Christ and the World Teachers
By Eleanor. C. Merry
The modern man may have an aesthetic appreciation of the transcendental elaborations of ancient cosmologies, but by virtue of his matter-of-fact intellectuality he is unable to ascend the supreme heights of real imaginative conception which gave rise to such ancient models as, for instance, the Gnosis. As a background to what we shall have to say in this article let us sketch an outline of this magnificent world-picture.
Above the sense-perceptible limits of the
physical world, an immense spiritual perspective lies extended before the
eye of the soul. Not one or two superphysical regions are there, but height
reveals itself. Thirty-one worlds—Time-worlds, Being-worlds—form the approach
that the seer must travel and absorb into himself till he reaches the realm
of Absolute Silence, and beyond the Absolute Silence is the Divine Father,
the ‘Ground’ of all worlds and beings. Their name was AEON. Thirty AEons
led back to the Beginnings of all creation. Infinitely great, infinitely
noble was this ancient world-conception with all its intricacies and splendours!
. . . The lowest of the Aeons was Sophia, the Divine Wisdom. All the Aeons
were sustainers and bearers of Sophia. But with the final creation of the
physical world, Sophia knew she could not retain her clear vision of the
heights above her unless she could cleanse herself from the ‘desire’ inherent
in her for the Light. So the part of her being which was ‘desire of wisdom’
fell to the Earth. In falling it was illuminated by a ray from the Heights;
and this lives on in the soul of humanity as the longing for the pure lifht
of divine-spiritual knowledge.
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We may now sketch in upon this background three types of those who have been among the preparers for the impulse of Christ But we must at the same time bear in mind that these preparers were aware of the future advent of the Christ Being, even though they called Him by other names. And further, we must bear in mind that before the Mystery of Golgotha the process of the evolution of consciousness was actually a ‘descending’ one, from a condition of conscious intercourse with the spiritual world down to an earthly individualised brain-thinking.
Before Christ, therefore, Initiation was, broadly speaking, directed towards a bringing of the spiritual content of existence down into the material substance of existence, where it seems to be extinguished. But since the beginning of our era, Initiation provides for the transubstantiation, by man, of the material world through the power of its inherent spirit.
During the downward process, two paths of Initiation are to be distinguished:--one which was concerned with the outer universe and one which was concerned with the inner life of the soul. At the same time, three types of World Teachers will be spoken of here: the one that is the bearer of a Spiritual Being and not, strictly speaking, an ‘Initiate’ in the sense of a human being who has arrived at illumination; the other, the type of human being who has climbed upward to supreme Initiation through many incarnations. While the third may be said to be an Initiate through the partial incorporation of a higher Being.
Of the first type we point to the great Zarathustra; of the second, to Buddha; and of the third, to Moses. The first teaches of the power and wisdom of the Universe; the second of the mysteries of the wisdom of the soul; the third has a somewhat different task. Each ‘initiated’ or ‘began’ something for the human race. Whatever has to become a general human attribute must first be exemplified in all its completeness in a single human being. Gazing at such a human being with physical understanding only we cannot grasp how one can act for all; but supersensible knowledge reveals the universality of what is contained in the one. It is hidden in the one; it is ‘occult.’ One of the fruits of Initiation is that man comes to real knowledge concerning the nature of the World Teachers. He no longer needs to ‘speculate’ about them.
When anyone is born to be a saviour or teacher of humanity in the domain of power and wisdom on the ‘outer path’—as was the case with Zarathustra—he meets at first with innumerable obstacles. Hatred and persecution surround his earliest years. Zarathustra had the task, to to speak, of opening the way for human knowledge to grasp the importance of the Earth as its place of development. Previously, mankind had not realised this. Zarathustra was, as the Sun is for the plant-kingdom, a fruit-bearing force for the earthly civilisations. He embodied, in the conflicts which raged about his childhood, the battle between Light and Darkness, between the Sun-wisdom of the Heights and the opposition perceived by matter and ‘chaos.’ He was cast out by his parents and given to the ‘wild beasts,’ and legends tell us that he was nourished by ‘heavenly cows.’ He became the founder of the earliest great Persian civilisation which was the first in which spiritual human destiny was linked in consciousness to the destiny of the Earth. Hence we find him teaching of the antagonism between Ormuzd (the spirit of the Sun, or Christ), and Ahriman, the Spirit of materialism. He revealed that this battle between Light and Darkness is a necessity of progress. Zarathustra was the bearer of an ‘Aeon.’ He was the human vehicle for a Cosmic Being. This Being’s influence has continued throughout all the ages of earthly civilisation since that time in such a way as continually to point to the ultimate triumph of the Spirit of the Sun, not as a triumph taking place outside the Earth but within it. He points to the future. He is one who has always ‘gone in front’ of the Sun—an Announcer of the Christ Mystery, a heralding star. He establishes the connection between the spiritual and the material by descending from above and inhabiting a human body.
