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Self Knowledge and the Christ Experience

A lecture given by Dr. Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, February 2, 1923. Based on shorthand notes not revised by the lecturer. Translated by Mona Bradley, edited by Dr. A. J. Welburn, Substantially abbreviated and re-edited by me. - TK.

Clearing up 'Christ' meanings in use: 'Christ' is a term that is defined differently by different groups. It means basically "anointed", and is derived from khristos, which is a Greek translation of the Aramaic meshiha (mshikha) and Hebrew mashiah (messiah). Hebrew Messiah means literally, "oil-anointed". [1 Samuel 8]. In the Jewish tradition Messiah is understood to be a human being without any overtone of divinity.

Christian theology focuses on the nature of Jesus as "the christ", whereas esoteric Christian traditions and gnosticism discern between the person Jesus and a christ state that suffuses some. Steiner puts his own spin on 'Christ' as the 'Lord of Karma'. And to Steiner, the being of Christ is central to all religions, though called by different names by each. Yet Steiner's views of Christianity diverge from conventional Christian in key places. He posits that there were two different Jesus children, for example. [Wikipedia, "Rudolf Steiner"]


Dr Steiner:

Suppose that we observe an animal during the course of a year. We will find that its life follows the cycle of the seasons. Take for example an insect: according to the time of year it will form a chrysalis (pupate), at another season it will emerge and shed its chrysalis-form, at another time lay its eggs, and so on. We can follow the course of nature, follow the stages of such an insect's life, and find a certain connection between them, for the animal organises its life according to its natural surroundings.

If we then go on to consider people . . . we find that they too experienced [in earlier times], more or less instinctively, the Life of nature. But as humanity developed further, those instincts which enabled people to experience their natural surroundings so directly, largely died out . . . That has to do with the fact that humanity itself is undergoing a development . . .

Our own historical time, dating from the first third of the fifteenth century, is the time of the developing Consciousness Soul. It is that time when man will step fully into his capacity of intellectual thinking in its narrower sense . . .

If we consider . . . we begin to find certain observable laws in the development of humanity . . . In ancient times people still instinctively lived . . . and nowadays we live in a time in which conscious inner life must replace [instincts] . . . Man . . . by virtue of his higher soul development is ranged above the animals.
      The insect . . . does not give its development up to chance, placing itself as it does within certain laws in each succeeding phase of its life. Mankind, however, has left behind the age of instinctive co-existence with nature . . . His life has taken on a newer, more conscious form. Yet [man] has given himself over to a more chaotic life. With the dying away of his instincts he has fallen, in a certain way . . . he has lost a particular inner direction in his life . . . Just as, for a lower form of life, the month of September takes its place in the course of the year, so does this or that century take its place in the whole development of our planet . . .

A man should be able to say to himself: "I live in this or that epoch . . . Chance has deposited me into earthly life through birth . . . I am only man, in the full sense of being man, if I take account of what the historical development of humanity asks from my soul-life" . . . An animal lives within the cycle of the year: man must learn to live as part of the earth's history.

We must keep in mind the particular tasks awaiting the human soul in each historical age . . . We may be told in bald terms, how Persian, Babylonian, Egyptian, creek or Roman history unfolded . . . Now, in order to gain a concept of what we need to arouse in our own soul-life in this age, we have had to consider the various ages of history from many points of view. Life is rich and diverse . . .

The Mysteries – various groups of people, living their lives scattered about the earth – individuals are accepted into the Mysteries, according to their degree of maturity. There they undergo further development . . . Then, when they have advanced in knowledge, in higher feeling, and higher willing, they step out again and move among the majority of mankind . . . for the strengthening of the soul's inner work and of their will . . .

Through concepts and ideas we learn to know mineral, plant and animal. We then seek there the key to understanding human life itself.

[Long ago some people were enabled to] exercise their souls inwardly, so as to arrive eventually at inner pictures of mineral, of plant, and animal. These people . . . experienced pictures . . . And man knew from direct experience that what he discovered, when he experienced these pictures, actually yielded him something that lived in the mineral, plant or animal - of what grew there, took form, and unfolded within them.

Ancient man . . . could certainly say: "The animal before me has firm visible outlines." But these firm outlines were not what he tried to grasp or understand. He tried rather to follow the flowing, mobile, fluid quality of its life . . . He had to teach in pictures that were fluid, metamorphosing, changing. And thus it was taught in the Mysteries.

But when . . . a man was to rise to self-knowledge, he underwent a significant crisis in his soul. early man obtained pictures of mineral, plant and animal. With his dreamlike consciousness, he could then see, as it were, into the inner realms . . . he also received the guiding principles of self-knowledge, much as he did in later times. 'Know Yourself' has been an ideal in all civilisations . . . But in progressing . . . towards knowledge of himself, ancient man underwent an inner crisis of the soul . . . when he learned to look at the nature of the mineral as it was spread before him man found fulfilment in his soul-life. He bore in himself the effects of physical-mineral processes. He bore in himself pictures of interweaving vegetative life, and also of animal life. In his world he was able to bring all these together: mineral, plant and animal . . . how they worked together.

