Earthly and Cosmic Man
5. The Idea of Reincarnation and its Introduction into Western Culture. The Heralding of Christianity.
When we think of all the achievements of the spiritual life, all the insight into the spiritual world and conceptions of the universe which have come to birth during the course of human existence, we have, on the one side, a picture of great and significant progress in the evolution of mankind on the Earth; and when this progress is investigated by Spiritual Science, it becomes clear that the human being the single individual participates in this general progress in that he passes through the successive epochs and time-periods in reincarnations; in this way he is able not only to preserve everything that his soul has assimilated in ancient and more recent times, but also to play a real part in the whole evolutionary process. Thus when a man has lived as a being of body and soul in one epoch of culture, he does not vanish from the field of evolution, but remains, in order again to take part in what Earth-existence has later become. In a general sense, progress of this kind is certainly to be perceived. But many of our studies will remind us that this progress is not so straightforward a matter that it could be said to begin with the simple and the primitive, rising from thence into the heights; on the contrary, it will be found that progress indeed the whole process of evolution is full of complication.
The First Post-Atlantean epoch of culture after the great Atlantean catastrophe was that of ancient India. Its sublimity and power of vision into the spiritual worlds have never since been equalled, nor will its heights be reattained until the Seventh Post-Atlantean epoch after the Fifth and Sixth have run their course. Thus in certain forms of spiritual life there is a decline, followed again, in due course, by an ascent. Graeco-Latin culture, for instance, was a most noble expression of the inner union existing between the Greeks and their Art, and of the wise ordering of civic life in Greece and Rome, whereby a certain harmony in the conditions of life on the physical plane was created. But an utterance of a great Greek is also indicative of the character of this epoch: Better it is to be a beggar in the Upper World than a king in the realm of the Shades. This indicates that in an epoch of golden prime on the physical plane, men had only very limited consciousness of the significance of the spiritual world lying behind and beyond the physical plane. Since that time the intensity of the union between the human being and life on the physical plane has waned, together with the noblest fruits of that union; on the other hand, however, mankind begins, gradually and perceptibly to ascend once again to the spiritual worlds. This will serve as an illustration of the complicated course taken by human evolution. When emphasis is laid on the blessings and high lights of one particular epoch, this most certainly does not imply that lesser value is to be attached to other epochs which lack certain characteristics. Although we speak again and again of all that Christianity has brought into the world, we know that its impulse is only beginning and that the spiritual heights attained in the East before the coming of Christianity, have not again been reached. All this must be remembered, because there must be no thought or suggestion that in bringing forward the merits of one epoch, we do less than justice to the greatness and significance of others. In this sense I ask you to pay attention to a difference that is neither a merit on the one side nor a failing on the other: I want simply to describe a certain difference between pre-Christian, Oriental culture and Christianity (not Pagan or even ancient Hebrew culture) a difference which becomes clear when insight into Christianity has been deepened by Spiritual Science.
In typically Oriental conceptions of the world there is a firmly established principle to which repeated allusions are made but to which, up to now, Christianity has paid little heed. Oriental culture has knowledge of the great cosmic Laws revealed today by Spiritual Science, namely, those of the return of the human being in different Earth-lives, and of Karma. Whereas Christianity through the centuries has had eyes only for the life of a man between birth and death, and its continuance in a simple heavenly life, the Oriental world possesses definite knowledge of the return of man in repeated lives on Earth; and the knowledge of this great manifestation of law in the evolution of humanity constitutes much of the profound significance in Oriental teachings. As a result of this, Oriental culture contains teachings regarding the leaders and great heroes of human evolution which differ fundamentally from anything taught in the West. In the Oriental world-conception we find references to Beings of whom it is said from the outset that they return again and again and that the importance of their influence can be measured by their achievements in successive Earth-lives. The very name, Gautama Buddha is indicative, for Buddha is not a proper name like Socrates or Raphael, but denotes a rank. The world of thought from which Buddhism has grown speaks of many Buddhas Buddha is a rank. Before Gautama Buddha the royal son of King Suddhodana became the Buddha of whom Oriental teachings speak, he was a Bodhisattva. In other words, the Oriental conception of the world perceives the Individuality who passes through the different incarnations, ascending from incarnation to incarnation and finally reaching the height at which the rank of Buddha is attained Such an Individuality is then no longer called by a proper name. In speaking of the characteristics of the Buddha, Buddhism rarely refers to Prince Siddhartha, but far more often to a rank, attained not only by him but to which every human being can attain. And so, in pointing to the great leaders, the East points to the Individuality who passes through repeated Earth-lives; the greatness and significance of these leaders are attributed to the merits they acquired through repeated lives on Earth.
