Lecture 2: Humanity’s Struggle for Morality

Dornach, 30 September 1917

Today’s lecture will add further details to an image which I finally hope to present in its entirety tomorrow.

We are living at a time — yesterday’s lecture will have given you an idea of this — of which we can say that much will have to change in the way people think, feel and use their will. Our inner aims will have to change. It is especially with regard to our innermost being that old, inherited and acquired habits will have to go and a new way of thinking and feeling develop. This is what our time demands. I think it can have a profound and truly significant effect on people to ponder the truth I presented yesterday which is, to put it simply, that there can only be one of two things: destructive processes here on the physical plane, or the spiritual development of humanity. Just think what it means — that, knowing this truth, we shall be compelled to feel socially at one with the dead, the departed. Our inner response to present events on this physical plane is one of deep pain, and it is right this should be so; on the other hand, we should not forget that the number of people who have taken up spiritual life in recent decades is small, and the souls of those who have not done so are thirsting for destructive processes here on the physical plane because these will give them the powers they need for the life of soul and spirit which comes after death. In practice this means we are challenged to do everything we can to encourage spiritual life as the only way of freeing future humanity from those destructive forces. It has to be clearly understood, of course, that this was different in the past, when the fact that an age of materialism must inevitably summon up an age of wars and devastation did not hold true to the same degree. It will, however, hold true in future.

Humanity is labouring under numerous illusions that have their origin in the past. The consequences of these have not been as serious in the past as they will be in the future evolution of humanity. I think it is fair to say that, generally speaking, human souls are still very much asleep at the present time, and fail to notice many of the tremendous changes now taking place. Sometimes, however, some of this comes through at an instinctive level, and individuals are then aware of the great riddles of the age. However, many are not fully active inwardly and therefore not yet able to experience these riddles in their full depth.

Taking note of the turbulent and destructive events of today, some individuals are becoming aware of one such riddle. Yet they are in many respects quite unable to find the answers. The riddle I am speaking of is the discrepancy between intellectual and moral development in human evolution. Strangely enough, recent developments in materialistic thinking have lead none other than the Darwinists to this conclusion. Haeckel, too, has commented to this effect in his Welträtsel. [ Note 1 ] Now, in these times of war, it can be seen again and again that this imbalance between intellectual and moral life in human evolution is beginning to puzzle people. They say to themselves, quite rightly, that the life of the intellect, the rational mind, has made tremendous advances. This is what many people call the realm of science today; it provides the basis for the modern materialistic view. Consider the tremendous advances made as the laws of nature have been penetrated, studied and finally used to build all kinds of instruments — most recently especially the instruments for murder! People will also begin to consider other things in the light of this science of theirs. They will analyse foods for their constituents and manufacture chemical foods, never realizing that chemical foods are not the same as those provided by nature, even if they do have the same constituents.

Intellectual, or we may also say scientific, development has shown an upward trend. Moral development has not progressed to the same extent. Surely the present world catastrophe could not have arisen, or taken the course it has taken, if moral development had kept pace with intellectual development. It would be right to say that because moral development has not progressed, intellectual development has assumed something of an amoral character and has in many respects become downright destructive. Many people are beginning to notice that the moral development has not been keeping pace with the intellectual development of humanity today. However, no one asks at the present time that issues like these should be gone into sufficiently deeply so that they may serve a truly human evolution. No one asks that they should be tackled at the point where it is fully evident that modern people simply cannot penetrate to the deeper sources of human thinking and human actions, because elements which are separate and distinct in man and relate to quite different regions of the universe are all mixed up in people’s minds.

Modern scientists are faced with a human being consisting of physical body, etheric body — the body of generative powers — astral body and ego; but everything is mixed up. People do not make the distinction in modern science. How can we arrive at a science that will enable us to grasp these things if everything is mixed up together? The truth is that these different aspects of human nature belong to entirely different regions and spheres of the universe. Our physical body and our generative powers relate to the physical world; with the astral body and the ego we enter a totally different world every night, and initially this has extraordinarily little to do with the world in which we are awake during the day. The two worlds really only work together in so far as they are brought together in the human realm.

