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Christianity As Mystical Fact

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Sketch of Rudolf Steiner lecturing at the East-West Conference in Vienna.

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Christianity As Mystical Fact

“WHEN RELEASED FROM THE BODY YOU ascend to the free aether, you will become an immortal god, escaping death.” In these words Empedocles epitomizes what the ancient Egyptians thought about the eternal in man and its connection with the divine. Evidence of this is provided by the so-called Book of The Dead which has been deciphered by the diligence of nineteenth century research workers. (See Lepsius, Das Totenbuch der alen Ägypter, Berlin, 1842.) It is “the greatest coherent literary work of the Egyptians which has been preserved to us.” It contains all kinds of teachings and prayers, which were put in the grave with each dead person to guide him when he was released from his mortal frame. The Egyptians' most intimate conceptions about the eternal and the genesis of the world are contained in this literary work. These conceptions indeed indicate ideas of the gods similar to those of Greek mysticism. — Of the various deities worshiped in different parts of Egypt, Osiris gradually became the favorite and most universally acknowledged. In him the ideas about the other divinities were summarized. Whatever the Egyptian populace may have thought about Osiris, the Book of the Dead indicates that according to the ideas of priestly wisdom he was a being which could be found in the human soul itself. — This is expressed clearly in everything they thought about death and the dead. When the body is given up to the earth, preserved within the earthly element, then the eternal part of man sets out upon the path to the primordial eternal. It is called to judgment before Osiris, who is surrounded by forty-two judges of the dead. The fate of the eternal in man depends upon the verdict of these judges. If the soul has confessed its sins and is found to be reconciled with eternal righteousness, invisible powers approach it, saying, “The Osiris N. has been purified in the pool which is south of the field of Hotep and north of the field of Locusts, where the gods of verdure purify themselves at the fourth hour of the night and the eighth hour of the day with the image of the heart of the gods, passing from night to day.” Thus within the eternal cosmic order the eternal part of man is addressed as an Osiris. After the title Osiris, the individual name of the person concerned is mentioned. The person who is uniting himself with the eternal cosmic order also calls himself “Osiris.” “I am Osiris N. Growing under the blossoms of the fig tree is the name of Osiris N.” (see Note 60) Thus man becomes an Osiris. The Osiris-existence is only a perfect stage of development of human existence. It seems obvious that even the Osiris who judges within the eternal cosmic order is none other than a perfect man. Between human existence and divine existence is a difference in degree and number. At the root of this lies the conception of the Mysteries concerning the mystery of “number.” The cosmic being Osiris is One; nevertheless he exists undivided in every human soul. Each man is an Osiris, yet the one Osiris must be represented as a special being. Man is engaged in development; at the end of his evolutionary course lies his existence as a god. Within this conception one must speak of divinity rather than of a perfected, completed divine being.

There is no doubt that according to such a conception only one who has already reached the gate of the eternal cosmic order as an Osiris can really enter upon Osiris-existence. So the highest life man can lead must consist in changing himself into an Osiris. In the true man an Osiris must already live as perfectly as possible during mortal life. Man becomes perfect when he lives as an Osiris, when he experiences what Osiris has experienced. In this way the Osiris myth receives its deeper significance. It becomes the example of a man who wishes to awaken the eternal within him. Osiris had been torn to pieces, killed by Typhon. The fragments of his body were cherished and cared for by his consort Isis. After his death he let a ray of his light fall upon her, and she bore him Horus. Horus took over the earthly tasks of Osiris. He is the second Osiris, still imperfect but progressing toward the true Osiris. — The true Osiris is in the human soul. The latter is of a transitory nature at first. However, its transitory nature is destined to give birth to the eternal. Therefore man may consider himself to be the tomb of Osiris. The lower nature (Typhon) has killed the higher nature in him. Love in his soul (Isis) must cherish and care for the dead fragments; then will be born the higher nature, the eternal soul (Horus), which can progress to Osiris-existence. Whoever strives toward the highest existence must repeat in himself, as a microcosm, the macrocosmic, universal process of Osiris. This is the meaning of the Egyptian “initiation.” The process Plato describes as cosmic, — i.e., that the Creator has stretched the soul of the world upon the body of the world in the form of a cross, and that the cosmic process is a redemption of this crucified soul (see Note in Chapter 4) (see page) — on a small scale this process had to happen to man if he was to be capable of Osiris-existence. The neophyte had to develop himself in such a way that his soul-experience, his development as an Osiris, became identified with the cosmic Osiris process. If we could look into the temples of initiation where people were subjected to the transformation into Osiris, we would see that what happened there represented microcosmically the creation of the world. Man, who is descended from the “Father,” was to give birth in himself to the Son. The spellbound god, whom he actually bore within him, was to be revealed in him. The power of earthly nature suppressed this god within him. First this lower nature had to be buried in order that the higher nature might rise again. From this it becomes possible to interpret what is told of the processes of initiation. The candidate was subjected to secret procedures. By means of the latter his earthly nature was killed and his higher nature awakened. It is not necessary to study these procedures in detail. One must only understand their meaning. And this meaning is contained in the acknowledgment which everyone who has been through initiation could make. He could say: Before me floated the endless perspective, at the end of which lies the perfection of the divine. I felt the power of the divine within me. I buried what holds down this power within me. I died to earthly things. I was dead. As a lower man I had died; I was in the netherworld. I communicated with the dead, that is, with those who already have become part of the circle of the eternal cosmic order. After my sojourn in the nether world I arose from the dead. I overcame death, but now I have become different. I have nothing more to do with transitory nature. My transitory nature has become permeated by the Logos. I now belong to those who live eternally, and who will sit at the right hand of Osiris. I myself shall be a true Osiris, united with the eternal cosmic order, and judgment over death and life shall be placed in my hand. — The neophyte had to undergo the experience which could lead him to such an acknowledgment. The experience which thus approached man was of the highest kind.

