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A READER'S JOURNAL
A Life for the Spirit: Rudolf Steiner
in the Crosscurrents of Our Time
In Memoriam (1912-2008)
Foreword by Robert McDermott
Published by Steiner Books, Vista Series in 1997
A Book Review by Bobby Matherne ©2006
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One can undertake to read and study all of Rudolf Steiner's 600 books to discover the importance of his work in the areas of medicine, architecture, dance, song, language, sculpture, drama, poetry, prophecy, government, Christianity, evolution of humanity and consciousness, and the diversity of life in the physical and spiritual realms. Or one could get bird's eye view of his life and works from this book of 308 pages by Henry Barnes. In one brief volume, Barnes provides a review of the various stages of Steiner's life (1861 - 1925) with ample quotes from his autobiography and major books and lecture series. This book would be an important research aid to anyone working on a movie about Steiner's life.
[page xi, Foreword by Robert McDermott] In addition to giving indications for research by specialists, including scientists, social scientists, artists and educators, Steiner gave a method for anyone eager to see and to think spiritually, and to know the workings of the spiritual world. It was his great hope that more and more individuals would set foot on the path of inner spiritual development that leads eventually to direct insight into the realities that underlie the world of outer phenomena. It is out of such insight that we can hope to meet the needs of the complex and deeply challenging times in which we live.
Steiner chose one word to represent his life's work, anthroposophy. He coined from the Greek word for the complete human being anthropos and the word for wisdom sophia. Together they represent the wisdom of the full human being composed of body, soul, and spirit. Steiner called anthroposophy simply "as a path that would lead the spirit in the human being to the spirit in the universe." (Page 4) There is no better time to study Steiner's work than now, when humankind stands on the brink of a materialistic chasm which we may stumble into while sleepwalking through life. Barnes comes up with a splendid quote from Christopher Fry from his 1951 book, A Sleep of Prisoners:
Thank God our time is now when wrong
Comes up to face us everywhere,
Never to leave us till we take
The longest stride of soul men ever took.
Affairs are now soul size.
Is exploration into God.
Where are you going? It takes
So many thousands of years to wake,
But will you wake for pity's sake?
Our affairs are soul size, but what can people do if materialistic science claims their soul does not exist? That science avers that everything which happens to a human being is explainable by atoms and molecules which simply obey the laws of physics, chemistry, genetics, physiology, geology, and so on. Such abstract thinking places soul in the category of a human delusion instead of a veritable human reality and resource. If the spirit in us is ever to find the spirit in the universe, we must each embark upon a personal exploration into God because God is the name under which most people subsume all the spirit in the universe.
The abstract thinking of the materialistic scientist leads to all sorts of distinctions, some of which are useful while others, erroneous. An example of an erroneous distinction is that made between sensory and motor neurons in the human body. Steiner challenged this as an artificial distinction; instead, he claimed all neurons are sensory neurons. We are able to move our limbs only so long as we have sensory reports of their position, motion, etc. Lacking any sensory data about the limb, we are unable to move it because, to our body's internal system, it does not exist. The existence of motor neurons is an unnecessary distinction, rightly understood. As Barnes explains it:
[page 14] To a layperson this observation may seem remote from practical reality, yet it is fundamental to the understanding of the human being that underlies Steiner's educational, therapeutic, and medical work. If Steiner's finding is correct, and the soul in which the impulse to action originates works directly into the metabolic processes wherever the movement is to be enacted, the function of the so-called "motor" nerve is to perceive, or register, the subtle changes in the corresponding metabolism. On such a view, the hypothesis that distinguishes two types of nerves with opposite functions cannot be valid.
One of the activities I've done is wood sculpture. During the carving of wood, I am always aware at every instant about the feedback being provided to me by the stroke of the mallet, by the gouge as it cuts into the wood. I am constantly adjusting my gouge angle and mallet stroke to compensate for the progress made by each cut and the texture of the wood at each cut. Steiner was a wood sculptor also, as reported by Natalie Turgeniev-Pozzo, who joined artists in Dornach to carve the interior of the first Goetheanum building.
[page 16, 17] On the first day of our job as sculptors, a row of wooden blocks stands before us. They are more than a meter in height and in breadth. Dr. Steiner had made small models of the capitals. (We were to hew their forms out of these prepared blocks.) We take hold of the chisels and mallets. Most of us timidly begin cutting away at the corners. The wooden mallets are very light; unpracticed hands could not hold heavier ones. It takes a big effort to split off just a couple of chips. We turn to each other for advice, tap again on the wood, and we are already tired. Even the few sculptors among us have never tried anything like this before. Our arms ache, and there is nothing to show for the work. The second day, Dr. Steiner comes, picks up a mallet and chisel, steps up, as we did, onto an overturned crate, and begins to work. It is the first time for him, too, but after just a few blows, he is completely oriented in the work and steadily cuts off one little chip after another. He hammers away like that for ten minutes, an hour, without pause. Without even moving off the crate, he continues for nearly two hours. We stand around him at a slight distance, pale with fatigue, our eyes staring wider and wider in speechless astonishment, unable to move. We had already experienced ourselves how difficult it was.
Steiner was born on the border of Hungary and Croatia where his father Johann had been sent as station master and telegraph operator. Since the telegraph was the Internet of mid-nineteenth century, that would place Rudolf's father at the forefront of the latest technology of the day. Rudolf was an Austrian boy born in a Slavic region of the world, far from his ancestral roots. In 1912 in Helsinki, Steiner spoke on the importance of the location of his birth.
[page 24] The bearers of the bloodlines from which I am descended originally came from the German region of Austria. I could not have been born there. I was born in a Slavic region, in an area completely foreign to the whole milieu and character of the place from which my ancestors came.
Steiner began writing his autobiography(1), one week at a time beginning in December, 1923 and, by his death in March, 1925, he had chronicled his life up until 1907. In it we meet a young man with one foot in the material world and one foot in the spiritual world, but the spiritual world was primary for him, and he early on assumed it was the same for others.
[page 25] From an early age he was also able to follow the further journeys of those who had died. The world of nonphysical perception was more real to him than the one that spoke through his bodily senses, and he assumed that this was also true for others He soon learned that this was not the case, however, for when he spoke matter-of-factly of these experiences, he was met with disbelief, embarrassment, and often ridicule. The boy thus learned to keep silent about his inner perceptions. This "keeping silent" was a characteristic of Rudolf Steiner's life well into his adult years, when as we shall see he finally met contemporaries who wanted to share this realm of his experience.
Johann had apparently decided that his son would be an engineer on the railroad, so he sent Rudolf to a scientific-technical college instead of to a classical studies college.
[page 27] Thanks to his father's decision, Steiner spent the next seven years primarily studying mathematics, physics, and chemistry. Many of his courses were taught by truly outstanding teachers, and we meet them, engagingly portrayed, in the pages of his autobiography.
This was a most fortuitous circumstance for young Steiner as the grounding he received in the physical sciences and mathematics balanced well with his inherent talents in perceiving and understanding the spiritual world. From a young age, for example, he was able to follow people when they transited into the spiritual world. One the works of Immanuel Kant caught his eye in a bookstore, in the incidental, haphazard way that important karmic items present themselves to us if they are out of our planned course of action at the time. One learns that accidents are planned events by the spiritual part of ourselves. They always happen before we know it.
[page 27] When Kant came into the sphere of my thinking, I did not yet know the slightest thing about his place in the history of human thought. Whatever anyone else had thought about him, in approval or disapproval, was entirely unknown to me. My boundless interest in the Critique of Pure Reason was entirely stimulated by my own quite personal inner life. In my boyish way I was striving to understand just what human reason could achieve as real insight into the nature of things.
Steiner did not have much time to study Kant's thoughts, so he tore apart the Kant book and placed its pages into the history book, so that while he was apparently following the history lecture, he was actually pondering Kant's thoughts. This reminds me so much of the various ways that I as a child and adult coped with the requirements and expectations of others while pursuing my own path of study. Steiner's ruse was never found out and he achieved an "excellent" for his history course. (Page 28)
During long walks on vacation, he pondered often what he had read in Kant, saying, "I always needed to sit down quietly somewhere and ask myself once again how we pass from simple, clearly-surveyable concepts to the mental pictures we make of natural phenomena." Those unanswered questions he held for so long about Kant's ideas led him to formulate the ideas which he presented to the world in his landmark book, "The Philosophy of Freedom", in 1898.
Kant was a teacher that Steiner met in a book, but there were many teachers that he met in person who had dramatic impacts on his life. One of those was the herb-master Felix Koguzki.
[page 30] Koguzki and Steiner both traveled to Vienna each week, the young man to visit bookstores and libraries, the older man to sell his medicinal herbs to the city's apothecaries. Riding on the same train every week, they became acquainted, and in Felix, Steiner met a man in whom an original nature wisdom and spirituality of a kind very rare in Western humanity still lived. Steiner wrote:It was possible to talk about the spiritual world with him as with someone who had his own experiences of it. . . . He revealed himself as though he, as a personality, were only the voice for a spiritual content that wished to speak out of hidden worlds. When you were with him you could get deep glimpses into the secrets of nature. (The Course of My Life, chap. 3)
Steiner also wrote in his autobiography about another teacher he met in books, Friedrich Schiller. Schiller discovered a realm which offered human beings inner freedom. His famous paean to freedom "Ode an die Freiheit" is most often translated as "Ode to Joy" (Ode an die Freude) for the lyrics of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony Chorale. Whatever the case, even this confusion of the original name points to Schiller's high regard for freedom. Steiner found a companion in the thoughts of Schiller on freedom. Schiller wrote about a state of consciousness in which one could experience beauty, and Steiner wondered; "Could we not also think of a state of consciousness that would mediate the truth lying in the being of things?"
