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- Transcriber's Note: Inconsistent hyphenation in the original document has been preserved. Obvious typographical errors have been corrected. For a complete list, please see the end of this document. -
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CHRISTIANITY AS MYSTICAL FACT AND THE MYSTERIES OF ANTIQUITY
DR. RUDOLF STEINER AUTHOR OF "MYSTICS OF THE RENAISSANCE," "THE GATES OF KNOWLEDGE," ETC.
THIRD EDITION, REVISED AND ENLARGED
EDITED BY H. COLLISON
THE AUTHORIZED ENGLISH TRANSLATION
G.P. PUTNAM'S SONS NEW YORK AND LONDON The Knickerbocker Press 1914
COPYRIGHT, 1914 BY H. COLLISON
The copyrights, the publishing rights, and the editorial responsibility for the translations of the works of Rudolf Steiner, Ph.D., with the exception of those already published under the editorial supervision of Mr. Max Gysi, are now vested in Mr. Harry Collison, M.A., Oxon.
The Knickerbocker Press, New York
PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION
Christianity as Mystical Fact was the title given by the author to this work, when, eight years ago, he gathered into it the substance of lectures delivered by him in 1902. The title indicated the special character of the book. In it the attempt was made, not merely to represent historically the mystical content of Christianity, but to describe the origin of Christianity from the standpoint of mystical contemplation. Underlying this intention was the thought that at the genesis of Christianity mystical facts were at work which can only be perceived by such contemplation.
It is only the book itself which can make clear that by "mystical" its author does not imply a conception which relies more on vague feelings than on "strictly scientific statements." It is true that "mysticism" is at present widely understood in the former sense, and hence it is declared by many to be a sphere of the human soul-life with which "true science" can have nothing to do. In this book the word "mysticism" is used in the sense of the representation of a spiritual fact, which can only be recognised in its true nature when the knowledge of it is derived from the sources of spiritual life itself. If the kind of knowledge drawn from such sources is rejected, the reader will not be in a position to judge of the contents of this book. Only one who allows that the same clearness may exist in mysticism as in a true representation of the facts of natural science, will be ready to admit that the content of Christianity as mysticism may also be mystically described. For it is not only a question of the contents of the book, but first and foremost of the methods of knowledge by means of which the statements in it are made.
Many there are in the present day who have a most violent dislike to such methods, which are regarded as conflicting with the ways of true science. And this is not only the case with those willing to admit other interpretations of the world than their own, on the ground of "genuine knowledge of natural science," but also with those who as believers wish to study the nature of Christianity.
The author of this book stands on the ground of a conception which sees that the achievements of natural science in our age must lead up into true mysticism. In fact, any other attitude as regards knowledge actually contradicts everything presented by the achievements of natural science. The facts of natural science itself indeed cannot be comprehended by means of those methods of knowledge which so many people would like to employ to the exclusion of others, under the illusion that they stand on the firm ground of natural science. It is only when we are prepared to admit that a full appreciation of our present admirable knowledge of nature is compatible with genuine mysticism, that we can take the contents of this book into consideration.
The author's intention is to show, by means of what is here called "mystical knowledge," how the source of Christianity prepared its own ground in the mysteries of pre-Christian times. In this pre-Christian mysticism we find the soil in which Christianity throve, as a germ of quite independent nature. This point of view makes it possible to understand Christianity in its independent being, even though its evolution is traced from pre-Christian mysticism. If this point of view be overlooked, it is very possible to misunderstand that independent character, and to think that Christianity was merely a further development of what already existed in pre-Christian mysticism. Many people of the present day have fallen into this error, comparing the content of Christianity with pre-Christian conceptions, and then thinking that Christian ideas were only a continuation of the former. The following pages are intended to show that Christianity presupposes the earlier mysticism just as a seed must have its soil. It is intended to emphasise the peculiar character of the essence of Christianity, through the knowledge of its evolution, but not to extinguish it.
It is with deep satisfaction that the author is able to mention that this account of the nature of Christianity has found acceptance with a writer who has enriched the culture of our time in the highest sense of the word, by his important works on the spiritual life of humanity. Edouard Schure, author of Les Grands Inities, is so far in accord with the attitude of this book that he undertook to translate it into French, under the title, Le mystere chretien et les mysteres antiques. It may be mentioned by the way, and as a symptom of the existence at the present time of a longing to understand the nature of Christianity as presented in this work, that the first edition was translated into other European languages besides French.
The author has not found occasion to alter anything essential in the preparation of this second edition. On the other hand, what was written eight years ago has been enlarged, and the endeavour has been made to express many things more exactly and circumstantially than was then possible. Unfortunately the author was obliged, through stress of work, to let a long period elapse between the time when the first edition was exhausted, and the appearance of the second.
 This book is to be had in an English translation, by F. Rothwell, under the title of The Great Initiates, A Sketch of the Secret History of Religions, by Edouard Schure (Pub., Rider & Son, London).
PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION iii
I.—POINTS OF VIEW 1
II.—THE MYSTERIES AND THEIR WISDOM 10
III.—THE GREEK SAGES BEFORE PLATO IN THE LIGHT OF THE WISDOM OF THE MYSTERIES 39
IV.—PLATO AS A MYSTIC 63
V.—THE WISDOM OF THE MYSTERIES AND THE MYTH 93
VI.—THE MYSTERY WISDOM OF EGYPT 127
VII.—THE GOSPELS 147
VIII.—THE LAZARUS MIRACLE 159
IX.—THE APOCALYPSE OF ST. JOHN 177
X.—JESUS AND HIS HISTORICAL BACKGROUND 198
XI.—THE NATURE OF CHRISTIANITY 203
XII.—CHRISTIANITY AND HEATHEN WISDOM 215
XIII.—ST. AUGUSTINE AND THE CHURCH 227
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CHRISTIANITY AS MYSTICAL FACT
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Christianity as Mystical Fact
POINTS OF VIEW
Natural Science has deeply influenced modern thought. It is becoming more and more impossible to speak of spiritual needs and the life of the soul, without taking into consideration the achievements and methods of this science. It must be admitted, however, that many people satisfy these needs, without letting themselves be troubled by its influence. But those who feel the beating of the pulse of the age must take this influence into consideration. With increasing swiftness do ideas derived from natural science take possession of our brains, and, unwillingly though it may be, our hearts follow, often in dejection and dismay. It is not a question only of the number thus won over, but of the fact that there is a force within the method of natural science, which convinces the attentive observer that that method contains something which cannot be neglected, and is one by which any modern conception of the universe must be profoundly affected. Many of the outgrowths of this method compel a justifiable rejection. But such rejection is not sufficient in an age in which very many resort to this way of thinking, and are attracted to it as if by magic. The case is in no way altered because some people see that true science long ago passed, by its own initiative, beyond the shallow doctrines of force and matter taught by materialists. It would be better, apparently, to listen to those who boldly declare that the ideas of natural science will form the basis of a new religion. If these ideas also appear shallow and superficial to one who knows the deeper spiritual needs of humanity, he must nevertheless take note of them, for it is to them that attention is now turned, and there is reason to think they will claim more and more notice in the near future.
Another class of people have also to be taken into account, those whose hearts have lagged behind their heads. With their reason they cannot but accept the ideas of natural science. The burden of proof is too much for them. But those ideas cannot satisfy the religious needs of their souls,—the perspective offered is too dreary. Is the human soul to rise on the wings of enthusiasm to the heights of beauty, truth, and goodness, only for each individual to be swept away in the end like a bubble blown by the material brain? This is a feeling which oppresses many minds like a nightmare. But scientific concepts oppress them also, coming as they do come with the mighty force of authority. As long as they can, these people remain blind to the discord in their souls. Indeed they console themselves by saying that full clearness in these matters is denied to the human soul. They think in accordance with natural science so long as the experience of their senses and the logic of their intellect demand it, but they keep to the religious sentiments in which they have been educated, and prefer to remain in darkness as to these matters,—a darkness which clouds their understanding. They have not the courage to battle through to the light.
