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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

AT THE END of the New Testament stands a remarkable document, the Apocalypse, the secret revelation of Saint John. We need only read the opening words to feel the esoteric character of this book. “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God granted him, to show to his servants how the necessary events will shortly run their course; this is sent in signs by the angel of God to his servant John.” (see Note 68) What is revealed here is “sent in signs.” Therefore we must not take the literal sense of the words as they stand, but seek for a deeper sense, of which the words are only signs. But there are also many other things which point to such a “secret meaning.” John addresses himself to seven communities in Asia. This cannot mean actual, material communities. For the number seven is the sacred symbolic number which must be chosen because of its symbolic meaning. The actual number of the Asiatic communities would have been different. And its esoteric character is further indicated by the manner in which John arrived at the revelation: “I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a voice like a trumpet, saying; What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven communities.” Therefore we are dealing with a revelation received by John in the Spirit. And it is the revelation of Jesus Christ. What became revealed to the world through Christ Jesus appears in an esoteric form. Such an esoteric sense therefore must be sought in the teaching of Christ. This revelation bears the same relationship to ordinary Christianity as the revelation of the Mysteries in pre Christian times bore to the folk religion. Hence the attempt to treat this Apocalypse as a Mystery appears justified.

The Apocalypse is addressed to seven communities. What does this mean? We need only single out one of the messages to perceive the sense. In the first of these is said: “Write to the angel of the community of Ephesus: The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lights. I know your deeds and what you have suffered and also your patient endurance, and that you will not support those who are evil, and that you have called to account those who call themselves apostles, and are not, and that you have recognized them as false. And you are enduring patiently and building up your work upon my name, and you have not grown weary of it. But I demand from you that you should attain to your highest love. Realize then from what you have fallen, change your thinking and accomplish the highest deeds. If you do not, I will come and move your light from its place, unless you change your thinking. But this you have, that you despise the deeds of the Nicolaitians, which I also despise. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the communities: To him who is victorious I will give food of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God.” (Rev. 2:1–7) — This is the message addressed to the angel of the first community. The angel, who represents the spirit of his community, has entered upon the path marked out by Christianity. He is able to distinguish between the false adherents of Christianity and the true. He wishes to be Christian, and has founded his work on the name of Christ. But it is required of him that he should not bar his own way to the highest love by errors of any kind. He is shown the possibility of taking a wrong course through such errors. Through Christ Jesus the path toward attainment of the divine has been marked out. Patient endurance is needed for further advancement in the sense of the first impulse. It is possible to believe too soon that one has grasped the right sense. This happens if someone allows himself to be led part of the way by Christ and then, after all, leaves this leadership by surrendering himself to false ideas about it. Thereby he relapses into his lower self. He has left the “first love.” The knowledge arising out of material perception may be raised into a higher sphere, becoming wisdom by being spiritualized and made divine. If it does not reach this height, it remains among transitory things. Christ Jesus has pointed out the path to the Eternal. With unwearied, patient endurance knowledge must follow the path leading to its apotheosis. Lovingly it must follow the steps which transform it into wisdom. The Nicolaitians were a sect who took Christianity too lightly. They saw but one thing: Christ is the divine Word, the eternal wisdom which will be born in man. Therefore they concluded that human wisdom is the divine Word. Hence it follows that one need only pursue human knowledge in order to realize the divine in the world. But the meaning of Christian wisdom cannot be construed thus. The knowledge which begins as human wisdom is as transitory as anything else unless it is changed into divine wisdom. You are not thus, says the “Spirit” to the angel of Ephesus; you have not relied merely upon human wisdom. You have trodden the Christian path with patient endurance. But you must not believe that the very highest love is not needed to attain this goal. For this a love is necessary which far surpasses all love for other things. Only this is the “highest love.” The path to the divine is an infinite one, and it must be understood that when the first stage has been reached it can be only the preparation for ascending to ever higher stages. In this way, through the first of the messages is shown how they should be interpreted. The sense of the others can be found in a similar manner.