Consider also that the human ego and astral body are much younger than the physical and etheric bodies. The first beginnings of the physical body go back to the time of ancient Saturn. That early body progressed through four stages — Saturn, Sun, Moon and Earth — to reach its present level of evolution on earth. The etheric body has gone through three stages, the astral body through two stages. The ego has only come in during Earth evolution; it is young and belongs to an entirely different cosmic age. The apparatus or instrument of our human intellect is intimately bound up with the physical body. It has reached a great level of perfection because the physical body has gone through such a comprehensive process of development in the Saturn, Sun, Motm and Earth periods. We can see this from the level to which the nerven, the brain and the blood have developed. This, then, is the highly developed instrument we use for our intellectual activity.

On a previous occasion here in Dornach I suggested that the human being is much more complex than we are inclined to think. When we say ‘physical body’ we are speaking of something that is far from simple. It is based on principles that go back to ancient Saturn. Then the etheric body was added. This created its own element in the physical body; the astral body also created its own element in the physical body, and so did the ego. The physical body thus really has four elements to it. One of these relates to the physical body as such, one to the etheric body, one to the astral body and one to the ego. The etheric body has three elements — one related to itself, one to the astral body, one to the ego.

Let us stay with the physical body for the moment. We find that during the night, when we are asleep, the element of the physical body relating to the physical body continues in the usual way. The element relating to the etheric body can also continue, for the etheric body stays with the physical body. But what happens to the element relating to the astral body, which is organized to meet the needs of an astral body that wants to go outside, and with the element relating to an ego which has also gone outside? During the night, these two elements — let us call them the astral physical body and the ego’s physical body — are forsaken by the principles on which their whole organization is based. The ego and the astral body are then outside the parts of the physical body to which they belong. For as long as we live between birth and death we are really leaving something behind in bed every night which is not taken care of by the principle to which it relates. It clearly has to function differently during the night than it does during the day; I think you can see this. During the day the astral body and the ego are active and aglow in it; during the night they are not. People do not enquire into these things today because everything has merged into one and become mixed up in their minds, as I have said. They do not distinguish between the different aspects of their body, though these can be quite clearly distinguished.

During the night when we are asleep the ‘astral physical’ element in the physical body exercises powers very similar to the powers of Mercury, the mercurial powers that make mercury liquid, and so on. The part of the physical body relating to the ego acts like salt during sleep. Human beings thus have Salt and Mercury flowing through them during sleep.

Up to the fourteenth century, those alchemists who must be taken seriously still knew of these things. After this, sectarianism came into alchemy and the books were written which are generally read today. The old knowledge was still to be found with Jacob Boehme, [ Note 2 ] however, who used the terms Salt, Mercury and Sulphur.

These are some of the secrets of human nature. We say, then, that when we are asleep we look down on a body that has become mercurial and salty. The fact that the body becomes mercurial has highly significant consequences and we may be able to say more about this in the course of these weeks. The fact that it becomes salty — well, I think it is not at all difficult for people to discover this for themselves when they get up in the mornings.

What is the significance, however? It is more or less like this: On waking, the ego and astral body, having been outside in the world of the spirit during sleep, enter into the salty, or mineral, principle in the human body and into the mercurial principle, which flows within the human being as a vitalizing principle. Principles which have been separated during the night now come together. As they interact, opportunity is given for the things acquired in the world of the spirit to be brought in. Mercury and Salt have been resting; now the ego and astral body enter and fill them with what they have gained in the world of the spirit. As a result, the physical body, the instrument which has evolved from ancient Saturn, is enriched still further. On the one hand the physical body is the instrument we use for intellectual activity and it is truly venerable and highly developed because it has evolved over such a long time. Yet, on the other hand, the process I have just described can bring the influence of the spiritual world to bear in the present time. As a result, human beings are now able to influence the instrument of the intellect from the world of the spirit and intellectual thinking can play such a significant role in the present age.

The world in which we are between going to sleep and waking up again does, however, have one peculiarity — there is nothing in it by way of moral laws. Strange as it may seem, between going to sleep and waking up again you are in a world devoid of moral laws. We might also say it is a world that is not yet moral. When we wake up, the impulses we bring from this world may take hold of the physical body and the etheric body with regard to the intellect, but cannot in any way take hold of them in any moral sense. This is quite impossible, for the world in which we are between going to sleep and waking up again does not have moral laws. People who think it would have been better for the gods to arrange things in such a way that humans did not have to live on the physical plane at all are very much mistaken; for in that case people could never become moral. Human beings acquire morality by living here on the physical plane. In short, we bring wisdom to the physical body from the world of the spirit, but not morality.

