The Being of Anthroposophy

 

 

Rudolf Steiner

 

 

February 3, 1913. Berlin. A Lecture given during the First General Meeting of the Anthroposophical Society at Berlin. This translation by Christopher Bamford, as included in “The Effects of Esoteric Development”, Anthroposophic Press, 1977, pp. 13 – 16.

 

 

My dear friends,

When we established the German Section of the Theosophical Society in 1902, as many of our theosophical friends certainly know, Annie Besant and other members of the Theosophical Society were present, many of whom had been members for some time. Amid the work of organizing and lecturing, I had to leave for a short time to continue a lecture course I was giving. This was in a circle not at all connected to the theosophical movement, and whose members, for the most part, have not joined it. In other words, more than ten years ago, when the theosophical movement was established in Germany, I had to give a lecture to a group outside it. That lecture course was a kind of "beginning," and to describe what I wanted to say in it I used a word that seemed to me to express this idea of "beginning" much better than the word theosophy-a word that seemed much more in keeping with the whole circumstances and culture of our time. Thus, while we were establishing the German Section, I announced in my other lecture that what I had to impart could best be communicated by the word anthroposophy.

 

This incident returns to my memory now, while we are all assembled here and stepping aside from, and beginning to move alongside of, what may naturally be called theosophy. We are thus obliged to choose another name for our work. In the first place, this is just an external designation, but also one that indicates precisely what we wish to do. Therefore, we choose the word anthroposophy.

 

Spiritual observation into the inner spiritual connection of things (which often contains some kind of necessity, even when it all seems to be a matter of "chance" to ordinary observation) may give us some insight. Therefore, perhaps the feeling I have will permit me - especially today as we witness the separation of the Anthroposophical Society from the Theosophical Society, and without setting up any careful transition - to return to my necessary move ten years ago, from my activity in founding the German Section, to my "anthroposophical" lecture. Nevertheless, no change has entered what has formed the spirit of our work since then. Our work will continue in the same spirit, for here we are unconcerned with any change in our cause, but only with the change of name that has become necessary.

 

Perhaps the new name is one, after all, that rather suits our cause, and, by mentioning my feeling about what happened ten years ago, we may be alerted to the fact that this new name really could suit us very well. Still, as I say, the spirit of our work will remain the same.

 

This spirit is actually something we must indicate in essence, as the being of our cause. It is also what claims our best human forces, insofar as we feel moved to join this spiritual movement. I say "our best human forces" because our present time is not yet very inclined to accept - whether theosophy or anthroposophy - what must be introduced into the progressive spiritual life of humanity. I say "must," because anyone who knows the prerequisites for the evolution of the spiritual life of humanity knows just how necessary this theosophical or anthroposophical spirit is for a healthy spiritual life. But it is difficult to convey the meaning of this to human souls today.

 

It is difficult, and one can understand why that is. Those who come directly into anthroposophy or theosophy from contemporary life where, to begin with, all their thoughts are deeply connected with a more materialistic view of things - find it very difficult to feel at home with the way cosmic questions are handled by what may be termed the theosophical or anthroposophical spirit. It has always been true, however, that most people tend to follow those who make themselves the bearers of the spiritual life in a special way. Certainly, we can find the most varied tones within our contemporary worldviews. Equally certainly, however, after observing these various shadings, one in particular stands out, namely, that most people today follow - even if unconsciously - either certain concepts that have emerged from the development of natural science over the past century, or a certain residue of philosophical ideas, or both. In any case (we could call it pride, or it may appear as something else) we find something certain, something that seems to be built on solid foundations, both in what natural science has given us, or, when another kind of path has been chosen, what one or another philosophy provides as an orientation. In what flows from the anthroposophical or theosophical spirit, however, one is likely to find something more or less uncertain, or wavering, something unverifiable.

 

This may be experienced in different ways. For instance, it is very common for an anthroposophical or theosophical lecture to be held somewhere on a particular subject. Let us consider the auspicious (though relatively rare) instance of a science or philosophy professor listening to such a lecture. It could easily happen that, after listening to it, the professor forms an opinion of what has just been heard. Indeed, in most cases the professor would certainly believe that such an opinion was well founded and solid - even, to some extent, simply self-evident. In any other field of thought, however, it is just not possible, after hearing only a one-hour lecture, to judge its subject. And yet, in relation to what theosophy or anthroposophy offers, people are all too eager to make a snap judgment in a way that deviates from their otherwise customary subtlety.

