THE GREAT VIRTUES
- Dear Friends,
Since Matti asked for a copy of this lecture I thought I'd post sections
of it here as I get the time.
THE GREAT VIRTUES
A lecture given by RUDOLF STEINER in Zurich, 31st January 1915
OUR spiritual science has the task of removing for our consciousness,
indeed for our whole inner life, the gulf that exists for our external
human consciousness between the physical world, in which man spends the
time between birth and death, and the spiritual world in which man
spends the other part of the totality of his
existence, the time between death and a new birth.
For one who lives in spiritual science with every fibre of his soul,
such a saying is familiar, and even self-evident. But one may well say
that it becomes particularly holy to us at such a moment as this.
Through the grave events of war we have lost within quite a short time a
number of our dear friends and members, and are soon to accompany
upon their last paths on earth. Tomorrow morning at eleven we shall have
here in Zurich the cremation of a dear member, Frau Dr Colazza, and we
have just heard that our dear friend Fritz Mitscher died this afternoon
about five near Davos. With these two members, souls dear to us have
left the physical plane; but spiritual science has shown us the way to
understand in a much higher sense than we would otherwise be able to
achieve that we do not lose such souls, but remain united with them.
There are already a considerable number of souls belonging to us, who
have gone through the gate of death since our work in this movement
began. And from those sources from which knowledge of the spirit comes
to us, it can be said that these souls have become faithful
fellow-workers with us in the spiritual world, each according to his
powers. With the full responsibility, with which something can be said,
which should have a firm foundation in spiritual knowledge, I can say:
in them we have won pillars supporting our spiritual movement.
Many have passed through the gate of death, working within
our spiritual movement, and looking down upon that to which their love
is directed. In the period between birth and death they have grown
attached to the kind of aspiration which is represented in our circle.
They have left behind them in our Society something which is itself upon
the path between death and a new birth.
Just as nature around us is a world upon which we look back, we can look
back upon our physical life from that moment onwards, which can be
compared with man's birth. Immediately after death man passes through a
condition which can be compared with the embryonic life, with the life
within the maternal body, except that this period in the life after
death can be counted in days, and is much shorter than the embryonic
life in relation to physical life. Then follows what can be compared to
the entry into the physical world, with the drawing of the first breath.
This can be called the awakening in the spiritual world; it is a
perceiving that the will of the soul which has gone through the gate of
death is received by the beings of the higher Hierarchies. Just as a
human being physically entering the physical world from his mother's
body finds himself able to receive the external air, and as his senses
gradually awaken - in the same way there comes the moment after death
when the soul feels: that power of will, which during physical life was
contained within the limits of the physical body, now flows from me out
into the universe. And this soul then feels how this will is really
received through the activity of the beings of the next higher
hierarchy, the hierarchy of the Angels. That is like drawing the first
breath in the spiritual world, and the gradual growth into the spiritual
environment; spiritual experience shows us this.
I would like to speak of the destiny of those who have gone from us in
the course of the years, leaving the physical plane. I would like to
look at those who have become attached to our spiritual movement here,
and who look down upon it as something of which they know that it
informs human souls while still within the physical body about that
condition in which they themselves live. To be able to relate oneself in
this way in memory of earthly life is something which even here in the
physical world belongs already to the spiritual world. For those who
have gone through the gate of death this is something
infinitely precious and significant. When, like a tributary into a
river, they can flow entirely into that stream which flows up to them
from the physical world, taking its source from what they have
experienced in our movement - the stream in the thoughts of those linked
with them in love or by family ties -then the community is a much closer
one than it could otherwise be in our materialistic times, because it is
based on spiritual relationships.
We may say: with many a one, who has gone early through the gate of
death into the spiritual world, it seems as if he had done this from
intimate love to our spiritual movement, in order to help with stronger
powers from the spiritual world. Among a considerable number of those
who have gone from us there lives in their souls the most wonderfully
clear feeling about the need for our spiritual movement. For him who can
look into the spiritual world all those who have gone through the gate
of death, and now gaze down upon the movement with which they were
connected, are like spiritual heralds of our movement. They carry their
standards before us, and call to us constantly: we were convinced while
we were united with you of the necessity of this movement. But now that
we have entered the spiritual world we know that we can help and how we
must help at a time in which this movement is necessary.
This is something which those who are left behind on the physical plane
will feel more and more, when they have lost people dear to them. For
them what has been said can be the deepest comfort, for they have here
all that can bring about a still deeper connection between souls when we
can no longer be connected in the external realm of manifestation,
through physical eyes and physical words.
