During the foundation of The Christian Community in 1922 Rudolf Steiner held a public lecture course for a group of French speaking visitors. The theme was that of Philosophy, Cosmology and Religion. The course follows themes of how we can find a gesture of renewal for these three areas of knowledge or consciousness. In broad terms he begins with a description of the difference between those people who have chosen a scientific path of understanding and those who choose one of faith and describes a juxtaposition that could have been spoken of today. The scientific age has changed our concept of belief and allows our philosophies to be guided by what is reasonable alone. Our cosmology includes an infinite spatial dimension based on physics and light mechanics. Our religious experience can be subjected to critical questioning to the point where it fades into non-existence; or it may be tolerated as a purely personal matter that has no bearing on reality. Those who still hold to other dimensions than the physically provable are left with faith in the dim memories of religious teachings. Scientific knowledge and faith stand side by side, one demanding the results of the attainable world of observation, the other calling us to extend our knowledge to religious experience and not leave the understanding of things in our spirituality to traditions and dogmas that ask us to believe without a need to understand.
He then continues through the lecture course and explores many different ways that we can find a renewed connection to philosophy, cosmology and religious consciousness. We are encouraged to place humanity and Christ within these three forms of understanding that is born of our conscious experiences of a supersensible world through imagination, inspiration and intuition. Interestingly enough the renewal of the religious consciousness, out of which we can renew our religious practices, comes from the intuitive connection and communion experiences of the beings in the furthest dimensions of the starry cosmos. Religion can only be renewed through a renewal of our religious consciousness which is founded on a conscious connection or communion with the spiritual beings in the landscapes of the spiritual world. Rudolf Steiner’s ideas on the renewal of religion are based on understanding our spiritual experiences. These experiences are in themselves religious ones as they are a conscious communion or connection with spiritual beings.
How does this process look for us? For while we can aspire to working on imagination, inspiration and intuition it would be difficult, if not disempowering, to say that the process of understanding our religious experiences consciously must wait for our initiation. In trying to understand and integrate one’s spiritual experiences one tends to create a philosophical and cosmological framework in which they make meaning in and of our lives. Prayers, meditation and ritual are all ways of entering into religious experience of other dimensions, and coming to understand them nourishes our faith. We can work constantly on broadening our philosophies and cosmology out of religious experience that has found reasonable understanding. In this sense we are all theologians, seeking through pondering, dialogue and study to integrate our experiences into a framework that guides our activity in the world. In fact until our understanding of these things actually changes our deeds, we might say that we do not have faith. Rudolf Steiner’s renewal impulse is actually a description of our human nature.
In many ways Steiner himself was a theologian in the same sense that we all are as described above. He too had his profound experiences of the spiritual world and communed with spiritual beings and went a journey to bring pictures and imaginations and knowledge of these worlds into a philosophical cosmological framework in a rational way. While doing so he addressed in what he would call a philosophical way many disciplines within theology. To name a few he became a biblical scholar by illuminating so profoundly the deeper mysteries of the bible. In fact he also became a true inter-faith theologian in a larger sense by illuminating many sacred texts, mythologies and cosmologies from other cultural traditions. His understanding of the earth as a spiritual being and the working of the divine feminine in the re-awakening of Persephone and Isis-Sophia prove that he has a deep eco and feminist theological understanding of theological anthropology; the understanding of the unique role of the human being in creation that is derived from our theological understandings. Later he became a liturgical theologian through his far reaching understanding of ritual in the founding of The Christian Community.
But what of his systematic theology? Certainly if one tries to create a systematic theology from Steiner’s works, one where he clearly states how the spiritual world, the trinity and the nature of creation works we struggle to define him as a theologian in the sense of a Thomas Aquinas or Wolfhart Pannenburg. I say this as one would expect a systematic theologian to sit down and address volume by volume, in a clear developing agenda, the themes of the nature of God. We can read these books in a clear consequential sequence to study their framework and indeed some authors such as Emil Bock have attempted to create such works relating to Rudolf Steiner’s insights.
