The Fifth Gospel
by Rudolf Steiner
Lecture 2 – Oslo, Norway – October 2, 1913
Our considerations will begin with the so-called Pentecost event. In the first lecture I indicated that our investigation can at least begin with this event. For this event presents itself to clairvoyance as a kind of awakening which the personalities on a certain day, Pentecost, experienced - the personalities normally called the apostles or disciples of Christ Jesus. It is not easy to evoke an exact perception of all those extraordinary events, and we will have to recall – from the depths of our souls, so to speak – much of what we have already gained from our anthroposophical considerations if we want to combine exact perceptions with all which our lecture cycle has to say about this subject.
The apostles felt like awakened individuals who had lived for a long time in an unusual state of consciousness. It was really like a kind of awakening from a deep sleep, from a strange, dream-filled sleep, in which one carries out the everyday tasks of life as reasonable people do, so that others do not notice that one is in a different state of consciousness. Then came the moment when it seemed to the apostles that they had lived through a long time as in a dream from which they awoke with the Pentecost event. And they experienced this awakening in an extraordinary way: they really felt as though something we can only call the substance of all-encompassing love had descended on them from out of the universe. The apostles felt impregnated by all-encompassing love and awakened from the described dream-like state. As though they had been awakened by all that which as the source of the power of love pervades and warms the universe, as though this source of the power of love had penetrated the soul of each one of them. They seemed very strange to the others who heard how they talked. Those others knew that they had previously led very simple lives, but some of them had been acting strangely in the previous days, as though lost in dreams. Now, however, they were as transformed: like people who had achieved a new state of mind or soul disposition, like people who had lost all the narrow restrictions, all the egotism of life, who had gained an infinitely wide heart and all-embracing tolerance, a deeply heartfelt understanding of all that is human on earth. They could also express themselves so that everyone present could understand them. One felt also that they could see into each heart and soul and clarify the secrets of the soul, so they could comfort the other, could tell him exactly what he needed.
It was of course astonishing that such a transformation could happen to a number of people. But those people who experienced the transformation, who had been awakened by the cosmic spirit of love, those people felt in themselves a new understanding for what had acted in common in their souls, but which they had until then not understood. Now, in that instant, understanding of what actually happened on Golgotha appeared before their minds’ eye. And if we look into the soul of one of those apostles, the one usually called Peter in the other gospels, clairvoyant observation sees his normal consciousness as having been completely obliterated from the moment the gospels usually call the denial. He looked back to the denial scene, when he was asked if he had a connection to the Galilean, and he knew now that he denied it because his consciousness had begun to fade and an abnormal state to take its place, a kind of dream state, which meant removal into a completely different world. For him it was like a person who upon waking in the morning remembers the last events before going to sleep the night before; that’s how Peter remembered what is called the denial, the triple denial before the cock crowed twice. And then the intermediate state of Peter’s consciousness unfurled. It wasn’t filled with mere dream-images, but with images presented by a kind of higher state of consciousness, which presented an experience of purely spiritual matters. And everything that happened, that Peter had slept through since that time, appeared before his soul as a clairvoyant dream. Above all he learned to see the event, about which one can truly say he slept through, because for a full understanding of that event the fecundation by all-encompassing love was necessary. Now the images of the mystery of Golgotha appeared before his eyes in a way similar to how we can recall them with clairvoyant vision if we establish the necessary conditions.
Frankly, it is with a unique feeling that one decides to put into words what is revealed when looking into the consciousness of Peter and the others who were gathered on that Pentecost day. One can only bring one’s self to speak of these things with a holy awe. One could even say that he is almost overcome with awareness that he is treading on the holy ground of human esteem when expressing what is revealed to the soul’s vision. However, it seems to him necessary, due to certain spiritual considerations, to speak of these things in our times; with full knowledge that other times will come in which these things will meet with more understanding than is the case now. For in order to understand much of what will be said at this opportunity, the human soul must free itself of quite a few things which are necessary to it during this cultural period.
