You have asked for comments on your “Apologia” for publishing your translations of the lessons of the First Class of the School of Spiritual Science and making them available for anyone to read in your Southern Cross Review.
When you first began publishing your translations, I wrote to say that I did not on the whole agree with what you were doing and now that you have completed this very long task, which must have been a labour of love on your part, I would like to add a few more thoughts.
I will refer here to what Steiner himself wrote about the First Class for people who were not members of the School of Spiritual Science. These comments were set out in various letters published between January and June 1924 and originally printed in the News Sheet issued by the Goetheanum. Steiner had very clear guidelines for both how the content of the lessons should be received and also for what was expected of people who wanted to become members of the School. I would like to look at these indications of Steiner’s, to see which of them might still apply today.
We could start by looking at what Steiner said were his intentions for the School:
“…what we need is the place which gives what is given nowhere else: namely, that which can guide man into the spiritual world. And that is intended to be the content, in the strictest sense of the word, of the School of Spiritual Science.” (Lecture at Dornach, 18th January 1924)
Steiner also gave an outline of the nature of the classes:
“… the aim is to give insight into the experience of the ‘threshold’ between the sensory and supersensible world. For those who really seek knowledge of the human being it is necessary to understand how everything that ‘nature’ reveals in the way of beauty, grandeur and nobility cannot lead to the human being. The inner human being, working in the external world, does not have his source in the natural but in the spiritual world. But into the latter the senses and the brain-bound intellect cannot penetrate. These inevitably cease their activity where the human being seeks to engage with the world of his origin. But where this activity ceases the human being initially finds himself incapable of perceiving anything. He gazes into his surroundings and, as though it were ‘nothing’, the darkness appears to him that is present due to this incapacity. This incapacity can only give way to spirit-beholding capacities as the human being becomes aware of higher forces within himself which form the ‘spiritual senses’ in the same way that the physical forces of the organism form the body’s senses. This depends on a complete transformation of the inner life from one form of existence to the other. In this transformation, a person must not lose the one form of existence before he acquires the other. A proper process of transformation results from the right mode of experience at the ‘threshold’. Knowledge of the human being in his true essence is only possible from a perspective beyond the threshold. Someone who wishes to absorb with healthy human reason the communications of a seer that come from the realm beyond the threshold must also have a picture of what the seer experienced at the threshold. He only becomes able to properly judge the supersensible realm when he is also aware of the conditions under which knowledge of this supersensible realm is gained.
One will only be able to give content to the words with which the results of supersensible vision are expressed when one understands what the seer underwent before he acquired the power to form such words. If one does not understand this, it appears as if the words do not signify supersensible but sensory things – and this leads to confusion. The words become deceptive, and instead of knowledge, illusion arises.” (GA260a)
Was Steiner trying to keep these things secret? Definitely not; he said that the Anthroposophical Society is “an absolutely public Society like any other Society…not in the least hedged-in from the outer world…we must not be in the least bit narrow-minded when it comes to the admission of members.” When speaking about the relation of the individual member to the Society, he emphasised: “What we may call the teaching and spiritual impulses of this Society can be understood by every one if only he will use his everyday human intelligence…you do not need any kind of initiation or the like.”
But Steiner also said that most people “do not like to admit that the spiritual can be clearly seen and understood. Most people have not the necessary courage. They find it comforting to say: ‘The spiritual world is that which a man divines but cannot understand – it is the great secret.’ Now spiritual science always consists in the unveiling of this secret – so that the secret is made manifest before the world.” (30th January 1924)
So from the foregoing, it is clear that Steiner did not wish to prevent anyone from knowing about, or finding access to the spiritual world – quite the contrary. This would seem to accord, Frank, with your desire for openness about the text of the Class lessons. But this does not mean that it was right for people to come to these lessons with no preparation.
On the contrary, he advised that only those people who had been members of the Anthroposophical Society for two years should apply to join the First Class:
“… for two years, one should endeavour to find one’s bearings in all that the Anthroposophical Society already contains…Whoever has not been in the Society for two years will not be well advised to enter a Class at once.”
Steiner’s reasons for saying this seem to have had at least some of their foundations in what he perceived as the necessity for community: “…you must go into the Society, or into its several groups, not merely in order to learn what is there said or even debated, but simply because the human beings are there. You must be able to go there for the sake of human beings…The human being needs the human being.” (ibid)
As far as applicants for Class membership were concerned, Steiner addressed those who were involved with what he called ‘playing at esotericism’ and the creation of cliques: “You find it too difficult to get to grips with the esoteric content of life itself; you find it comfortable to talk about the esoteric. When esotericism passes from mouth to mouth, no matter with what unction, then it is idle esoteric chatter…this among other things does untold harm… Therefore within the Classes, in future, the question of trust and confidence will have to be taken most earnestly. It will be quite invalid for people to say: ‘Having been in the Society for two years, I now have a claim to be received into a Class.’ “ (ibid)
If members of the General Anthroposophical Society (GAS) were inclined to cliquishness and esoteric chatter, then Steiner and the Society leadership reserved the right not to admit them to the Class: “Whoever wishes to gain entry merely for the sake of curiosity, or in the hope of hearing something different in the Classes than he can hear in the General Society, should therefore think again and rather decide not to seek entry…The point is that those who are in the Class should become the true representatives of the anthroposophical cause…The care of the anthroposophical cause will be in the hands of the School…the School of Spiritual Science must consist of those who feel themselves through and through as representatives of the anthroposophical cause.” (ibid)
Steiner felt that the GAS provided people with spiritual knowledge, and anyone could become a member of this without taking on further responsibilities. But he also felt that: “…we must have a group of people who penetrate through the exoteric to the esoteric, and this cannot be achieved unless one shoulders definite responsibilities. For if none could be found to take on these responsibilities, then…anthroposophy would not be able to exist…it will be essential that all members of the Class also state their complete willingness to cultivate anthroposophy in the world and to stand as its representatives.” (3rd February 1924)
So, Frank, it seems to me that by publishing on the internet the Class lessons, you have done several things which could be unhelpful:
- You have short-circuited the two-year period of preparation that Steiner thought was necessary and which could be done by joining the Society
- By putting them online, you have taken the Class lessons outside the context of human community which Steiner thought was essential
- You have made the texts available to people who may not be ready for such esoteric concepts and thereby could be “put off”; and by so doing, have perhaps deprived them of an opportunity to benefit from these lessons within the proper and supportive context of a group.
- You have given scoffers and opponents the chance to quote these lessons, which are bound to seem fantastic and absurd to those who have as yet no understanding of the spiritual world from which we all come
- You have given opportunities, specifically warned against by Steiner, for spiritual tourists to engage in esoteric chatter without getting to grips with the esoteric content of life itself.
- The lessons are steeped in esoteric knowledge and require much background preparation from the student. They are not to be read or talked about like stories from a newspaper, or thought about with our everyday kind of thinking. So these texts are not for intellectual or casual reading, but require a certain cast of mind, as well as preparation and commitment, before engaging with them.
Do you still feel that publishing the Class lessons was a good idea, Frank?