John turned and saw “seven golden lights,” and “in the midst of the lights the image of the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden girdle round his loins; his head and his hair were gleaming white like wool or snow, and his eyes were sparkling in the fire.” We are told (Rev.1:20) that “the seven lights are the seven communities.” This means that the lights are seven different ways of attaining to the divine. All of them are more or less imperfect. And the Son of Man “had seven stars in his right hand” (verse 16). “The seven stars are the angels of the seven communities” (verse 20). Here the “guiding spirits” (daemons) of the wisdom of the Mysteries have become the guiding angels of the “communities.” These communities are represented as bodies for spiritual beings. And the angels are the souls of these “bodies,” just as human souls are the guiding powers of human bodies. The communities are the paths to the divine in the imperfect, and the souls of the communities should become guides along these paths. For this purpose they themselves must grow in such a way that their leader is the being who has the “seven stars” in his right hand. “And out of his mouth issued a two-edged sharp sword, and his countenance in its glory was like the shining sun.” In the Mysteries this sword is also found. The neophyte was terrified by a “drawn sword.” This indicates the situation of one wishing to know the divine by experience, so that the “countenance” of wisdom may “shine upon him with a glory like the sun.” Through this experience John also goes. It is to be a test of his strength. “And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead; and he laid his right hand upon me and said: Do not be terrified” (verse 17). The neophyte must go through experiences which otherwise come to man only when he goes through death. His guide must lead him beyond the region where birth and death have meaning. The initiate enters upon a new life, “and I was dead, and behold, I became alive throughout the cycles of life; and I have the keys of Death and the Realm of the Dead.” — Thus prepared, John is lead onward in order to learn the secrets of existence. “After this I looked, and behold, the door to heaven was opened, and the first voice which became audible sounded to me like a trumpet, and said Come up hither, and I will show you what will happen after this.” The messages of the seven spirits of the communities announce to John what is to occur in the material, physical world in order to prepare the way for Christianity; what he now sees “in the Spirit” leads him to the spiritual, primal source of things, hidden behind physical evolution, but which will be realized in a spiritualized age in the near future by means of physical evolution. The initiate experiences now in the Spirit what is to happen in the future. “And immediately I was withdrawn into the realm of Spirit. And I beheld a throne in heaven, and one seated on the throne. And he who sat there appeared like the jasper and carnelian stone; and a rainbow surrounded the throne that looked like an emerald.” In this way the primal source of the material world is described in the pictures in which it clothes itself for the seer. “And in the sphere around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated upon the twenty-four thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white flowing garments, and with golden crowns upon their heads.” (chapter 4, verses 1, 2) — Beings far advanced upon the path of wisdom thus surround the primal source of existence, to gaze on its infinite essence and to bear testimony to it. “And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind. And the first living creature was like a lion, and the second like a bull, the third looked like a human being, and the fourth was like a flying eagle. And each of the four living creatures had six wings, full of eyes all round and within, and day and night they never cease to proclaim: Holy, holy, holy, the God, the Almighty, who was, and is, and is to be.” It is not difficult to perceive that the four beasts represent the supersensible life underlying the forms of life presented by the material world. Afterward, when the trumpets sound, they raise their voices, that is, when the life expressed in material forms has been transmuted into spiritual life.

In the right hand of him who sits on the throne is the scroll in which the path to the highest wisdom is marked out (chapter 5, verse 1). Only one is worthy to open the scroll. “Behold the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” The scroll has seven seals (See Author's Comments). The wisdom of man is sevenfold. That it is designated as being sevenfold is again connected with the sacred character of the number seven. The mystical wisdom of Plato designates as seals the eternal cosmic thoughts which come to expression in things. (see Note 69) Human wisdom seeks for these creative thoughts. But only the scroll which is sealed with them, contains the divine truth. The fundamental thoughts of creation must first be unveiled, the seals must be opened, before what is in the scroll can be revealed. Jesus, the Lion, has power to open the seals. He has given a direction to the great creative thoughts which, through them, leads to wisdom. — The Lamb who was strangled and sacrificed his blood for God; Jesus, who bore Christ in himself and who thus, in the highest sense, passed through the Mystery of life and death, opens the scroll (chapter 5, verses 9–10). And as each seal is opened (chapter 6) the four living creatures declare what they know. At the opening of the first seal a white horse upon which sits a rider with a bow (See Author's Comments), appears to John. The first cosmic power, an embodiment of creative thought, becomes visible. It is directed into the right course by the new rider, Christianity. Strife is quieted by the new faith. At the opening of the second seal a red horse appears, on which again there is a rider. He takes peace, the second cosmic power, from the earth so that through sloth humanity may not neglect to cultivate the divine. The opening of the third seal reveals the cosmic power of justice, guided by Christianity; the fourth brings the power of religion, which has received new dignity through Christianity. — The meaning of the four living creatures thus becomes clear. They are the four chief cosmic powers which are to receive new leadership through Christianity, War: the lion; Peaceful Work: the bull; Justice: the being with the human face; and Religious Enthusiasm: the eagle. The meaning of the third being becomes clear when it is said at the opening of the third seal: “A quart of wheat for a shilling, and three quarts of barley for a shilling,” and that the rider holds a balance. At the opening of the fourth seal a rider becomes visible whose name was “Death, and Hell followed him.” Religious justice is the rider (chapter 6, verses 6 and 7).