First of all, something which is offensive to contemporary natural scientific consciousness appears to clairvoyant vision. Nevertheless, I feel myself obliged to express in words as well as I can what appears to the soul’s vision. I can’t do anything about it if what I must say is communicated to less prepared minds and souls and the whole thing is exaggeratedly described as something which cannot stand up to the scientific concepts which dominate the present time.
The clairvoyant glance first falls on an image that depicts a reality which is also indicated in other gospels, but which presents a very special view when selected from the fullness of views which clairvoyant observation can receive when looking back in time. Clairvoyant observation is drawn to a kind of darkening of the earth. And one feels, as in an imagination, the meaningful moment when for hours the physical sun is darkened over the land of Palestine, over the site of Golgotha, like an eclipse of the sun.
One has the impression that spiritual-scientifically trained observation can now verify if a physical eclipse of the sun really occurred over that land: that for this observation the whole human environment takes on a completely different aspect. I would like to put aside what human technology has to say about a solar eclipse. A strong mind and the conviction that all had to happen as it did are necessary in order to withstand the demonic powers which arise during a solar eclipse. But I prefer not to go into that further, only to bring to your attention the fact that during such a moment what otherwise can only be obtained through difficult meditation appears light-filled. One sees plants and animals differently, every butterfly looks different. It is something which in the deepest sense can bring forth the conviction of how in the cosmos a certain spiritual life – which belongs to the sun and what one sees in the sun also as its physical life – is connected to life on the earth. And how when the physical glow is drastically darkened by the covering moon, it is different from when the sun simply doesn’t glow during the night. The appearance of the earth around us is quite different during a solar eclipse than when it is night. One feels the group-souls of the plants and animals arise during a solar eclipse. One feels a dimming of the corporality of plants and animals and a brightening of their group-souls.
This experience is especially strong for clairvoyant observation when directed towards the moment in earthly evolution which we call the Mystery of Golgotha. And then one learns what this notable natural phenomenon means. I really can’t help it if I am obliged to read in the occult text about a natural phenomenon as it occurred exactly at that point in the earth’s evolution – as it has of course also earlier and later occurred – in contradiction to contemporary materialistic thinking. When one opens a book and reads the text, one has the impression that what one should read comes forth from the letters. Thus also from the cosmic letters comes forth the necessity of reading something which humanity should learn. It appears as a word written in the cosmos, as a cosmic phonetic symbol.
And what does one read when he opens his soul to it? Yesterday I pointed out that during Greek times humanity had developed to the point in which through Plato and Aristotle it rose to a very high level of learning, of intellectuality. In many respects the knowledge achieved by Plato and Aristotle could not be superseded in later times, for the summit of human intellectuality had already been reached. And when we consider that this intellectual knowledge was made extremely popular in the Greek and Italian peninsulas by wandering preachers during the time of the Mystery of Golgotha, when we consider how this knowledge was spread in a way which we cannot understand, then one has the possibility of an impression of reading the letters of the occult cosmic text. When one has attained to clairvoyant consciousness he can say: everything which humanity had gathered as knowledge in pre-Christian times comes under the sign of the moon, which from the viewpoint of the earth travels through space, and it is the moon because for higher human perception this knowledge had not enlightened, had not solved riddles, but for higher perception was darkening, as the moon darkens the sun during an eclipse. That is what one reads.
So at that time knowledge was not enlightening, but acted as a darkening of the riddle of the world, and one feels as a clairvoyant the darkening of the higher, spiritual regions of the world through the knowledge of ancient times, which acted in respect to higher knowledge as the moon acts during a solar eclipse. And this external event is an expression of man having achieved a stage in which man’s self-created knowledge was placed in front of higher knowledge as the moon stands before the sun during an eclipse. In that solar eclipse one feels humanity’s darkening of the sun within the earth’s evolution written in an awesome sign of the cosmic occult text. I said that contemporary consciousness can consider this offensive because it has no understanding of the spiritual power in the universe. I do not wish to speak of miracles in the usual sense, of the breaking of natural laws, but I can do no other than inform you how one can read that solar eclipse – how one can do no other than position one’s soul before that solar eclipse as though reading what that natural event signifies: With moon-knowledge an eclipse of the higher solar message occurred.