There can be no doubt whatever that the habit of thought derived from natural science is the greatest force in modern intellectual life, and it must not be passed by heedlessly by any one concerned with the spiritual interests of humanity. But it is none the less true that the way in which it sets about satisfying spiritual needs is superficial and shallow. If this were the right way, the outlook would indeed be dreary. Would it not be depressing to be obliged to agree with those who say: "Thought is a form of force. We walk by means of the same force by which we think. Man is an organism which transforms various forms of force into thought-force, an organism the activity of which we maintain by what we call 'food,' and with which we produce what we call 'thought.' What a marvellous chemical process it is which could change a certain quantity of food into the divine tragedy of Hamlet." This is quoted from a pamphlet of Robert G. Ingersoll, bearing the title, Modern Twilight of the Gods. It matters little if such thoughts find but scanty acceptance in the outside world. The point is that innumerable people find themselves compelled by the system of natural science to take up with regard to world-processes an attitude in conformity with the above, even when they think they are not doing so.
It would certainly be a dreary outlook if natural science itself compelled us to accept the creed proclaimed by many of its modern prophets. Most dreary of all for one who has gained, from the content of natural science, the conviction that in its own sphere its mode of thought holds good and its methods are unassailable. For he is driven to make the admission that, however much people may dispute about individual questions, though volume after volume may be written, and thousands of observations accumulated about the struggle for existence and its insignificance, about the omnipotence or powerlessness of natural selection, natural science itself is moving in a direction which, within certain limits, must find acceptance in an ever-increasing degree.
But are the demands made by natural science really such as they are described by some of its representatives? That they are not so is proved by the method employed by these representatives themselves. The method they use in their own sphere is not such as is often described, and claimed for other spheres of thought. Would Darwin and Ernst Haeckel ever have made their great discoveries about the evolution of life if, instead of observing life and the structure of living beings, they had shut themselves up in a laboratory and there made chemical experiments with tissue cut out of an organism? Would Lyell have been able to describe the development of the crust of the earth if, instead of examining strata and their contents, he had scrutinised the chemical qualities of innumerable rocks? Let us really follow in the footsteps of these investigators who tower like giants in the domain of modern science. We shall then apply to the higher regions of spiritual life the methods they have used in the study of nature. We shall not then believe we have understood the nature of the "divine" tragedy of Hamlet by saying that a wonderful chemical process transformed a certain quantity of food into that tragedy. We shall believe it as little as an investigator of nature could seriously believe that he has understood the mission of heat in the evolution of the earth, when he has studied the action of heat on sulphur in a retort. Neither does he attempt to understand the construction of the human brain by examining the effect of liquid potash on a fragment of it, but rather by inquiring how the brain has, in the course of evolution, been developed out of the organs of lower organisms.
It is therefore quite true that one who is investigating the nature of spirit can do nothing better than learn from natural science. He need only do as science does, but he must not allow himself to be misled by what individual representatives of natural science would dictate to him. He must investigate in the spiritual as they do in the physical domain, but he need not adopt the opinions they entertain about the spiritual world, confused as they are by their exclusive contemplation of physical phenomena.
We shall only be acting in the spirit of natural science if we study the spiritual development of man as impartially as the naturalist observes the sense-world. We shall then certainly be led, in the domain of spiritual life, to a kind of contemplation which differs from that of the naturalist as geology differs from pure physics and biology from chemistry. We shall be led up to higher methods, which cannot, it is true, be those of natural science, though quite conformable with the spirit of it. Such methods alone are able to bring us to the heart of spiritual developments, such as that of Christianity, or other worlds of religious conceptions. Any one applying these methods may arouse the opposition of many who believe they are thinking scientifically, but he will know himself, for all that, to be in full accord with a genuinely scientific method of thought.
An investigator of this kind must also go beyond a merely historical examination of the documents relating to spiritual life. This is necessary just on account of the attitude he has acquired from his study of natural history. When a chemical law is explained, it is of small use to describe the retorts, dishes, and pincers which have led to the discovery of the law. And it is just as useless, when explaining the origin of Christianity, to ascertain the historical sources drawn upon by the Evangelist St. Luke, or those from which the "hidden revelation" of St. John is compiled. History can in this case be only the outer court to research proper. It is not by tracing the historical origin of documents that we shall discover anything about the dominant ideas in the writings of Moses or in the traditions of the Greek mystics. These documents are only the outer expression for the ideas. Nor does the naturalist who is investigating the nature of man trouble about the origin of the word "man," or the way in which it has developed in a language. He keeps to the thing, not to the word in which it finds expression. And in studying spiritual life we must likewise abide by the spirit and not by outer documents.
THE MYSTERIES AND THEIR WISDOM
A kind of mysterious veil hangs over the manner in which spiritual needs were satisfied during the older civilisations by those who sought a deeper religious life and fuller knowledge than the popular religions offered. If we inquire how these needs were satisfied, we find ourselves led into the dim twilight of the mysteries, and the individual seeking them disappears for a time from our observation. We see how it is that the popular religions cannot give him what his heart desires. He acknowledges the existence of the gods, but knows that the ordinary ideas about them do not solve the great problems of existence. He seeks a wisdom which is jealously guarded by a community of priest-sages. His aspiring soul seeks a refuge in this community. If he is found by the sages to be sufficiently prepared, he is led up by them, step by step, to higher knowledge, in places hidden from the eyes of outward observers. What then happens to him is concealed from the uninitiated. He seems for a time to be entirely removed from earthly life and to be transported into a hidden world.
When he reappears in the light of day a different, quite transformed person is before us. We see a man who cannot find words sublime enough to express the momentous experience through which he has passed. Not merely metaphorically but in a most real sense does he seem to have gone through the gate of death and to have awakened to a new and higher life. He is, moreover, quite certain that no one who has not had a similar experience can understand his words.
This was what happened to those who were initiated into the Mysteries, into that secret wisdom withheld from the people and which threw light on the greatest questions. This "secret" religion of the elect existed side by side with the popular religion. Its origin vanishes, as far as history is concerned, into the obscurity in which the origin of nations is lost. We find this secret religion everywhere amongst the ancients as far as we know anything concerning them; and we hear their sages speak of the Mysteries with the greatest reverence. What was it that was concealed in them? And what did they unveil to the initiate?
The enigma becomes still more puzzling when we discover that the ancients looked upon the Mysteries as something dangerous. The way leading to the secrets of existence passed through a world of terrors, and woe to him who tried to gain them unworthily. There was no greater crime than the "betrayal" of secrets to the uninitiated. The "traitor" was punished with death and the confiscation of his property. We know that the poet AEschylus was accused of having reproduced on the stage something from the Mysteries. He was only able to escape death by fleeing to the altar of Dionysos and by legally proving that he had never been initiated.
What the ancients say about these secrets is significant, but at the same time ambiguous. The initiate is convinced that it would be a sin to tell what he knows and also that it would be sinful for the uninitiated to listen. Plutarch speaks of the terror of those about to be initiated, and compares their state of mind to preparation for death. A special mode of life had to precede initiation, tending to give the spirit the mastery over the senses. Fasting, solitude, mortifications, and certain exercises for the soul were the means employed. The things to which man clings in ordinary life were to lose all their value for him. The whole trend of his life of sensation and feeling was to be changed.
There can be no doubt as to the meaning of such exercises and tests. The wisdom which was to be offered to the candidate for initiation could only produce the right effect upon his soul if he had previously purified the lower life of his sensibility. He was introduced to the life of the spirit. He was to behold a higher world, but he could not enter into relations with that world without previous exercises and tests. The relations thus gained were the condition of initiation.
