but to ascend into the spiritual world themselves. It is in this way, therefore, that we must speak of the second coming of Christ and of the fact that we raise ourselves up to Christ in the spiritual world by acquiring etheric vision.
Christ is always present, but He is in the spiritual world; we can reach Him if we raise ourselves into that world. All anthroposophical teaching should be transformed in us into the strong wish to prevent humanity from letting this event pass by unnoticed but rather, in the time remaining at our disposal, gradually to educate a humanity that may be ripe to cultivate these new faculties and thereby to unite anew with the Christ. Otherwise, humanity would have to wait a long time for such an opportunity to be repeated — indeed, until another incarnation of the earth. If humanity were to ignore this event of the return of Christ, the vision of Christ in the etheric body would be limited to those who, through esoteric training, prove themselves to be ready to rise to such an experience. But the momentous event — the possibility that these faculties might be acquired by humanity in general and that this great event might, by means of these naturally developed faculties, be understood by all human beings — would be impossible for a long time to come.
We thus see that there is indeed something in our epoch that justifies the existence and the activity of spiritual science in the world. Its aim is not merely to satisfy theoretical needs or scientific curiosity. Spiritual science prepares human beings for this event, prepares them to relate themselves in the right way to their period and to see with the full clarity of understanding and cognition what is actually there but that may pass human beings by without being brought to fruition. This is its aim!
It will be of utmost importance to grasp this event of Christ's appearance, because other events will follow upon this. Just as other events preceded the Christ event in Palestine, so, after the period when Christ Himself will have become visible again to humanity in the etheric body, will those who previously foretold Him now become His successors. All those who prepared the way for Him will become recognizable in a new form to those who will have experienced the new Christ event. Those who once dwelt on earth as Moses, Abraham, and the prophets will again become recognizable to human beings. We shall realize that, even as Abraham preceded Christ, preparing His way, he has also assumed the mission of helping later with the work of Christ. The human being who is awake, who does not sleep through the greatest event of the near future, gradually enters into association with all those who, as patriarchs, preceded the Christ event; he unites with them. Then appears once more the great host of those toward whom we shall be able to raise ourselves. He who led humanity's descent into the physical plane appears again after Christ and leads man upward to unite him once more with the spiritual worlds.
Looking far back into human evolution, we see that there is a certain moment after which humanity may be said to be descending even further from its fellowship with the spiritual world and entering more and more into the material world. Although the following image has its material side, we may nevertheless use it here: man was at one time a companion of spiritual beings, his spirit dwelt within the spiritual world and, by reason of the fact that he dwelt in the spiritual world, he was a son of the gods. What constituted this constantly reincarnating soul, however, participated increasingly in the outer world. The son of the gods was then within man, who took delight in the daughters of the earth, that is, in those souls who had sympathy for the physical world. This, in turn, means that the human spirit, who had previously been permeated by divine spirituality, sank down into the physical world of the senses. He became the mate of the intellect, which is bound to the brain and which entangled him in the sense world. Now this spirit must find the path by which he descended and, climbing upward again, become once more the son of the gods. The son of man, which he has become, would perish here below in the physical world if he were not to ascend once more as son of man to the divine beings, to the light of the spiritual world, if he were not in the future to find delight in the daughters of the gods. It was necessary for the evolution of humanity that the sons of gods should unite with the daughters of men, with the souls that were fettered to the physical world, in order that, as son of man, the human being would learn to master the physical plane. It is necessary for the human being of the future, however, that, as the son of man, he shall find delight in the daughters of the gods, in the divine-spiritual light of wisdom with which he must unite himself in order to rise once again into the world of the gods.
The will shall be enkindled by divine wisdom, and the mightiest impulse toward this will arise when, for him who has prepared himself for it, the sublime etheric figure of Christ Jesus becomes perceptible. The second coming of Christ will be, for human beings who have developed clairvoyance naturally, the same as when the etheric Christ appeared to Paul as a spiritual being. He will appear once more to human beings, if they come to understand that these faculties that will arise through the evolution of the human soul are to be used for this purpose.
Let us use spiritual science so that it may serve not merely to satisfy our curiosity but in such a way that it will prepare us for the great tasks, the great missions of the human race for which we must grow ever more mature.
Rudolf Steiner's Answers to Questions in Connection with the Preceding Lecture
When things are spoken of such as those we have discussed today, when we attempt to shed light upon the more intimate mysteries, let us not regard them thoughtlessly as one is likely to listen to certain things today, but let us be quite clear that anthroposophy should become for us something totally different from mere theory. Of course, the teaching must be there; how would one be able to rise to such thoughts as have been uttered here today if it were not possible to absorb them in the form of teaching? What is essential, however, is that it should not remain teaching but rather be remolded in our souls into traits of feeling (Gemuet) and character, into an entirely different disposition, and that it should thus make totally different human beings of us. It should guide us in making the right use of our incarnations, so that we may be able during their course to develop into something entirely different.
In trying to say not a word too much nor a word too little, I have not made more than fleeting reference to important subjects. What was said, however, is significant not only for those souls who will be incarnated on the physical plane in the period between 1930 and 1940 but also for those who will then be in the spiritual world, between death and a new birth. We must realize that souls in the spiritual world have an influence on the world of the living, though the latter may be quite unaware of it. Through the new Christ event, however, this relationship between those who are embodied here on the physical plane and those who are already in the spiritual world will become increasingly conscious. Cooperation between physically embodied human beings and spiritual beings will then be possible. This should already have been implied in our having visualised the reappearance of the prophets to human beings on earth.
Therefore, you must picture to yourselves that, when these great moments arrive in the future of humanity, human beings will work together with one another more consciously in the physical and in the spiritual worlds. Today this is not possible because of the lack of a common language. People here in the physical world use in their speech words descriptive only of physical things and physical conditions. Human beings between death and a new birth, however, live in a world quite different from the one immediately surrounding us, and they speak a different language. Of all that is spoken in our world, the dead can receive only what is spoken in spiritual science. Thus, in anthroposophy, we are concerned with something that will be increasingly intelligible to the dead. What we say in this province also benefits those who are between death and a new birth.
Humanity is ripening toward a time when the influences of the spiritual world will be felt ever more widely. The tremendous occurrences of the coming period will be discernible in all worlds. Even the human beings between death and a new birth will have new experiences in the other world as a result of the new Christ event in the etheric world. Unless they have prepared themselves on earth to do so, however, they will no more be able to understand these events than will the human beings now incarnated on earth; they must have prepared themselves rightly to receive the events of this important moment. It is essential for all the souls now incarnated (regardless of whether or not they will still be embodied then) that they shall have prepared themselves for these significant coming events by taking up anthroposophical truths. Should they fail to do this, they will have to wait. If they have not received with their earthly consciousness what anthroposophy or spiritual science has to give, they will have to wait until they are again incarnated to have the possibility of receiving corresponding teachings here on earth. There are things that can be learned or experienced only on earth. One could say, for example, that in the spiritual world it is impossible to gain any knowledge of death, and a God had to descend to the physical world to be able to die. One cannot in any other world learn what the Mystery of Golgotha actually is in the same way as here in the physical world. We have been led down into the physical world to acquire what can only be acquired here. Christ descended among human beings because only here in the physical world could He give evidence to them, by causing them to experience something in the Mystery of Golgotha, of what was to bear far-reaching fruit in the spiritual world. The seeds, however, must be sown here in the physical world.