This is tremendously important and significant, for it explains why humanity must inevitably lag behind when it comes to moral principles, whereas the gods have made excellent provision for their intellectual development, not only providing them with an instrument which has evolved through the Saturn, Sun, Moon and Earth periods, but also giving them the wherewithal by which to maintain the intellect by filling them with wisdom in the world which they enter during sleep. It will not be until later periods, in the second half of Venus evolution, that we make connection with a moral world during sleep. Clearly, it is therefore tremendously important for us to see to it that our social life becomes truly moral.

These are the things modern humanity does not want to consider. Some are aware of the riddles, as I have said, but people do not want to consider the deeper reasons, for that would be too much of an. effort. They want to take human nature as it presents itself and refuse to consider that in many respects it extends into the worlds of the cosmos, beyond space and beyond time, and that human nature cannot be explained if we merely look at it the way in which it normally comes to expression and do not take account of these other aspects. It is a magnificent and awesome truth that sleep helps our intellectual thinking, even our genius — for geniuses, too, bring back elements from sleep that enter into their mercurial and sah principles — in fact, it is this which makes someone a genius; but morality can only be provided for if human beings gradually let the moral element enter into them here on the physical plane.

For humanity here on earth, the Christ impulse is the heart of the moral life. It is therefore most important — I have stressed this before, from other points of view — that human beings encounter the Christ impulse here on the physical plane. We have to look at this from many different points of view. So it seems we can now understand why people who have all kinds of impulses based on wisdom at an instinctive level — for these impulses are given in sleep — and are able to invent tremendously complex machines, playing a role in the advance of science and technology, need not connect this in any way with morality, for morality belongs to a totally different sphere.

People do not like to hear or know such things today. Yet they will have to be known if we are to escape from the Chaos that has arisen in the world. And this is a very serious matter. Human evolution will not progress unless these truths become part of our life on earth. The gods did not intend human beings to become automatons which they could influence like automatic machines. They wanted them to be free individuals who realize what will take them forward. It is wrong to ask why the gods do not intervene. Attempts have to be made; and if one such undertaking should go awry, we should not draw the wrong conclusions. Instead, those who come later must let this give them an even greater impetus to work in a wav that helps to encourage such an attempt at further development in the spirit. I have recently been much concerned with a significant attempt made in the past which did not entirely come off. I discussed this in the first part of my essay on The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz: Anno 1459 — it is to be continued in Das Reich. [ Note 3 ] The work was written in the early seventeenth century. People were given it to read as early as 1603, and it was published in 1616. The author, Johann Valentin Andreae, also wrote Fama Fraternitatis and Confessio Rosicruci, unusual works which attracted all kinds of comment, some sensible but most of them absurd. All I want to say about them today is that although they may at first sight appear to be satirical, they nevertheless represent one great impulse — to deepen insight into nature in its spiritual aspect to a point where deeper knowledge of the laws of nature also discovers the laws that govern human social life.

This is an area where people find it particularly difficult to distinguish between maya — illusion — and reality. The motives we ourselves or others tend to ascribe to our actions are not the true ones. It is painful to have to realize this, but — I have spoken of this on several occasions — they are not our true motives. Nor are the outward positions people hold in social life their true positions. People are usually completely different inside from the way they present themselves in the social sphere and also from the way they see themselves. People believe so strongly that their actions are based on ligarticular motive. Some think their motives are entirely selfless, when in reality they are nothing but the most brutal egotism. People are not aware of this because they have such illusions concerning themselves and their social connections. This is another area where we can only discover the truth if we look more deeply into the whole scheme of things.

Johann Valentin Andreae was someone who wanted to look more deeply. What mattered to him, among other things, was to see beyond maya into reality. He was not the kind of superficial person who thinks he can do this with all those harangues profound educationists and others today think will reform the world; he realized that one must look more deeply into the whole scheme which lies behind the world of nature if one is to find the spirit in nature. Then one will also find the threads which truly connect human beings with the spirit. And only then shall we really know the social laws that are needed. You cannot reflect on social relationships today if you think the way people do in modern science, for this will only give you the surface of nature and the surface of social life. Johann Valentin Andreae looked deep down to find nature and the social life, for only there do they come together. It really is like this: Think of the borderline between maya and reality — there you have a peep-hole on nature on the one side and a peep-hole on social life on the other. And you have to look deeper before you realize that they actually only meet a long way back.