In order to obtain a correct idea on this matter, it is necessary to gain experience of the intimate facts of the growth of knowledge. We must feel that there are two widely divergent attitudes towards that which the highest knowledge gives. The world surrounding us is to us at first the real one. We feel, hear, and see what goes on in it, and because we thus perceive things with our senses, we call them real. And we reflect about events, in order to get an insight into their connections. On the other hand, what wells up in our soul is at first not real to us in the same sense. It is "merely" thoughts and ideas. At the most we see in them only images of reality. They themselves have no reality, for we cannot touch, see, or hear them.
There is another way of being connected with things. A person who clings to the kind of reality described above will hardly understand it, but it comes to certain people at some moment in their lives. To them the whole connection with the world is completely reversed. They then call the images which well up in the spiritual life of their souls actually real, and they assign only a lower kind of reality to what the senses hear, touch, feel, and see. They know that they cannot prove what they say, that they can only relate their new experiences, and that when relating them to others they are in the position of a man who can see and who imparts his visual impressions to one born blind. They venture to impart their inner experiences, trusting that there are others round them whose spiritual eyes, though as yet closed, may be opened by the power of what they hear. For they have faith in humanity and want to give it spiritual sight. They can only lay before it the fruits which their spirit has gathered. Whether another sees them, depends on his spiritual eyes being opened or not.
There is something in man which at first prevents him from seeing with the eyes of the spirit. He is not there for that purpose. He is what his senses are, and his intellect is only the interpreter and judge of them. The senses would ill fulfil their mission if they did not insist upon the truth and infallibility of their evidence. An eye must, from its own point of view, uphold the absolute reality of its perceptions. The eye is right as far as it goes, and is not deprived of its due by the eye of the spirit. The latter only allows us to see the things of sense in a higher light. Nothing seen by the eye of sense is denied, but a new brightness, hitherto unseen, radiates from what is seen. And then we know that what we first saw was only a lower reality. We see that still, but it is immersed in something higher, which is spirit. It is now a question of whether we realise and feel what we see. One who lives only in the sensations and feelings of the senses will look upon impressions of higher things as a Fata Morgana, or mere play of fancy. His feelings are entirely directed towards the things of sense. He grasps emptiness when he tries to lay hold of spirit forms. They withdraw from him when he gropes after them. They are just "mere" thoughts. He thinks them, but does not live in them. They are images, less real to him than fleeting dreams. They rise up like bubbles while he is standing in his reality; they disappear before the massive, solidly built reality of which his senses tell him.
It is otherwise with one whose perceptions and feelings with regard to reality have changed. For him that reality has lost its absolute stability and value. His senses and feelings need not become numbed, but they begin to be doubtful of their absolute authority. They leave room for something else. The world of the spirit begins to animate the space left.
At this point a possibility comes in which may prove terrible. A man may lose his sensations and feelings of outer reality without finding any new reality opening up before him. He then feels himself as if suspended in the void. He feels as if he were dead. The old values have disappeared and no new ones have arisen in their place. The world and man no longer exist for him. This, however, is by no means a mere possibility. It happens at some time or other to every one who is seeking for higher knowledge. He comes to a point at which the spirit represents all life to him as death. He is then no longer in the world, but under it,—in the nether world. He is passing through Hades. Well for him if he sink not! Happy if a new world open up before him! Either he dwindles away or he appears to himself transfigured. In the latter case he beholds a new sun and a new earth. The whole world has been born again for him out of spiritual fire.
It is thus that the initiates describe the effect of the Mysteries upon them. Menippus relates that he journeyed to Babylon in order to be taken to Hades and to be brought back again by the successors of Zarathustra. He says that he swam across the great water on his wanderings, and that he passed through fire and ice. We hear that the Mystics were terrified by a flashing sword, and that blood flowed. We understand this when we know from experience the point of transition from lower to higher knowledge. We then feel as if all solid matter and things of sense had dissolved into water, and as if the ground were cut away from under our feet. Everything is dead which we felt before to be alive. The spirit has passed through the life of the senses, as a sword pierces a warm body; we have seen the blood of sense-nature flow. But a new life has appeared. We have risen from the nether-world. The orator Aristides relates this: "I thought I touched the god and felt him draw near, and I was then between waking and sleeping. My spirit was so light that no one who is not initiated can speak of or understand it." This new existence is not subject to the laws of lower life. Growth and decay no longer affect it. One may say much about the Eternal, but words of one who has not been through Hades are "mere sound and smoke." The initiates have a new conception of life and death. Now for the first time do they feel they have the right to speak about immortality. They know that one who speaks of it without having been initiated talks of something which he does not understand. The uninitiated attribute immortality only to something which is subject to the laws of growth and decay. The Mystics, however, did not merely desire to gain the conviction that the kernel of life is eternal. According to the view of the Mysteries, such a conviction would be quite valueless, for this view holds that the Eternal is not present as a living reality in the uninitiated. If such an one spoke of the Eternal, he would be speaking of something non-existent. It is rather the Eternal itself that the Mystics are seeking. They have first to awaken the Eternal within them, then they can speak of it. Hence the hard saying of Plato is quite real to them, that the uninitiated sinks into the mire, and that only one who has passed through the mystical life enters eternity. It is only in this sense that the words in the fragment of Sophocles can be understood: "Thrice-blessed are the initiated who come to the realm of the shades. They alone have life there. For others there is only misery and hardship."
Is one therefore not describing dangers when speaking of the Mysteries? Is it not robbing a man of happiness and of the best part of his life to take him to the portals of the nether-world? Terrible is the responsibility incurred by such an act. And yet ought we to refuse that responsibility? These were the questions which the initiate had to put to himself. He was of opinion that his knowledge bore the same relation to the soul of the people as light does to darkness. But innocent happiness dwells in that darkness, and the Mystics were of opinion that that happiness should not be sacrilegiously interfered with. For what would have happened in the first place if the Mystic had betrayed his secret? He would have uttered words and only words. The feelings and emotions which would have evoked the spirit from the words would have been absent. To do this preparation, exercises, tests, and a complete change in the life of sense were necessary. Without this the hearer would have been hurled into emptiness and nothingness. He would have been deprived of what constituted his happiness, without receiving anything in exchange. One may also say that one could take nothing away from him, for mere words would change nothing in his life of feeling. He would only have been able to feel and experience reality through his senses. Nothing but a terrible misgiving, fatal to life, would be given him. This could only be construed as a crime.
The wisdom of the Mysteries is like a hothouse plant, which must be cultivated and fostered in seclusion. Any one bringing it into the atmosphere of everyday ideas brings it into air in which it cannot flourish. It withers away to nothing before the caustic verdict of modern science and logic. Let us therefore divest ourselves for a time of the education we gained through the microscope and telescope and the habit of thought derived from natural science, and let us cleanse our clumsy hands, which have been too busy with dissecting and experimenting, in order that we may enter the pure temple of the Mysteries. For this a candid and unbiassed attitude of mind is necessary.
The important point for the Mystic is at first the frame of mind in which he approaches that which to him is the highest, the answers to the riddles of existence. Just in our day, when only gross physical science is recognised as containing truth, it is difficult to believe that in the highest things we depend upon the key-note of the soul. Knowledge thereby becomes an intimate personal concern. But this is what it really is to the Mystic. Tell some one the solution of the riddle of the universe! Give it him ready-made! The Mystic will find it to be nothing but empty sound, if the personality does not meet the solution half-way in the right manner. The solution in itself is nothing; it vanishes if the necessary feeling is not kindled at its contact. A divinity approaches you. It is either everything or nothing. Nothing, if you meet it in the frame of mind with which you confront everyday matters. Everything, if you are prepared, and attuned to the meeting. What the Divinity is in itself is a matter which does not affect you; the important point for you is whether it leaves you as it found you or makes another man of you. But this depends entirely on yourself. You must have been prepared by a special education, by a development of the inmost forces of your personality for the work of kindling and releasing what a divinity is able to kindle and release in you. What is brought to you depends on the reception you give to it.