 

Indeed, they feel that their opinion is justified after simply having engaged, perhaps unconsciously, in a monologue such as the following: "I'm actually a pretty bright person, after all; I've worked all my life to understand philosophical and scientific ideas, and therefore I'm very capable of judging this or that question. After all, I have heard what the person standing here has said." Then, having listened to our lecture - and this is a fact of soul life that anyone who observes life knows to be true - such a person arrives at the insight, "It's amazing how much I know and how little the lecturer knows!" This person actually forms an opinion after listening to an hour's presentation - not about what the lecturer knows, but more often about what listener thinks the lecturer does not know, because it was not mentioned in the lecture. Innumerable objections would fall away without such an unconscious judgment.

 

Abstractly, or theoretically, it could seem quite insane to state something so foolish - not foolish as an opinion but as a fact. Yet, although people do not realize it, this fact is very widespread in relation to what arises from theosophy or anthroposophy. Our age has, as yet, little desire to discover that what anthroposophy or theosophy - at least as it is meant here - presents to the public has nothing to fear from accurate, conscientious examination by all contemporary sciences and learning, but everything to fear from a "science" that is really only one-third - no, one-eighth, one-tenth, one-twelfth, or perhaps not even that - scientific. It will take time for human beings to be able to judge something as boundless as the world itself through knowledge gained externally on the physical level. Nevertheless, in time we shall see that the more true anthroposophy and theosophy are tested with every possible scientific means and every individual science, the more they will be verified.

 

And we shall also see that anthroposophy now enters the world, not in an arbitrary way, but out of the precondition of historical consciousness. This, too, will also be confirmed. Those who truly seek to advance human development must draw what they wish to give from those sources out of which the advancing life of humanity itself flows. Such people cannot follow an arbitrarily constructed ideal and steer toward it merely because it pleases them. In any given period, they must follow the ideal about which it may be said, "This belongs precisely to our time." The being of anthroposophy is intimately connected with the being of our time - not with our own immediate little present moment, of course, but with the whole age within which we stand. The next four lectures and, indeed, all the lectures that I shall deliver in the next few days will really deal with this "being," or essence, of anthroposophy. All that I shall have to say later about the nature of the Eastern and Western Mysteries will be an amplification of this being of anthroposophy.  

 

Today I want to point out the character of this being by speaking of the necessity for establishing anthroposophy in our time. Once again, I do not wish to begin with definitions or abstractions, but with facts and, initially, one particular fact: the fact of a poem that was once - for now I shall say only "once" - written by a poet. I shall read part of this poem to you (just a few lines, to begin with) to bring out what I want to say.

 

"Love, who commands the chambers of my mind

Discoursing of my lady passionately,

From hour to hour speaks things of her to me

At which my intellect bids me demur.

Sweetly his words make music of such kind

My soul, which hears and feels how they agree,

Exclaims, 'Alas, that I can never be

Equal to saying all I hear of her!"

 

And after the poet has sung further of the difficulty of expressing what the god of love has said to him, he describes the being he loves in the following words:

 

"Such things appear within her fair aspect

As show they bear the joys of paradise

I mean, both in her smile and in her eyes,

Where Love brings them as if he brought them home."

 

It seems very clear. A poet has written a love poem. And it is certain that, if this poem were to be published anonymously somewhere today (it could easily be a contemporary poem by one of our better poets), people would say, "What a star he must have found to describe his beloved in such wonderful verses!" And truly the beloved might well feel congratulation at being addressed in this way:

 

"Such things appear within her fair aspect

As show they bear the joys of paradise

I mean, both in her smile and in her eyes,

Where Love brings them as if he brought them home."

 

This poem was not written in our time. If it had been, and the critics discovered it, they would say, "What a deeply felt, direct, concrete living relation! It is astonishing how someone who can write poetry from the soul's depths, as only our most modern poets can, how such a poet can say something in which no mere abstraction, but a direct, concrete presentment of the beloved, speaks to us and becomes a manifest reality." A critic today might say such a thing. This poem was not written today, however, but was written by Dante. And the modern critic, knowing that now, would perhaps say, "The poem must have been written by Dante when he was passionately in love with Beatrice (or someone else), and this is another example how a great figure enters life through immediate experience, far removed from any concepts or ideas." Perhaps we could even find a modern critic who would say, "People should learn from Dante the possibility of rising to the highest celestial spheres, as we do in The Divine Comedy; and still be able to feel a direct, living connection between one human being and another." As fortune would have it, however, Dante himself wrote an explanation of this poem and identified the woman about whom he wrote those beautiful words:

 

"Such things appear within her fair aspect

As show they bear the joys of paradise

I mean, both in her smile and in her eyes,

Where Love brings them as if he brought them home."