And now compare this with characteristic features of western culture. There we are told of the greatness of a Plato, a Socrates, of a figure like Paul; even in the Old Testament, a figure like Moses stands out in strong relief, and, later on, Raphael, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci among many others. The West speaks of the single personality not the individuality who passes through repeated lives on Earth. Attention is directed not to the being who goes on from birth to birth, from death to death, but to the one personality who lived from a certain point of time to another. The East directs its attention more to the onward progress of the Individuality from one incarnation to another, whereas western culture has been little concerned as to who Socrates, for example, could have been in previous Earth-lives, or what becomes of him in later lives. It is the same with Paul and with all the others. This is a very fundamental difference. The matter may be summed up by saying that the whole trend of the West hitherto has been to lay emphasis upon the importance of the personality, of the single life of the human being. Only now, when we are on the threshold of a great change in the spiritual life, are we beginning having acquired in western culture a gauge as it were for the single personality to discern a principle of existence which Oriental culture accepts as a matter of course, namely, the development of the Individuality within the single personalities, through many lives. A perspective of the future fraught with great significance is here opened up, of which mankind will stand increasingly in need.
Christian thought has actually lost sight of something which the East has always possessed and knowledge of which has now to be reacquired. The course of evolution is such that certain outworn fragments must be discarded and new elements added; ancient heritages must be rescued again, but in a new form and through a new impulse. In olden times, clairvoyance was a natural gift in humanity. It had to fade away and be replaced by thinking based upon purely external observation and perception; this will be enriched by the clairvoyance of the future and will add something of untold significance to human life. The West had to pass through a period during which mankind was split up, as it were, into separate personalities, but now that men stand on the threshold of a deepening of thought and experience, they will themselves be aware of a longing to find the thread uniting the fragments which make their appearance in the life of the human being between birth and death. The light of understanding will thus be shed on the forces which flow onwards through the stream of spiritual development and human progress. Let us illustrate this by a particular example:
In the lecture on The Prophet Elijah in the Light of Spiritual Science 1See: Turning Points in Sprirtual History, by Rudolf Steiner. I spoke of what occult research reveals concerning this prophet. I do not propose to go into further details now, but will only say that in the light of occult knowledge, Elijah was one who proclaimed with power and deep intensity that the primal, original form of what humanity may call the Divine can be glimpsed only in the innermost centre of man's being, in the I . The great prophetic message of Elijah proclaimed that everything the outer world can teach is, at most, semblance and parable, that realisation of the essential nature of man can only arise in the I. Elijah could not, in his time, proclaim the power and significance of the single, human I, but he proclaimed the existence, as it were, of a Divine Ego, external to the human being. Men must recognise this Divine Ego, must realise that it rays into the human I . That this Divine Ego rises up within the human I and there unfolds its full power such is the knowledge won by Christianity. The work and mission of Elijah are therefore a true heralding of Christianity. This can be said when the life of Elijah and his place in the history of human evolution are being described in the light of occult knowledge.
And then we may think of another life, the life of the personality known as John the Baptist. From the mouth of John, humanity was to learn what the immediate future held in store.... Change the attitude of your souls! Do not look back to the times that are past, when men sought to find the Divine only at the starting-point of evolution; look, rather, into your own souls and into the deepest core of your being and then you will know that the Kingdoms of Heaven are near.... This, was the substance of the message of the Baptist. In other words: the phase of development has come when, in very truth, the I can find the Divine within itself. The form in which Christianity was heralded by Elijah has changed with the flow of time. Something altogether different is represented by John the Baptist. But through Spiritual Science and a deepened understanding, we realise that one and the same Being lived in the prophet Elijah and in John the Baptist. We add to our understanding of the single life a principle of knowledge already possessed by the East, only the East did not lay such emphasis upon the power and force inhering in the single personality.