Undertaking to obey the injunction 'Know Yourself', however . . . he felt that this world of forms, diversity, and constant flux, this world that trembled with glowing colour and radiance and musical tones, let him down when he made the attempt to know himself . . .
      Man lived through this crisis. Yet out of it, arising from the impotence of self-knowledge, something else developed: a particular conviction about Life . . . Really enlightened people in those ancient times could say: "Man does not reveal his true nature here on earth . . . man does not belong to the earth in the same sense as do the other realms of nature . . . His home lies essentially in the supersensible world." And this belief was . . . achieved through a crisis of the soul - after gaining the knowledge available at that time about the world external to man . . . Everyone then knew instinctively of life before birth . . .

On the basis of those capacities which he then had, man learned that after crossing the threshold of death the moment would come when he would not only have around him the natural world. external to man, but his own being would arise before his soul . . . the intellectual consciousness which we have today. In those days this was only developed immediately after death. And people retained it then, after death . . . in ancient times men had a dreamy pictorial consciousness on earth. whereas nowadays we have an intellectual consciousness. Then after death, they grew into an intellectual consciousness which enabled them. once free of the body, to gain freedom. In ancient times man became an intellectual and free being after death.

He will only become fully human when he has crossed the threshold of death, and pure thinking becomes his; . . . whereas today after death we have the panorama of past life spread out before us . . . what we have gained, particularly since the first third of the fifteenth century, has trickled into earthly man from post-earthly man . . . the essence of man could only be found in super earthly life, after death . . . A real supersensible stream has entered into our life on earth . . . as modern people, we take part in super-earthly life. We have undertaken to become worthy - worthy of what has been drawn from supersensible into sensible existence.

Man as he [once] lived on earth was . . . the 'natural man'. And it was considered that this natural man was not the real human being. The natural man was clearly differentiated from the spiritual being which bore the essence of man . . . He felt that he was more a candidate for humanity. and that he needed to use his life on earth in such a way that, after death, he could become fully man . . . he went about his business on earth . . . fulfilling his humanity . . . beheld with reverence, the super-earthly streaming into the earthly.

Now man says: My great task is to become aware of my humanity . . . Not that man should grow proud in the partial fulfilment of this injunction 'Know Yourself. He should realise how at every moment this freedom of his has to be wrestled for. He . . . is always dependent on the subhuman . . . they said, true man does not exist on earth . . .
      I have described in my (Philosophy of Freedom) how the intellectual is further developed into conscious, exact clairvoyance. It then lives in a free inner constitution of the soul. Only then can man know himself and his relation to the other parts of his being, outside his pure thinking and his free will. Through such a higher consciousness - imaginative, inspired and intuitive consciousness - man may reach in self-knowledge beyond his intellect and know himself as part of the supersensible world. And then it will be clear to him that . . . full humanity requires of him that he perfect [his self-knowledge] ever more and more.

'Take heed that in your fleshly body between birth and death you do not neglect to be fully man. For as a modern man your inner task is the working-out of what has entered earthly life from the realm of the pre-earthly.' . . . Now . . . the Son of God has united with the earth's life, and man is able to develop an awareness of 'Christ in me' . . . let the Christ-impulse come to flower in him.

A first stage . . . noticing that at a particular point in his life he feels something flowering and coming alive in him . . . It rises, filling him with inner light . . . and he knows that this . . . has arisen in him during life on earth. He acquires a greater knowledge of life on earth than was his birthright . . . feels there the flowing, living presence of the Christ . . . bound up with the attainment of human freedom, of that consciousness which is able to suffuse with inner life and warmth our mere thinking that is otherwise dead and abstract . . .

The experience of Christ in man is essential to our own day. It takes its place alongside the injunction 'Know Yourself', and must be given its full weight . . . man should be able to live in the whole history of the earth as an animal lives in the course of the year . . . We should be able to know ourselves to a certain degree here on earth, and accordingly be free after death to reach higher stages of development than in previous ages of man . . .

We face something different. We have to achieve our full humanity while on earth. If we fail in this, we betray ourselves and in the life after death plunge further down into the subhuman . . . today a man destroys, through his own humanity, something in the whole human race if he does not strive after full humanity in his own life. In past ages he merely left something undone; by doing so today he betrays mankind.

We must learn . . . to be really human, that we may not experience the scandal of being less in the world-order than the animals - despite the Gods having determined us for higher things . . . And thus, I may say, we shall heap upon ourselves cosmic scandal, if we do not learn to think in this way and make our consciousness accord with the demands of the age. This we must learn in these days to join our feeling to our intellectual life.


Rudolf Steiner, Self Knowledge, Christ Experience, Literature  

Rudolf Steiner: "Self Knowledge and the Christ Experience." 1 lecture given in Dornach, February 2, 1923. GA 221. London: The Rudolf Steiner Press, 1988.

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