[page 33] If this is a justified premise, then we must not, as Kant would do, observe everyday human consciousness and investigate whether it can enter into the true being of things. Rather, we must first explore and study the state of consciousness necessary to place ourselves into the kind of relationship with the world that allows things and phenomena to reveal their being to us.
I believed I knew that such a state of consciousness is reached to a certain degree when we not only have thoughts that reproduce external things and events, but also thoughts that we experience as thoughts themselves. This living in thoughts revealed itself to me as quite another thing from the thinking carried out in our usual daily existence and in ordinary scientific research. (The Course of My Life, chap. 3)
Thoughts that we experience as thoughts are like concepts of concepts and that leads us into the categories of Hegel, as Steiner pointed out in a lecture in 1918 on Categories. Steiner is able to bridge the thoughts of Kant and Hegel and explain them in a much simpler way than the writers who filled huge tomes with their explanations. For example, here is a passage in which Steiner clearly delineates spiritual vision from sensory vision.
[page 34] Spiritual vision perceives the spirit just as the senses perceive nature, but with its thinking it does not stand apart from the spiritual perception as everyday consciousness, with its thinking, stands apart from sense perceptions. Spiritual vision thinks while it experiences spiritual reality, and it experiences while it brings the awakened spirituality in us into thinking. [The Course of My Life, chap. 3, emphasis added by Barnes]
As a young man Steiner took on a tutoring job in which one of the four boys had water-on-the-brain which usually augured a life of mental retardation. But Steiner thought about mental problems the way the Swedish think about weather: "There is no bad weather, only bad clothes." For Steiner there were no hopeless mental cases, only bad teachers. Barnes sums up the results that Steiner was able to achieve with the hydrocephalic boy.
[page 35] It was considered highly doubtful that the child, who had a pronounced hydrocephalic condition, could ever learn anything beyond the rudiments of reading, writing, and arithmetic. His young tutor, however, recognized that the boy's soul was only as though asleep and first had to be awakened which could only happen if he found a loving relationship with the one who sought to help him. Steiner describes how he prepared the briefest of lessons to engage the boy, since his strength only allowed him to concentrate for very short periods of time. Through this careful, homeopathic approach, Rudolf Steiner succeeded in guiding his pupil so far that he was able to join a class in a secondary school. As the boy developed into young manhood, Steiner had the great satisfaction of seeing him enter the university and become a medical doctor; during World War I he lost his life while serving in this profession. Through the whole of this experience, Steiner came to realize that teaching and instructing must "become an art based on a genuine understanding of the human being."
When we look at the worldwide curative, or special, education movement that has developed in this century out of the therapeutic and pedagogical insights of Steiner, as well as at the Waldorf school movement, we realize how decisive and far-reaching his experience with the Specht boy really was.
Steiner's understanding of the synchrony of spiritual vision and thinking was unknown to most mystics, and Steiner could explain the reason for it: mystics shunned ideas because they could not come to terms with the world of ideas, something that was natural for Steiner.
[page 36, 37] I felt that it was a lack of real spirituality when someone, with the idea of attaining satisfaction in the soul, wanted to plunge into an inner world devoid of ideas. In doing this I could see no path leading toward the light, but only to spiritual darkness. To me it seemed to be a kind of cognitional impotence when the soul sought to reach spiritual reality by escaping from ideas in which, although the spirit itself does not actually live within them, human beings can experience spiritual reality. . . . The mystic seemed to me to be a person who could not perceive the spirit within ideas, and who, therefore, was inwardly chilled by them. The coldness that the mystic experiences from ideas drives such a person to seek, by turning away from ideas, the warmth needed by the soul. (The Course of My Life, chap. 11)
Part of my attraction to Rudolf Steiner stems from my feeling of an inner warmth when some idea takes form in my thoughts which enables me to better understand some amorphous spiritual experience. He states very clearly how ideas create inner warmth in him.
[page 37] For me, the inner warmth of experience was kindled in my soul just at the moment when I could give a formed expression in ideas to experiences of the spiritual world that were initially indefinite. I often said to myself: "How these mystics fail to recognize the warmth, or inner intimacy, that we experience when we inwardly unite with ideas permeated by the spirit!" For me this intimate union had always been like a personal acquaintanceship with the spiritual world. . . . (The Course of My Life, chap. 11)
Steiner added that he "wanted to form ideas that pointed to the spiritual, similar to the way in which the ideas of science pointed to what was sense-perceptible." Mystics, on the other hand, abjured external spiritual reality and focused solely on their inner reality of experience. (Pages 37, 38) Those who call Steiner a "mystic" demonstrate an ignorance of this important distinction between him and mystics.
When I read G. K. Chesterton's Father Brown Mysteries, I became aware of a deeper meaning of the word "information". Father Brown was a detective who in-formed himself into his surroundings and thereby was able to ferret out meanings in situations which otherwise left others who had the same "information" clueless. The others had the same information but not the same process of in-forming as Father Brown. Others might have mistaken Father Brown's marvelous deductions as coming upon him as an act of grace, but those who read his inner thoughts, which Chesterton revealed to us, knew that the good priest was changing himself to become at one with his environment as a conscious method of achieving his dramatic deductions. Father Brown, through the capable handling by his author, had developed a way on standing within the world of experience similar to the way Steiner did during his assiduous study of the archives of Goethe. Note this next passage:
[page 39, 40] I thus experienced, through my Goethe work, the difference between a state of soul in which the spiritual world reveals itself to a certain degree as an act of grace, and one in which the soul, step by step, first strives to make its own inner being like the spirit so that, when the soul experiences itself as true spirit, it may then stand within what is spiritual in the world. But in this way of "standing within," we first realize that the human spirit and the spirituality in the world may grow into a union with one another within the human soul.
During the time I worked on my interpretation of Goethe, his admonishing spirit was always beside me, ceaselessly calling to me: "Those who stride forward too quickly on the spiritual path can indeed gain spiritual experience within a narrow limit, but they enter an impoverished reality, stripped of all the richness of life."
In my relation to the Goethe work, I could clearly observe how karma "works" in human life. Destiny is made up of two different sets of facts that grow together into a single unity within human life. One streams outward from inner soul struggles; the other moves toward us from the outer world. My soul's own impulses moved toward the perception of the spiritual; the outer spiritual life of the world brought the Goethe work to me. I had to bring the two streams, encountering one another in my consciousness, into conscious harmony. I spent the final years of this first phase of my life alternately justifying myself in my own eyes and in the eyes of Goethe. (The Course of My Life, chap. 12)
If one were Father Brown, one could not think in abstract stillness to decipher the puzzling events of a crime while it is yet in process, one must move in one's thoughts with the criminals actions and thoughts. Sherlock Holmes could after the fact describe in cold, still, deductive logic to Dr. Watson how the crime proceeded, whereas Father Brown lived through the crime by in-forming himself, that is, standing within the very criminals performing the actions of the crime. Goethe was more like Father Brown than Sherlock Holmes in his investigation of the riddles and puzzles of nature and science. Goethe developed processes for in-forming himself of the growth of plants and the morphogenesis of the human skull, among other things. Goethe's processes allow one to understand the organic living world something for which the abstract tools of the physicist and biologist are generally useless.
[page 41, 42] To understand the inorganic world, concept after concept is arrayed, so as to survey the relationships between the forces that are active in and affect nature. In the organic realm, on the other hand, we have to allow one concept to grow out of the other in such a way that, in the continuous, living, ever-changing concepts, pictures of what appears in nature arise as a being possessing form. Goethe practiced this by seeking to hold an inner image of a leaf in his mind that was not a fixed, lifeless concept, but rather one that could express itself in the most varied forms.
When we let such idea-forms proceed one from another, we can eventually construct the whole plant. We recreate in the mind, in idea-form, the process through which nature forms the plant in reality.
In the introduction to Goethe's botanical writings, I wanted to point out that, in his theory of metamorphosis, he was thinking about the workings of organic nature in a way that accords with the spirit. (The Course of My Life,chap. 6)
Henry Barnes adds a grace note to Steiner's words:
[page 42] In his thorough study of Goethe, Steiner discovered a scientific method that leads from the observation of organic nature to the perception of the creative spiritual principles at work within it.
During Steiner's years working in the Weimar archives of Goethe, he developed the ideas for and completed his landmark book, The Philosophy of Freedom. He wanted to determine if a "human being were spiritually free, or subject to the iron necessity of purely natural law." (Page 53) The subject of Steiner's book was one that I had encountered about twenty years earlier in the works of an American philosopher, Jane Roberts. She asked, "Where is the tree from which the fruit falls into mind's basket?" The answer is self-evident once asked because the question itself presupposes its own answer. The tree must reside in the spiritual world and therefore we human beings are the recipients of direct communications (fruit) from the spiritual world (the tree on which the fruit ripens) in the process of thinking (catching the ripe fruit in mind's basket).
But there are two ways of thinking, as Barnes points out.
[page 53] 1) This act of uniting an idea, or concept, with a perception this process of thinking is how I have come to understand the world around me. By its means I have gained knowledge of the laws that govern the phenomena I observe.