Let us now imagine that a non-initiate hears that someone has undergone such experiences. He cannot know what has really taken place in the soul of the initiate. In his eyes, the initiate has died physically, has laid in the grave and has risen. When expressed in terms of material reality an occurrence which has spiritual reality at a higher stage of existence appears to break through the order of nature. It is a “miracle.” Such a “miracle” was initiation. Whoever wished really to understand it must have awakened within himself powers which would enable him to reach a higher stage of existence. He had to prepare the whole course of his life in order to approach these higher experiences. However they might take place in individual lives, these prepared experiences always had a quite definite, typical form. So the life of an initiate is a typical one. It may be described apart from the individual personality. Or rather, an individual personality could be characterized only as being on the way toward the divine if he had gone through these definite, typical experiences. As such a personality the Buddha lived with his followers; as such a personality Jesus at first appeared to his community. Today we know of the parallels which exist between the biographies of Buddha and of Jesus. Rudolf Seydel has pointed out these parallels strikingly in his book, Buddha and Christ. We need only follow up the details to see that all objections to these parallels are futile.

The birth of Buddha is announced by a white elephant who descends to Maya, the queen. He declares that she will bring forth a divine man who “attunes all people to love and friendship and unites them in an intimate company.” In Luke's Gospel is written: “... to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David: and the virgin's name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her and said, ‘Hail thou that art highly favored ... Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Highest.’” Maya's dream is interpreted by the Brahmins, the Indian priests, who know that it signifies the birth of a Buddha. They have a definite, typical idea of a Buddha. The life of the individual personality will have to correspond to this idea. Correspondingly we read in Matthew 2:1, et seq., that when Herod “had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.” — The Brahmin Asita says of Buddha, “This is the child which will become Buddha, the redeemer, the leader to immortality, freedom and light.” Compare this with Luke 2:5: “And behold there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him ... And when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him after the custom of the law, then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.” It is related of Buddha that at the age of twelve he was lost, and was found again under a tree, surrounded by minstrels and sages of ancient times, whom he was teaching. This corresponds to Luke 2:41–47: “Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem, and Joseph and his mother knew not of it. But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day's journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him. And it came to pass that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.” — After Buddha had lived in solitude and had returned, he was received by the benediction of a virgin: “Blessed is the mother, blessed is the father, blessed is the wife to whom thou belongest.” But he replied, “Only they are blessed who are in Nirvana,” i.e., those who have entered the eternal cosmic order. In Luke 11:2–28 is written: “And it came to pass, as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice and said unto him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked.’ But he said, ‘Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.’” In the course of Buddha's life the tempter approaches him, promising him all the kingdoms of the earth. Buddha will have nothing to do with this, answering, “I know well that a kingdom is appointed to me, but I do not desire an earthly one; I shall become Buddha and make all the world exult for joy.” The tempter has to admit, “My reign is over.” Jesus answers the same temptation in the words: “Get thee hence, Satan, for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil leaveth him.” (Matthew 4:10,11) — This description of parallelism might be extended to many other points: the results would be the same. — The life of Buddha ended sublimely. During a journey he felt ill. He came to the river Hiranja, near Kuschinagara. There he lay down on a carpet spread for him by his favorite disciple, Ananda. His body began to shine from within. He died transfigured, a body of light, saying, “Nothing endures.” The death of Buddha corresponds with the transfiguration of Jesus: “And it came to pass about eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray. And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistening.” At this point Buddha's earthly life ends, but the most important part of the life of Jesus begins here: Passion, Death and Resurrection. The difference between Buddha and Christ lies in what necessitated the continuation of the life of Christ Jesus beyond that of Buddha. Buddha and Christ are not understood by simply throwing them together. (This will become evident in the subsequent chapters of this book.) Other accounts of the death of Buddha need not be considered here, although they also reveal profound aspects of the subject.