People will never reach this point, however. They will continue to look at some of the laws of nature at a surface level and will then speak about social life out of their feeling, out of superficiality. This will not help us to see the scheffle of things, however, that Johann Valentin Andreae sought to find. At most we shall get to be — excuse me calling a spade a spade — a Woodrow Wilson. Andreae wanted to discover the scheme of things, and his desire to do so fills such works as his Fama Fraternitatis and Confessio Rosicruci. He was addressing the leaders, the statesmen of his time; it was an attempt to establish a social order based on truth and not illusion. The Fama appeared in 1614, the Confessio in 1615, and The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz in 1616, though it had already been written in 1603. The year 1618 marked the beginning of the Thirty Years War, [ Note 4 ] which brought conditions in which the truly great things aimed at in the Fama and the Confessio were swept away.

We are now living in an age when one year of war is equal to more than ten years of war in the seventeenth century, because war has become so much more destructive. By the standards of those times we have more than a Thirty Years War behind us already.

Try and see this as something that can guide you towards the will and endeavour that arose in the seventeenth century but was brought to a halt by the Thirty Years War. As I have said, if there have been such attempts and a beginning has been made, we must not let ourselves be put off by this but rather let it spur us on to even greater activity; then a later attempt may not end in failure. The first condition is, however, that we really come to know life.

I now want to relate this to matters I discussed with you last year and at the beginning of this year. I drew your attention to the strange course that the whole of human life and human evolution is taking. Individuals will gain in years, being 1, 2, 3, 4, years old, and later 30, 35, 40, and so on, years old; but the opposite is true for humanity as a whole. Humanity was old to begin with and is getting younger and younger. If we go back in time — for our present purposes we need only go back as far as the watershed between Atlantean and post-Atlantean life when the catastrophe happened on Atlantis — we come first of all to ancient Indian times. Conditions were very different then; humanity as a whole remained capable of further development beyond the 50s. Today we are only capable of developing in such a way in childhood and up to a certain time of our youth, for only then is our physical development directly connected with the development of soul and spirit, and the two run parallel. This soon comes to an end, however. In ancient Indian times, development in soul and spirit continued to be dependent on physical development until well into the 50s. People went on developing the way a child develops, and this only came to an end when they were old men and women. This is the reason why people looked up with such humility to their old people.

During the time of ancient Persia, people were no longer able to develop to such a high level but only into their 40s and early 50s; and in Egyptian and Chaldean times only into their 40s. In Graeco-Latin times, this kind of development went only as far as the thirty-fifth year. Then came a time — you will remember, the Graeco-Latin age began in the eighth century before the Mystery of Golgotha — when human beings were only capable of development up to their thirty-third year. That was the time when the Mystery of Golgotha took place. The age of humanity then matched the age at which Christ went through the Mystery of Golgotha.

After this, the human race got younger and younger. By the beginning of the fifth post-Atlantean age, in the fifteenth century, humanity was only able to develop up to the age of 28, with no further development after this, and today we have reached a point where people only reach the age of 27, if this is left to nature. In the past, human beings naturally remained capable of development into a ripe old age. Today people must conclude such development as comes of its own accord and is tied to the physical body by the age of 27, unless they take up a spiritual impulse in their inner life and push on from within. People who do not take up anything spiritual remain 27 years old even if they live to be 100. It means they have the characteristics of 27-year-olds. And with people refusing to look for inner spiritual impulses we now have a culture and a social life that is 27 years of age. We do not grow beyond the age of 27 in our outer social life. This age now rules humanity. If we go on like this, humanity will go down to 26, 25 and 24 years, then in the sixth post-Atlantean age to the twenty-first and later to the fourteenth year.

These things must be looked into, and they should not be taken pessimistically; instead they should give us the inner impulse to go towards the life of the Spirit and set out on an inner quest to look for the elements nature is unable to provide.