This way of thinking is one that I learned to do in physics and the other materialistic sciences. But there is another way of thinking which involves thinking about thinking which is a process of meta-thinking. Jane Roberts' thought about the tree which drops fruit into mind's basket is an example of meta-thinking. This process forms the other way of thinking that Barnes writes about:
[page 53, 54] If I now do not direct this activity toward the outer objects of perception, but instead place the activity of my own thinking itself at the center of my consciousness, I find myself in a new and unique situation. I now focus my own self-generated thinking on an object that I have brought about myself that is, I observe and think about my own process of thought.
There is no more treacherous water to navigate in the life of thought than those of the pages of Steiner's Philosophy of Freedom. One is constantly beset by the Scylla of percepts and faced with drowning in the undertow of the Charybdis of concepts. Along comes Henry Barnes to rescue us from our meager raft and to place us on a large ship to navigate safely the waters.
[page 54] As modern self-conscious human beings, we are born into a condition of consciousness in which the world confronts us as a "given" object of experience; we stand apart and observe this given world. But our everyday consciousness like the prow of a ship cutting through the waves divides the waters of the single ocean of experience into two separate streams that flow past and through us as percepts from without and as concepts from within. (It should be noted that what rises from the subconscious as memories, feelings, mental pictures, and so on, belongs also to the world of the given.) We do not know whether concept and percept really belong together. We know only that one concept appears to explain a given percept, that one "works," and another doesn't.
We are confused until we are led to the prow of this ship of consciousness from where we can see the situation with clarity. Immediately we notice how the water is separated from a unity into the streams of percept and concept. We next are invited to join Dr. Steiner, our master pilot, on the bridge of the ship who explains how the process of thinking brings the outer world of perception together with the inner world of concepts.
[page 54, 55] If, however, I can find my way to the bow of the ship of human consciousness and, standing at the prow, see the single ocean ahead and thus also know that the water to starboard was an instant ago mingled with the water to the port side and that it will mingle again the moment the ship has passed, then I can know with confidence that percept and concept are two aspects of a single whole. One way to characterize Steiner's The Philosophy of Freedom is to say that it can lead us to the "prow of the ship" where we can see that percept and concept are indeed two aspects of a single reality that we reunite through the act of cognition. Thinking can thus come to know itself as the activity that reunites the outer world of perception with the inner world of human experience.
In Philosophy of Freedom, we find the reality of freedom in content and in process. The content comprises the first part of the book which may be called moral insight. The process comprises the second part of the book which may be called moral action.
[page 55] The knowledge of freedom makes possible the reality of freedom in human actions. Correspondingly, the first part of this book deals with moral insight, and the second part with moral action. In the awakening of the individual to the experience of thinking, to its innermost activity as ideal yet direct perception of spiritual reality, Steiner found the bridge that can, in free cognition, lead modern human beings from the world of sense experience to the realm of supersensible perception, from the world that we "see" to the world that, initially, we "do not see."
Rightly understood, The Philosophy of Freedom was the cognitive cornerstone upon which the structure of spiritual science was to be built. That building is going on yet today. At this moment, as you read these words, you are involved in building the structure of spiritual science. Such is the nature of cognitive structures: each person considering them can add to the structure invaluable new wings of thought.
By the time I reached the age of forty, I discovered that I would become upset by people who, when confronted with what was clearly a novel idea to me, would respond to it by saying, "I know that." Somehow they had one box for ideas into which everything went and they lived in a life devoid of contrast and mystery. Everything new was like something they already knew, so, as far as they were concerned, they could truthfully say, "I know that." Something was shaking me up, rattling my cage when they said that. I began to notice how valuable it was in my experience if, when confronted with a puzzle or a curious matter, I would simply hold the matter as an unanswered question. In Rilke's words, I learned to "live the question." I would cease thinking consciously about it and days, weeks, months, later, up would pop an answer that clearly solved the puzzle or threw light upon the mysterious matter. I was finding in my own life that it was better to hold unresolved matters fast rather than to dispatch them from my consciousness. This is a case where the modern impatience to get things done right away works to the detriment of their eventual accomplishment.
[page 57] Rather, I felt that, to stand fully amid this confrontation of opposites was necessary to "an understanding for life." Wherever contrasts appear to have been smoothed over, there the force of death, of lifelessness, has taken over. Wherever there is life, unresolved opposites are actively working. Life itself is the continuous overcoming and, at the same time, the new creation of opposing forces. (The Course of My Life, chap. 22)
Life appears in the conflict of opposing forces. Those who seek peace at all costs lose the creative forces which opposition could bring them. Our very sensory apparatus requires opposition in order to perceive the external world. The retina of our eyes must oppose the light which reaches it or we could not see(2). Similarly for our hearing, tasting, smelling, or touching there is always opposition in our human sensing of the external world.
The world is a riddle which requires a human being to solve it and thus human beings are an active, co-creative force without which the world would be incomplete. This is a dramatically different approach to the impact of human beings in the world than evolutionists hold. The typical Darwinian would aver humans are merely primates with a large brain. "Another animal, more or less, what difference would that make to the world?" they might say. Rightly understood, the difference makes all the difference in the world.
[page 58] We are not beings who produce what we know and understand just for ourselves. No, we provide through our own souls the stage on which the world first comes to experience some of its existence and becoming. If there were no [human] knowledge and understanding, the world would remain incomplete. . . . In my concept of knowing, we ourselves are co-creators of the world and not mere copiers of something that could be taken away from the world without lessening its completeness. (The Course of My Life, chap. 22)
Steiner worked as editor for a literary magazine and his words, as Barnes describes below what Steiner strived for in his reviews of plays and other literary works, seem to describe my intentions in my reviews. Some readers have criticized me for not offering a critic's judgment in my reviews that is far from my goal for a review.
[page 67] This active life in the theater also led Steiner to write dramatic criticisms for the magazine, a task for which he developed his own approach. His goal was to write about a play, and a production, in a way that offered the reader an in-depth experience of the "living, though unconscious, spiritual gesture that inspired the actor, the director, or the playwright," rather than simply making a subjective critic's "judgment." As Steiner describes it, when this ideal is practiced for all branches of art, "a literary-artistic periodical can stand in the midst of real life," This was the goal he strove for as long as he edited the Magazin für Literatur.
Some people may wonder how it was that Steiner revealed occult secrets that everyone else seemed pledged to keep secret. Here is the passage from his autobiography where he explains how that came to be.
[page 75] I was under no obligation to anyone to guard the mysteries, for I was receiving nothing from the "ancient wisdom"; my spiritual knowledge was entirely the result of my own research. When any knowledge came to me, only then did I place beside it from whatever side the "ancient knowledge" already made public, in order to indicate the harmony between the two and, at the same time, to show the advances possible through contemporary research.
Thus, after a certain point in time, it became very clear to me that I would be doing the right thing by making this knowledge public. (The Course of My Life, chap. 29)
Some twenty-one years after Rudolf Steiner read Goethe's fairy tale, The Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily, in 1889 while working on the Weimar Archives, he wrote an intense interpretation of that tale in his mystery drama, The Portal of Initiation. Those twenty-one years represented a pralaya for Steiner, a time of gestation and absorption within himself of the concepts in Goethe's fairy tale. Henry Barnes explains the process in this next passage:
[page 104] That creative process took twenty-one years to ripen and produce its fruit. Not every creation must take so long, but in every truly creative act there is always a "giving away" and a waiting to see what "comes back." This is the unavoidable risk, this death and resurrection, that distinguishes what is deeply creative from mere superficial manipulation. The latter may be brilliant and stimulating, but it has not been transformed. Behind the writing of The Portal of Initiation, as well as Steiner's other plays, was a process of archetypal creation.
In every original work of art, we find a process at work which requires decades or centuries to assimilate in the consciousness of the beholder of the art. Steiner's mystery plays represent not the world of sensory experiences (as an action movie might) or soul-feelings (as a romance movie might), but the world of the spirit. As such it is a novel art form and has a bit of the awkwardness associated with a prototypical art form. Steiner has broken the mold in which previous dramas were cast, and created a new form, which, as such, will require much time to appreciate and understand for the general public. The Christian Morgenstern wrote to his friend, Michael Bauer, after witnessing The Portal of Initiation in 1910:
[page 103] It is not a play, but mirrors worlds of the spirit and great truths. It introduces perhaps burdened with the labor of a beginning work, of a pioneer first attempt a new level, a new era of art. The era itself is still distant; it may well be hundreds of years before there are enough human beings who want this pure, spiritual art, so that in every city mystery [plays] of this kind may be worthily offered and received but here, in the Portal... is its historical point of origin, here we are present at its birth.
Also during that twenty-one years of working with Goethe's fairy tale, Steiner was struggling to "understand the meaning and reality of Christianity for our time," and he wrote about his subsequent understanding in his book, Christianity as Mystical Fact.
[page 105] There he developed the thought that in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus, the pre-Christian mysteries (with which Nietzsche was deeply connected) were enacted as a physical reality. What had been given in pre-Christian times as symbolic representations, to be experienced meditatively within the souls of those prepared to receive them, became through the Mystery of Golgotha, mystical fact.
What had been prefigured in the thoughts and writings before Christ were enacted in the flesh, on the stage of humankind, upon the Cross of Golgotha by Christ in the body of the man, Jesus of Nazareth, as he shed his blood and gave up his life in willing sacrifice for all of humanity. Steiner predicted that humankind would soon be able to experience the living Christ directly during moments of crisis when they would call upon Him for help. This new ability, this spiritual dawning as Barnes called it, is prefigured itself by Theodora who closes the opening scene of The Portal of Initiation with these prophetic words:
But now the future nears,
When with new powers of sight
Humanity on earth will be endowed.