Plutarch has told us about this education, and of the greeting which the Mystic offers the divinity approaching him; "For the god, as it were, greets each one who approaches him, with the words, 'Know thyself,' which is surely no worse than the ordinary greeting, 'Welcome.' Then we answer the divinity in the words, 'Thou art,' and thus we affirm that the true, primordial, and only adequate greeting for him is to declare that he is. In that existence we really have no part here, for every mortal being, situated between birth and destruction, merely manifests an appearance, a feeble and uncertain image of itself. If we try to grasp it with our understanding, it is as when water is tightly compressed and runs over merely through the pressure, spoiling what it touches. For the understanding, pursuing a too definite conception of each being that is subject to accidents and change, loses its way, now in the origin of the being, now in its destruction, and is unable to apprehend anything lasting or really existing. For, as Heraclitus says, we cannot swim twice in the same wave, neither can we lay hold of a mortal being twice in the same state, for, through the violence and rapidity of movement, it is destroyed and recomposed; it comes into being and again decays; it comes and goes. Therefore, that which is becoming can neither attain real existence, because growth neither ceases nor pauses. Change begins in the germ, and forms an embryo; then there appears a child, then a youth, a man, and an old man; the first beginnings and successive ages are continually annulled by the ensuing ones. Hence it is ridiculous to fear one death, when we have already died in so many ways, and are still dying. For, as Heraclitus says, not only is the death of fire the birth of air, and the death of air the birth of water, but the same change may be still more plainly seen in man. The strong man dies when he becomes old, the youth when he becomes a man, the boy on becoming a youth, and the child on becoming a boy. What existed yesterday dies to-day, what is here to-day will die to-morrow. Nothing endures or is a unity, but we become many things, whilst matter wanders around one image, one common form. For if we were always the same, how could we take pleasure in things which formerly did not please us, how could we love and hate, admire and blame opposite things, how could we speak differently and give ourselves up to different passions, unless we were endowed with a different shape, form, and different senses? For no one can rightly come into a different state without change, and one who is changed is no longer the same; but if he is not the same, he no longer exists and is changed from what he was, becoming something else. Sense-perception only led us astray, because we do not know real being, and mistook for it that which is only an appearance."
Plutarch often describes himself as an initiate. What he portrays here is a condition of the life of the Mystic. Man acquires a kind of wisdom by means of which his spirit sees through the illusive character of sense-life. What the senses regard as being, or reality, is plunged into the stream of "becoming"; and man is subject to the same conditions in this respect as all other things in the world. Before the eyes of his spirit he himself dissolves, the sum-total of his being is broken up into parts, into fleeting phenomena. Birth and death lose their distinctive meaning, and become moments of appearing and disappearing, just as much as any other happenings in the world. The Highest cannot be found in the connection between development and decay. It can only be sought in what is really abiding, in what looks back to the past and forward to the future.
To find that which looks (i.e. the spirit) backwards and forwards is the first stage of knowledge. This is the spirit, which is manifesting in and through the physical. It has nothing to do with physical growth. It does not come into being and again decay as do sense-phenomena. One who lives entirely in the world of sense carries the spirit latent within him. One who has pierced through the illusion of the world of sense has the spirit within him as a manifest reality. The man who attains to this insight has developed a new principle within him. Something has happened within him as in a plant when it adds a coloured flower to its green leaves. It is true the forces causing the flower to grow were already latent in the plant before the blossom appeared, but they only became effective when this took place. Divine, spiritual forces are latent in the man who lives merely through his senses, but they only become a manifest reality in the initiate. Such is the transformation which takes place in the Mystic. By his development he has added a new element to the world. The world of sense made him a human being endowed with senses, and then left him to himself. Nature had thus fulfilled her mission. What she is able to do with the powers operative in man is exhausted; not so the forces themselves. They lie as though spellbound in the merely natural man and await their release. They cannot release themselves. They fade away to nothing unless man seizes upon them and develops them, unless he calls into actual being what is latent within him.
Nature evolves from the imperfect to the perfect. She leads beings, through a long series of stages, from inanimate matter, through all living forms up to physical man. Man looks around and finds himself a changing being with physical reality, but he also perceives within him the forces from which the physical reality arose. These forces are not what change, for they have given birth to the changing world. They are within man as a sign that there is more life within him than he can physically perceive. What they may make man is not yet there. He feels something flash up within him which created everything, including himself, and he feels that this will inspire him to higher creative activity. This something is within him, it existed before his manifestation in the flesh, and will exist afterwards. By means of it he became, but he may lay hold of it and take part in its creative activity.
Such are the feelings animating the Mystic after initiation. He feels the Eternal and Divine. His activity is to become a part of that divine creative activity. He may say to himself: "I have discovered a higher ego within me, but that ego extends beyond the bounds of my sense-existence. It existed before my birth and will exist after my death. This ego has created from all eternity, it will go on creating in all eternity. My physical personality is a creation of this ego. But it has incorporated me within it, it works within me, I am a part of it. What I henceforth create will be higher than the physical. My personality is only a means for this creative power, for this Divine is within me." Thus did the Mystic experience his birth into the Divine.
The Mystic called the power that flashed up within him a daimon. He was himself the product of this daimon. It seemed to him as though another being had entered him and taken possession of his organs, a being standing between his physical personality and the all-ruling cosmic power, the divinity.
The Mystic sought this—his daimon. He said to himself: "I have become a human being in mighty Nature, but Nature did not complete her task. This completion I must take in hand myself. But I cannot accomplish it in the gross kingdom of nature to which my physical personality belongs. What it is possible to develop in that realm has already been developed. Therefore I must leave this kingdom and take up the building in the realm of the spirit at the point where nature left off. I must create an atmosphere of life not to be found in outer nature."
This atmosphere of life was prepared for the Mystic in the Mystery temples. There the forces slumbering within him were awakened, there he was changed into a higher creative spirit-nature. This transformation was a delicate process. It could not bear the untempered atmosphere of everyday life. But when once it was completed, its result was that the initiate stood as a rock, rising from the eternal and able to defy all storms. But it was impossible for him to reveal his experiences to any one unprepared to receive them.
Plutarch says that the Mysteries gave deep understanding of the true nature of the daimons. And Cicero tells us that from the Mysteries, "When they are explained and traced back to their meaning, we learn the nature of things rather than that of the gods." From such statements we see clearly that there were higher revelations for the Mystics about the nature of things than that which popular religion was able to impart. Indeed we see that the daimons, i.e., spiritual beings, and the gods themselves, needed explaining. Therefore initiates went back to beings of a higher nature than daimons or gods, and this was characteristic of the essence of the wisdom of the Mysteries.
The people represented the gods and daimons in images borrowed from the world of sense-reality. Would not one who had penetrated into the nature of the Eternal doubt about the eternal nature of such gods as these? How could the Zeus of popular imagination be eternal if he bore within him the qualities of a perishable being? One thing was clear to the Mystics, that man arrives at a conception of the gods in a different way from the conception of other things. An object belonging to the outer world compels us to form a very definite idea of it. In contrast to this, we form our conception of the gods in a freer and somewhat arbitrary manner. The control of the outer world is absent. Reflection teaches us that what we conceive as gods is not subject to outer control. This places us in logical uncertainty; we begin to feel that we ourselves are the creators of our gods. Indeed, we ask ourselves how we have arrived at a conception of the universe that goes beyond physical reality. The initiate was obliged to ask himself such questions; his doubts were justified. "Look at all representations of the gods," he might think to himself. "Are they not like the beings we meet in the world of sense? Did not man create them for himself, by giving or withholding from them, in his thought, some quality belonging to beings of the sense-world? The savage lover of the chase creates a heaven in which the gods themselves take part in glorious hunting, and the Greek peopled his Olympus with divine beings whose models were taken from his own surroundings."