However, with Rudolf Steiner we have to read many different books and lectures and find a way of fitting snippets of information, contradictory imaginations and some fairly left of field ideas together into a cohesive whole in our minds. We also have to digest large amounts of information he did write in his written works. However, we have to do the ordering in our own understanding to generate the theology. I think Rudolf Steiner consciously chose not to write a clear systematic theology as he wanted to create a spark within us that would do the work of ordering and understanding by forcing us to bring our experiences into relationship with his ideas.
This is the moment where theology and religion meet in Steiner’s thoughts. We could say more philosophically where understanding and devotion nurture each other. As a process Steiner himself describes it as a liturgical theologian would. He says we can have experiences of the divine spiritual world which at first may be unintelligible to us. These experiences come in many forms such as rituals, prayer, walks in nature, watching the stars and in human relationships .At first these experiences may give rise to feelings that are difficult to articulate but generate a sense of awe and wonder. Our sense of awe and connection drives us to want to understand the experience. The process of finding words, analogies and philosophical frameworks to explain the experience is a theological one as it gives us the understanding upon which our life activities adjust and change. As we grow in our understanding and our life is enhanced through the growth of our philosophy and cosmology we feel a new drive emerge within us. This feeling is where theology becomes religious. It arises within us as a need and a drive towards expressing a religious deed out into the world. A sense of needing to give gratitude and thanksgiving back to the spiritual world, other person or nature takes form in our soul. We could say that our growth in understanding now seeks experience again. This gesture towards the world where our conscious communion finds its expression in an activity of reverence and devotion that brings with it the need for nurturing and caring for that other being. It is an outpouring of our inner experience of understanding towards the other in a form of creativity and love.
This was not a theoretical idea in the life of Rudolf Steiner. He lived this cyclical process of experiencing the Spirit leading to understanding and understanding leading us back into religious expression. The way he did it may not fit in with the more traditional definitions of what religious expression would mean to people. Normally we understand ‘religious’ to mean some form of church practice or ritual. However, Rudolf Steiner had a principle of religious freedom as part of the path of evolution of consciousness within individual destiny. In his own life he continuously expressed his own growth in understanding his spiritual experiences in the world. This was always done with awe, wonder and deep love for humanity and the spiritual world; a deeply religious experience. There are many stories of his growth and realization of the religious life. He would at times have tears in his eyes when bringing some experience of the spirit to the world. It was well known that he would pray out loud in his room each day. His whole devotion to the growth of the various initiatives in the world and the care he showed for the people trying to establish the anthroposophical work in the world showed great devotion and religious action. It was a true expression of how the understandings of the spiritual experiences (his theology) became the framework for his action in the world (his religious practice). His theology, philosophy and cosmology led to action in the world that took the meaning of the word ‘religion’ into the free deed of the individual.
Where does Rudolf Steiner’s theology become religious? I hope we don’t expect an answer that says it is in the founding of The Christian Community. For me it is in observing how his own journey led more and more to his own freedom of religious expression in the world. As his own understanding and confidence in his realizations grew so did his confidence in being able to draw attention to the power of prayer and spiritual activity in the world. It may seem strange to think that Rudolf Steiner himself had a biography in his own realizations and creative religious expressions in the world, but it is true and he himself spoke of how these things developed for him to the point of possibly loosing just about everything he had stood for.
The example in his own life is also where he always challenged humanity, and especially those who would follow his teachings, to take up the process in their own lives. Where we seek our experiences of the spirit, and how we give back in devotional practice to humanity and the spirit, is then completely in the freedom and the karma of the individual destiny. A further development of this gesture is to then develop reverence towards an individual’s destiny and create actions towards them that help liberate them into the full expression of their religious participation in the creative transformation of the world they act in. Rudolf Steiner’s theology (the process of understanding our spiritual experiences) becomes religion (the process of devotional activity into the world) in the life of individuals who continuously follow the mutually nurturing path of spiritual understanding and religious experience.