Following on from my article about Steiner influence in Edinburgh I thought I would give a brief summary of the theological and philosophical ideas contained in Rudolf Steiner's writings. Its a very brief resume and it may not be 100% accurate and it is simply my understanding of what he was writing about. However, I think it gives a number of important clues to why so many social care and educational organisations have originated within Anthroposophy. I have underlined these where I think they exist.
Philosopher or theologian?
Steiner has two sides to his work. Firstly as a philosopher (especially his early writings) and secondly as a theologian following his involvement with Theosophy. His theology is most pronounced in his Christology which, although wildly different from orthodox Christianity, jumps through hoops to try and deal with some inconsistencies in the biblical account of Jesus' origins.
These sections are in no particular order.
Nature of the person
We tend to consider human beings as animals or mechanical beings. Steiner views man as body, soul and spirit
- Spirit - Eternal
- Soul - evolving (our psychological make up)
- Body - temporal
He also has a four fold articulation of the person which applies to anthroposophic medicine or steiner (aka Waldorf) education:
- Physical - physical/material structure of the body (the minerals that make up our body)
- Etheric - source of life and growth (metabolic processes of the body, plants also have this)
- Astral - consciousness (desire to experience pleasure and pain, dreaming consciousness, all animals have this)
- Ego or “I” - self awareness (waking consciousness, specific to humans)
Steiner uses the word Ego differently from Jung. Steiner's ego is self consciousness. This is the bit that undergoes reincarnation. He divides it into lower and higher ego. The ego has to be in control of the three lower functions. Christ has conferred on us the principal of individuality. God describes himself as “I am”. This is given to us when Christ is incarnated, died and risen (which Steiner refers to as a single event he calls "the mystery of Golgotha"). We are all individuals but at the same time we are one.
We have the ability to transform our abstract ideas into concrete ideals by recognising ourselves as body, soul and spirit and using higher faculties to transform the world.
In Hinduism and Buddhism karma is about cause and effect. People suffer consequences for actions in a previous life. Steiner uses the word karma more flexibly to mean something like destiny. Steiner did not believe that personal blame was always attached to someones actions because something could happen as the result of someone elses actions or by accident or chance. Steiner believes that we are destined to be with the people we need to be with in order to improve our spiritual being during this life and that these associations are organised by divine beings (angels). He calls these karmic relationships.
Reincarnation and development
We can take our intention to heal and transform the earth into the next life and build on it. Humanity as a whole is developing as time moves forward. Each step is appropriate for its time. We need to live free in the moment to accept what comes, being awake to the possibility that we may be connected to other people in ways we do not expect. We need to set aside physical or personality issues that may repel us and accept human beings as they are.
Steiner describes evil has a twofold nature which he gives these names.
- Luciferic - removing someone from the earth, entirely spiritual, away from tasks of life (interest in spirituality, not entering into earthly life, abandoning the earth to its own fate)
- Ahrimanic - fetters us to the earth, materialistic, binding us to the earth so that we can never experience divine intelligence or the spiritual world. (technlogy, power, control, fear of loss of control, reductionist).
On the one hand Scientists and religious fundamentalists tend towards the ahrimanic, mechanistic view of life and become bogged down. On the other hand the religious ecstatic is unable to function in the world as he is too spiritual. What is “good” is the balance between these two extremes. Christ acts as the mediator of these two extremes.
The lie is the diminishing of the individual by mass manipulation and the mass media whether in politics, advertising or celebrity culture. Technology is isolating people from one another and we are living in an artificial, imaginary, world. It is also deadening our spiritual senses. We need to counter the power of the lie to maintain reality. To counter the lie we need to come to a knowledge of the truth of man as Body Soul and Spirit and the inherent dignity which this signifies.
When Steiner talks about freedom he is not talking about a libertarian or anarchistic view of freedom but an state of "freedomhood" which is innate but which we can diminish. In his view we need to take account of others and not do anything which would affect their freedom. We cannot control the world, but we need to be active in it, not passive, and responding to what we experience physically and spiritually. Personal freedom of thought is essential.
To Steiner thinking is a sense which we can develop and use to understand and experience the spiritual realm. We do not wait for revelation. We can reach towards spiritual knowledge through thought. Thought is a sense. Thinking is a spiritual activity which we can develop until we are able to see the hidden divinity (the Christ) in every human being. Our ultimate aim should be to get to the point of being unable to sleep while another human being suffers.
In summary, Steiner believes that Christ is a seperate being from Jesus. He is an avatar who came into Jesus at his baptism. At the crucifixion his blood saturated the earth and transformed in a type of transubstantiation.