The philosopher Xenophanes (B.C. 575-480) drew attention to this fact with a crude logic. We know that the older Greek philosophers were entirely dependent on the wisdom of the Mysteries. We will afterwards prove this in detail, beginning with Heraclitus. What Xenophanes says may at once be taken as the conviction of a Mystic. It runs thus:
"Men who picture the gods as created in their own human forms, give them human senses, voices, and bodies. But if cattle and lions had hands, and knew how to use them, like men, in painting and working, they would paint the forms of the gods and shape their bodies as their own bodies were constituted. Horses would create gods in horse-form, and cattle would make gods like bulls."
Through insight of this kind, man may begin to doubt the existence of anything divine. He may reject all mythology, and only recognise as reality what is forced upon him by his sense-perception. But the Mystic did not become a doubter of this kind. He saw that the doubter would be like a plant were it to say: "My crimson flowers are null and futile, because I am complete within my green leaves. What I may add to them is only adding illusive appearance." Just as little could the Mystic rest content with gods thus created, the gods of the people. If the plant could think, it would understand that the forces which created its green leaves are also destined to create crimson flowers, and it would not rest till it had investigated those forces and come face to face with them. This was the attitude of the Mystic towards the gods of the people. He did not deny them, or say they were illusion; but he knew they had been created by man. The same forces, the same divine element, which are at work in nature, are at work in the Mystic. They create within him images of the gods. He wishes to see the force that creates the gods; it comes from a higher source than these gods. Xenophanes alludes to it thus: "There is one god greater than all gods and men. His form is not like that of mortals, his thoughts are not their thoughts."
This god was also the God of the Mysteries. He might have been called a "hidden God," for man could never find him with his senses only. Look at outer things around you, you will find nothing divine. Exert your reason, you may be able to detect the laws by which things appear and disappear, but even your reason will not show you anything divine. Saturate your imagination with religious feeling, and you may be able to create images which you may take to be gods, but your reason will pull them to pieces, for it will prove to you that you created them yourself, and borrowed the material from the sense-world. So long as you look at outer things in your quality of simply a reasonable being, you must deny the existence of God; for God is hidden from the senses, and from that reason of yours which explains sense-perceptions.
God lies hidden spellbound in the world, and you need His own power to find Him. You must awaken that power in yourself. These are the teachings which were given to the candidate for initiation.
And now there began for him the great cosmic drama with which his life was bound up. The action of the drama meant nothing less than the deliverance of the spellbound god. Where is God? This was the question asked by the soul of the Mystic. God is not existent, but nature exists. And in nature He must be found. There He has found an enchanted grave. It was in a higher sense that the Mystic understood the words "God is love." For God has exalted that love to its climax, He has sacrificed Himself in infinite love, He has poured Himself out, fallen into number in the manifold of nature. Things in nature live and He does not live. He slumbers within them. We are able to awaken Him; if we are to give Him existence, we must deliver Him by the creative power within us.
The candidate now looks unto himself. As latent creative power as yet without existence, the Divine is living in his soul. In the soul is a sacred place where the spellbound god may wake to liberty. The soul is the mother who is able to conceive the god by nature. If the soul allows herself to be impregnated by nature, she will give birth to the divine. God is born from the marriage of the soul with nature,—no longer a "hidden," but a manifest god. He has life, a perceptible life, wandering amongst men. He is the god freed from enchantment, the offspring of the God who was hidden by a spell. He is not the great God, who was and is and is to come, but yet he may be taken, in a certain sense, as the revelation of Him. The Father remains at rest in the unseen; the Son is born to man out of his own soul. Mystical knowledge is thus an actual event in the cosmic process. It is the birth of the Divine. It is an event as real as any natural event, only enacted upon a higher plane.
The great secret of the Mystic is that he himself creates his god, but that he first prepares himself to recognise the god created by him. The uninitiated man has no feeling for the father of that god, for that Father slumbers under a spell. The Son appears to be born of a virgin, the soul having seemingly given birth to him without impregnation. All her other children are conceived by the sense-world. Their father may be seen and touched, having the life of sense. The Divine Son alone is begotten of the hidden, eternal, Divine, Father Himself.
 Plutarch's Moral Works, On the Inscription EJ at Delphi, pp. 17-18.
 Plutarch, On the Decline of the Oracles; Cicero On the Nature of the Gods.
THE GREEK SAGES BEFORE PLATO IN THE LIGHT OF THE WISDOM OF THE MYSTERIES
Numerous facts combine to show us that the philosophical wisdom of the Greeks rested on the same mental basis as mystical knowledge. We only understand the great philosophers when we approach them with feelings gained through study of the Mysteries. With what veneration does Plato speak of the "secret doctrines" in the Phaedo. "And it almost seems," says he, "as though those who have appointed the initiations for us are not at all ordinary people, but that for a long time they have been enjoining upon us that any one who reaches Hades without being initiated and sanctified falls into the mire; but that he who is purified and consecrated when he arrives, dwells with the gods. For those who have to do with initiations say that there are many thyrsus-bearers, but few really inspired. These latter are, in my opinion, none other than those who have devoted themselves in the right way to wisdom. I myself have not missed the opportunity of becoming one of these, as far as I was able, but have striven after it in every way."
It is only a man who is putting his own search for wisdom entirely at the disposal of the condition of soul created by initiation who could thus speak of the Mysteries. And there is no doubt that a flood of light is poured on the words of the great Greek philosophers, when we illustrate them from the Mysteries.
The relation of Heraclitus of Ephesus (535-475 B.C.) to the Mysteries is plainly given us in a saying about him, to the effect that his thoughts "were an impassable road," and that any one, entering upon them without being initiated, found only "dimness and darkness," but that, on the other hand, they were "brighter than the sun" for any one introduced to them by a Mystic. And when it is said of his book, that he deposited it in the temple of Artemis, this only means that initiates alone could understand him. (Edmund Pfleiderer has already collected the historical evidence for the relation of Heraclitus to the Mysteries. Cf. his book Die Philosophie des Heraklit von Ephesus im Lichte der Mysterienidee. Berlin, 1886.) Heraclitus was called "The Obscure," because it was only through the Mysteries that light could be thrown on his intuitive views.
Heraclitus comes before us as a man who took life with the greatest earnestness. We see plainly from his features, if we know how to reconstruct them, that he bore within him intimate knowledge which he knew that words could only indicate, not express. Out of such a temper of mind arose his celebrated utterance, "All things fleet away," which Plutarch explains thus: "We do not dip twice into the same wave, nor can we touch twice the same mortal being. For through abruptness and speed it disperses and brings together, not in succession but simultaneously."