 

Dante himself told us - and I don't think any modern critic will deny that Dante knew what he wanted to say - that the beloved lady, with whom he had so direct and personal a relationship, was none other than Philosophy. Dante says that when he speaks of the lady's eyes and says that what they say is no lie, he means the evidence of truth; and by her "smile," he means the art of expressing the truth communicated to the soul; and by "love," or amor; he means scientific study – the love of the truth. Dante explicitly says that when his personal beloved Beatrice was torn from him, and he was required to continue without a personal relationship, it was the lady Philosophy who drew near to his soul, full of compassion and more human than any human thing. And - feeling in his soul's depths that her "eyes" represent the evidence of truth, her "smile" the truth communicated to his soul, and "love" the love of the truth, cognitive life, or scientific study - Dante could say of this lady, Philosophy:

 

"Such things appear within her fair aspect

As show they bear the joys of paradise

I mean, both in her smile and in her eyes,

Where Love brings them as if he brought them home."

 

One thing is clear; a modern poet cannot easily address philosophy with real honesty in such directly human language. If a modern poet were to do so, the critics would seize that poet by the collar and say, "No more formal allegories." Even Goethe had to suffer many people taking the allegories in Part II of Faust in the wrong spirit.

 

People who do not know how the times - into which our soul is ever growing with new life-change, lack any idea that Dante was just one (among many) of those with the capacity for a concrete experience of a passionate and personal relationship, immediate and of the soul, with Lady Philosophy, such as we today can feel only toward a man or woman of flesh and blood. In this sense, Dante's time is past. The modern soul no longer approaches Lady Philosophy - the woman, Philosophy – as a being of the same, fleshly nature as itself as Dante did. Or perhaps it is somewhat closer to the honest truth to say that Philosophy was something, or someone, who went around as a being of flesh and blood-someone with whom one could have a relationship, the expression of which could not really be distinguished from the intense words of love one would use in relation to a being of flesh and blood. Whoever enters into the whole relationship Dante had with philosophy knows that this relationship was concrete, the kind that modern human beings can only imagine between a man and a woman.

 

In the age of Dante, then, Philosophy appears as a being whom Dante says he loves. And, when we look for it, we certainly find the word philosophy also coming to the surface in Greek spiritual life, but we will not find there what we now call "definitions," the presentations of philosophy. When the Greeks present something, it is Sophia, not Philosophia. And they present her in such a way that, again, we experience her as a living being, as an immediate presence. We experience the Greek Sophia as an immediate, living being, just as Dante feels Philosophy to be. Always, however, we feel this Greek Sophia - and I ask you to please go through the descriptions that exist - to be an elemental force, as it were, an active being who intervenes in existence through action.

 

Beginning around the fifth century A.D., we find that Philosophia is first represented, initially described by poets in the most varied guises: nurse, benefactor, guide, and so on. Then somewhat later, painters begin to represent her. Thus, we reach the period during the Middle Ages called Scholasticism, when many philosophers really felt they were experiencing a directly human relation when they became aware of beautiful, noble Lady Philosophia, who actually approached them from the clouds. Many medieval philosophers, in fact, felt the same deep, burning feelings toward the Lady Philosophia as she floated toward them on the clouds as Dante describes toward his Lady. And anyone who can feel such things will find a direct connection between Raphael's Sistine Madonna floating on the clouds, and the exalted Lady Philosophia.

 

I have often described how, in ancient times of human development, the world's spiritual relationships were still perceivable through normal human cognitive capacities. I have tried to describe how there existed, as it were, a primeval clairvoyance, how in primeval times everyone who developed normally was naturally constituted to see into the spiritual world. Slowly and gradually over the course of human evolution this primal clairvoyance was lost, and our present cognitive situation arose. This occurred slowly and gradually. And our contemporary life condition - which represents a temporary and very deep entanglement, as it were, in a material kind of perception – also came about gradually and slowly.

