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Rudolf Steiner is both a mystic and an occultist. These two natures appear in him in perfect harmony. One could not say which of the two predominates over the other. In intermingling and blending, they have become one homogeneous force. Hence a special development in which outward events play but a secondary part...
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Copyright © 2016 by Rudolf Steiner
Published by Ozymandias Press
Interior design by Pronoun
Edited by Ozymandias Press
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THE PERSONALITY OF RUDOLF STEINER AND HIS DEVELOPMENT
By Edouard Schuré
MANY OF EVEN THE MOST cultivated men of our time have a very mistaken idea of what is a true mystic and a true occultist. They know these two forms of human mentality only by their imperfect or degenerate types, of which recent times have afforded but too many examples. To the intellectual man of the day, the mystic is a kind of fool and visionary who takes his fancies for facts; the occultist is a dreamer or a charlatan who abuses public credulity in order to boast of an imaginary science and of pretended powers. Be it remarked, to begin with, that this definition of mysticism, though deserved by some, would be as unjust as erroneous if one sought to apply it to such personalities as Joachim del Fiore of the thirteenth century, Jacob Boehme of the sixteenth, or St. Martin, who is called “the unknown philosopher,” of the eighteenth century. No less unjust and false would be the current definition of the occultist if one saw in it the slightest connection with such earnest seekers as Paracelsus, Mesmer, or Fabre d’Olivet in the past, as William Crookes, de Rochat, or Camille Flammarion in the present. Think what we may of these bold investigators, it is undeniable that they have opened out regions unknown to science, and furnished the mind with new ideas.
No, these fanciful definitions can at most satisfy that scientific dilettantism which hides its feebleness under a supercilious mask to screen its indolence, or the worldly scepticism which ridicules all that threatens to upset its indifference. But enough of these superficial opinions. Let us study history, the sacred and profane books of all nations, and the last results of experimental science; let us subject all these facts to impartial criticism, inferring similar effects from identical causes, and we shall be forced to give quite another definition of the mystic and the occultist.
The true mystic is a man who enters into full possession of his inner life, and who, having become cognizant of his sub-consciousness, finds in it, through concentrated meditation and steady discipline, new faculties and enlightenment. These new faculties and this enlightenment instruct him as to the innermost nature of his soul and his relations with that impalpable element which underlies all, with that eternal and supreme reality which religion calls God, and poetry the Divine. The occultist, akin to the mystic, but differing from him as a younger from an elder brother, is a man endowed with intuition and with synthesis, who seeks to penetrate the hidden depths and foundations of Nature by the methods of science and philosophy: that is to say, by observation and reason, methods invariable in principle, but modified in application by being adapted to the descending kingdoms of Spirit or the ascending kingdoms of Nature, according to the vast hierarchy of beings and the alchemy of the creative Word.
The mystic, then, is one who seeks for truth and the Divine directly within himself, by a gradual detachment and a veritable birth of his higher soul. If he attains it after prolonged effort, he plunges into his own glowing centre. Then he immerses himself, and identifies himself with that ocean of life which is the primordial Force.
The occultist, on the other hand, discovers, studies, and contemplates this same Divine outpouring given forth in diverse portions, endowed with force, and multiplied to infinity in Nature and in Humanity. According to the profound saying of Paracelsus: he sees in all beings the letters of an alphabet, which, united in man, form the complete and conscious Word of life. The detailed analysis that he makes of them, the syntheses that he constructs with them, are to him as so many images and forecastings of this central Divine, of this Sun of Beauty, of Truth and of Life, which he sees not, but which is reflected and bursts upon his vision in countless mirrors.
The weapons of the mystic are concentration and inner vision; the weapons of the occultist are intuition and synthesis. Each corresponds to the other; they complete and presuppose each other.
These two human types are blended in the Adept, in the higher Initiate. No doubt one or the other, and often both, are met with in the founders of great religions and the loftiest philosophies. No doubt also they are to be found again, in a less, but still very remarkable degree, among a certain number of personages who have played a great part in history as reformers, thinkers, poets, artists, statesmen.
Why, then, should these two types of mind, which represent the highest human faculties, and were formerly the object of universal veneration, usually appear to us now as merely deformed and travestied? Why have they become obliterated? Why should they have fallen into such discredit?