The conformity in the lives of these two redeemers leads to an unequivocal conclusion. What this conclusion must be, the narratives themselves indicate. When the priest sages hear about the manner of the birth they know what is involved. They know that they are dealing with a divine man. They know beforehand what conditions will exist for the personality who is appearing. Therefore his career can only correspond with what they know about the career of a divine man. Such a career appears in their Mystery wisdom, marked out for all eternity. It can be only as it must be. Such a career appears as an eternal law of nature. Just as a chemical substance can behave only in a quite definite way, so a Buddha or a Christ can live only in a quite definite way. His career cannot be described as one would write his incidental biography; rather, it is described by giving the typical features contained for all time in the wisdom of the Mysteries. The legend of Buddha is no more a biography in the ordinary sense, than the Gospels are intended to be an ordinary biography of the Christ Jesus. Neither describes an incidental career; both describe a career marked out for a world-redeemer. The patterns for both must be sought in the traditions of the Mysteries, not in outward physical history. To those who have perceived their divine nature, Buddha and Jesus are initiates in the most eminent sense. (Jesus is an initiate because the Christ Being incarnates in him.) Thus everything transitory is removed from their lives. What is known about initiates can be applied to them. The incidental events of their lives are no longer described. It is said of them, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God ... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:1,14)

The life of Jesus, however, contains more than the life of Buddha. Buddha's life ends with the transfiguration. The most significant part of the life of Jesus begins after the transfiguration. In the language of the initiates, Buddha reaches the point where divine light begins to shine in man. He stands before the death of the physical. He becomes the cosmic light. Jesus goes further. He does not die physically at the moment the cosmic light transfigures him. At that moment he is a Buddha. But at the same moment he enters upon a stage which finds expression in a higher degree of initiation. He suffers and dies. The physical part of him disappears. But the spiritual, the cosmic light does not vanish. His resurrection follows. He reveals himself to his community as Christ. At the moment of his transfiguration, Buddha dissolves into the hallowed life of the universal Spirit. Christ Jesus awakens this universal Spirit once more to present existence in a human form. Such an event had formerly taken place in a pictorial sense at the higher stages of initiation. Those initiated according to the Osiris myth attained to such a resurrection in their consciousness as a pictorial experience. In the life of Jesus this “great” initiation was added to the Buddha initiation, not as a pictorial experience, but as reality. Buddha demonstrated by his life that man is the Logos and that he returns to this Logos, to the light, when his physical part dies. In Jesus the Logos itself became a person. In him the Word became flesh.

What was enacted for the ancient cults of the Mysteries within the Mystery-temples, through Christianity has been grasped as a world-historical fact. His community acknowledged the Christ Jesus, the initiate, initiated in a uniquely great way. He proved to them that the world is divine. For the community of Christ, the wisdom of the Mysteries was indissolubly bound up with the personality of Christ Jesus. The belief that he lived and that those who acknowledge him, belong to him, replaced what would have been attained previously through the Mysteries. — Henceforth for those in the community of Christ a part of what previously was only to be attained by the methods of the mystics, could be replaced by the conviction that the divine is given in the Word which had been present. The determining factor was no longer only that for which each individual spirit had to undergo a long preparation, but also the account of what they had heard and seen, handed down by those who were with Jesus. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we ourselves have beheld, which our hands have touched, concerning the Word of life ... that which we have seen and heard, we proclaim to you, that you may have fellowship with us.” Thus it is written in the first Epistle of John. This immediate reality is to embrace all future generations in a living bond; as a Church it is to extend mystically from generation to generation. In this way we may understand the words of Augustine, “I should not believe the Gospel except as moved by the authority of the Church.” (see Note 61) The Gospels, therefore, contain in themselves no evidence of their truth, but they are to be believed because they are founded on the personality of Jesus, and because in a mysterious way the Church draws from this personality the power to make them appear as truth. The Mysteries handed down through tradition the means of coming to the truth; the Christian community propagates this truth itself. Faith in the One, the primordial Initiator was to be added to faith in the mystical forces which light up in man's inner being during initiation. The mystics sought apotheosis; they wished to experience it. Jesus was made divine; we must cling to him; then we are participants in his apotheosis within the community established by him: — This became Christian conviction. What was made divine in Jesus, is made divine for his whole community. “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:20) The one born in Bethlehem has an eternal character. Thus the Christmas antiphon is able to speak of the birth of Jesus as if it took place every Christmas: “Today Christ is born; today the Saviour has come into the world; today the angels are singing on earth.” (see Note 62) — In the Christ-experience a quite definite stage of initiation is to be seen. When the mystic of pre-Christian times went through this Christ-experience, then, through his initiation, he was in a condition enabling him to perceive something spiritual — in higher worlds — for which the material world had no corresponding fact. He experienced what comprises the Mystery of Golgotha in the higher world. Now when the Christian mystic goes through this experience, through initiation, at the same time he beholds the historical event on Golgotha and knows that in this event, which took place in the world of the senses, is the same content as formerly existed only in the supersensible facts of the Mysteries. What had descended upon the mystics within the Mystery temples in earlier times thus descended upon the community of Christ through the “Mystery of Golgotha.” And initiation gives the Christian mystic the possibility of becoming conscious of this content of the “Mystery of Golgotha,” while faith causes mankind to participate unconsciously in the mystical current which flowed from the events depicted in the New Testament and has been permeating the spiritual life of humanity ever since.

Last Modified: 02-Nov-2023
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