The opposite is the case with Buddha. Mankind cannot reach what is the ultimate goal of the Earth if, in addition to knowledge and power, the possibility of compassion—the ground of love—is not developed within the soul. Thus a Teacher had also to appear before the coming of Christ who could experience in full consciousness the ascent of the human element through the ages of time as something linking all human beings together in a common aim. Illumination had also to come by a leading of the consciousness down into the secrets of the soul as it lives in a physical body and learns purification through suffering and fellow-suffering. This bestows a different kind of power—a power associated with the cosmic memory indwelling the soul which then, through experience, rises again to divinity. But with the great Buddha, this experience of suffering was rather a means to emancipate the soul from the necessity of suffering. It was a turning away from the Earth. Not however in a selfish manner, but as pointing out a way by which others could also be liberated. Nevertheless, the path by which this liberation could be attained was at the same time a path to the ‘I AM.’ By plunging deeply and ever more deeply into the recesses of the soul it is possible through temptation and catharsis, to come out on the other side and discover the relation of the self to all other human selves in the bosom of the Divine.
What kind of wisdom is this? It is the wisdom not of power but of innocence. One might say it is the creation of a pure field within the soul-element of humanity wherein the Divine Ego could find a suitable ‘atmosphere’ for incarnation and for the work of power which is represented by the Zarathustra stream. To establish this ‘innocence’ one must return on the flood of cosmic memory and experience to the pre-earthly. Reincarnation (not only of the Self but of the whole planetary system) arises as the key that unlocks the doors of the past. Cessation of reincarnation is the goal to be achieved through compassion and love. Every higher incarnation is a resurrection. Ascension is the ultimate goal. Crucifixion in matter is the test of love.
Buddha initiated compassion in the world. He wept for the disharmony between man, as spirit, and the world, as maya. But he pointed back rather than forward—back to the glorious Krishna in his fiery Sun-aura:--“Before me was One Who is mightier than I.” On this path it is not the wild powers of Chaos that have to be tamed (as is represented by the ferocious beasts around Zarathustra), but the demons that through ages of impurity have soiled the human soul.
For a moment let us return to Zarathustra. The mighty power of this Being manifested in the processes that ripen human and earthly culture in the growth of all the arts and sciences of civilisation—of ‘taming’ the world—had to advance to a point where the consciousness of ‘I am I’ could begin to flash up within the souls and bodies of men.
During the Egyptian epoch of civilisation the forces of the Zarathustra Being worked in a certain way (described by Rudolf Steiner in various lectures) through Moses and Hermes. In Moses, the external wisdom-power was implanted; in Hermes, an inner wisdom of the cosmic mysteries—the kingly power and the priestly power. The special gift of Moses was the gift of insight into the working of cosmic laws into human race-building, so that a sense of individual responsibility in respect of race and of self could develop. He was the Lawgiver. For with a still undeveloped Ego, a man could not yet be a ‘law unto himself.’ Moses’ inspiration enabled him to graft into humanity the capacity to found a culture-epoch no longer dependent on the old clairvoyance still possessed by the Egyptians but on an intellectual knowledge having its seat in the Ego. He combined in himself the old clairvoyance plus reason and intelligence, schooled as it were by that Ego-power of the soul which enables all other soul-powers to operate as an unity. He prepared the soil for the full appearance of the sense of ‘I am I’ in man. But since intellectual consciousness is bound up with brain and blood and so has the physical organism for its instrument, it was necessary to create laws to preserve the purity of the race in which this should first develop.
What was the mission of this race? It was to produce the physical body for the highest expression of the ‘I AM’—the Christ. In who Name should Moses announce his mission? In the name of the ‘I AM!’ This new element of self-consciousness in humanity was in the future to become something far more than a mere enhanced feeling of the Ego. It was to become a power eventually leading to full comprehension of the Mystery of Golgotha. It was to become as ‘Christ in me,’ the power in man which could act as his Initiator into the gnosis of the universe. But to begin with, the full blaze of this light of the ‘I am’ could not be borne. In a wonderful, figurative description this is expressed in the words that the Lord would not show Moses His face. As the Moon reflects the mystery of the Sun, so Jehovah revealed the mystery as a reflection. . . . Moses stands near to out own souls today. We feel something of the continuity of his impulse still about us.
In the event of the captivity of the Hebrews in Babylon we touch one of the many profound mysteries of the spiritual guidance of the world. The leader of the Chaldean-Babylonian civilisation was again the Zarathustra-Being! Thus do the spiritual streams flowing from the great World Teachers work towards their appointed end. For when the cosmic hour had struck the royal star of Zarathustra shone again in the inspiration and intuitive perception that led the Wise Men of the East to the cradle of Bethlehem. And in the heavens above the Angels announced by their light the presence of the overshadowing soul of the compassionate Buddha, while the crown of all Egohood, the Christ Being, prepared for His descent. This is no mere artistic imagery. Rudolf Steiner gives with a wealth of living and concrete detail every fact of occult and external history which welds the various missions of the many great Avatars and Initiates of the world into an organic whole.