And when the fifth seal is opened there appear the souls of those who have already acted in the spirit of Christianity. Creative thought itself, embodied in Christianity, is manifested here. But by this Christianity is at first meant only the first community of Christians, which is transitory like other forms of creation. The sixth seal is opened (chapter 7), it is evident that the spiritual world of Christianity is an eternal world. The people seem to be permeated by that spiritual world out of which Christianity itself proceeded. What it has itself created becomes sanctified. “And I heard the number of the sealed: a hundred and forty-four thousand who were sealed of all the tribes of the children of Israel” (chapter 7, verse 4). They are those who prepared for the eternal before Christianity existed, and who were transformed by the Christ impulse. The opening of the seventh seal follows. What true Christianity should mean for the world becomes evident. The seven angels who “stand before God” (chapter 8, verse 2) appear. Again these angels are spirits from the ancient Mystery-conceptions transferred to Christianity. They are the spirits who lead to the vision of God in a truly Christian way. Therefore what is next accomplished is a leading to God; it is an “initiation” which is bestowed upon John. The announcements of the angels are accompanied by the signs necessary at initiations. “The first angel sounded and hail came out of fire mingled with blood, and it fell on the earth. And a third of the earth was burnt up, also a third of the trees was burnt up, and all the green grass was burnt up.” And similar things happen at the announcements of the other angels when they sound their trumpets. — At this point we see we are not dealing with an initiation in the old sense but with a new one which should take the place of the old. Christianity should not be confined, like the ancient Mysteries, to a few elect. It should belong to the whole of humanity. It should be a religion of the people; the truth should be given to each one who “has ears to hear.” The ancient mystics were singled out from a great number; the trumpets of Christianity sound for every one who is willing to hear them. Whether or not he draws near, depends upon himself. This is why the terrors accompanying this initiation of humanity are so enormously enhanced. What is to become of the earth and its inhabitants in a distant future is revealed to John at his initiation. Underlying this is the thought that initiates are able to foresee in the higher worlds what is realized only in the future for the lower world. The seven messages represent the meaning of Christianity for the present age; the seven seals represent what is now being prepared for the future through Christianity. The future is veiled, sealed to the uninitiated; in initiation it is unsealed. When the earthly period is over, during which the seven messages hold good, a more spiritual time will begin. Then life will no longer flow on as it appears in physical shapes, but even outwardly it will be a copy of its supersensible forms. These latter are represented by the four animals and the other images contained in the seals. In a yet more distant future appears that form of the earth which the initiate experiences through the trumpets. Thus the initiate prophetically experiences what is to happen. And one who is initiated in the Christian sense experiences how the Christ impulse penetrates and continues to work in earthly life. And after it has been shown how everything that clings too closely to the transitory to attain true Christianity has met with death, there appears the mighty angel with a little scroll open in his hand, and which he gives to John (chapter 10, verse 9): “And he said to me Take it, and eat: it will be bitter to your stomach but sweet in your mouth like honey.” John was not only to read the little scroll; he was to absorb it, letting its contents permeate him. What avails any cognition unless man is vitally and thoroughly permeated by it? Wisdom should become life; man should not merely perceive the divine, but become divine himself. Such wisdom as is written in the scroll no doubt causes pain to the transitory nature: “it will be bitter to your stomach;” but so much the more does it make the eternal part happy: “but it will be sweet in your mouth like honey.” — Only through such an initiation can Christianity become actual on the earth. It kills everything belonging to the lower nature. “And their dead bodies will lie in the square of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Christ was crucified.” This refers to the believers in Christ. They will be mistreated by the powers of the transitory world. But it is only the transitory members of human nature that will be ill treated, which the true essence will then have conquered. Thereby their destiny is a copy of the exemplary fate of Christ Jesus. “Spiritually Sodom and Egypt” is the symbol of a life which clings to the external and does not change itself through the Christ impulse. Christ is everywhere crucified in the lower nature. Where