A man who thus thinks has penetrated the nature of transitory things, for he has felt compelled to characterise the essence of transitoriness itself in the clearest terms. Such a description as this could not be given, unless the transitory were being measured by the eternal, and in particular it could not be extended to man without having seen his inner nature. Heraclitus has extended his characterisation to man. "Life and death, waking and sleeping, youth and age are the same; this in changing is that, and that again this." In this sentence there is expressed full knowledge of the illusionary nature of the lower personality. He says still more forcibly, "Life and death are found in our living even as in our dying." What does this mean but that it is only a transient point of view when we value life more than death? Dying is to perish, in order to make way for new life, but the eternal is living in the new life, as in the old. The same eternal appears in transitory life as in death. When we grasp this eternal, we look upon life and death with the same feeling. Life only has a special value when we have not been able to awaken the eternal within us. The saying, "All things fleet away," might be repeated a thousand times, but unless said in this feeling, it is an empty sound. The knowledge of eternal growth is valueless if it does not detach us from temporal growth. It is the turning away from that love of life which impels towards the transitory, which Heraclitus indicates in his utterance, "How can we say about our daily life, 'We are,' when from the standpoint of the eternal we know that 'We are and are not?'" (Cf. Fragments of Heraclitus, No. 81.) "Hades and Dionysos are one and the same," says one of the Fragments. Dionysos, the god of joy in life, of germination and growth, to whom the Dionysiac festivals are dedicated is, for Heraclitus, the same as Hades, the god of destruction and annihilation. Only one who sees death in life and life in death, and in both the eternal, high above life and death, can view the merits and demerits of existence in the right light. Then even imperfections become justified, for in them too lives the eternal. What they are from the standpoint of the limited lower life, they are only in appearance,—"The gratification of men's wishes is not necessarily a happiness for them. Illness makes health sweet and good, hunger makes food appreciated, and toil rest." "The sea contains the purest and impurest water, drinkable and wholesome for fishes, it is undrinkable and injurious to human beings." Here Heraclitus is not primarily drawing attention to the transitoriness of earthly things, but to the splendour and majesty of the eternal.
Heraclitus speaks vehemently against Homer and Hesiod, and the learned men of his day. He wished to show up their way of thinking, which clings to the transitory only. He did not desire gods endowed with qualities taken from a perishable world, and he could not regard as a supreme science, that science which investigates the growth and decay of things. For him, the eternal speaks out of the perishable, and for this eternal he has a profound symbol. "The harmony of the world returns upon itself, like that of the lyre and the bow." What depths are hidden in this image! By the pressing asunder of forces, and again by the harmonising of these divergent forces, unity is attained. How one sound contradicts another, and yet, together, they produce harmony. If we apply this to the Spiritual world, we have the thought of Heraclitus, "Immortals are mortal, mortals immortal, living the death of mortals, dying the life of the Immortals."
It is man's original fault to direct his cognition to the transitory. Thereby he turns away from the eternal, and life becomes a danger to him. What happens to him, comes to him through life, but its events lose their sting if he ceases to set unconditioned value on life. In that case his innocence is restored to him. It is as though he were from the so-called seriousness of life able to return to his childhood. The adult takes many things seriously with which a child merely plays, but one who really knows, becomes like a child. "Serious" values lose their value, looked at from the standpoint of eternity. Life then seems like a play. On this account does Heraclitus say, "Eternity is a child at play, it is the reign of a child." Where does the original fault lie? In taking with the utmost seriousness what does not deserve to be so taken. God has poured Himself into the universe of things. If we take these things and leave God unheeded, we take them in earnest as "the tombs of God." We should play with them like a child, and should earnestly strive to awaken forth from them God, who sleeps spellbound within them.
Contemplation of the eternal acts like a consuming fire on ordinary illusions about the nature of things. The spirit breaks up thoughts which come through the senses, it fuses them. This is the higher meaning of the Heraclitean thought, that fire is the primary element of all things. This thought is certainly to be taken at first as an ordinary physical explanation of the phenomena of the universe. But no one understands Heraclitus who does not think of him in the same way as Philo, living in the early days of Christianity, thought of the laws of the Bible. "There are people," he says, "who take the written laws merely as symbols of spiritual teaching, who diligently search for the latter, but despise the laws themselves. I can only blame such, for they should pay heed to both, to knowledge of the hidden meaning and to observing the obvious one." If the question is discussed whether Heraclitus meant by "fire" physical fire, or whether fire for him was only a symbol of eternal spirit which dissolves and reconstitutes all things, this is putting a wrong construction upon his thought. He meant both and neither of these things. For spirit was also alive, for him, in ordinary fire, and the force which is physically active in fire lives on a higher plane in the human soul, which melts in its crucible mere sense-knowledge, so that out of this the contemplation of the eternal may arise.
It is very easy to misunderstand Heraclitus. He makes Strife the "Father of things," but only of "things," not of the eternal. If there were no contradictions in the world, if the most multifarious interests were not opposing each other, the world of becoming, of transitory things, would not exist. But what is revealed in this antagonism, what is poured forth into it, is not strife but harmony. Just because there is strife in all things, the spirit of the wise should pass over them like a breath of fire, and change them into harmony.
At this point there shines forth one of the great thoughts of Heraclitean wisdom. What is man as a personal being? From the above point of view Heraclitus is able to answer. Man is composed of the conflicting elements into which divinity has poured itself. In this state he finds himself, and beyond this becomes aware of the spirit within him,—the spirit which is rooted in the eternal. But the spirit itself is born, for man, out of the conflict of elements, and it is the first which has to calm them. In man, Nature surpasses her natural limits. It is indeed the same universal force which created antagonism and the mixture of elements which is afterwards, by its wisdom, to do away with the conflict. Here we arrive at the eternal dualism which lives in man, the perpetual antagonism between the temporal and the eternal. Through the eternal he has become something quite definite, and out of this, he is to create something higher. He is both dependent and independent. He can only participate in the eternal Spirit whom he contemplates, in the measure of the compound of elements which that eternal Spirit has effected within him. And it is just on this account that he is called upon to fashion the eternal out of the temporal. The spirit works within him, but works in a special way. It works out of the temporal. It is the peculiarity of the human soul that a temporal thing should be able to work like an eternal one, should grow and increase in power like an eternal thing. This is why the soul is at once like a god and a worm. Man, owing to this, stands in a mid-position between God and animals. The growing and increasing force within him is his daimonic element,—that within him which pushes out beyond himself.
"Man's daimon is his destiny." Thus strikingly does Heraclitus make reference to this fact. He extends man's vital essence far beyond the personal. The personality is the vehicle of the daimon, which is not confined within the limit of the personality, and for which the birth and death of the personality are of no importance. What is the relation of the daimonic element to the personality which comes and goes? The personality is only a form for the manifestation of the daimon.
One who has arrived at this knowledge looks beyond himself, backwards and forwards. The daimonic experiences through which he has passed are enough to prove to him his own immortality. And he can no longer limit his daimon to the one function of occupying his personality, for the latter can only be one of the forms in which the daimon is manifested. The daimon cannot be shut up within one personality, he has power to animate many. He is able to transform himself from one personality into another. The great thought of reincarnation springs as a matter of course from the Heraclitean premises, and not only the thought but the experience of the fact. The thought only paves the way for the experience. One who becomes conscious of the daimonic element within him does not recognise it as innocent and in its first stage. He finds that it has qualities. Whence do they come? Why have I certain natural aptitudes? Because others have already worked upon my daimon. And what becomes of the work which I accomplish in the daimon if I am not to assume that its task ends with my personality? I am working for a future personality. Between me and the Spirit of the Universe, something interposes which reaches beyond me, but is not yet the same as divinity. This something is my daimon. My to-day is only the product of yesterday, my to-morrow will be the product of to-day; in the same way my life is the result of a former and will be the foundation of a future one. Just as mortal man looks back to innumerable yesterdays and forward to many to-morrows, so does the soul of the sage look upon many lives in his past and many in the future. The thoughts and aptitudes I acquired yesterday I am using to-day. Is it not the same with life? Do not people enter upon the horizon of existence with the most diverse capacities? Whence this difference? Does it proceed from nothing?