And then one’s clairvoyant consciousness perceives the raised cross on Golgotha on which the body of Jesus hangs between the two thieves. Then the removal from the cross and the burial appears – and I might add that the more one tries to avoid this image the stronger it appears. Now a second powerful sign appears which must be read in order to understand it as a symbol of what has happened in the evolution of humanity: One follows the image of Jesus taken down from the cross and laid in the tomb, and one is thoroughly shaken by an earthquake which went through the area.
Perhaps the relation between that solar eclipse and the earthquake will someday be better understood scientifically, for certain teachings which are prevalent today but incoherent, indicate a relation between solar eclipses and earthquakes and even firedamps in mines. That earthquake was a consequence of the solar eclipse. That earthquake shook the tomb in which Jesus’ body lay – and the stone which had been placed before the tomb was ripped away and a crevice opened in the ground and the body fell onto the crevice. Further vibrations caused the ground to close over the crevice. And when the people came in the morning the tomb was empty, for the earth had received Jesus’ body; the stone, however, remained apart from the tomb.
Let us follow the sequence of images! Jesus dies on the cross. Darkness suddenly covers the earth. Jesus’ body is laid in the tomb. An earthquake opens the earth’s crust and Jesus’ body is received by the earth. The crevice caused by the quake closes. The stone is thrown aside. These are all factual events; I can do naught else but describe them as such. May those who wish to approach these things from a natural scientific viewpoint judge as they wish and use every possible argument against them. What clairvoyant observation sees is as I have described it. And if someone wishes to say that such things cannot happen, that a symbol is placed in the cosmos as a powerful sign-language to indicate that something new has occurred in human evolution; when someone wishes to say that the divine powers do not write about what happens on the earth with such sign-language as a solar eclipse and an earthquake, I can only reply: All respect to your belief that it can not be so. But it happened anyway! I can imagine that an Ernest Renan, who wrote the peculiar “Life of Jesus” would come and say: One does not believe such things, for one only believes what can be duplicated by experiment. But that argument is unfeasible, for would a Renan not believe in the ice age although it is impossible to reproduce it by experiment? It is of course impossible to reproduce the ice age, and nevertheless all scientific investigators believe in it. It is also impossible to reproduce that once-occurring cosmic sign. Nevertheless, it happened.
We can only approach these events if we clairvoyantly take the path which I have indicated, if we first examine Peter’s or one of the other apostle’s souls, who felt themselves fecundated by all-encompassing cosmic love. Only if we look into their souls and see how they experienced things do we find via this detour the ability to observe the raised cross on Golgotha, the darkening of the earth and the earthquake which followed it. That the eclipse and the quake were normal natural events is not denied; but he who follows these events clairvoyantly reads them as I have described, insofar as he has created the necessary conditions in his soul. For in fact what I have described was for Peter’s consciousness something which had crystallized from the basis of the long sleep. From the many images which crossed through Peter’s consciousness the following were emphasized: The cross raised on Golgotha, the eclipse and the quake. Those were for Peter the first fruits of the fecundation by all-encompassing love at the Pentecost event. And now he knew something which he had not previously known: that the event of Golgotha really took place, and that the body which hung on the cross was the same body with which he had often wandered in life. Now he knew that Jesus died on the cross, that this death was really a birth, the birth of that spirit who as all-encompassing love exuded in the souls of the apostles gathered at Pentecost. Peter sensed it as a ray of the infinite, aeonic love. He sensed it as what was born as Jesus died on the cross. An awesome truth penetrated Peter’s soul: a death only seemed to have taken place on the cross.