 

For a person such as Dante, as we may gather from his descriptions in The Divine Comedy, it was still possible to experience in a natural way, so to speak, the last remnant of an immediate connection with the spiritual worlds. To modern people it is merely foolish nonsense to expect that they might first, like Dante, love the Beatrice of flesh and blood and then later become involved in a second passion with Philosophy, and that these two - the Beatrice of flesh and blood and Philosophy - were very similar beings.

 

It is true, I've heard it said, that Kant was once in love, and that someone became jealous because Kant loved "Metaphysics" and asked, "Meta who?"

 

Nevertheless, it is certainly difficult to bring enough understanding to modern spiritual life to enable people to feel Dante's Beatrice and Philosophy as equally real. But why is this? Because the once direct, immediate relationship of the human soul to the spiritual world has gradually come to what it is today. Those of you who have often heard me speak, know very well the high regard I have for nineteenth-century philosophy, but even I would not suggest that anyone pour out feelings for Hegel's Logic by saying:

 

"Such things appear within her fair aspect

As show they bear the joys of paradise

I mean, both in her smile and in her eyes,

Where Love brings them as if he brought them home."

 

It would be difficult, I think, to say this about Hegel's Logic. It would even be difficult, though more possible, to speak this way of the intellectual depth of Schopenhauer's worldview. It would certainly be easier in his case, but even there it would still be difficult to get any concrete idea or feeling that philosophy approaches as a concrete being in the way Dante speaks. Times have changed.

 

For Dante, life within the philosophical element, within the spiritual world, was a direct, personal relationship - as personal as any relationship within what is called today the real, material world.

 

And, strange as it may seem-because Dante's century is not so far from our own -it is nonetheless true that anyone who can observe the spiritual life of humanity feels it as almost self-evident that, although we try to know the world, if we assume that human beings have remained the same throughout the centuries, we really cannot see any farther than the ends of our noses! Even as recently as Dante's time, life in general - the whole relation of the soul to the spiritual worlds - was very different. Thus, if philosophers think that the relationship they may have with the spiritual world through the philosophy of Hegel or Schopenhauer is the only one possible, this only means that philosophers can still be very ignorant of the truth.

 

Let's consider what we have been presenting - that, in our evolution until the present, with the transition from the Greco-Roman epoch to our own fifth post-Atlantean epoch, the part of the whole human being that we call the intellectual (or mind) soul, or the "soul of higher feeling," which developed especially during the Greco-Roman period, evolved into the consciousness soul. In light of this observation, we may ask, therefore: How in the concrete case of philosophy, does the transition from the intellectual soul of the Greco-Roman epoch to the consciousness soul of our time take form? It does so in such a way that we clearly understand that, during the development of the intellectual soul - the "soul of higher feeling" - humanity still experienced a certain separation between human beings and the spiritual worlds from which they originate. Thus, the Greeks confronted Sophia, or Wisdom, as a being, so to speak, whom they could encounter standing before them in a particular place, Two beings then -Sophia and the Greek - faced each other, as if Sophia were a definite objective entity, to be looked at, with all the objectivity of the Greek's way of seeing.

 

At the same time, however, the Greeks, because they still lived in the intellectual soul (the soul of higher feeling), had to express the directly personal relationship of their consciousness to the objectivity of the being facing them. This was necessary to gradually prepare the way for a new epoch, that of the consciousness soul.

 

How then does the consciousness soul confront Sophia? This is done so that it brings the I into direct relationship with Sophia while at the same expressing -much more so than the objective being of Sophia – the activity of the I within the relationship between the consciousness soul and this Sophia. "I love Sophia" was the natural feeling of an age that still had to encounter the being we designate as Philosophy - an age that was preparing the consciousness soul and, out of the relationship between the I and the consciousness soul (on which the greatest value must be placed), was working toward representing Sophia as simply as it represented everything else. It was natural for the time of the intellectual soul - which was preparing for the consciousness soul- to express this relationship to Philosophy. And because things came to expression slowly and gradually, this relationship was being prepared during Greco-Latin times.

 

Outwardly, however, we can also see this relationship of human beings to Philosophia developing to a certain height in the pictorial representations of Philosophy floating down on clouds and, later, in Philosophia's expression (even if she bears another name) when we see her gaze full of kindly feelings that once again express the relationship to the consciousness soul.