What once the senses saw
When Christ walked the earth
Will human souls one day behold,
When soon the time shall be fulfilled.
How long is it from Christmas to Easter? Everyone knows that Christmas is a fixed holiday falling on December 25, but Easter floats, being defined as the first Sunday after the first Full Moon after the Spring Equinox. Thought of as the number of days between Christmas and Easter, there is no easy answer, but thought of as the number of years between Jesus's birth to his Resurrection at Easter, the answer is a fixed 33 years. Seen in this perspective, the birth of Jesus was like a seed sprouting forth from the soil of humankind which produced its fruit on Easter Sunday some 33 years later.
What events can you pinpoint in your life, dear Reader, whose Easter fruits appeared some 33 years after its Christmas seeds had sprouted? As I type these notes, my thoughts go back to a summer in 1975 when I was living in New England and thinking the thoughts which made it possible for me to be sitting here in New Orleans typing these words to you, exactly 33 years later. Another example: I graduated from college in 1962 and 33 years later I retired to become a full-time writer. Steiner notes one such passage of 33 years in his own life in this next passage.
[page 107] In a lecture on December 23, 1917, Steiner said that we can look for the "Easter" of events whose "Christmas" had taken place thirty-three years before. The significance of 1879, according to Steiner, is that during that year the being known as Michael assumed the spiritual regency of our modern era. The year 1879, and the spiritual significance of the advent of Michael, was "Christmas" in relation to 1912, when the Calendar of the Soul became an "Easter" fruit.
Another significant event happened in 1912: the founding by Rudolf Steiner of a new form of dance that would be true to the spirit. As so often happened in Steiner's life, the impetus came to him from a question formed from the longing of someone in his presence. The Waldorf schools began that way and so did the new dance form called eurythmy.
[page 107] Steiner was approached at that time by a woman who asked whether he had any thoughts on how the art of dance might be led back to its sacred, temple origins, but in a way appropriate for the present era. The woman who asked the question was the mother of Lori Smits, a girl of seventeen, who longed for a new and spiritually true form of dance.
[page 109] From that original question asked by Lori Smit's mother, and from those first lessons given by Rudolf Steiner, the art of eurythmy arose. Today there are twenty-three eurythmy training schools worldwide, and several thousand individual eurythmists, who perform in established stage groups and who teach, primarily in Waldorf schools.
What the Waldorf school did for educators and eurythmy did for dancers, the Goetheanum did for architecture. Barnes traces "the steps that led to the intention to provide a home for the work then unfolding."
[page 113] The artistic impulse that sparked this intention was characterized as the striving to create an outer architectural structure whose forms and colors would speak essentially the same language as the ideas that inspired them.
The foundation stone for the Goetheanum was laid under portentous circumstances. "Distant thunder rumbled, lightning repeatedly shattered the darkness, and 'the landscape took on an eerie appearance.'" (Page 116) No one knew the fate of that first Goetheanum at the time, but the spirits of the air seemed to communicate that fate to all in the raging wind and fire of the sky.
[page 117] The foundation stone made of beaten copper and formed of two interlocking dodecahedrons of unequal size was placed into the earth as the culmination of an apparently simple ceremony which, nevertheless, carried far-reaching implications.
The unequal size of the two domes of the building mirrored that of the two dodecahedrons of the foundation stone. But its architecture was completely different from any other building on Earth at the time, as different as eurythmy from other dance, as Waldorf from other schools. It destroyed the expectation which people held for architecture of the time. It froze newcomers to the region in their steps to contemplate its amazing design. It spoke to the spirit in everyone who saw it. It began to in-form the thoughts of people before they even set foot inside of the building.
[page 126] As the building rose on the Dornach hill, it became clear that a new and very different architectural impulse was at work. Many people found that the design challenged deeply ingrained habits of thought and perception, and they reacted in outrage, anger, and derision. But for many others the building awakened the slumbering longing for a new experience of form and color. The Goetheanum, over the years, has inspired painters, sculptors, and architects to explore new possibilities of expression in their various fields. And these, in turn, have led to new opportunities for training in the visual arts, to new applications in education, healing, and social therapies, and to new approaches in interior and exterior structural and architectural design.
The Goetheanum had its roots in the spiritual world, from which Steiner brought it forth by shaping its spiritual concepts into architectural forms which people could appreciate from afar or up close and personal inside of the building. In this next passage Barnes shares a metaphor Steiner gave about anthroposophy in the next passage, but one can substitute Goetheanum for anthroposophy in the next passage and the meaning would likewise enlighten one. Each endeavor has its roots in the spiritual world, rightly understood, as Steiner himself liked to say.
[page 129] Steiner compared anthroposophy to a plant with its roots in the spiritual world rather than in earthly soil; it grows down, in opposite direction from an earthly plant. Its roots draw life and nourishment from spiritual perceptions, which grow into concept that are true to the spirit. These gradually unfold and become visible, as do a plant's green shoot and leaves. They not only sustain the plant's life but lead to the budding blossoms, and ultimately to the ripening fruits and to seeds for the future.
In a lecture on October 18, 1917, Steiner shared for the first time his intention to name the building under construction in Dornach, the Goetheanum (pronounced, Guh-tee-an-num) and gave his reasons why:
[page 134] Anyone who has noticed the shapes from which the total formation of the Goetheanum has been composed in a living integration, can see how Goethe's ideas of metamorphosis have entered into the conception of the building... . In the same manner, moreover, anthroposophy itself has taken the course of a direct further development of the Goethean view. Anyone who has become receptive to the conception of transformation, not only of the sensibly visible forms (the point at which Goethe remained because of his particular character of soul), but also of what can be grasped by the soul and spirit such a person has arrived at anthroposophy. . . . Through the concept of metamorphosis, we achieve the living. We thus impart a living quality to our own thinking. From a dead thinking, it becomes living. But, in this way it achieves the capacity to take into itself, in actual vision, the life of the spirit. . . . What therefore experiences itself as resting firmly upon Goethe's worldview can justly be cultivated in a building that, as a memorial to Goethe, bears the name Goetheanum.
With my reviews of Steiner's books, which stand at over 150 at this time, I feel like a farmer of the spiritual world nurturing the seeds which Steiner planted, tilling the spiritual soil with my interpretations of his of works so that they may breathe in the air of modern life, and thereby bringing forth nourishing fruit into the world of tomorrow. I appreciate your kneeling beside me in this garden row, dear Reader, and digging into this spiritual soil with me. Affairs are now soul size, as Christopher Frye said, and here in this cosmic garden we are nurturing the sprouts of a new hierarchy of spiritual beings, human beings, whose ultimate fruit will be the forces of love.
[page 130] As the distant goal of this cosmic, planetary evolution, the divine world's task is to bring about a new hierarchy, or level of cosmic being, which will be unique among all the heavenly host, for it will develop the capacity for individual freedom. Out of freedom, humanity destined to become the youngest hierarchy is to bring forth love, which can neither be forced nor compelled. In order to become free, human beings gradually had to be estranged from the divine-spiritual world out of which they had been created; the strings had to be cut.
Thereupon hangs a tale. And it is superbly told in Steiner's An Outline of Occult Science. We learn how we became isolated from our spiritual source and began a precipitous decent into materiality which only a miracle could have saved us from. That miracle was Christ's Deed on Golgotha. Through that Deed, Christ is our ever-present companion on our path to re-connection with our source of meaning, life, and love. (Page 131)
Two foes stand in our way, Luci and Ari, as I call them, the forces of evil. As the Tennessee Ernie Ford song goes, "If the left one don't get you, then the right one will." Only with Christ's help can we maintain a balance in our lives which allows us to avoid the extremes of either Lucifer or Ahriman. Evil is but a good out of its time according to Steiner. Luci's good for us is a spiritual world now which we will rightly achieve only much later. Ari's good for us is to remain upon Earth in material form so that we mistake for a permanent home what is, rightly understood, only a launching pad. As Barnes puts it:
[page 131] Both Ahriman and Lucifer have played, and continue to play, necessary roles in human and world evolution, but only the Christ has totally united himself with the earth and with humanity. Only the Christ continually seeks to balance and transform, and to awaken in each of us our essential individuality, which alone can achieve freedom and the capacity for love.
Around that same time, 1917, the tide of world events caused Steiner to consider the social needs of all human beings and to recognize the need for a threefold societal approach which matched the threefold human being comprised of nervous system, rhythmic system, and limbic system. He detailed this in his 1919 book titled, Towards Social Renewal. Barnes gives this synopsis of Steiner's approach:
[page 135] The need for individual freedom in the cultural-spiritual sphere, for community in economic life, and for just equality in the sphere of human rights these three necessities, all fundamental to human dignity and well-being on earth, were struggling for recognition and differentiation beneath the conflict and chaos of outer life.
