Saturday 20 January 2018

The nature and aim of Christianity, now (from Rudolf Steiner)

Edited from Life between Death and Rebirth - a lecture by Rudolf Steiner from 1913.

We will need to bring understanding to every human soul in its essential character. For this communion we can only prepare by gaining an understanding of all religious confessions.

Prior to the Mystery of Golgotha this was not necessary, because the experiences in the spiritual world were each different then. Now it has become essential, and the correct understanding of Christianity is a preparatory step toward it. 

We cannot encounter what constitutes the essential being of Christianity in other religious creeds. It is not correct to place Christianity next to other religious creeds. Indeed, perhaps certain Christian confessions are narrow-minded. Nevertheless, Christianity - rightly understood - bears within it the impulse to grasp all religious creeds and tendencies.

How has the Westerner grasped Christianity? Consider Hinduism. Only those belonging to the Hindu race can be adherents of it. If a racial religion were prevalent in Europe, for instance, we would still have a Wotan cult today that would be the equivalent of an occidental racial religion. 

But the West has accepted a confession that did not arise out of its own folk-substance. It came from the East. Something was accepted that could only work through its spiritual content. The Christ impulse cannot be sucked up into a racial or folk religion. 

(Actually, the folk among whom the Christ appeared did not acknowledge Him. That is the remarkable fact about Christianity. It contains the seed enabling it to become the universal religion.)

One need not take an intolerant attitude toward other religions. The mission of Christianity does not consist in bringing dogma to people. Naturally the Buddhist smiles at a confession that does not even contain the idea of reincarnation. Such a confession must appear to him as erroneous. 

Christianity rightly understood, however, presupposes that every man is a Christian in his inner being. If you go to a Hindu and say to him, “You are a Hindu and I am a Christian,” it will be seen that you have not understood Christianity. Christianity has been truly understood only if you say of the Hindu, “Inwardly this Hindu is as good a Christian as I am. He has as yet only had the opportunity to become acquainted with a preparatory confession. I must endeavor to show him where his religion and mine correspond.”  The best thing would be for Christians to teach Hinduism to the Hindus and then attempt to take Hinduism a stage further so that the Hindu could gain a point of contact with the general stream of evolution. 

We understand Christianity only if we look upon each individual as a Christian in the depth of his heart. Only then is Christianity the religion that transcends race, color and social position. That is Christianity.

We enter a new age. Christianity can no longer work in the way it did over the last centuries. It is the task of anthroposophy to bring about the new understanding of Christianity that is needed. In this connection the anthroposophical view of the world is an instrument of Christianity. 

Among the religions of the earth, Christianity has appeared last. New religions cannot be founded anymore. Such foundations belong to the past. They followed one another and brought forth Christianity as the last flower. 

Today the task is to form and apply the impulse of Christianity. That is why in our spiritual scientific movement we endeavour to consider all the religions of the world more consciously than heretofore, and in loving participation. In this way we also prepare ourselves for the period between death and rebirth when we experience loneliness if we cannot perceive and have no access to other souls within this realm.

This excerpt, and the lecture it comes from, is a representative sample of Steiner and encapsulates my attitude to him.

There seems to me great insight and wisdom here - necessary for the future of Albion and the West in general; and yet I am clear that there are aspects that I don't accept, and which I regard as mistaken. I don't accept Steiner's views on reincarnation - although I am not hostile to them (and they seem similar to the convictions of William Wildblood). There are many other things in the full lecture that seem just mistaken, or wrong-headed...

I am puzzled by his having not mentioned Islam - which came after Christianity and is now at least as large a religion and growing fast by natural increase and conquest. But at the time Steiner was writing, it did look to many Western people as if Islam was on the road to extinction - certainly it was at its lowest ebb around 1900.

Yet, ultimately, any Christian would have to agree with Steiner that Christianity is the 'last' religion, although its nature has developed considerably.

Some further sentences from this lecture are also inspiring to me - when extracted and edited from their accretions:

Since the Christ has united Himself with the earth, we have to gain an understanding on earth for the Christ. We have to bring a Christ understanding with us because otherwise the Christ cannot be found after death

That is the important factor — that the understanding of the Christ must be stimulated on the earth. Only then it also can be preserved in higher worlds.

The Christ impulse stands as a fulcrum at the center of earth evolution, the point from which the ascending curve begins. 

To maintain that Christ can appear repeatedly on earth is like saying that the beam of a balance must be supported at two points. But with such scales one cannot weigh. A conviction of this sort is as senseless in relation to the physical world as the statement made by certain occultists that Christ goes through repeated earth lives. 

One has gained an understanding of the Christ impulse only if one is able to grasp that the Christ is the only god who has gone through death, and hence first had to descend to the earth.

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