Going further, we can speak of that most remarkable personality who lived from 1483 to 1521, was born on a Good Friday and through this very fact, indicated, as it were, his living connection with the Mystery of Golgotha. I am referring, of course, to Raphael, the great painter. In the western world, as is only to be expected, it is customary to study Raphael as a figure in himself, but it will very soon become clear to deeper insight, that what the West has to say with regard to Raphael has many shortcomings. This figure of Raphael presents a remarkable spectacle to those who aspire for a more profound understanding. It is as though his genius came with him at birth. In a manner of speaking it can be said that he let himself be born on a Good Friday, in order to indicate his connection with the Mystery of Golgotha. It is quite obvious that from the very first, his life gave promise of all his subsequent greatness. Orphaned at an early age, he was thrown out into the world, and finally into the brilliance and splendour of Rome; there, within the span of a short life, we see him rise step by step to heights of fame. What is there to be said about this remarkable life? Think of the environment into which Raphael was born it was in the period at the turn of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. It was a time when disputes in the world of religion were rampant and widespread, when Christianity was scattered into countless sects over the whole Earth, when mighty and also terrible conflicts were being waged in Christendom. And now we turn to Raphael's paintings. It is a strange experience! They seem to make us forget what was happening all around in the Christian world at the time and a kind of jubilation at the power with which Christianity has taken root in human evolution streams out from them. Think of a picture like The School of Athens as it is generally called. We see all those remarkable figures, deciphered by pedants with the aid of historical guide-books, as Socrates, Diogenes, and so forth. This, however, means nothing whatever from the point of view of Art. But if we take the New Testament and read the Acts of the Apostles attentively, we feel that in this picture we have before our very eyes the whole vivid difference between the pre-Christian views prevailing in Greece and those of Christianity; we also find this in the picture usually, though erroneously, known as the Disputa. The School of Athens really depicts the scene in the New Testament when Paul came among the Greeks, saying to them: Until this day you have heard of many Gods; but the Divine does not express Itself in images. You have spoken great words concerning the living Gods, but there is something still greater: the Glory of the God Who died on the Cross and has risen again! We feel the power of the message as we stand before the picture called The School of Athens, and look at the remarkable figures of the philosophers listening attentively as Paul speaks. When the picture is actually before us, the pedantic interpretation given to it later on that the central figures are Aristotle, Plato, and so forth fades into insignificance. We feel that Raphael was trying to depict the moment when Paul came among the Greeks. If we study the New Testament closely, we shall be able to identify the figure of the man with the hand pointing forward so significantly, as a personality drawn from the New Testament account. The New Testament, therefore, provided the model for a personality depicted in this picture, namely, the personality of Paul.
And so we pass from one picture to another, forgetting all the statements that have been made about the one or the other, for a great force streams out of them; we feel that Christianity is living on in its mightiest power in the paintings of Raphael and that they portray a Christianity in which there can be no strife or splitting into sects. Recent times, however, have had little understanding of the Christianity which pours its living influence through Raphael's paintings. When we look at them even more closely, still another feeling comes to us. It is as though their creator wanted to portray the eternal youthfulness, the eternal power of victory in Christianity. And then perhaps we ask ourselves: In what form did the influence of these paintings live on?
Before very long, a despot like Bernini who accomplished so much for Art was giving warning against imitation of Raphael; it is even possible to say that Raphael was forgotten. In Germany and in the west of Europe during the eighteenth century there is a strange story to tell in regard to men's understanding of Raphael. In the whole of Voltaire's works you will find hardly a mention of Raphael. The name of someone else may also occur to you, although he held a very different view later on. Goethe's experience when he visited the Dresden Gallery for the first time, was a strange one. When you yourselves stand before the Sistine Madonna you will probably imagine that the picture must have filled Goethe with enchantment, and this may well be assumed in view of all the eulogies with which he later sang its praises. We have to remember however, what he had heard from the officials of the Dresden Gallery and from those who were the official custodians of the picture. He was informed by them that the Child in the arms of the Mother, the Child Whose eyes express a rare gift of seership, was painted with realistic vulgarity, that it could not be from the hand of Raphael himself but must have been painted over by someone else; and that the little heads of Angels could not possibly have been Raphael's own work. The coming of the Sistine Madonna to Dresden was not crowned with triumph! But at any rate it is to Goethe's credit that after he had learnt to appreciate Raphael, he contributed a great deal towards an understanding of the Sistine Madonna and of Raphael himself.