Steiner views Jesus as the cosmic Christ of John's gosepl, beyond traditional religion and waiting to be discovered. He is active in the earth in the spiritual (etheric) realm. He can only be experienced with a higher faculty or consciousness. We are called on to develop these so we can experience Christ. Christ provides the impulses and ideas for developing ourselves and helping others.
Steiner believes there were two seperate Jesus children (one descended from Nathan one from Solomon). Since Steiners day we have discovered that the Essenes expected two Messiahs so a belief in two is not unique to Steiner. Matthew and Luke’s gospels have different genealogies of Jesus. Zoroaster’s ego reincarnated into the Solomon Jesus which is why the Magi came looking for him. The Solomon Jesus is very knowledgable and is the one described as a boy in the temple with the teachers of the law. The Nathan Jesus is very loving and compassionate but his physical body was weak. Today we might consider him to have a learning disability. However, his astral body was inherited from the Buddah. Buddah’s mission is to develop a sense of compassion and love eventually perfecting himself through many reincarnation cycles. At the age of 12 the ego of Zoroaster transmigrated from the Solomon Jesus into the ego of the Nathan Jesus so we have a fusion of the two. Knowledge and compassion are now combined. The Solomon Jesus dies and Mary goes to live with the family who have the Nathan Jesus plus his brothers and sisters. There is then a gap from the age of 12 to 30. Steiner advances the idea that Jesus spent this time with the Essenes. This was before the discovery of the dead sea scrolls, so Steiner is quite early in promoting this. Jesus rejects the way of the Essenes and wanders in the desert eventually meeting John the baptist who had also rejected the Essene teachings. John is a reincarnation of Elijah. John becomes Jesus’ teacher. John baptises Jesus at the age of 30 and at that moment the Christ being descends from the sun and takes up residence in Jesus. Christ is important to Steiner because he is composed of these various spiritual beings and perfected souls. None of these can incarnate again because they are perfect. This is why Steiner rejects a second coming of Christ as a physical being.
Christ lives for three years and is then dissolved into the etheric body of the earth through his blood in a form of transubstantiation of the earth. He then descends into hell (the afterlife) and illuminates it. Changing it from the dark place the Greek’s understood it to be into something more like the Egyptian understanding of the afterlife.
The Christ event is pivotal to Steiner because brings true individuality. People are no longer part of a tribal group, they are individuals. This is typified by his use of the “I am” statements in John’s gospel and God (the Christ being) revealing himself as “I am” to Moses in the burning bush. Christ teaches people how to be true individuals which opens up new possibilities of spiritual contact for those who take up the Christ impulse. This is part of a new phase of evolution where people can perfect their etheric bodies thorugh renewed contact with the spiritual world.
The spiritual beings (angels) are interested in us, but this is intended to be a relationship. There are barriers between us and the angels, generally the Ahrimanic influence. We can come to know these beings by developing our spiritual faculties which allow us to overcome the Ahrimanic influence.
Steiner’s idea of the fall is that at some point in history human beings stopping having contact with spiritual beings and reduced their etheric bodies to occupy the same space as their physical bodies so they could not sense or experience the spiritual. The coming of Christ makes it possible to reverse this. The latest stage of human development has been from about 1400 AD when people started using their individuality to have mastery over the physical world using machines. Steiner sees this as an incorrect use of individuality and the cause of a lot of society’s problems. He believes that in 1879 he believes there was a war between the archangel Michael and ahrimanic beings who had been expelled from the astral plane (heaven) and were wandering the earth looking for the souls of men. As a result of this war (which resulted in great political unrest and the first world war) Michael became part of the etheric body of the world along with Christ. This begins a new spiritual age where the intellectual mind will be put to spiritual use through “spiritual science” which Steiner called Anthroposophy.
Steiner’s creation myth is very complex involving the different types of spiritual beings existing before the current solar system. These are the angels of today and are the agents of creation. Creation takes place on the spiritual plane which means that his creation myth is not intended as a description of physical events. Steiner gets this information by clairvoyant means from the Akashic record which is described as a recording or memory of knowledge of past events within the physical substance of the earth.
Steiner invites us to enter on a spiritual path, but does not seek to control us or lay down a categorical method. We are to develop our thinking faculty until we can recognise interconnectedness.
Anthroposophy is a world view embracing every aspect of the world because the world is a living whole with everything being interconnected. The human being is at the centre of that because we are a microcosm of this interrelatedness as body, soul and spirit.