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Out of the preparation which was carried out through immense ages of time emerges the possibility of a freedom for humanity far other than that which a premature redemption of the human soul from the worlds of matter would have given. Love had certainly existed in the world but it had hitherto not been a love that could overcome not only the baser part of human nature but which could also be so experienced in the Ego itself that it could recognise its own immortality and its transforming power. Through the force of Christ the ‘I am’ could learn to rise to the comprehension that ‘Love is.’ This is the experience of spiritual intuition. To attain to this, the highest point in the evolution of consciousness, the power of love had to be initiated inhumanity by the Son of God. This is clearly stated: “A new message I give unto you, that ye love one another.”
A new relation to fate, to karma, is here made possible. Fate can be changed by love alone. Love can live freely in the Ego; for in the Ego lies the rulership over all those powers of the soul which are able, through the ‘Fall’ of man, to militate against his freedom.
A mighty transformation takes place in man with the full entrance of the consciousness of ‘I am I’ which became possible through the incarnation upon earth—in the Christ Being—of the totality of the principle of Egohood. But the turning-point is marked in yet another way. Self-consciousness is the consciousness of reason, of the intellect, of independent thinking bound to the physical body, and is no longer a ‘clairvoyant’ consciousness that is aware of spiritual worlds and beings. The Gnostics, with their marvelous imaginative perceptions clothed in the transcendental forms of thought that were still possible in that age, tried to show that the Christ Event—namely the mystery of the Christ in Jesus, could not be understood except by the light of the redeemed ‘Sophia’ or wisdom, for it was a ‘Mystery of the Ineffable.’ And this is true. It requires Initiation-knowledge to understand this.
Therefore Christ required other Initiate Teachers to follow Him, as they had been needed to prepare for Him. But they would not have a different character. They would have to be able to partake of Christ’s Nature. Christ-Jesus was both God and Man. He combined in Himself the attributes of the Zarathustra type and the Buddha type. By force of His Godhead He knew the mysteries of the whole spiritual universe; by force of His Godhead dwelling in Manhood He knew all mysteries of the human soul and physical body. He was ‘with the wold beasts,’ the destructive cosmic powers, the He had to overcome the two tempters of the human soul—Lucifer and Ahriman. In Him the two paths of Initiation were united. He knew the ‘Beginning’ and the ‘End.’ His Death and Resurrection showed forth in a single event what man attains when he rises from incarnation to incarnation to ever higher degrees of perfection. The whole of mankind will ultimately have had to meet the tests which are necessary before the Christ-implanted love can come to its fruition. In the meantime the impulse of Christ is made manifest from age to age in the special mission of those who are His Initiates or who are in some way overshadowed or inspired for a particular purpose in the evolution of humanity.
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I have chosen the expression ‘World Teacher’ for a particular reason. It is an expression that is only permissable when all the connections and intricacies of the subject are taken into consideration (naturally what has been written here only touches on the barest outlines) and today it is greatly misused.
Throughout the course of human history there have been innumerable inspired Leaders of humanity. Every epoch of civilisation arises out of the fact that something new has long been germinating from a single seed and comes to its full blossom only in the course of centuries. The sowing of the seed of a new impulse is an event that originates in the spiritual world, and the vessels for its reception may be of many different kinds. But if we ask what distinguishes a ‘World Teacher’ from other inspired thinkers or workers, perhaps we may say that such an one brings into being a new attribute of the soul, a new level of consciousness which is to become in the course of time a part of the normal condition of an age or epoch of evolution, on the upward arc of progress. There are always ‘Initiates’ of varying degrees of development, working generally entirely unknown, for the welfare of the human race. Every ‘World Teacher’ is an Initiate, but by no means is every Initiate a World Teacher in the sense described above. Nevertheless, every human being who can rise to Initiation in the true sense of the word, is indeed one who is ‘lifted up’ and raises the entire level of human existence by the very fact that he, or she, has thereby become a link in the chain of understanding that binds more closely the human with the Divine.
Our present age is an age of individualism and at the same time an age when everything new—even the greatest and noblest innovation—is subjected to the test of reason and guaged by its capacity to be of practical service to humanity. Therefore the mission of a World Teacher today who, if he were truly a World Teacher, would be bringing the means towards a higher spiritual development and a higher level of consciousness, would also have to stand this test. Anthroposophy—with all its branches of knowledge and of activity—appears among us in this twentieth century with a clear challenge to the world to test all that claims to be spiritual knowledge by proving its rightness for the age, and its fulfilment of the demand of the Consciousness Soul that it shall be able to create a new civilisation.
From ANTHROPOSOPHY A Quarterly Review of Spiritual Science, no. 2. Midsummer 1930. , Vol. 8. London: Anthroposophical Publishing Company.