In reality that death, preceded by infinite suffering, was the birth of what entered his soul like a ray. With the death of Jesus something entered the earth which had previously existed only externally: all-encompassing cosmic love. That’s easy to say abstractly. But one must penetrate the Peter-soul for a moment to imagine how it felt: In the instant that Jesus of Nazareth died on the cross at Golgotha, something had been born to the earth which previously only existed in the cosmos. The death of Jesus of Nazareth was the birth of cosmic love within the earth’s sphere.
That is the first insight which we can gather from what we call the Fifth Gospel. With what is called in the New Testament the arrival, the pouring out of the spirit, begins with what I have now described. The apostles, due to their soul constitution, were not able to accompany the death of Jesus of Nazareth except with an anomalous consciousness.
Peter, also John and James, recollected still another moment in his life, which can only be revealed to us in all its grandeur through the Fifth Gospel. He with whom they wandered led them to the mount and said: Stand guard! And they fell asleep. Their souls were already being gradually overtaken by the sleeping state. Their normal consciousness sank into a sleep which lasted through the event of Golgotha, and out of which beamed what I have been trying to describe in stammering words. And Peter, John and James had to recall how they fell into that state and how now, as they looked back, the great events dawned on them which had to do with the physical body of him with whom they had wandered. And gradually, as dreams emerge in human consciousness, in human souls, the previous days emerged in the apostles’ consciousness. What emerged was the whole time which they had experienced from the Mystery of Golgotha to Pentecost, which had remained hidden in their subconscious. Especially the ten days between the so-called Ascension until the Pentecost event seemed to be a period of deep sleep. Looking back, however, the time between the Mystery of Golgotha and the Ascension of Christ Jesus emerged day by day. They had experienced it, but it only emerged now, and in a remarkable way.
Excuse me if I add a personal comment. I must admit that I was astonished when I became aware of how what they experienced between the Mystery of Golgotha and the so-called Ascension emerged in the apostles’ souls. Images like these: Yes, you were together with him who was born on the cross, you encountered him – like when one wakes up in the morning and it seems like out of a dream emerges: you were with someone during the night. But it was peculiar how the individual events emerged in the apostles’ souls. They had to ask themselves: Who was it with whom we were together? And they didn’t recognize him again and again. They knew: We certainly wandered around with him – but they didn’t recognize him in the form in which he then stood before them, and which now appeared in images as they received fecundation by all-encompassing love. They saw themselves wandering after the Mystery of Golgotha with him whom we call Christ. And they saw how he had really taught them about the kingdom of the spirit. And they were able to understand how they had wandered with the being who was born on the cross, how this being – the all-encompassing love born from the cosmos – was their teacher, how they were not mature enough to understand what this being had to say, how they had to receive it with the subconscious powers of their souls and couldn’t receive what this being had to give with normal reason, how they went like sleepwalkers alongside Christ during those forty days and couldn’t understand with normal reason what he had to give them. He appeared to them as their spiritual teacher and instructed them in secrets which they could only understand when he transferred them to a completely different consciousness. And now they realized that they had been with the Christ, had walked with the resurrected Christ. Now they realized what had happened to him. But how did they recognize that he was really the same one with whom they had traveled with love before the Mystery of Golgotha? That happened as follows.