Now let us think of the course, taken by evolution in the nineteenth century, leaving aside what occurred in Catholic countries and turning our attention to Protestant lands in which the dogma concerning the Virgin Mary is not essential to faith. There, not only the Sistine Madonna but all the other Madonnas of Raphael are veritably crowned with glory! Without thinking now of the originals, the many excellent engravings and reproductions are a proof of how men have endeavoured to present Raphael's creations to the world in the most perfect possible form. Few people, after all, have the opportunity of seeing the originals themselves. Naturally, no reproduction can convey the essence of the artistic power in a picture; to suppose any such thing would be ignorant and barbaric. But something else made its way into the evolution of mankind: in regions which would have nothing to do with the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, a form of Christianity independent of all differences of doctrine found entrance. While men have fought for these differences of doctrine in theories and systems, a picture of this great Mystery in the characters of an occult script, as it might be said found entry in the reproductions of Raphael's Art, filling the Mystery with new life. Here again is a heralding of Christianity from which great and glorious fruits will ripen in the future. And understanding of these things will be quickened by the experiences which have arisen in human beings at the sight of the Sistine Madonna, the Madonna del Pesce and other Madonnas, or from The School of Athens, the Disputa and other paintings of Raphael. Without being aware of it, men have in their souls today the feeling of an inter-denominational Christianity, conveyed by this wonderful occult script.
Raphael both heralded and established a new impulse in Christianity although, to begin with he was not understood. Occult investigation finds that the same Individuality who once worked in Elijah and later in John the Baptist, lived again on earth in Raphael. 2See: On the Meaning of Life, by Rudolf Steiner. This helps us to understand how the forces develop in the same soul from life to life, and to discern the effects of earlier causes. The Baptist was beheaded; his work came to light again in the achievements of his great successor. The new proclamation of the Baptist in the Raphael life was for long ages forgotten. It came to life again in what Spiritual Science teaches concerning the Christ-Impulse. What a light shines in our understanding when we gather up the threads leading through the single personalities, and in what vivid perspective the single personality stands there before us!
I said that the paintings of Raphael are like chants of jubilation at the might of Christianity. Raphael naturally keeps to the accepted events and facts, but out of his feelings he is able to portray them with a unique power. As our eyes wander over his paintings we realise with what majesty and sublimity he portrayed the forces of Christianity, and ask ourselves: What is it that Raphael did not paint? He painted no scene on the Mount of Olives, no Crucifixion. True, he painted a Bearing of the Cross, but it was a very poor picture and gives the impression of having been done to order. Neither did he paint any of the scenes leading directly to the Crucifixion. His creative genius begins to reveal itself again only when he portrays the figure of the great successor of John the figure of Paul in The School of Athens; or when, passing over the other events in the life of Christ, he paints The Transfiguration. What Raphael has not painted helps us to understand that it was alien to him to portray those events on Earth (not events in the spiritual world) which took place after he was beheaded in his previous life. We realise why it was that Raphael painted fewer pictures of these particular events. When we look at the pictures, we feel that all those which portray events subsequent to the Beheading of John the Baptist, are not, like the others, born of earlier remembrances.
As we think of all this, another feeling, too, may arise in us. In a few more hundred years, what will have become of all the paintings which have been such great and mighty symbols in mankind? True, for some time yet the reproductions will be left to us, but not the originals for so very long. Anyone who looks today with sorrow in his heart at Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper realises what will become of the physical materials used in these pictures. It dawns upon us, too, that they can only be truly appreciated when, through Spiritual Science, we understand what it is that Raphael has painted, for example, in The School of Athens or the Disputa. What is to be seen today on the walls of the Vatican in Rome has been ruined by the many restorations. No real idea of the originals is possible, for they have been so grievously spoilt by the restorations. What, then, will have happened in another few centuries? No means of preservation devised by the mind of man will be able to prevent the materials from deteriorating. In another few centuries everything will have vanished. The subjects themselves, of course, will still be known; but the creations of Raphael's own hand will disappear. And then the thought arises: Is the process of human evolution such that things continually come into being only to sink, finally, into non-existence?