this lower nature conquers, everything remains dead. Human corpses cover the squares of the cities. Those who overcome the lower nature and bring about an awakening of the crucified Christ, hear the trumpet of the seventh angel: “The kingdoms of the world have become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ; and he shall reign from cosmic age to cosmic age” (chapter 11, verse 15). “And the temple of God in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple” (verse 9). In the conception of these events the initiate sees the old struggle between the lower and higher nature renewed. For everything the neophyte formerly had to go through must be repeated in the one who follows the Christian path. As once Osiris was threatened by the evil Typhon, so now the “great Dragon, the old Serpent” (chapter 12, verse 9) must be overcome. The woman, the human soul, gives birth to lower knowledge, which is an adverse power if it does not raise itself to wisdom. Man must pass through that lower knowledge. Here in the Apocalypse it appears as the “old Serpent.” In all mystical wisdom from the remotest times the serpent has been the symbol of cognition. Man may be led astray by this serpent, by cognition, if he does not bring to life in him the Son of God who crushes the serpents head. “And the great Dragon was thrown out, that old Serpent, whose name is Devil, and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world: he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him” (chapter 12, verse 9). In these words one can read what Christianity would be. A new method of initiation. In a new form was to be attained what had been attained in the Mysteries. In them also the serpent had to be overcome. But this was no longer to take place in the same way. The one, the archetypal Mystery, the Christian Mystery, was to replace the many Mysteries of antiquity. Jesus, in whom the Logos became flesh, was to become the Initiator of the whole of humanity. And this humanity was to become his own community of mystics. Not a separation of the elect but a linking together of all is to occur. Each is to be able to become a mystic according to his maturity. The message sounds forth to all; he who has an ear, hastens to learn the secrets. The voice of the heart is to decide in each individual case. This or that person is not to be introduced individually into the Mystery temples, but the word is to be spoken to all; then some will be able to hear it more clearly than others. It will be left to the daemon, the angel within each human breast, to decide how far he can be initiated. The whole world is a Mystery temple. Blessing is not only to come to those who see the wonderful processes in the special temples for initiation, processes which give them a guarantee of the eternal, but “Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet believe.” Even if at first they grope in the dark, nevertheless the light may come to them later. Nothing is to be withheld from anyone; the way is to be open to all. — The latter part of the Apocalypse describes graphically the dangers threatening Christianity through Antichristian powers, and how the Christian powers must be victorious nevertheless. All other gods are united in the One Christian Divinity: “And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it: for the revelation of God lights it, and its light is the Lamb” (chapter 21, verse 23). The mystery of the “Revelation of Saint John” is that the Mysteries shall no longer be kept hidden. “And he said to me: Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the Godhead is near.” — The author of the Apocalypse has set forth what he believes to be the relationship of his church to the churches of antiquity. He wished to express what he thought about the Mysteries in the form of a spiritual Mystery. He wrote his Mystery on the island of Patmos. He is said to have received the “Revelation” in a grotto. These details indicate that the revelation was of the character of a Mystery. — Thus Christianity emerged from the Mysteries. In the Apocalypse its wisdom is itself born as a Mystery, but as a Mystery which transcends the frame of the old Mystery world. The unique Mystery is to become the universal Mystery. — It may appear contradictory to say that the secrets of the Mysteries became revealed through Christianity, and that nevertheless a Christian Mystery is to be seen again in the experience of the spiritual visions of the writer of the Apocalypse. The contradiction disappears at once when we reflect that the secrets of the ancient Mysteries were revealed through the events in Palestine. Through these events was laid bare what previously had been veiled in the Mysteries. A new Mystery has been introduced into the evolution of the world through the appearance of the Christ. The initiate of ancient times experienced, in the spiritual world, how evolution points the way to the as yet “hidden Christ;” the Christian initiate experiences the hidden effects of the “revealed Christ.”

Last Modified: 02-Nov-2023
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