Steiner's approach was a radical one, but not one which coercive bureaucracies back then or now could ever allow. Any hint of coercion in a governmental unit changes it from a true government into a so-called government or coercive bureaucracy which will exert its wishes in all three domains of social endeavor: the political, the economic and the cultural parts. Steiner's threefold approach was stillborn and never reached reality in spite of high-level interest. The self-constraint required for a coercive bureaucracy such as exists in virtually every country on the Earth even today made it impossible for any large scale implementation of Steiner's threefold society. In my review of Towards Social Renewal, I point out the contributions by Spencer Heath in his later proposal for a threefold society in his book Citadel, Market, and Altar. He makes a marvelous case for such a form of societal governance. Some years later, in 1968, Andrew J. Galambos developed a unique foundation for governance which would guarantee that the three folds of society would remain independent. In his book, Sic Itur Ad Astra, you can read how Galambos builds up an operational definition of freedom which, once implemented on a volitional basis, would eliminate coercion at all levels of government, thus insuring that the political, economic, and cultural realms would forever remain independent of each other. Galambos credited Heath with coming up with some ideas parallel to his, but so far as I was able to tell, Galambos was unaware of Steiner's threefold approach. I say this because Galambos surely would have credited Steiner as the being the first person to recognize the need for the kind of separation between the three folds of government which cannot be achieved in the presence of coercion. My prediction is that Steiner's threefold system will arrive the day that the principles in Sic Itur Ad Astra are embodied in a new form of government: a true government, one without coercion at any level, built upon basic principles of freedom and morality.
While Steiner did not achieve implementation of his threefold society, its seeds remain in the spiritual world working down towards us. He did achieve his goal of a spiritual renewal whose epicenter is the building he designed on a hilltop in Switzerland.
[page 144] It was as though Steiner bore within himself the ideal of a new "university," where science, art, and religion would again form the united whole they once were, on renewed spiritual foundations. The Goetheanum, standing on its hill in Dornach, was to be the home for this life of universal renewal.
Steiner's ideas for the threefold society found a supporter in Emil Molt, the owner of a cigarette factory in Stuttgart. This factory's workers became the catalyst for what became the Waldorf school system which reaches today around the world.
[page 145] When the workers in Emil Molt's Waldorf-Astoria factory read an article in the local Stuttgart newspaper and saw Molt's name as a supporter, they wanted to know who this Steiner was, and they wanted to hear more from Molt about the ideas that he believed held hope for the future. His talks and the discussions that arose from them led to questions about the kind of thinking that could go to the roots of the social problems intensified by the war. His listeners were only too aware of the problems, and they realized how little their own education had equipped them to come to terms with new realities. When Molt described some of Steiner's ideas on education, the thought arose: If only our children could be educated in this way!
Steiner was asked to establish a school based on the principles he discussed. He agreed, but had four conditions he insisted upon:
[page 146] First, the school must be open to all children and not just to the children of the Waldorf-Astoria employees. Second, the school should be based on a unified twelve-year curriculum that eliminated the customary segregation occurring when, at about the age of eleven, intellectually gifted students were sent to secondary schools to prepare for university entrance, whereas the great majority were left to complete their elementary education and enter a vocation or trade. Third, the new school must welcome girls as well as boys, contrary to the custom of the day. And, fourth, the teachers, who carry the daily responsibility for educating the children, should be free to teach and run the school outside the control of either government or outside economic interests.
This was to be a truly independent school, freely supported out of the economic realm, and conforming only to those conditions legally required by the state of Württemberg. The fourth condition was undoubtedly the most radical, since Germany at that time had virtually no tradition of private education, and teachers were civil servants like any other government employees. But central to Steiner's ideas was the conviction that education would truly serve the future only within the freedom of the cultural and spiritual sphere of social life.
While studying lectures on the Great Presidents recently, it occurred to me that even though I had studied such events as the Mexican War in high school, there was no way that I could have comprehended the motivations and strategies of President James K. Polk when I was only 16 years old. How the great expansion of our country by the addition of Arizona, New Mexico, California, and the Oregon territory upset the equilibrium of the union by raising to great heights the debate on whether new territories would be slave-holding or not that was also lost on me. One cannot understand history properly if one only studies it as a teenager. And if one cannot understand history, one is doomed to repeat it, to paraphrase George Santayana.
[page 150] Ideally, therefore, the process of education in childhood and youth is to prepare the ground on which the individual can later walk in freedom and, if he or she wishes, pursue the most important education self-education as an adult human being.
At the close of the chapter titled, "The Healing Arts", Barnes asks two very big questions. Materialistic medicine answers "yes" to the first question, and Rudolf Steiner and anthroposophically originated thinkers answer "yes" to the second. If you answer "yes" to the first question, you treat a patient as an animal, and if "yes" to the second question, you treat a patient as a full human being, and that makes all the difference in the world as to how the person feels and heals.
[page 168] Is the individual identical with the bodily instrument? Or, could it be that, when the instrument is damaged, the musician is still intact?
Did Steiner found a church? No, he did not, but the facts of the matter must be examined to understand what happened. There was a Christian Community church that was founded based on the principles of Steiner anthroposophy. When asked the difference between the two, Steiner replied, "The anthroposophical movement addresses the human need to know and brings knowledge. The Christian Community addresses the human need for resurrection and brings Christ."
In the passage below Barnes explains how this church got started:
[page 169, 170] Meanwhile still in the aftermath of World War One a group of young theologians and theology students asked his advice toward a renewal of religious experience and religious life. They were concerned about the intellectualism of Protestantism, which during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries had eroded the foundations of a heartfelt, more instinctive religious life, bringing genuine religious seekers to crisis and despair. Through spiritual science this group of theologians had discovered that the human soul today could regain access, in freedom, to knowledge and inner experience of supersensible realities and the divine ground of existence. Steiner responded to their appeal with genuine warmth, though he made it clear that his own task was to extend and deepen spiritual science as a source of knowledge rather than to foster the renewal of religious life as such. Nevertheless, it was self-evident that the light of spiritual-scientific research penetrates to the wellsprings of religious striving and can provide a modern path to the Christ. Steiner expressed this on a number of occasions. In Basel, Switzerland, he said:One cannot make anthroposophy directly into a religion. But, from a true understanding of anthroposophy, a genuine, honest, unhypocritical need for religion will arise. The human soul requires a variety of paths to ascend along the way toward its goal. The human soul needs not only the path of cognition, but also needs to be warmed through, to be inwardly set aglow by the approach to the spiritual world as found in religious confessions, in genuine religious feeling.
Steiner designed the architecture for a building which was not a church, but rather a building for human knowledge. The building was named the Goetheanum in honor of Wolfgang von Goethe. By New Years Eve of 1922, perched atop the hill at Dornach, the Goetheanum had been in use for time. Steiner had spoken many times in the larger domes auditorium, and his drama and eurythmy performances had graced the stage of the smaller dome. The building had yet to be dedicated, waiting for something, no one knew what, to trigger the occasion. That night he culminated a series of lectures on the spiritual communion of humanity by saying, "Spiritual knowledge is true communion, the beginning of a ritual that is appropriate for human beings of the present time. . . . Through active knowing, human beings elevate themselves in feeling and willing and become beings who offer sacrifice. The fundamental relation of the human being to the world moves upward from knowing to a universal ritual, or cosmic festival rite." Unbeknownst to his audience, a cosmic festival, a sacrificial rite was to take place on the cusp of the New Year. About ten o'clock that night a watchman noticed smoke in the wooden building that had just been vacated. An eyewitness reported the following account:
[page 178] "[The watchman], together with a Goetheanum employee, alerted the Goetheanum firemen, who were soon assembled. 'Smoke in the White Hall!' was the report, and all of the rooms in the south wing of the building were immediately opened and searched. But no fire was found in any of those rooms. Then smoke was seen seeping from the external west wall of the south wing into one of the outer corner rooms. This wall was immediately broken through, and it was discovered that the structural work inside this outer wall was in flames."
For a completely wooden structure this would prove disastrous. A massive effort of the firemen and hundreds of helpers was to no avail. They saved what could be carried away before the smoke prevented further entry of the building. But there was one invaluable object, a huge one, that needed saving.
[page 179] "A voice shouted to us that Rudolf Steiner had ordered everyone out of the building. The power of fire had won a victory over human will. All our energies now had to be directed toward saving the neighboring houses, the workshop, and the studio that sheltered the statue. We broke through the wall of the studio and carried the wooden sculpture, The Representative of Humanity, into the open air; it was thus saved for the future."
Soon all that was left to do was to watch the huge bonfire in a vigil through the early dawn of New Year's Day, 1923. Where was Rudolf Steiner during this time? What would become of the lecture cycle he was in the midst of? One could only imagine the feelings of the man who designed the architecture of the building, marshaled the people to work on it, carved so much of its structure with his own hands. The people of the Goetheanum wondered to themselves how Rudolf Steiner would respond to seeing his work and dreams rising up in smoke and falling down into rubble. They would not have to wait but a few hours for their answer.
[page 179] During the night, Rudolf Steiner walked around the building in silence. Only once was he heard to say, "Much work and many years." Until morning came, he stood before the ruin of the building, quiet, concerned only that no one should be endangered. His greatness, dignity, and goodness gave all of us the strength to endure during this night. As the dawn of New Year's Day broke, he said, 'We will continue to fulfill our inner obligations at the place we still have left to us." He gave instructions to get the spare rooms in the workshop in order, so that the conference could continue, and said, 'We shall continue with the lectures that have been announced." He asked us whether we felt strong enough to perform the Three Kings Play, which had been scheduled for the afternoon, and received our "yes" with thanks and appreciation.
That afternoon at precisely five o'clock, the play began; the three kings, Joseph and Mary, Herod, the angel and devil, the star singers all played their parts. The mood that united the actors and audience on this first day of January cannot be put into words. In the evening, Rudolf Steiner stepped up to the podium and gave the sixth lecture in his cycle on the origin of natural science in the course of world history. The work for 1923 had begun. The foundation stone of the building was still there, and upon this the Goetheanum would be built anew.
