Last night I had the privilege of attending a talk on the Second Coming of Christ. Nick Thomas, previously General Secretary of British Anthroposophical Society, spoke on the topic of the biblical prophecies of Christ’s return and Rudolf Steiner’s interpretation of these prophecies.
I will summarise the talk and add my own comments in the conclusion.
The Etheric Christ
The first and possibly most significant point is that Christ’s return will be in the Etheric Realm, as opposed to a the physical realm as he first appeared two thousand years ago. Steiner is quite adamant on this point, saying that Christ will never again appear in the physical realm.
Sidebar- this is in part the reason for Steiner forming Anthroposophy as a breakaway movement from Theosophy.
The rich visual imagery given by scripture of Christ’s triumphant return to earth are not intended to point to external events but rather refer to the encounter of the inner man with Christ in the spiritual realm. That these encounters will occur in the individual man and give each man, who is able to become conscious of such an event, his very own encounter with Christ on the Road to Damascus. Direct access to the Divine.
More specifically Steiner predicted this return of the Etheric Christ as occurring around 1930 and remaining in the etheric field for next aeon, ushering in the next evolutionary step, which step will be an evolution of the consciousness and of spirit.
Such that each man has the potential to be his own church. And with such privilege comes the responsibility for each to be responsible for his own salvation; as opposed to an earlier consciousness, where the church carried the responsibility for the group and the individual was able to more passively participate in his own salvation.
So saving your soul now becomes personal, a sacred responsibility each must carry for him or herself.
Sidebar: there is a remarkable resonance here with Jung’s concept of individuation and the implications of the individual’s journey to psychic wholeness for the community of man. For those interested in reading more I recommend Edward Edinger’s Archetype of the Apocalypse. This entire book, which is an examination of Revelations from a psychological perspective, is an examination of Steiner’s statement but from a writer who makes not a single reference to Steiner or Anthroposophy.
Edinger other than attempting to amplify Jung’s own statements on the apocalyptic nature of the late twentieth century simply picks up of the collective Christian zeitgeist around this issue. However contrary to institutional Christianity both Steiner and Jung see this as occurring to the inner man as opposed to it being a material event in line with the current materialistic consciousness.
Participative Consciousness as opposed to On-looker Consciousness
As Nick Thomas most eloquently pointed out one of the reasons we may be inclined to misinterpret scriptural prophecy is the mistaken belief that the consciousness of man at the time of Christ was the same as it is today.
He said that our consciousness today may be described as a kind of ‘on-looker’ consciousness. We are all the disciples of science and objective thought, in this sense we objectify the world around us.
Whereas at the time of Christ consciousness was more participative in nature. Man did not classify and differentiate his internal and external experiences the way we do today. He did not objectify them, but rather participated in these experiences in a more mystical and less scientific way.
It is a well known and accepted fact in sociology that consciousness has changed. That in earlier time’s man enjoyed what Levy Bruhl referred to as participation mystique. This is a far deeper participative consciousness with the world around us, and is still accessed today by shamanistic practices and hallucinogenic drugs.
The Occult Prison
Thomas compared modern science, a necessary ‘but not final- stage in conscious evolution, to an occult prison. He told the story of how esoteric lodges were purported to place those they deemed troublemakers, such as Madame Blavatsky in her time, in an occult prison.
This condition meant that the person trapped in the prison would only see certain repetitive, presumably overlapping, images when they tried to consciously penetrate into the spiritual realm.
And Thomas compared our current scientific and materialistic consciousness with this. Wherever we look we no longer find the Spirit but only Science. But that this was a matter of perception (or more accurately in Jungian terms- apperception) rather than anything to do with fundamental reality.
A fairly simple way to put with would be to say that there was a time when man perceived the world using his heart and now he uses his head.
Steiner teaches that there will be a time in the future where man will use both of these organs of perception to interpret his experiences and the world around him.
A powerful modern myth describing this dichotomy is the movie trilogy The Matrix.
Some Thoughts in Conclusion
Like all great truths, something like this needs to be experienced by you to become real in a meaningful way. As one of my mentors, Dr John Williams, once said there is a difference between being in knowledge of and knowing.
These great, cosmic prophecies sound inflated and even a little silly when viewed from our current materialistic and scientific consciousness. Yet I think there is much merit in these claims.
In evaluating a claim such as the appearance of the Etheric Christ, we need to be mindful of a few things:
‘ This is part of the Mystery Tradition. True mystery, as Gabriel Marcel points out, (anything directly involving the I), is not amenable to reductive consciousness. That is to say when we consider the enigma of our own beingness, at least phenomenologicaly, we should not attempt to apply the scientific method.
‘ As Steiner tells us this is a subjective encounter. It involves you intrinsically and essentially so only you can know the truth. To know the truth of these claims, or lack thereof, ask yourself whether or not you have encountered the Etheric Christ. Rather than ask anyone else, who can never, in truth, know your mystery
‘ It is in this aspect that the prophecy has its greatest value. We are not being asked to believe but rather to enquire and experience for ourselves. This is a prophecy whose nature is such that passive belief is not only not required but actually contradicts the goal of direct contact with the divine.
Lastly in attempting some sort of an objective evaluation of these prophecies I think the following is appropriate. Forget your personal religious mythology for a moment, meaning I don’t think this is only accessible to Christians despite what the more dogmatically minded might think.
The question is: are we as a society of man living in a time when the event horizon of a quantum change in human evolution is upon us?
Well in this regard I think both science and mysticism are agreed- Yes we are living in just such an age.
Science would point out it is the gift of science, specifically technology, which has opened Pandora’s Box; and that it is science and technology which is driving our evolutionary imperative up an exponentially increasing curve.
By way of illustration, let’s talk for a moment about Moore’s Law. The number of transistors which can be placed on an integrated circuit will double every 18 months.
To put this law into a context, consider the following fact. After the 2nd World War the number of FLOPS (floating point operations per second), basically the raw processing power, of the world’s largest and best computers, was around 100 FLOPS.
Just over 50 years later, by 2005, this number had increased to a thousand trillion FLOPS, that is 1 000 000 000 000 000 FLOPS (!) Not a bad increase really .
But that not the impressive part. The really mind boggling, jaw dropping, fact is that with the advent of nano technology this exponential increase in computing power is likely to continue well past the middle of this century. (beyond which we cannot really see)
All of which means, according to James Martin, Britain’s leading futurist, that we had not as yet officially entered the computer age. We stand rather at its threshold and the next 100 years will see a growth of technology which will quite conceivably change the very nature of what we consider real today.
Set this against the fact that the planet is under such serious threat from a number of sources that the 21st century is also quite possibly the time that will see a complete collapse of modern civilisation.
And in the mystical traditions, not only anthroposophy, the belief is widespread that we live in a time where great, dramatic and irrevesable change is upon us.
All things considered we live in a time when a personal encounter with the Etheric Christ, or whatever name you choose to give that which is Divine, may not be such a bad idea.