That is the result of a profound cause existing in an inevitable necessity of human evolution.
During the last two thousand years, but especially since the sixteenth century, humanity has achieved a tremendous work, namely, the conquest of the globe and the constitution of experimental science, in what concerns the material and visible world.
That this gigantic and herculean task should be successfully accomplished, it was necessary that there should be a temporary eclipse of man’s transcendental faculties, so that his whole power of observation might be concentrated on the outer world. These faculties, however, have never been extinct or even inactive. They lay dormant in the mass of men; they remained active in the elect, far from the gaze of the vulgar.
Now, they are showing themselves openly under new forms. Before long they will assume a leading and directing importance in human destinies. I would add that at no period of history, whether among the nations of the ancient Aryan cycle, or in the Semitic civilizations of Asia and Africa—whether in the Græco-Latin world, or in the middle ages and in modern times, have these royal faculties, for which positivism would substitute its dreary nomenclature, ever ceased to operate at the beginning and in the background of all great human creations and of all fruitful work. For how can we imagine a thinker, a poet, an inventor, a hero, a master of science or of art, a genius of any kind, without a mighty ray of those two master-faculties which make the mystic and the occultist—the inner vision and the sovereign intuition.
Rudolf Steiner is both a mystic and an occultist. These two natures appear in him in perfect harmony. One could not say which of the two predominates over the other. In intermingling and blending, they have become one homogeneous force. Hence a special development in which outward events play but a secondary part.
Dr. Steiner was born in Upper Austria in 1861. His earliest years were passed in a little town situated on the Leytha, on the borders of Styria, the Carpathians, and Hungary. From childhood his character was serious and concentrated. This was followed by a youth inwardly illuminated by the most marvellous intuitions, a young manhood encountering terrible trials, and a ripe age crowned by a mission which he had dimly foreseen from his earliest years, but which was only gradually formulated in the struggle for truth and life. This youth, passed in a mountainous and secluded region, was happy in its way, thanks to the exceptional faculties that he discovered in himself. He was employed in a Catholic church as a choir boy. The poetry of the worship, the profundity of the symbolism, had a mysterious attraction for him; but, as he possessed the innate gift of seeing souls, one thing terrified him. This was the secret unbelief of the priests, entirely engrossed in the ritual and the material part of the service. There was another peculiarity: no one, either then or later, allowed himself to talk of any gross superstition in his presence, or to utter any blasphemy, as if those calm and penetrating eyes compelled the speaker to serious thought. In this child, almost always silent, there grew up a quiet and inflexible will, to master things through understanding. That was easier for him than for others, for he possessed from the first that self-mastery, so rare even in the adult, which gives the mastery over others. To this firm will was added a warm, deep and almost painful sympathy; a kind of pitiful tenderness to all beings and even to inanimate nature. It seemed to him that all souls had in them something divine. But in what a stony crust is hidden the shining gold! In what hard rock, in what dark gloom lay dormant the precious essence! Vaguely as yet did this idea stir within him—he was to develop it later—that the divine soul is present in all men, but in a latent state. It is a sleeping captive that has to be awakened from enchantment.
To the sight of this young thinker, human souls became transparent, with their troubles, their desires, their paroxysms of hatred or of love. And it was probably owing to the terrible things he saw, that he spoke so little. And yet, what delights, unknown to the world, sprang from this involuntary clairvoyance! Among the remarkable inner revelations of this youth, I will instance only one which was extremely characteristic.
The vast plains of Hungary, the wild Carpathian forests, the old churches of those mountains in which the monstrance glows brightly as a sun in the darkness of the sanctuary, were not there for nothing, but they were helpful to meditation and contemplation.
At fifteen years of age, Steiner became acquainted with a herbalist at that time staying in his country. The remarkable thing about this man was that he knew not only the species, families, and life of plants in their minutest details, but also their secret virtues. One would have said that he had spent his life in conversing with the unconscious and fluid soul of herbs and flowers. He had the gift of seeing the vital principle of plants, their etheric body, and what Occultism calls the elementals of the vegetable world. He talked of it as of a quite ordinary and natural thing. The calm and coolly scientific tone of his conversation still further excited the curiosity and admiration of the youth. Later on, Steiner knew that this strange man was a messenger from the Master, whom as yet he knew not, but who was to be his real initiator, and who was already watching over him from afar.