 

In truth, it was from a specifically human personal relationship, as of a man to a woman, that the relationship of human beings to philosophy arose during the age when philosophy directly took hold of the whole spiritual life of human evolution. This relationship - if you are not to take these words lightly, but take a little time to find the meaning behind them - has grown cold, truly cold. It has even become ice-cold. When we pick up most books on philosophy today - even those by philosophers who struggled and attained the finest possible relation to philosophy - we must really say that the relationship, so ardent when people viewed philosophy as a personal being, has grown very cold. Philosophy is no longer the "woman" she was to Dante and others who lived in his time. Philosophy meets us today in a shape we may speak of by saying, "The very form of philosophy that confronts us in the nineteenth century, in its highest development - as German idealism, the philosophy of concepts, the philosophy of Objects - shows us that its role in the spiritual development of humanity has been played out." It is really very symbolic when we take up Hegel's philosophy, especially The Encyclopedia, and find that the last thing presented in this nineteenth-century volume is about how philosophy understands itself. It has comprehended everything else; finally, it grasps itself. What is left for it to understand? This is a symptom of philosophy's end, even though - since Hegel's death - many questions remain unanswered. The radical thinker Richard Wahle has followed this thought through in his book The Whole of Philosophy and its End and he has ably worked through the thesis that everything achieved by philosophy may be divided among the various departments of physiology, biology, aesthetics, and so forth, and that when this has been done, nothing remains of philosophy. Of course, such books go too far, but they contain a deep truth - that spiritual movements have their time and day, and that, just as a day has its morning and its evening, spiritual movements, too, have their morning and evening in the history of humanity's development. We know we are living in the age that is preparing the spirit-self. Thus, we know that, though we live in the age of the consciousness soul, the spirit-self is being prepared. Just as the Greeks lived in the age of the intellectual soul, and looked toward the dawn of the consciousness soul, so we live in the age of the consciousness soul and seek to prepare the age of the spirit-self The Greeks established philosophy, which, despite Paul Deussen and others, did first exist in Greece during the unfolding of the intellectual soul when human beings still directly experienced the lingering influence of the objective Sophia; and Philosophy then came into being, and Dante could view her as a real, concrete being who brought him consolation when Beatrice was torn from him by death; in the same way, we now live in the age of the consciousness soul and look toward the dawn of the age of the spirit-self, and we know in this way that something is again becoming objective to human beings - something that looks forward to the coming times that will be gained by what we have won through the time of the consciousness soul.

 

What, therefore, must be developed? It must unfold that, once again, as a matter of course, a "Sophia" becomes present. But we must learn to relate this Sophia to the consciousness soul, bring her down directly to human beings. This is happening during the age of the consciousness soul. And thereby Sophia becomes the being who directly enlightens human beings. After Sophia has entered human beings, she must take their being with her and present it to them outwardly, objectively. Thus, Sophia will be drawn into the human soul and arrive at the point of being so inwardly connected with it that a love poem as beautiful as Dante wrote may be written about her.

 

Sophia will become objective again, but she will take with her what humanity is, and objectively present herself in this form. Thus, she will present herself not only as Sophia, but as Anthroposophia – as the Sophia who, after passing through the human soul, through the very being of the human being, henceforth bears that being within her, and in this form she will confront enlightened human beings as the objective being Sophia who once stood before the Greeks.

 

Such is the progression of human evolutionary history in relation to the spiritual questions we have been considering. Here I must leave the matter to all those who wish to examine in even greater detail, following the destiny of Sophia, Philosophia, and Anthroposophia, how we may show how humanity develops progressively through those parts of the soul we call the intellectual soul, the consciousness soul, and the spirit-self People will learn how profoundly what anthroposophy gives us is based in our whole being. What we receive through anthroposophy is our very own being.

 

This once floated toward us in the form of a celestial goddess with whom we were able to enter into relationship. This divine being lived on as Sophia and Philosophia, and now we can once again bring her out of ourselves and place her before us as the fruit of true anthroposophical self-knowledge. We can wait patiently until the world is willing to test the depth of the foundations of what we have to say, right down to the smallest details. It is the essence of anthroposophy that its own being consists of the being of the human, and its effectiveness, its reality, consists in that we receive from anthroposophy what we ourselves are and what we must place before ourselves, because we must practice self-knowledge.