Our gaze wanders further and falls upon the youthful figure of a German poet Novalis. To begin with, we find in his writings a most wonderful and unique resurrection of the Christ-Idea, of which the following may be said. If we steep ourselves in Spiritual Science and with the means it provides, try to understand the coming of the Christ-Impulse into the evolution of humanity, and then turn to Novalis wherever we look, something seems to spring into life. Inspirations of the greatest grandeur concerning matters of Spiritual Science are to be found everywhere. Inspirations that are like lofty dreams of Science. From Novalis comes something that finds its way into mankind like seed seed which will spring to life in times to come. Here again is a heralding of Christianity! In spite of all differences, it is again a beginning, just as the work of the Baptist was a beginning. We are drawn irresistibly to the remarkable figure of Novalis, feeling that a stream of living Theosophy goes out from him, inspired by the power of Christianity. We feel that here, too, is a proclamation of Christianity for the future.
Occult investigation finds that in Elijah, in John the Baptist, in Raphael, in Novalis, the same Individuality lived and worked. In Raphael there is a new resurrection of the work of John the Baptist, and it may indeed be said: Raphael himself is able to ensure that his work will not perish when his paintings are no longer to be seen on the walls, just as he was able to prevent other achievements from passing away. Just as he provided for the revival, in a new form, of what it had once been his mission to proclaim, so he will always provide, in incarnations yet to come. Thus does the Individuality bear through eternity what has once been accomplished.
It may be that concrete examples like these, given as illustrations of abstract laws and principles, will do more than the external teachings of Spiritual Science, to render the theosophical conception of human life as intelligible as those things which confront us in the outside world. Deep insight may come to us when, in the light of such concrete examples, we observe processes operating more secretly in the evolution of the human soul. As spiritual research is still a young science, men who have studied Raphael hitherto can naturally know nothing of the power and impulse he bears through the ages. But because the time has come when the idea of the reincarnation of the human being is to dawn, even though nothing concrete is known about it, undefined intuitive feelings may arise here and there. A striking example of this has come again to my mind during the last fortnight. I remembered how Herman Grimm, a most gifted writer on the History of Art and a distinguished student of Raphael, speaks of the painter. Naturally, when Herman Grimm was writing about Raphael, he knew nothing of Spiritual Science and studied only the single life of Raphael. He observed Raphael's fame through the centuries, its decline and subsequent growth, and discerned how, in his creations, Raphael lives on through time. And then there dawned upon Herman Grimm the remarkable thought which he expressed in his work on Raphael (he had wanted to write a volume, but it remained a mere fragment). He says there, expressing an entirely instinctive feeling: When we ponder on the things that will endure in the evolution of mankind, and thus catch a vista of the future, the thought arises that all these things will be lived through again! This is an eloquent indication of how the thought of re-experience rises instinctively, like a longing, in the souls of men who observe evolution thoughtfully and sensitively, for the very reason that without such a conception, the rest has no meaning. This is of infinite significance. And when we reflect about these things, an idea that is beautiful and true comes to us of what Spiritual Science will be able to do for the evolution of humanity, and of the enrichment which human life in all its forms will receive through knowledge of the laws on Reincarnation and Karma. But if the life of humanity is to be thus enriched, men will have to learn to observe the Spiritual with the same exactitude with which they observe the Physical; they will have to perceive how repetition in the physical world is a great law of existence, and that recurrence as in the return of the soul into the body is also a law governing the return of the fruits of the various lives. Such an experience, however, is always preceded by others by human longings and hopes, and instinctive knowledge which has been unfolding during recent years. When we think of these things, it seems as though Spiritual Science has been growing and developing without consciousness on the part of human beings, but that they were already dreaming of it, instinctively divining its approach. There are some, however, who have pondered about the spiritual life, and they have indicated what they felt concerning the rhythmic recurrence of phenomena and even concerning the return of the human soul.