What the curious, double-sighted botanist told him, young Steiner found to be in accordance with the logic of things. That confirmed an inner feeling of long standing, and which more and more forced itself on his mind as the fundamental Law, and as the basis of the Great All. That is to say: the two-fold current which constitutes the very movement of the world, and which might be called the flux and reflux of the universal life.
We are all witnesses and are conscious of the outward current of evolution, which urges onward all beings of heaven and of earth—stars, plants, animals and humanity—and causes them to move forward towards an infinite future, without our perceiving the initial force which impels them and makes them go on without pause or rest. But there is in the universe an inverse current, which interposes itself and perpetually breaks in on the other. It is that of involution, by which the principles, forces, entities and souls which come from the invisible world and the kingdom of the Eternal infiltrate and ceaselessly intermingle with the visible reality. No evolution of matter would be comprehensible without this occult and astral current, which is the great propeller of life, with its hierarchy of powers. Thus the Spirit, which contains the future in germ, involves itself in matter; thus matter, which receives the Spirit, evolves towards the future. While, then, we are moving on blindly towards the unknown future, this future is approaching us consciously, infusing itself in the current of the world and man who elaborate it. Such is the two-fold movement of time, the out-breathing and the in-breathing of the soul of the world, which comes from the Eternal and returns thither.
From the age of eighteen, young Steiner possessed the spontaneous consciousness of this two-fold current—a consciousness which is the condition of all spiritual vision. This vital axiom was forced upon him by a direct and involuntary seeing of things. Thenceforth he had the unmistakable sensation of occult powers which were working behind and through him for his guidance. He gave heed to this force and obeyed its admonitions, for he felt in profound accordance with it.
This kind of perception, however, formed a separate category in his intellectual life. This class of truths seemed to him something so profound, so mysterious, and so sacred, that he never imagined it possible to express it in words. He fed his soul thereon, as from a divine fountain, but to have scattered a drop of it beyond would have seemed to him a profanation.
Beside this inner and contemplative life, his rational and philosophic mind was powerfully developing. From sixteen to seventeen years of age, Rudolf Steiner plunged deeply into the study of Kant, Fichte and Schelling. When he came to Vienna some years after, he became an ardent admirer of Hegel, whose transcendental idealism borders on Occultism; but speculative philosophy did not satisfy him. His positive mind demanded the solid basis of the sciences of observation. So he deeply studied mathematics, chemistry, mineralogy, botany and zoology. “These studies,” he said “afford a surer basis for the construction of a spiritual system of the universe than history and literature. The latter, wanting in exact methods, would then throw no side-lights on the vast domain of German science.” Inquiring into everything, enamored of high art, and an enthusiast for poetry, Steiner nevertheless did not neglect literary studies. As a guide therein he found an excellent professor in the person of Julius Schröer, a distinguished scholar of the school of the brothers Grimm, who strove to develop in his pupils the art of oratory and of composition. To this distinguished man the young student owed his great and refined literary culture. “In the desert of prevailing materialism,” says Steiner, “his house was to me an oasis of idealism.”
But this was not yet the Master whom he sought. Amidst these varied studies and deep meditations, he could as yet discern the building of the universe but in a fragmentary way; his inborn intuition prevented any doubt of the divine origin of things and of a spiritual Beyond. A distinctive mark of this extraordinary man was that he never knew any of those crises of doubt and despair which usually accompany the transition to a definite conviction in the life of mystics and of thinkers. Nevertheless, he felt that the central light which illumines and penetrates the whole was still lacking in him. He had reached young manhood, with its terrible problems. What was he going to do with his life? The sphinx of destiny was facing him. How should he solve its problem?
It was at the age of nineteen that the aspirant to the mysteries met with his guide—the Master—so long anticipated.
It is an undoubted fact, admitted by occult tradition and confirmed by experience, that those who seek the higher truth from an impersonal motive find a master to initiate them at the right moment: that is to say, when they are ripe for its reception. “Knock, and it shall be opened to you,” said Jesus. That is true with regard to everything, but above all with regard to truth. Only, the desire must be ardent as a flame, in a soul pure as crystal.