Our natural sciences take much credit to themselves for having banished miracle from our views of organic life. David Frederick Strauss, in his Alter und Neuer Glaube, considers it a great achievement of our day that we no longer think that a perfect organic being is a miracle issuing from nothing. We understand its perfection when we are able to explain it as a development from imperfection. The structure of an ape is no longer a miracle if we assume its ancestors to have been primitive fishes which have been gradually transformed. Let us at least submit to accept as reasonable in the domain of spirit what seems to us to be right in the domain of nature. Is the perfect spirit to have the same antecedents as the imperfect one? Does a Goethe have the same antecedents as any Hottentot? The antecedents of an ape are as unlike those of a fish as are the antecedents of Goethe's mind unlike those of a savage. The spiritual ancestry of Goethe's soul is a different one from that of the savage soul. The soul has grown as well as the body. The daimon in Goethe has more progenitors than the one in a savage. Let us take the doctrine of reincarnation in this sense, and we shall no longer find it unscientific. We shall be able to explain in the right way what we find in our souls, and we shall not take what we find as if created by a miracle. If I can write, it is owing to the fact that I learned to write. No one who has a pen in his hand for the first time can sit down and write offhand. But one who has come into the world with "the stamp of genius," must he owe it to a miracle? No, even the "stamp of genius" must be acquired. It must have been learned. And when it appears in a person, we call it a daimon. This daimon too must have been to school; it acquired in a former life what it puts into force in a later one.
In this form, and this form only, did the thought of eternity pass before the mind of Heraclitus and other Greek sages. There was no question with them of a continuance of the immediate personality after death. Compare some verses of Empedocles (B.C. 490-430). He says of those who accept the data of experience as miracles:
Foolish and ignorant they, and do not reach far with their thinking, Who suppose that what has not existed can come into being, Or that something may die away wholly and vanish completely; Impossible is it that any beginning can come from Not-Being, Quite impossible also that being can fade into nothing; For wherever a being is driven, there will it continue to be. Never will any believe, who has been in these matters instructed, That spirits of men only live while what is called life here endures, That only so long do they live, receiving their joys and their sorrows, But that ere they were born here and when they are dead, they are nothing.
The Greek sage did not even raise the question whether there was an eternal part in man, but only enquired in what this eternal element consisted and how man can nourish and cherish it in himself. For from the outset it was clear to him that man is an intermediate creation between the earthly and the divine. It was not a question of a divine being outside and beyond the world. The divine lives in man but lives in him only in a human way. It is the force urging man to make himself ever more and more divine. Only one who thinks thus can say with Empedocles:
When leaving thy body behind thee, thou soarest into the ether, Then thou becomest a god, immortal, not subject to death.
What may be done for a human life from this point of view? It may be introduced into the magic circle of the eternal. For in man there must be forces which merely natural life does not develop. And the life might pass away unused if the forces remained idle. To open them up, thereby to make man like the divine,—this was the task of the Mysteries. And this was also the mission which the Greek sages set before themselves. In this way we can understand Plato's utterance, that "he who passes unsanctified and uninitiated into the world below will lie in a slough, but that he who arrives there after initiation and purification will dwell with the gods." We have to do here with a conception of immortality, the significance of which lies bound up within the universe. Everything which man undertakes in order to awaken the eternal within him, he does in order to raise the value of the world's existence. The fresh knowledge he gains does not make him an idle spectator of the universe, forming images for himself of what would be there just as much if he did not exist. The force of his knowledge is a higher one, it is one of the creative forces of nature. What flashes up within him spiritually is something divine which was previously under a spell, and which, failing the knowledge he has gained, must have lain fallow and waited for some other exorcist. Thus a human personality does not live in and for itself, but for the world. Life extends far beyond individual existence when looked at in this way. From within such a point of view we can understand utterances like that of Pindar giving a vista of the eternal: "Happy is he who has seen the Mysteries and then descends under the hollow earth. He knows the end of life, and he knows the beginning promised by Zeus."
We understand the proud traits and solitary nature of sages such as Heraclitus. They were able to say proudly of themselves that much had been revealed to them, for they did not attribute their knowledge to their transitory personality, but to the eternal daimon within them. Their pride had as a necessary adjunct the stamp of humility and modesty, expressed in the words, "All knowledge of perishable things is in perpetual flux like the things themselves." Heraclitus calls the eternal universe a play, he could also call it the most serious of realities. But the word "earnest" has lost its force through being applied to earthly experiences. On the other hand, the realisation of "the play of the eternal" leaves man that security in life of which he is deprived by that earnest which has come out of transitory things.
A different conception of the universe from that of Heraclitus grew up, on the basis of the Mysteries, in the community founded by Pythagoras in the 6th century B.C. in Southern Italy. The Pythagoreans saw the basis of things in the numbers and geometrical figures of which they investigated the laws by means of mathematics. Aristotle says of them: "They first studied mathematics, and, quite engrossed in them, they considered the elements of mathematics to be the elements of all things. Now as numbers are naturally the first thing in mathematics, and they thought they saw many resemblances in numbers to things and to development, and certainly more in numbers than in fire, earth, and water, in this way one quality of numbers came to mean for them justice, another, the soul and spirit, another, time, and so on with all the rest. Moreover they found in numbers the qualities and connections of harmony; and thus everything else, in accordance with its whole nature, seemed to be an image of numbers, and numbers seemed to be the first thing in nature."
The mathematical and scientific study of natural phenomena must always lead to a certain Pythagorean habit of thought. When a string of a certain length is struck, a particular sound is produced. If the string is shortened in certain numeric proportions, other sounds will be produced. The pitch of the sounds may be expressed in figures. Physics also expresses colour-relations in figures. When two bodies combine into one substance, it always happens that a certain definite quantity of the one body, expressible in numbers, combines with a certain definite quantity of the other. The Pythagoreans' sense of observation was directed to such arrangements of measures and numbers in nature. Geometrical figures also play a similar role. Astronomy, for instance, is mathematics applied to the heavenly bodies. One fact became important to the thought-life of the Pythagoreans. This was that man, quite alone and purely through his mental activity, discovers the laws of numbers and figures, and yet, that when he looks abroad into nature, he finds that things are obeying the same laws which he has ascertained for himself in his own mind. Man forms the idea of an ellipse, and ascertains the laws of ellipses. And the heavenly bodies move according to the laws which he has established. (It is not, of course, a question here of the astronomical views of the Pythagoreans. What may be said about these may equally be said of Copernican views in the connection now being dealt with.) Hence it follows as a direct consequence that the achievements of the human soul are not an activity apart from the rest of the world, but that in those achievements the cosmic laws are expressed. The Pythagoreans said: "The senses show man physical phenomena, but they do not show the harmonious order which these things follow." The human mind must first find that harmonious order within itself, if it wishes to behold it in the outer world. The deeper meaning of the world, that which bears sway within it as an eternal, law-obeying necessity, this makes its appearance in the human soul and becomes a present reality there. THE MEANING OF THE UNIVERSE IS REVEALED in the soul. This meaning is not to be found in what we see, hear, and touch, but in what the soul brings up to the light from its own unseen depths. The eternal laws are thus hidden in the depths of the soul. If we descend there, we shall find the Eternal. God, the eternal harmony of the world, is in the human soul. The soul-element is not limited to the bodily substance which is enclosed within the skin, for what is born in the soul is nothing less than the laws by which worlds revolve in celestial space. The soul is not in the personality. The personality only serves as the organ through which the order which pervades cosmic space may express itself. There is something of the spirit of Pythagoras in what one of the Fathers, Gregory of Nyssa, said: "It is said that human nature is something small and limited, and that God is infinite, and it is asked how the finite can embrace the infinite. But who dares to say that the infinity of the Godhead is limited by the boundary of the flesh, as though by a vessel? For not even during our lifetime is the spiritual nature confined within the boundaries of the flesh. The mass of the body, it is true, is limited by neighbouring parts, but the soul reaches out freely into the whole of creation by the movements of thought."
The soul is not the personality, the soul belongs to infinity. From such a point of view the Pythagoreans must have considered that only fools could imagine the soul-force to be exhausted with the personality.
For them, too, as for Heraclitus, the essential point was the awakening of the eternal in the personal. Knowledge for them meant intercourse with the eternal. The more man brought the eternal element within him into existence, the greater must he necessarily seem to the Pythagoreans. Life in their community consisted in holding intercourse with the eternal. The object of the Pythagorean education was to lead the members of the community to that intercourse. The education was therefore a philosophical initiation, and the Pythagoreans might well say that by their manner of life they were aiming at a goal similar to that of the cults of the Mysteries.