Let us imagine that such an image appeared before the soul of one of the apostles after Pentecost. He saw that he had walked with the resurrected one. But he didn’t recognize him. He saw a heavenly spiritual being, but he didn’t recognize him. Another image, which showed that the apostles had really been with Christ Jesus before the Mystery of Golgotha, interfered with the purely spiritual one. There was a scene in which they felt they were instructed in the secrets of the spirit by Christ Jesus. But they didn’t recognize him, they saw themselves standing before this spiritual being. And in order to recognize him, this image was transformed into the image of the Last Supper, which they had experienced together with Christ Jesus. Just imagine that the apostle had before him the supersensible experience of the resurrected one and, as though hovering in the background, the image of the Last Supper. Then they recognized that the one with whom they had wandered with love was the same as the one who now taught them, in a completely different form, which he had taken on after the Mystery of Golgotha. It was a flowing together of the memories from the sleeping consciousness with the memories which preceded it. They experienced two images: one image of the occurrences after the Mystery of Golgotha, and one of the occurrences before their consciousness had been dimmed. They therefore realized that the two beings belong together: the resurrected one and he with whom they had lovingly wandered a relatively short time ago. And they thought: Before we were awakened through the fecundation by all-encompassing love, our normal consciousness was taken away. And Christ, the resurrected one, was with us. He had taken us into his kingdom without our knowing it; he wandered with us and revealed to us the secrets of his kingdom, which now, after the Pentecost-Mystery, emerge as having been experienced in a dream.
This is what causes such astonishment: the coinciding of an image of an apostle’s experience with the Christ after the Mystery of Golgotha with an image before the Mystery of Golgotha, which they experienced in the physical body in a normal state of consciousness.
We have begun to indicate what can be read in the so-called Fifth Gospel, and I would like to say a few words to you at the end of this report as an aside. I feel myself obliged to speak of these things now. What I would like to say though, is the following. I know very well that we live in a time in which much is being prepared for the earthly future of humanity, and that we within our – now Anthroposophical – Society, should realize that something must be prepared for the future in human souls. I know that the time will come when one will be able to speak of such things in a different way than is allowed in our times. For we are all children of our time. But a near future will come in which one can speak more precisely, in which perhaps much of what can be perceived today only by way of indication will be much more precisely perceived in the spiritual Script of Becoming. Such times will come, even though it seems so improbable to the people of today. Nevertheless, it is just for this reason that a certain obligation exists to speak of these things today as a kind of preparation. And although I had to overcome a certain resistance to speak on this theme, the obligation for preparation in these our times outweighed the resistance. That led to my speaking to you for the first time about these things.
When I say “overcoming”, please understand the word as it is meant. I explicitly request that what I have to say on this occasion be understood as a stimulation, as something which in the future will be explained much better and more precisely. And you will understand the word “overcoming” better if you allow me to make a personal remark. It is completely clear to me that for the spiritual investigation to which I have devoted myself, it is at first extremely difficult to extract many things from the Script of the World – especially things of this nature! And I would not be surprised if the word “indication”, which I used, may have a more difficult and broader meaning than it normally has. I can not at all say that I am able today to say precisely what is in the Spiritual Script. For it is very difficult and takes much effort to extract images from the Akasha Record which have to with Christianity. It takes much effort to give these images the necessary condensation, to hold them fast, and I consider it my karma that my duty is to say what I am saying. Without doubt it would cost me less effort if in my early youth I had received a real Christian upbringing. I did not have that; I was brought up in a completely free cultural environment. My education was purely scientific. And for that reason it costs me effort to find these things about which I am obligated to speak.
I make this personal comment for two reasons: because of a peculiar unscrupulousness, a foolish, silly fairy tale about my relationship with certain Catholic currents is being spread about. Not one word of this is true. And what that which is often called Theosophy today has come to may be judged by the fact that such unscrupulous assertions and rumors come from that source. And because we are obliged to tell the truth and not avoid such assertions, this personal remark is made.
On the other hand, due to my lack of contact with Christianity during my youth I feel more objective about Christianity and believe that I have been led to Christianity and to Christ by the spirit. Especially in this area I think I have a certain right to claim objectivity and lack of prejudice. Perhaps one can rely more on the words of a person who comes from a scientific background, who in his youth was distant from Christianity, than one who had a relationship with Christianity from early youth on. But when you hear these words, you may feel an indication of what lives in me when I speak about the secrets which I would like to call the secrets of the so-called Fifth Gospel.
Translation: Frank Thomas Smith
Continued in the next issue of SCR.