Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Great poets are able to encapsulate the truth of their times in poetic images. W.B.Yeats in his poem, The Second Coming, has done this for the 20th and 21st centuries. Written during the 1918-1919 flu pandemic, Yeats might just as well have been writing today, since he describes our time and our appalling dilemma as we await the incarnation of the “rough beast, its hour come round at last.” Instead of the second coming of Christ, Yeats discerns something far worse heading towards us. (An analysis of the poem can be found here.)
Anthroposophists will of course have their own understanding of what Yeats may have sensed was on its way. According to Rudolf Steiner, during our time huge efforts will be made “to lead people away from the Christ who has passed through the Mystery of Golgotha, and to assign to another being dominion over the earth. This is a very real battle, not an affair of abstract concepts; a real battle which is concerned with setting another being in place of the Christ-Being for the rest of the fifth post-Atlantean epoch, for the sixth epoch and for the seventh. (…) And it will be essential for people to learn to distinguish between the true Christ, who will not this time appear in the flesh, and this other being who is marked off by the fact that he has never been embodied on the earth.”
It seems clear that, if humanity is to escape the fate which has been so carefully planned for it, then many more of us must develop an awareness that we are spiritual beings currently living in physical bodies. Traditionally, it has been the role of the churches to remind us of our spiritual origins. But as we all know, churchgoing is less and less a part of the culture of our times and most people regard Christianity as irrelevant or mere unscientific superstition.
In this connection, I was startled but not surprised to read that, according to the 2011 UK Census, between 2001 and 2011 the number of Christians born in Britain fell by 5.3 million – about 10,000 a week. (Lord knows what the recent 2021 Census will reveal.) With a continued rate of decline at this level, the number of UK-born Christians would reduce to zero by 2067.
The British Social Attitudes Survey (BSAS) indicates that Anglicanism is declining faster than any other major denomination. With the current rate of decline, it would be set to disappear from Britain by 2033 – just twelve years away.
So it would seem that Christianity in the UK is in a kind of terminal death spiral. I’ve no reason to think that the situation is any different in other Western countries. Why has this decline happened? And why does it matter so much?
To understand how we got to this state of affairs, we need to go back to the early centuries of the Christian religion. As the Christian teaching spread through Europe and Asia Minor in the centuries after the crucifixion, it became mixed up with many local religions and cults and took over many of their rites and festivals and some of their beliefs. The greatest confusion was over what people believed concerning Jesus – who he was, how far he was human being and how far he was God.
Eventually so many diverse doctrines were held by so many different groups all over the Roman Empire that the leaders of the Church called a series of councils to standardise Christian belief. In 325 CE at the First Council of Nicaea, the doctrine of the divinity of Jesus was established – extraordinary as it may seem, this was determined by majority vote. This decision had the effect of separating the Church from the teaching of the Ancient Wisdom concerning the Cosmic Christ and also led to much distortion and misunderstanding of the teaching of Jesus and the apostles.
We could add that this process was continued by the 8th Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in the year 869 which, as Rudolf Steiner has pointed out, abolished the idea of the “trichotomy” of the human being (ie the reality that each of us consists of body, soul and spirit) and reduced us to beings of body and soul only, thus introducing a further very serious distortion into the teachings of the churches and laying the foundation for our present predicament.
There is a fascinating passage in the final chapter of St John’s gospel, after the occurrence of the miraculous draught of fishes, when St Peter asked Jesus what was to be the future work of St John the beloved, the author of the Book of Revelation. Jesus replied: “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me.” My sense of this is that here Jesus was in effect telling Peter to get on with his task of building the Church and not to bother about John, whose work would continue sub rosa until the Second Coming, when it would start to assume more and more importance.
The role of Peter was to “feed my sheep”, to shepherd the people by presenting to them a version of Christianity that would meet their needs but would not be beyond their capacity to understand at that stage of their development. This was to be the purpose of the Church of St Peter – to bring the message of loving one’s brother as oneself and to set humanity on course for the next stage of its journey.