PLATO AS A MYSTIC
The importance of the Mysteries to the spiritual life of the Greeks may be realised from Plato's conception of the universe. There is only one way of understanding him thoroughly. It is to place him in the light which streams forth from the Mysteries.
Plato's later disciples, the Neo-Platonists, credit him with a secret doctrine which he imparted only to those who were worthy, and which he conveyed under the "seal of secrecy." His teaching was looked upon as mysterious in the same sense as the wisdom of the Mysteries. Even if the seventh Platonic letter is not from his hand, as is alleged, it does not signify for our present purpose, for it does not matter whether it was he or another who gave utterance to the view expressed in this letter. This view is of the essence of Plato's philosophy. In the letter we read as follows: "This much I may say about all those who have written or may hereafter write as if they knew the aim of my work,—that no credence is to be attached to their words, whether they obtained their information from me, or from others, or invented it themselves. I have written nothing on this subject, nor would anything be allowed to appear. This kind of thing cannot be expressed in words like other teaching, but needs a long study of the subject and a making oneself one with it. Then it is as though a spark leaped up and kindled a light in the soul which thereafter is able to keep itself alight." This utterance might only indicate the writer's powerlessness to express his meaning in words,—a mere personal weakness,—if the idea of the Mysteries were not to be found in them. The subject on which Plato had not written and would never write, must be something about which all writing would be futile. It must be a feeling, a sentiment, an experience, which is not gained by instantaneous communication, but by making oneself one with it, in heart and soul. The reference is to the inner education which Plato was able to give those he selected. For them, fire flashed forth from his words, for others, only thoughts.
The manner of our approach to Plato's Dialogues is not a matter of indifference. They will mean more or less to us, according to our spiritual condition. Much more passed from Plato to his disciples than the literal meaning of his words. The place where he taught his listeners thrilled in the atmosphere of the Mysteries. His words awoke overtones in higher regions, which vibrated with them, but these overtones needed the atmosphere of the Mysteries, or they died away without having been heard.
In the centre of the world of the Platonic Dialogues stands the personality of Socrates. We need not here touch upon the historical aspect of that personality. It is a question of the character of Socrates as it appears in Plato. Socrates is a person consecrated by his dying for truth. He died as only an initiate can die, as one to whom death is merely a moment of life like other moments. He approaches death as he would any other event in existence. His attitude towards it was such that even in his friends the feelings usual on such an occasion were not aroused. Phaedo says this in the Dialogue on the Immortality of the Soul: "Truly I found myself in the strangest state of mind. I had no compassion for him, as is usual at the death of a dear friend. So happy did the man appear to me in his demeanour and speech, so steadfast and noble was his end, that I was confident that he was not going to Hades without a divine mission, and that even there it would be as well with him as it is with any one anywhere. No tender-hearted emotion overcame me, as might have been expected at such a mournful event, nor on the other hand was I in a cheerful mood, as is usual during philosophical pursuits, and although our conversation was of this nature; but I found myself in a wondrous state of mind and in an unwonted blending of joy and grief when I reflected that this man was about to die." The dying Socrates instructs his disciples about immortality. His personality, which had learned by experience the worthlessness of life, furnishes a kind of proof quite different from logic and arguments founded on reason. It seems as if it were not a man speaking, for this man was passing away, but as if it were the voice of eternal truth itself, which had taken up its abode in a perishable personality. Where a mortal being is dissolving into nothing, there seems to be a breath of the air in which it is possible for eternal harmonies to resound.
We hear no logical proofs of immortality. The whole discourse is designed to lead the friends where they may behold the eternal. Then they will need no proofs. Would it be necessary to prove that a rose is red, to one who has one before him? Why should it be necessary to prove that spirit is eternal, to one whose eyes we have opened to behold spirit? Experiences, inner events, Socrates points to them, and first of all to the experience of wisdom itself.
What does he desire who aspires after wisdom? He wishes to free himself from what the senses offer him in every-day perception. He seeks for the spirit in the sense-world. Is not this a fact which may be compared with dying? "For," according to Socrates, "those who occupy themselves with philosophy in the right way are really striving after nothing else than to die and to be dead, without this being perceived by others. If this is true, it would be strange if, after having aimed at this all through life, when death itself comes they should be indignant at that which they have so long striven after and taken pains about." To corroborate this, Socrates asks one of his friends: "Does it seem to you befitting a philosopher to take trouble about so-called fleshly pleasures, such as eating and drinking? or about sexual pleasures? And do you think that such a man pays much heed to other bodily needs? To have fine clothes, shoes, and other bodily adornments,—do you think he considers or scorns this more than utmost necessity demands? Does it not seem to you that it should be such a man's whole preoccupation not to turn his thoughts to the body, but as much as possible away from it and towards the soul? Therefore this is the first mark of the philosopher, that he, more than all other men, relieves his soul of association with the body."
On this subject Socrates has something more to say, i.e., that aspiration after wisdom has this much in common with dying, that it turns man away from the physical. But whither does he turn? Towards the spiritual. But can he desire the same from spirit as from the senses? Socrates thus expresses himself on this point: "But how is it with reasonable knowledge itself? Is the body a hindrance or not, if we take it as a companion in our search for knowledge? I mean, do sight and hearing procure man any truth? Or is what the poets sing meaningless, that we see and hear nothing clearly?... When does the soul catch sight of truth? For when it tries to examine something with the help of the body, it is manifestly deceived by the latter."
Everything of which we are cognisant by means of our bodily senses appears and disappears. And it is this appearing and disappearing which is the cause of our being deceived. But when with our reasonable intelligence we look deeper into things, the eternal element in them is revealed to us. Thus the senses do not offer us the eternal in its true form. The moment we trust them implicitly they deceive us. They cease to deceive us if we confront them with our thinking insight and submit what they tell us to its examination.
But how could our thinking insight sit in judgment on the declarations of the senses, unless there were something living within it which transcends sense-perception? Therefore the truth or falsity in things is decided by something within us which opposes the physical body and is consequently not subject to its laws. First of all, it cannot be subject to the laws of growth and decay. For this something contains truth within it. Now truth cannot have a yesterday and a to-day, it cannot be one thing one day and another the next, like objects of sense. Therefore truth must be something eternal. And when the philosopher turns away from the perishable things of sense and towards truth, he is turning towards an eternal element that lives within him. If we immerse ourselves wholly in spirit, we shall live wholly in truth. The things of sense around us are no longer present merely in their physical form. "And he accomplishes this most perfectly," says Socrates, "who approaches everything as much as possible with the spirit only, without either looking round when he is thinking, or letting any other sense interrupt his reflecting; but who, making use of pure thought only, strives to grasp everything as it is in itself, separating it as much as possible from eyes and ears, in short from the whole body, which only disturbs the soul and does not allow it to attain truth and insight when associated with the soul.... Now is not death the release and separation of the soul from the body? And it is only true philosophers who are always striving to release the soul as far as they can. This, therefore, is the philosopher's vocation, to deliver and separate the soul from the body.... Therefore it would be foolish if a man, who all his life has taken measures to be as near death as possible, should, when it comes, rebel against it.... In truth the real seekers after wisdom aspire to die, and of all men they are those who least fear death." Moreover Socrates bases all higher morality on liberation from the body. He who only follows what his body ordains is not moral. Who is valiant? asks Socrates. He is valiant who does not obey his body but the demands of his spirit when these demands imperil the body. And who is temperate? Is not this he who "does not let himself be carried away by desires, but who maintains an indifferent and moral demeanour with regard to them. Therefore are not those alone temperate who set least value on the body and live in the love of wisdom?" And so it is, in the opinion of Socrates, with all virtues.