The Master of Rudolf Steiner was one of those men of power who live, unknown to the world, under cover of some civil state, to carry out a mission unsuspected by any but their fellows in the Brotherhood of self-sacrificing Masters. They take no ostensible part in human events. To remain unknown is the condition of their power, but their action is only the more efficacious. For they inspire, prepare and direct those who will act in the sight of all. In the present instance the Master had no difficulty in completing the first and spontaneous initiation of his disciple. He had only, so to speak, to point out to him his own nature, to arm him with his needful weapons. Clearly did he show him the connection between the official and the secret sciences; between the religious and the spiritual forces which are now contending for the guidance of humanity; the antiquity of the occult tradition which holds the hidden threads of history, which mingles them, separates, and re-unites them in the course of ages.
Swiftly he made him clear the successive stages of inner discipline, in order to attain conscious and intelligent clairvoyance. In a few months the disciple learned from oral teaching the depth and incomparable splendor of the esoteric synthesis. Rudolf Steiner had already sketched for himself his intellectual mission: “To re-unite Science and Religion. To bring back God into Science, and Nature into Religion. Thus to re-fertilize both Art and Life.” But how to set about this vast and daring undertaking? How conquer, or rather, how tame and transform the great enemy, the materialistic science of the day, which is like a terrible dragon covered with its carapace and couched on its huge treasure? How master this dragon of modern science and yoke it to the car of spiritual truth? And, above all, how conquer the bull of public opinion?
Rudolf Steiner’s Master was not in the least like himself. He had not that extreme and feminine sensibility which, though not excluding energy, makes every contact an emotion and instantly turns the suffering of others into a personal pain. He was masculine in spirit, a born ruler of men, looking only at the species, and for whom individuals hardly existed. He spared not himself, and he did not spare others. His will was like a ball which, once shot from the cannon’s mouth, goes straight to its mark, sweeping off everything in its way. To the anxious questioning of his disciple he replied in substance:
“If thou wouldst fight the enemy, begin by understanding him. Thou wilt conquer the dragon only by penetrating his skin. As to the bull, thou must seize him by the horns. It is in the extremity of distress that thou wilt find thy weapons and thy brothers in the fight. I have shown thee who thou art, now go—and be thyself!”
Rudolf Steiner knew the language of the Masters well enough to understand the rough path that he was thus commanded to tread; but he also understood that this was the only way to attain the end. He obeyed, and set forth.
From 1880 the life of Rudolf Steiner becomes divided into three quite distinct periods: from twenty to thirty years of age (1881-1891), the Viennese period, a time of study and of preparation; from thirty to forty (1891-1901), the Weimar period, a time of struggle and combat; from forty to forty-six (1901-1907), the Berlin period, a time of action and of organization, in which his thought crystallized into a living work.
I pass rapidly over the Vienna period, in which Steiner took the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. He afterwards wrote a series of scientific articles on zoology, geology, and the theory of colors, in which theosophical ideas appear in an idealist clothing. While acting as tutor in several families, with the same conscientious devotion that he gave to everything, he conducted as chief editor a weekly Viennese paper, the Deutsche Wochenschrift. His friendship with the Austrian poetess, Marie Eugénie delle Grazie, cast, as it were, into this period of heavy work a warm ray of sunshine, with a smile of grace and poetry.
In 1890 Steiner was summoned to collaborate in the archives of Goethe and Schiller at Weimar, to superintend the re-editing of Goethe’s scientific works. Shortly after, he published two important works, Truth and Science and The Philosophy of Liberty. “The occult powers that guided me,” he says, “forced me to introduce spiritualistic ideas imperceptibly into the current literature of the time.” But in these various tasks he was but studying his ground while trying his strength. So distant was the goal that he did not dream of being able to reach it as yet. To travel round the world in a sailing vessel, to cross the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Indian Ocean, in order to return to a European port, would have seemed easier to him. While awaiting the events that would allow him to equip his ship and to launch it on the open sea, he came into touch with two illustrious personalities who helped to determine his intellectual position in the contemporary world.
These two persons were the celebrated philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, and the no less famous naturalist, Ernst Haeckel.
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