In the momentous year of 1923, the French occupied the Ruhr to force payments of reparation from WWI, but that occupation disabled the only way the Germans had left of generating income to pay the reparations. Steiner could feel another world war beginning behind the scenes. Hitler's first push for power got him thrown in jail, but gave him time to write his manifesto, Mein Kampf, which led him into power again. The German Anthroposophical Society was divided in two, just as Europe was beginning to be. Steiner strove to alleviate the problem by forming a new Free Anthroposophical Society inside of the older society to provide the kind of freedom that the younger generation eagerly sought. Several years later the two would morph into the General Anthroposophical Society.
Steiner devoted much of 1923 to resolve how one might create a society based on both openness and integrity. His thinking moved him to considering the true nature and origins of festivals. He came to the conclusion "that a truly human festival must be rooted in a vital experience of nature and also reach spiritual sources of being." The answer he found in the evolution of human consciousness. Humans had truly been connected closely with the physical and spiritual world, but through the course of our evolution of consciousness, that dual connection was lost as a circadian activity and remnants of it remained in the form of special days of celebrations or festivals.
[page 185] He described festivals of the past, in which at a very different stage of consciousness than our own human beings were embedded in a world experience that was connected with both nature and spirit, both earthly and divine. He spoke of how this paradisiacal state of being was destined, over the millennia, to change and die away. The intelligence, or cosmic wisdom, that built the world in its inconceivable living complexity, balance, and beauty, gradually surrendered its original divine sovereignty and fell into the heads and hearts of men and women. These human souls, into which the cosmic wisdom-intelligence descended, were free to recognize, understand, and treasure it, or to exploit and abuse it.
Steiner saw the ebb and flow of the seasons of the year as a breathing activity of the Earth, and that pointed him to the autumn of the year when Earth begins to breathe in at the end of summer. Autumn is the time when outer life falls dead and is buried in the Earth. Christmas marks the beginning of Winter, Easter the beginning of Spring, St. John's Tide the beginning of Summer, and Michaelmas the beginning of Autumn.
[page 185] From this descent, or interment, Steiner pointed to the possibilities of rebirth, and particularly to the possibility of a festival that did not yet exist in any traditional form a festival of initiative and courage, whose time was the autumn of the year when the earth, which "breathes out" in spring and summer, "breathes in" and turns toward winter. Outer life dies and inner life awakens and becomes active. Steiner characterized such a future festival as inwardly related to the angelic being woven together with the very essence of cosmic intelligence, who once reigned creatively, but has now given over sovereignty and waits to see what humanity does with it. This being is the Archangel Michael, who is spiritually and intensely active in our historical age and who allows human freedom.
Through finding the right way to celebrate Michaelmas (traditionally September 29), we may awaken new human forces needed to create completely open community, grounded in spiritual reality.
As a consequence of Steiner's concentration on the forces of the Archangel Michael during the period of early Autumn, we find Michaelmas festivals celebrated around the world by anthroposophically knowledgeable people. During these festivals, children fashion dragons which they animate into motion around the lawn while others symbolically slay the writhing dragon with their toy swords. During this period of the year, there are annual meteor showers from which meteoritic iron showers to Earth to reinvigorate our spirits with Michaelic forces with which to fight the dark forces.
[page 186] If, in our soul life, we can learn to accompany the outbreath of the earth in spring and summer, allowing the cosmic Christ to unite with us at midsummer, then with Michael's help in autumn we can accompany the elemental world's withdrawal into itself during winter's death and darkness. The evil, estranging ahrimanic powers that seek to possess the earth while it is breathed out and united with the cosmos at midsummer, must now be transformed and illumined from within at Christmas. Steiner points out that Michael clears the inner and outer paths that lead from midsummer to Christmas, and that he enables the Christ to reunite with the earth each year. The human soul, now independent in its isolation and aloneness, can learn to accompany this great earthly-cosmic breathing process in which the polarities of light and dark, life and death, cosmos and earth are transmuted into the experience of a living rhythm. The duality of apparent opposites becomes the trinity of rhythmical transformation.
As I read this I remembered a celebration that I attended upon a large flat rock in a park in New England one Midsummer Night's Eve. We made sure that we placed ourselves within a protective circle during this powerful time of the year.
In the early centuries of Christianity, the newly formed religions displayed the image of Christ Jesus primarily and universally as the Good Shepherd, usually as a young man with a lamb upon his shoulders. Steiner mentions in one of his lectures that the image of Christ Jesus crucified upon a cross never appeared in churches until about the ninth century and afterward. I did a study of the matter which I document in this review of The Image of Christ. I found much evidence to support Steiner's claim and none in contradiction of it. In his summary of Steiner's Easter lectures in 1923, Barnes reports that the change to the crucified Christ Jesus was fully in place by the Middle Ages at which time Good Friday took precedence over Easter in many ways. Yet today in Catholic churches of my local area, on Good Friday people queue up to kneel devoutly beside a large statue on the floor of the crucified Christ Jesus and kiss his feet.
[page 186] In these remarkable Easter lectures, Steiner shows how this new understanding of the yearly festivals prepares us for our current historical transition. The supersensible experience of the risen Christ has faded from human experience (it is, at best, a miracle in which we want to believe), and in its place we are left with the crucified One upon the cross. During the Middle Ages, the Easter experience gave way to Good Friday, with which the suffering and devoutly longing souls of men and women united themselves with fervor. Their profound religious experience of death and isolation from the divine ground of the world gave rise to the impulse that directed Western humanity's intense preoccupation with death and materialism in all its forms. Steiner was convinced that we are inspired to rediscover the reality lost from view only through a profound and powerful experience, such as that of the crucified Christ during the Middle Ages.
Steiner urged that we incorporate a festival to honor human courage as exemplified by Archangel Michael's courage in fighting the dark forces in the spiritual world. Whenever we see Mi-cha-el fighting, those dark forces are pictured as a writhing serpent or dragon, one that is yet alive but is held fast under the feet of the courageous One who is preparing to slay the dark force. That is the position we must each take in our lives to move forward with strong soul courage against the dark forces which arise in our own lives and eschew any semblance of soul cowardice in doing so.
[page 187] In the concluding lecture, after summarizing the religious festival experiences of the more recent past, which were deeply rooted in humanity's relationship with the changing seasons and the course of the year, Steiner went on to say:
What men and women formerly received from the life of the year's course has now been taken over within individual human beings themselves. It will come into consideration precisely in relation to the Michaelmas festival, however, that there will have to be a festival to honor human courage, to honor the human manifestation of Michael's courage. For, what is it that holds humanity back today from spiritual knowledge? Lack of soul courage not to mention soul cowardice. Human beings want to receive everything passively, to sit down in front of the world as though it were a movie, and to let the microscope and the telescope tell them everything. They do not want to temper the instrument of their own spirit, or soul, through activity. They do not care to be followers of Michael, which requires courage. Such inner courage must have its festival in Michaelmas. Then, what gives the other festivals of the year the right content will radiate from the Festival of Courage and from the inwardly courageous human soul.
The next scene takes place in England on the coast of Wales. Steiner spoke with Guenther Wachsmuth as they walked to the top of a promontory to an ancient mystery center. Steiner told him about the "great antithesis between the Druid rituals and those of the Mithras religion, about the Northern and Southern mysteries of Europe, the effects of the spiritual streams from Ireland and northern Europe, moving from north to south, and those from Italy and the Danube area, moving from south to north, and how both met their fate in the rise of Christianity." Wachsmuth continues:
[page 189, 190] When we reached the crag high above Penmaenmawr, a lonely plateau surrounded by rocky peaks lay before us. In the middle stood the mighty stone relics of the Druid circle. This was one of those vivid, unforgettable moments in life. Here was a unique and remarkable picture: In the solitude of this lofty plateau, Rudolf Steiner stepped into the middle of the Druid circle. He suggested that I look beyond the jutting stones of the circle to the mountain peaks that surrounded the plateau and described with an intensity that made it seem as though these things were happening at that very moment how the Druid priests, by surveying the signs of the zodiac as they passed along the horizon in the course of the year, experienced the spiritual cosmos, the beings working within it, and their mandates to humanity. He described how they formed the festival celebrations and rituals of the year according to these cosmic rhythms, and gave their priestly directives to the members of their communities; how the seasonal events of the year had to be spiritually reflected in the rituals, and even physically in managing the agricultural work. He spoke of the sunlight and shadow experience within the stone chamber of the ancient sacred site, and of the visions and impulses flowing out, received there into the wide expanses of the earthly sphere.
Rudolf Steiner later let the words and images that were evoked here in solitude shine forth in many lectures, and also supplemented them through further research. When we left the Druid circle and the silent plateau to return to Penmaenmawr at the foot of the mountains, I was inwardly certain that, within the sphere of this place, something real and timeless had happened, because a seer such as Rudolf Steiner had once lingered here, had read the spiritual events of the past in such a place, and could now communicate what he had seen to human beings to those in our time who desire to take a path of schooling for the future.
In July of 1923 the membership decided to rebuild the Goetheanum and by the end of 1923, Steiner busy designing a new and larger building to house the new university of humankind he had envisioned so many years earlier.