This spiritual movement, of which we are to become part, has to bring a
very great deal. Today I would like to choose out one particular
chapter. A time like ours, in which external civilisation, in spite of
the last echoes of the old religions, builds entirely upon the
materialistic consciousness, can only develop the impulses of the moral
life in a way that reckons only with life between birth and death. Among
the many things which should come about through our spiritual movement
will be a fresh development of the whole moral life of humanity. For men
will learn to regard the moral life from a point of view which extends
beyond birth and death, and which reckons with the fact that the human
soul goes through repeated lives on earth, and that this soul, as we
bear it within us between birth and death, has passed
through many lives, and can hope for other lives in the future. When we
have extended our vision from a single life to a series of successive
lives, we shall have a more comprehensive understanding for our
existence, and a sounder and more comprehensive understanding of what
virtue and morality are.
- Imagine how a man who has become especially wise stretches out the
organs of his wisdom mightily, like the branches of a tree. They
originate in the cerebellum which remains within the hard covering of
the skull; but the
spiritual organs stretch out, and man is under the tree, the Bodhi tree,
in spiritual reality.
And so we see too that what we do in wisdom is the most spiritual thing
about us, or at least belongs to the most spiritual, for the organs are
already at rest. If we do anything with our hands, we must use part of
our strength in the movement of the hand. If we form a wise judgment, or
decide something wisely, the organs remain at rest, strength is no
longer used upon the physical organ. We are there more spiritual; those
organs which we use on the physical plane for the development of wisdom
are those on which we need to use the least amount of energy - they are
in a sense the most perfect.
Thus wisdom is something in the moral life which allows men to
experience themselves in a spiritual way. It is connected with this that
what man attains in the way of wisdom enables him to reap the greatest
harvest from his earlier incarnations. Because we can live in wisdom
within the spirit without any effort by the physical organs, we are most
able through the life of wisdom to make fruitful what we have won in
earlier incarnations for this life, bringing over this wisdom from
We have in German a good expression for a man who refuses to become
wise. We call him a Philistine.* A Philistine is a man who resists the
development of wisdom, who wants to remain as he is his whole life
through, without altering his opinions. A man who seeks to become wise
makes the effort to carry over the work which he has done and stored up
in the course of earlier incarnations. The wiser we become, the more we
bring over from earlier incarnations into the present, and if we do not
wish to become wise, so that we leave barren the wisdom developed in
earlier incarnations, there is then one who comes to saw it off:
No-one likes it better than Ahriman that we fail to grow wiser. We have
the power to do it. We have gained far, far more in earlier incarnations
than we believe; we won far more during the times in which we passed
through the old conditions of clairvoyance. Everyone could become much
wiser than he does become. No-one has the excuse that he could not bring
over from the past.
* The German and the English meaning of the word are rather different.
- To become wise means that one develops what has been won in earlier
incarnations in such a way that it fills us in this incarnation.
* * *
Another virtue can be called though it is difficult to describe it
exactly - the virtue of Courage. It contains the mood which does not
remain passive towards life, but is ready to use its strength and
activity. It can be said that this virtue comes from the heart. Of one
who has this virtue in ordinary life it can be said: he has his heart in
the right place.
This is a good expression for our condition when we do not withdraw in a
timid way from things which life asks from us, but when we are prepared
to take ourselves in hand and know how to intervene where it is
necessary. When we are inclined to get moving, confidently and bravely,
we have this virtue. It is connected with a healthy life of feeling,
which develops bravery at the right moment, while its absence brings
This virtue can naturally be used in the physical course of life only
through specific organs. These organs, to which the physical and
ethereal hearts belong, are not so perfect as those which serve wisdom.
These organs are on the way to alter, and will indeed become different
in the future.
There is a great distinction between the brain and the heart in their
relation to cosmic evolution. Suppose that a man goes through the gate
of death, and passes through life between death and a new birth. His
brain is altogether a work of the Gods. The brain is permeated by forces
which leave him altogether when he goes through the gate of death, and
for his next life the brain is built up entirely anew, not only
materially, but also in its inner forces. That is not the case with the
heart. With the heart it is so, that not the physical heart itself, but
the forces which are active in the physical heart, remain in existence.
These forces withdraw into the astral and into the Ego, and continue in
existence between death and a new birth. The same forces, which beat
within our hearts, beat again next time in our new incarnation. What
works in the brain has gone; that does not appear in the next
incarnation. But the forces active in the heart reappear in the next
incarnation. If we contemplate the interior of the head we can say:
invisible forces are working there, which compose the brain.