This is another point of view from which it is apparent that spiritual impulses are needed in civilization. The most characteristic people of our age, those who take the lead today, are people who do not get beyond their twenty-seventh year. The question is, what would really make someone a present-day leader? Well, let us say we have someone who is born and is very much alive, who does not take in much by way of tradition but only what comes by nature, without undue influence from outside; this individual would be very much determined by what comes of its own accord. Education usually gives colour and nuance to this in most people. But let us take a really typical individual who essentially shows only the characteristics of the present age, someone born into poverty perhaps and not given an education that puts much emphasis on tradition, but who would only be influenced by whatever arises from circumstance. Such a person would grow up, would be very active initially, for it is Part of the present age that one is active up to the seventh, fourteenth and twenty-first year, and perhaps be a forceful personality up to his twenty-first year. But unless he is able to develop spiritually, then, being very much a representative of the age, he will come to a halt at the age of 27. Now if he were to be truly representative of the age, something like the following would have to happen: At the age of 27 he would come to a key point in his life, to such effect that the circumstances he creates for himself at the age of 27, committing himself for life, would not allow him to progress beyond this. In modern life this could take the form, for instance, that such a person, a self-made man with tremendous energies and all kinds of impulses arising from the time itself, gets himself elected to parliament at the age of 27. To get oneself elected to parliament means one has committed oneself and there are some things that now have to be maintained. And so the individual remains as he is — which is entirely due to this development in the present age — and he is highly representative of the present age. Parliament being the great ideal in the present day and age, this would be a key point in the life of an individual who would then refuse to accept anything capable of growth for the future and who would have become completely adapted to external circumstances or, in a word, remained 27 years of age. And so at the age of 27 this would be a strong, powerful individual imbued with the impulses of the age who now entered parliament. After some time he would even be a minister and advance to become one of the leading figures. But he would merely be a man of our time, a typical 27-year-old.

There is such an individual, someone born into such circumstances who only took in what came, nothing by way of tradition. He grew strong and powerful under these circumstances — someone who would go through thick and thin for anything that came to him in the first twenty-seven years of his life and who did, in fact, become a Member of Parliament at the age of 27. He was a thorn in the flesh at first, being in opposition, but soon rose further and has become a kind of axis of rotation at the present time — and this is Lloyd George. [ Note 5 ] No one is more characteristic of the present age than Lloyd George. ‘His own man’, he committed himself for life within a week of his twenty-seventh year by getting himself elected to the House of Commons. This and the rast of his life story show him to be a typical representative of life in the present age, a life we should not follow, for spiritual impulses should have taken over in the twenty-seventh year.

If one is able to penetrate the inner aspects of life one sees the most important events of the present time to be events to which other people are asleep. To anyone who can take a wider view it is immensely significant that such a self-made man is elected to the British Parliament exactly at the age of 27 and thus commits himself.

These are the realities which people must gradually learn to observe and consider, for they reveal the deeper connections in life. People like to skip over them today because they are not easy. Reluctance is felt because people prefer to give free rein to their passions, the emotions they create for themselves in the outer world and to their instincts, rather than seek to gain insight. They want to live the life of the world, basing themselves on these emotions and not on their true selves.

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NOTES:

1. Ernst Heinrich Haeckel (1834–1919), German naturalist. His Welträtsel first appeared in 1899. Rudolf Steiner was probably referring to the following statement from the first chapter:

Today we feel justifiably proud as we see the tremendous advances made in the pure and applied science of nature in the nineteenth century. Unfortunately the picture is entirely different and far from pleasing when we consider other aspects of modern civilization that are no less important. Much to our regret, we have to agree with Alfred Wallace who wrote that compared to our remarkable progress in the physical sciences and their practical application, our system of government, the justiciary, national education and the whole of our social and moral organization was still in a state of barbarism.

2. Jacob Boehme (1575–1624), shoemaker in Goerlitz, Germany,. was a mystic whose influence went beyond Germany to Holland and England. He was studied by Henry More, Newton and William Law among others. His main works were Aurora (1612), Vom irdischen und himmlischen Mysterium (title translates as ‘The mystery of earth and heaven’ — not available in English) and Der Weg zu Christo in acht Buchern (title translates as ‘The road to Christ in eight books’ — not available in English).

3. Das Reich was a quarterly published in Munich and Heidelberg by Alexander Freiherr von Bernus. Rudolf Steiner contributed three consecutive essays on the subject in Nos. 3 and 4 of the second and No. 1 of the third volume (October 1917 and January and April 1918). These have been reprinted in Philosophie und Anthroposophie (GA 35) 1965. Johann Valentin Andreae’s (1586–1654) work was translated into modern German and published by Walter Weber in Dornach in 1942; 2nd improved edition, Stuttgart 1957. Available in English as The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz: Anno 1459, as translated by Edward Foxcroft in 1690. Minerva Books, London (no date).

4. The Thirty Years War, 1618–1648, devastated Central Europe. It held great terrors for the civilian population, which have lived on in people’s memories, in tales, legends and in the literature and were still very real to people in Germany up to the Second World War. (Trans.)

5. David Lloyd George, later Lloyd George of Dwyfor (1863–1945), elected as an Advanced Liberal for Carnarvon Boroughs in 1890, Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1916 to 1922.