[page 192] Thus, out of the ruins of the old building, and out of the profoundly difficult inner and outer circumstances with which it was confronted as was all of Central Europe the Anthroposophical Society took the initiative to work with all possible energy and determination toward creating something genuinely new. Rudolf Steiner modeled the outer form of the building in plasticine during the following months, and in this outer form it was to be totally different from the one that stood so briefly on the Dornach hill. It was to be built of poured concrete and reinforced with steel. Instead of the two harmoniously intersecting wooden domes that had graced the old building, it was deeply sculpted. It looked westward with a powerful, awakening gaze at times skull-like, at other times sphinx-like, but always arresting, always challenging, through boldness, grace, and beauty.
In December a Christmas Conference was held during which the General Anthroposophical Society was fashioned to replace the previous society. Steiner insisted that the times demanded that the new society be completely open with no secrecy at any level. He gave these reasons:
[page 206] A Society built on firm foundations must, above all else, not offend this demand of our time. It is not at all difficult to prefer secrecy, even in the external form, in one case or another. But whenever a society like ours, built on a foundation of truth, seriously desires secrecy, it will surely find itself conflicting with contemporary consciousness, and the most dire obstacles for its continuing existence will ensue. Therefore, dear friends, for the General Anthroposophical Society that is to be established we can lay claim only to absolute openness.
On Christmas morning the official founding ceremony took place in the few buildings which remained on the Goetheanum site from the huge fire a year earlier. Arvia MacKaye Ege wrote about her experience she was perched on a small metal slab of a sawing machine as she observed the room of people from all over the world. They congregated in the carpentry shop and adjoining buildings which had their walls ripped out to create a temporary auditorium for the occasion. Imagine the scene she portrays for us.
[page 210,211] Never had I seen Rudolf Steiner as he appeared then. There was a light from his eyes, a power and majesty about him, which gave the impression that he had grown to a great size. There was an intensity and activity, united with a cosmic calm, that was breathtaking, and indicative of what was to come.
He opened this event by giving three strong, incisive, measured raps with a gavel upon the speaker's stand, such as those given in the temple in the Mystery Plays. It was as though the room became thronged with unseen spectators. Then as he spoke, giving for the first time the words of the Christmas Foundation Mantra ["Human Soul. . ."], it was as though, in this little carpentry shop, he spoke not only to the whole earth but to the assembled heavens; as though he became like a sun, light-outpouring, his voice like gold, a Michaelic fire infusing his words. Something poured forth of such a magnitude, and in a realm of such awakened consciousness, on this Christmas morning that it can only be likened to a spiritual birth.
From my perch in the background my heart cried out, and I thought it would burst, because something so far beyond my grasp was taking place. Then something gave way within me, and I drank in, like a great tide, all that followed, knowing that only in later incarnations would I approach any adequate realization of what was actually taking place.
His words resound to us again today. "Out of these three the Spirit of the Heights, the Christ-power encircling us, the creative Father-activity streaming out of the depths we will in this moment form in our souls the twelve-sided Foundation Stone that we now sink deeply into the ground of our souls."
That morning the dodecahedric Foundation Stone was laid into the hearts of all those present and of all those who truly wish to unite themselves with the Being of Anthroposophy. From what transpired it was apparent that a mystery deed had been enacted through Rudolf Steiner. We sense that this deed, while taking place here on the earth, was enacted on the highest spiritual plane and as such was a deed that cannot pass away. It is there awaiting us always. And because it was enacted on that plane, it can multiply itself infinitely and become a reality in the hearts of each one of us. Thus we are able today to begin to approach it as an archetypal seed sown within humanity the seed of a free spiritual community of human beings.
In addition to the founding activities and associated ceremonies, Steiner met with each national society and ended each day with a lecture.
[page 216] Even a brief sketch of these nine days would be incomplete without mentioning that, in addition to artistic performances every afternoon, Steiner met in the early mornings and afternoons with leading members from the various national societies. And he crowned each of those nine days with a lecture that wove a historical tapestry out of the light of mystery wisdom.
Steiner was a true innovator and nowhere can one see it more dramatically than in the design of the new Goetheanum which was executed in concrete, but in a fashion that had not been seen previously. In Steiner's own words:
[page 218] If the Goetheanum building is to come about in concrete, it will have to emerge from an original idea, and nothing that has so far been achieved in concrete can serve as a basis for what is to come into being here.
One need only look upon the new Goetheanum or even a photo of it to realize the truth of what he spoke. Later, on the anniversary of the fire which destroyed the first Goetheanum, Steiner spoke about that fire, saying that while "The Goetheanum could be taken from us . . . The spirit of the Goetheanum, if our will is truly upright and honest, cannot be taken from us." (Page 221)
[page 221] The evening lectures culminated with two addresses on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. In them Steiner spoke directly to the heart of our time. The first was delivered exactly one year after he spoke for the last time in the first Goetheanum, which must have been already on fire at the time. This time he spoke with powerful words concerning the fire that destroyed the temple of Ephesus on the night Alexander the Great was born. Into those flames, Steiner said, was written the "Jealousy of the Gods." Now, he said, in the dawning age of human freedom was written "Human Jealousy."
The great danger of current materialistic attitudes and tendencies in the world is a resultant soul paralysis. We can enter the spiritual world, but when we return we are unable to experience the living reality of thoughts and ideas. (Page 223) In a recent movie called "Idiocracy" the key character played by Luke Wilson is placed in suspended animation in an army experiment and then forgotten about. By accident five hundred years later, he is re-awakened. This is about the duration that most humans live in the time between death and a new birth. Luke was chosen for the experiment because he had undergone a battery of tests which proved him to be average in every way. When he arrives 500 years later, he finds quickly that he is the smartest person on the planet. Everyone else has undergone a complete soul paralysis and is incapable of having independent thoughts and ideas.
Barnes explains and then quotes Steiner directly:
[page 223, 224] If the present condition of civilization were to continue indefinitely into the future, and if souls were to carry their inner content of civilization into the world after death not just into the world we enter in sleep then human begins would reenter life "incapable of bringing any strength of ideas with them into their new life on earth. For, although you can enter the spiritual world with today's thoughts, you cannot leave with them. You can only leave in a state of soul paralysis."
You see, present-day civilization can be based on the kind of cultural life that has long been nurtured. But life cannot be based on it. . . . [If this condition were to endure] a sick human race, living only in instincts, would have to populate the earth. Terrible feelings and emotions alone, without orientation through the force of ideas, would come to dominate human evolution.
This dire prediction is exactly what Luke Wilson finds in the future five hundred years from now. He is awakened because of the great garbage collapse. After hundreds of years of simply piling garbage higher and higher, the huge heap collapses and Luke's stasis canister crashes through the wall of an apartment building and he comes to life. He finds the young man occupying the apartment spending his entire day eating pizza and watching reality shows which were the only shows on tv. He goes to buy some object at Costco and is told it is stored at "Mile 18." He finds all the plants of the Earth are dying because no one uses water any more except in their toilets and the Gatorade-like liquid they use in farm sprinklers is killing the plants. The US President asks for Luke, who has taken a test and proven to be the smartest man in the world, to solve this problem. There, in a nutshell, in a zany movie, is soul paralysis grotesquely portrayed on the movie screen. Luke went into suspended animation for five hundred years, the span for a new incarnation, and returned to find barbarism everywhere in a paralyzed society, one that can easily be extrapolated from our 2008 society, if the current tendencies stay the same.
Now read what Steiner wrote over 80 years ago about the fall of Western culture into materialism.
[page 224] You see, if this continues, the earth will have fallen into barbarism by the time those who are alive today return for a new incarnation; people will live by their instincts alone, without ideas . . .
What hope do we have for reversing this fall into barbarism? The battle for the forces of light (intelligence) and the dark forces (barbarism) is portrayed in many ancient myths going back to the ancient Persians' Ahura Mazda and Ahriman, Osiris and Typhon, Baldur and Loki, and so on and so forth. "But in all these myths there is also the distant hope, and promise, of a resurrection." (Page 242)
[page 242] Today, spiritual science recognizes the death and resurrection of the Christ as the fulfillment of these ancient mysteries. What had been portrayed, foretold, and prophetically enacted in ritual and symbol became reality in the Mystery of Golgotha. Christ united with humanity and with the earth and became the seed-force of resurrection within every human being. Through Him, the cosmic intelligence-which had to go through a form of death and dismemberment in order that human beings might awake to the possibility of individual knowledge and freedom-could be brought to new life.
Steiner used the name that the Bible and Hebrew esoteric tradition give to the divine regent of cosmic intelligence the Archangel Mi-cha-el. In the past this being had been the "countenance of Jehovah" and later became the "countenance of Christ." Steiner described Michael as "the fiery cosmic prince of thought." Michael remains faithful to his task of watching over, guarding, and guiding cosmic intelligence. He saw it descend to earth and die into the minds of individual human beings, and he had to let it go, and wait for them to freely rediscover what it was.
But freely discovering it and walking away as if nothing had happened, freely discovering and doing nothing with it because we are too busy acquiring materialistic objects, these are uses of this freedom which will lead us into the barbarism outlined by Rudolf Steiner and so vividly in the movie "Idiocracy". The Michael age is dawning upon us. The "fiery Thought Prince of the Universe" is speaking to our hearts. (Page 243)
Barnes lays out the case for what we must each do today to stem the fall into barbarism:
[page 243] Every individual today is, to some degree, part of the battle for human intelligence. As a contemporary in the age of the consciousness soul, each person must ask: Am I able and willing to work with the experience of my own thinking until my heart's blood beats in every thought? Can I stand behind my thoughts with all of my impersonal, perhaps brilliant, but essentially amoral, mechanical sequence of logical conclusions? Can I distinguish between the two? Is my thinking faithful to the reality it seeks to know, or am I actually in love with myself when I think?