It is interesting, here, to speak of a case which I could multiply a hundredfold because it is an example of what is alive in all those who have contemplated the picture presented by human evolution and in their life of feeling have discerned the rhythmic recurrence, the rhythmic return of events. I will quote one example, which shows how this thought has taken root, causing something to spring to life in the soul. This writer could not have been a theosophist in the modern sense, for what I am going to refer to is a poem written in the year 1835. 3See also: The Art of Recitation and Declamation. Lecture IX. Not yet published in English. The writer could have had no knowledge of the vista of human evolution one day to be opened up by Spiritual Science. Yet something rises up in him that is like a dream of the future of humanity an instinctive perception of recurrent phenomena in human existence. I am speaking of the poet Anastasius Grün, who in the year 1835 published a poem (Schutt) in which he depicts five recurrences of a certain happening, rhythmic repetitions of the spiritual message working in humanity. The poem depicts how on Easter Day, Christ re-visits the Mount of Olives in the Spirit, in order to look again at the places where He had lived and suffered. The poem speaks of five returns, four of which lie in the past, and the fifth in the future. The first occurs in the period after the destruction of Jerusalem. The second, when Christ beholds the conquest of Jerusalem by the Crusaders; as He looks down, Christ sees what is happening in the places He had once known. The third return falls in the period when Islam was spreading its power over Jerusalem; the fourth in the period when humanity, split into countless sects, was quarrelling about the mission of Christ. All this is vividly and graphically described by Grün. Then there opens out the vista of a return of Christ on an Easter Day in the far distant future. Although the picture is dreamlike and Utopian, we cannot fail to discern apart from the actual content of the poem something of the blessing experienced by the soul when spiritual knowledge, especially as it has unfolded since the thirteenth century, opens up glimpses of a future when a spiritual culture will spread peace instead of wars and strife. Grün sees the blessings of peace in the culture of times to come and speaks of a future return of Christ to the Mount of Olives on an Easter Day, describing it as it appeared to his imagination. Children are playing on Golgotha; they have been digging in the ground and find a strange thing made of iron, not knowing at all what it can be; it proves, subsequently, to be a sword. And in the mood of exultation which comes upon him, Grün says that there will come a time when the very purpose of such an instrument as a sword will have been forgotten and the sword will be an object of amazement to men. Then he says that the iron will be used as a plough and describes the feeling which the rhythmic return of Christ to the Mount of Olives quickens in him. What has been forgotten and will again be revealed, is a Cross of Stone! It is raised again and Grün says that something happens to the Cross, indicating what part the Cross will play hereafter. In the following verses he describes what feelings arise in him when the children unearth a Cross and set it up for all the world to see and he speaks, too, of the function and the power of the Cross in mankind:
Ob sie's auch kennen nicht, doch steht's voll Segen,
Aufrecht in ihrer Brust, in ewigem Reiz.
Es blüht sein Name rings auf allen Wegen,
Denn, was sie nimmer kannten war ein Kreuz!
Sie sahn den Kampf nicht und sein blutig Zeichen,
Sie sahn den Sieg allein und seinen Kranz!
Sie sahn den Sturm nicht mit den Wetterstreichen,
Sie sahn nur seines Regenbogens Glanz! —
Das Kreuz von Stein, sie stellen's auf im Garten,
Ein rätselhaft ehrwürdig Altertum,
Dran Rosen rings und Blumen aller Arten
Empor sich ranken, kletternd um und um.
So steht das Kreuz inmitten Glanz und Fülle
Auf Golgotha, glorreich, bedeutungschwer:
Verdeckt ist's ganz von seiner Rosen Hülle,
Längst sieht vor Rosen man das Kreuz nicht mehr!
(The following rendering is by C.F.B.)
Though yet they knew, or knew it not, full-fraught
With blessing and upreared within their breast
It stands and ceaseless calls, while all around
Its Name lies blazoned upon every path.
For what they knew no longer was a Cross!
The strife they knew not, nor th'ensanguined Sign;
They saw but victory, and the victor's crown.
'Twas but the Rainbow-Glory filled their soul.
In garden fair they set the Cross of Stone
Relic of bygone ages, strange, and venerable,
Roses entwine and flowers of every hue
Lay their soft arms about Its Stem.
Thus stands the Cross of Golgotha, resplendent,
Glorious Its meaning heard to find,
Its form all hidden 'neath a rosy veil!
Men see no more the Cross, for roses there.