John’s role, by contrast, was to maintain the idea of the Christ as a cosmic Being, the Christ who experienced for three years what it was to be a human in the physical body prepared for him by the master initiate, Jesus. This was to be done through small, secret communities until the second coming of Christ. According to Rudolf Steiner, this second coming was not to be expected as a physical incarnation but was due to happen from 1933 onwards, in the etheric body of the Earth. Before anthroposophy, which brought these teachings much more into public consciousness, the few people who were able to understand such concepts remained in small and hidden Rosicrucian groups under the guidance of St John.
But even today the churches have not felt able to acknowledge, let alone share and communicate the perspective of St John, which is surely the only one which nowadays can reach out to the unspoken spiritual needs of so many people. In Matthew 7:9, Christ Jesus says: “Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?”
Yet by denying the people the knowledge of the Cosmic Christ, the churches are in effect giving us stones rather than the spiritual bread we crave – the times are crying out for the message of St John rather than the simplicities of St Peter. We are living at a time when even the Archbishop of Canterbury – an intelligent and humane man who is also the senior bishop and principal leader of the Church of England, the symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion – does not, for example, understand why Easter has to be a moveable feast.
This is significant, because if the head of the worldwide Anglican communion does not have a sense of the spiritual realities behind Christianity, then he has no access to the true wisdom which could revitalise his Church and regenerate our culture.
There are some priests, such as the late Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who have a greater instinct for cosmic Christianity and who have tried to reconcile science with spirituality; but unfortunately for Teilhard and the church, Rome banned his books, ordered him not to attend international congresses and forbade him to write or teach on philosophical subjects.
The failure of the churches to bring us spiritual nourishment for our times has meant the absolute triumph of the power of money, which now rules the world. Our gods today are people like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, who recognising that they and their kind have trashed our home planet, are now doing all they can to set up Mars as the future location for human beings.
But human beings need to believe in a transcendent reality, in a truth greater than themselves. It doesn’t have to be Christian, it could be Buddhist or Hindu or Muslim or something else. If there is no higher meaning to human life, then the famous phrase of Nietszche: “Nothing is true and everything is permitted” comes into common consciousness, with the results we see all around us. G. K. Chesterton put it slightly differently: “When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing in anything.”
Paul Kingsnorth expressed our situation like this: “When a culture kills its sovereign, the throne will not remain empty for long. Dethrone Christ if you like – dethrone any representative of any sacred order on Earth. But when you do, you will understand that the sovereign, however imperfect his rule, may have been the only thing standing between you and the barbarians massing outside – and inside – your gates.”
Is there an antidote to this poisonous mix of consumer capitalism, nihilism and money worship that is destroying us, our planet and our culture? The old Christendom is not coming back – and nor should it. But as Joan Hodgson in her book Why on Earth has written: “As the influence of the Aquarian Age grows stronger, the mystical Christianity of St John will gradually replace the outworn orthodoxy of the church of Peter. It will lead humanity to ‘an upper room’ – a higher state of consciousness or comprehension – where true communion with the Cosmic Christ will come to all who earnestly seek. It will lead the seeker to the Holy Grail which brings healing for all sorrow and pain. As understanding of this true communion becomes universal, the light of the Cosmic Christ shining through men’s hearts and lives will glorify the earth itself. This is the promised second coming of Christ, foreshadowed in the gospels.”
During this pandemic we have seen how easy it is for populations to be ruled by fear and group-think imposed from above. It seems to me that this has been a rehearsal for, and a demonstration of what is likely to happen when the false Christ, the Anti-Christ, appears in the guise of the great deliverer who will save us from all our troubles. Most people will be taken in by the impostor and, what is more, they will turn on those of us who have a different view.
What is to be done in such dire circumstances? Perhaps the climate crisis can be a blessing in disguise, which is forcing us to look after Earth, our home. It might also encourage us to practice kindness and compassion towards all beings and things. If you have a garden, however small, or even a window box and some pots, try to care for a patch of earth and living, growing things. The temple of nature helps us to reconnect with a greater intelligence which is holding everything in a coherence beyond our understanding. It is there you will be able to commune with the Cosmic Christ, who is within the etheric body of the earth and is waiting for human beings to find their way to him.
In Yeats’ poem, I take the falcon to be a symbol of humanity, going further and further away from home until we can no longer hear Christ the falconer, who despite our waywardness is waiting patiently for us here on Earth.