Am I thinking cold thoughts or warm thoughts? This may seem a rather strange question, but cold abstract thoughts, the kind I must think in the field of mathematics, when I apply them to questions of human life, nature, and the world around me, I fall directly into the scheme of Ahriman who would lead all of us into barbarism. Warm thoughts are fostered by the divine-spiritual thoughts of Mi-cha-el. Steiner describes it fully in this next passage:
[page 244] Michael, however, has never appropriated intellectuality to himself. He fosters it as a divine-spiritual force while feeling united with the divine, spiritual powers. When he penetrates intellectual intelligence it becomes manifest that the intellect can just as well be an expression of the heart and soul as an expression of the head and mind. Michael has within himself all the original forces of gods as well as those of humanity. Therefore, he does not transmit to the intellect anything that is cold, frosty, and soulless, but he stands by it in a way that is full of soul and inner warmth. . . . When human beings seek freedom with no trace of egoism, when freedom becomes pure love for the action itself, it is possible for human beings to approach Michael. If, on the other hand, they seek to act in freedom by unfolding egoism, if freedom becomes for them the proud feeling of manifesting the self in their action, then there is danger of falling into Ahriman's sphere.
In Steiner's last lecture on September 28, 1924, the eve of Michaelmas, he spoke of a significant spiritual being who had lived in both the prophet Elijah and in John the Baptist. He also suggest a relationship with Lazarus, and Steiner's physician asked him for clarification. Before his strength gave out, Steiner managed to explain the matter thus:
[page 247] At the awakening of Lazarus, the spiritual being John the Baptist, who since his death had been the overshadowing spirit of the disciples, penetrated from above into Lazarus as far as the consciousness soul; the being of Lazarus himself, from below, intermingles with the spiritual being of John the Baptist from above. After the awakening of Lazarus, this being is Lazarus-John, the disciple whom the Lord loved(3).
The Bible predicts that Christ will come again in Glory at the second coming. The phrase "in Glory" was well-known in the mystery schools at that time and now as meaning "in the etheric plane", something that initiates could experience. Steiner began to experience Christ's presence in his etheric body (which is only perceptible on the etheric plane or in heightened degrees of awareness) and predicted that more and more people in the coming century would begin to experience the personal presence of Christ in their lives beginning with 1933. One need only read the words of many people who have called upon Christ in times of need to verify that He was present to them in etheric form.
Barnes writes further about that last lecture in the carpenter's shop:
[page 248] To those gathered in the carpenters' shop on that Michaelmas evening, Steiner spoke of this individuality, in whom the Christ experience lived in the deepest possible way. He said that this being would be one of those who will help to guide humanity through its great crisis at the end of the twentieth century. He characterized the power and help that will lead humankind through the coming crisis as the power and the will of the Archangel Michael, which are "none other than the Christ Will and the Christ Power, going before to implant the power of the Christ in the right way into the earth" (Preface to Last Lecture, p. 18).
Even during the early years of this century, Steiner had experienced the Christ Being as already present. He experienced the resurrected Christ within the etheric sphere of earth. As he predicted, a growing number of human beings have experienced Him during the intervening years. Yet, if the Christ's presence is to become effective as a redemptive force in response to the tragedies surrounding the close of the pivotal twentieth century, Michael's light-filled thought needs to be taken in, understood, and put into action.
In the last months of his life, Steiner wrote another chapter of his autobiography and a "Letter to the Members." The final letter was composed a day or so before his death on March 25, 1925.
[page 215, 252] Our current task is to discover and to ascend to a realm of knowledge and experience that is as far above nature as are the depths of sub nature below it, into which technology threatens to draw us down. We cannot wish Ahriman out of existence but must learn to know him as he is and find a relationship with him in which we remain inwardly free and completely human. Steiner says in his final Letter that this is possible only when we can rise in consciousness to a sphere of experience inaccessible to Ahriman. Steiner observes that science has not yet discovered the path to such knowledge:
Thus far in the age of technical science, the possibility of finding a true relationship to ahrimanic civilization has escaped humankind. Human beings must find the strength and inner force of knowledge necessary to avoid being overcome by Ahriman in this technical civilization. Humankind must understand sub nature for what it truly is. People can do this only by rising in spiritual knowing into a non-earthly, cosmic realm above nature, at least as far as they have descended through technical sciences into sub nature. In order to come to terms in our inner life with something dangerous, real, and living that has sunk beneath nature, our age needs a kind of knowing that goes over nature. Needless to say, it is not a matter of advocating a return to earlier states of civilization. The point is that humankind shall find the way to bring the conditions of modern civilization into their true relationship to humanity and to the cosmos(4). (Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, p. 218)
One cannot fear death if one has studied the spiritual science of Rudolf Steiner, one simply welcomes it as the playing out of one's karma in this lifetime and one's progression into the spiritual world to continue's one's work there. We would have expected the same of Steiner. He suffered through the last months of his life, but when it came his time to go, he crossed over in clear, wakeful consciousness according to Guenther Wachsmuth. He writes of this time:
[page 255] The last moments of his earthly life were free of any struggle with his physical organism, free of any of the uncertainty that characterizes the deaths of so many human beings his countenance spoke of peace, grace, inner surety, and spiritual vision. He folded his hands over his breast; his eyes were alight and strongly directed into the worlds that he was united with in vision. As he drew his last breath, he himself closed his eyes; this filled the room not with the experience of something at an end, but rather with the sense of the highest spiritual activity. An exalted, transfigured wakefulness spoke from the features of his countenance, and from the prayerful power of his hands. Just as the artists of the Middle Ages gave the figures of knights, resting upon their stone coffins, an expression as though their closed eyes still see as though their resting forms could still step forth so did the figure resting here speak of a wakefulness beyond the earthly, of stepping forward into the spheres of spirit. (The Life and Work of Rudolf Steiner, p. 584)
Steiner spoke about a mystery school led by the Archangel Michael in the spiritual world in the latter parts of the nineteenth century. This was a time when souls preparing for incarnation into the turbulent twentieth century (such as I was) could learn about the forces of Michael and be prepared to work for the spiritual growth of humanity by using Christ as their gyroscope to maintain a balance between the soaring spiritual forces of luciferian spirits and the leaden, earth-bound spiritual forces of ahrimanic spirits. The former wants us to become moral automatons and the latter wants us to become amoral and free. These are the two aspects of the Devil and Satan which we confront or give in to in our daily lives, whether we believe they exist or not. They are equally evil because each wishes for us a good which is out of its time. Lucifer (the Devil) grabbed spiritual Light from the Godhead and wants us to share that Light, but to share it exclusively from Lucifer according to his will, and thus we will be moral, but without freedom and therefore automatons or robots. Ahriman (Satan) came to Earth to lead human beings to become free and to grow in their knowledge of the material world, so that any thoughts of morality they might have will always be conditioned by some materially inspired goal, and therefore completely amoral.
Only by the deed of Christ Jesus on Golgotha where He willingly sacrificed His life could we have been saved from the precipitous fall into materialism which Lucifer, whose name means "Light Bearer", brought to us. We could not as mere humans recover from the gift of a spiritual being as high as Lucifer using our own resources. It required a being as high or higher than Lucifer to help us recover, and that recovery was achieved by Christ dying on the Cross on Golgotha. Christ was the only great spirit to enter a human being's body, to experience becoming flesh, and to die.
Two momentous things happened: one in the spiritual world, and one in the physical world. In the spiritual world, the Holy Trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit was formed with Christ as the Son. In the physical or human world on Earth, human beings had a Comforter, the Holy Spirit, and the promise that Christ would return one day "on the clouds in glory" meaning on the etheric plane. Christ would thereafter become humankind's balance point, so that if we sway towards the wishes of the luciferian spirits, Christ will heed our call and help us regain our balance. Or if we lean too far towards the materialistic scheming of the ahrimanic spirits, those dark forces of mechanistic thoughts and actions, Christ is ever heedful of our call and will help us regain our footing and balance. We cannot as human beings avoid Lucifer and Ahriman, we must deal with them. If we stray exclusively towards Lucifer, we become wholly moral, but without the freedom which Christ gave his life that we might have. If we stray exclusively towards Ahriman, we will experience freedom while we are upon Earth, but will suffer immensely in a future lifetime, being unable to even think properly. It's your choice, dear Reader, airy-fairy or leaden death. But if you have only two choices you have a dilemma. Only with the presence of a third choice can you have truly a choice: and that third option is Christ. Lucifer and Ahriman will seek you out and call upon and attempt to lead you astray, but only you can call upon Christ to help yourself restore the balance to your life which will ensure a happy and successful stay in this life and succeeding lives.
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Footnote 2. A brief pondering of the matter should convince any thinking person that an invisible man would necessarily be blind because by definition all light reaching his retina would pass through unopposed.Return to text directly before Footnote 2.
Footnote 3. Edward Reaugh Smith wrote a fine book by this title, The Discipline Whom Jesus Loved, expanding upon the theme of the revived Lazarus being renamed John, who wrote the Book of Revelation. The essence of the matter was that Christ Jesus placed Lazarus, the disciple he loved, into a temple sleep, a death-like sleep of initiation, for three days and then called him awake in the matter prescribed by the mystery schools, "Lazarus, Come out!" This explains why Christ Jesus was not in a hurry to reach Lazarus's tomb as described in several of the Gospels.Return to text directly before Footnote 3.
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