“What makes people patient,” asks Saint Catherine of Siena (1347 – 1380), stigmatic, doctor of the Church, patron saint of Europe, counseller to popes and cardinals–whose feast it is today–in one of her numerous letters, “so that they patiently bear hurt, reproach, slander, and abuse from others, and torments and assaults from the devil? Gratitude.”
And what ultimately makes people ungrateful, she might further have asked, but simply the soul’s affections gone in a wrong direction, since the soul cannot live without love? And certainly the love of material things constitutes the outstanding type of misdirected love. For it seems true enough that to the degree we find materialism in the world, to just that degree we will encounter ingratitude.
Yet do we need to limit this type of love actually to things themselves? For it seems entirely possible that a thoroughgoing materialist might love above all the idea of materialism, i.e., the idea that seeks to be inclusive of all material realities, while seeking equally to be exclusive of all (actual) realities that are not material, thoughts for example, or feelings or persons—or the very thinking itself which upholds and ascribes value to thoughts, feelings and persons—by trying to reduce such realities to a mere question of nerves and chemistry. So, paradoxically, we might in this sense become a “non-materialistic materialist”, having no one—this by virtue of the drift of our own reasoning—to turn to in gratitude for the non-material realities of truth, beauty and goodness we experience in the world, spiritual realities that inevitably must constitute the substance of our values. Who, after all, lives without values? Yet where on the periodic table will the materialist place them? At this time of Easter 2011, on account of its materialism alone, humankind is in deep crisis, a predicament about which Rudolf Steiner, in his lecture “Easter: The Festival of Warning” (The Festivals and their Meaning, Rudolf Steiner Press, 1981), has this to say:
The only possible way in these days for man to unite a right feeling with Easter is for him to direct his thought in this connection to the world-catastrophe of his own time. For in very deed a world-catastrophe is upon us. I do not mean merely the catastrophe that happened in the recent years of the war, but I refer to that world-catastrophe which consists in the fact that men have lost all idea of the connection of the earthly with that which is beyond the earth. The time has come when man must realize with full and clear consciousness that supersensible knowledge has now to arise out of the grave of the materialistic outlook. For together with supersensible knowledge will arise the knowledge of Christ Jesus. In point of fact, man has no other symbol that fits the Easter festival than this — that mankind has brought upon itself the doom of being crucified upon the cross of its own materialism. But man must do something himself before there arises from the grave of human materialism all that can come from supersensible knowledge.
The very striving after supersensible knowledge is itself an Easter deed, it is something which gives man the right once more to keep Easter. Look up to the full moon and feel how the full moon is connected with man in its phenomena, and how the reflection of the sun is connected with the moon, and then meditate on the need to-day to go in search of a true self-knowledge which can show forth man as a reflection of the supersensible. If man knows himself to be a reflection of the supersensible, if he recognizes how he is formed and constituted out of the supersensible, then he will also find the way to come to the supersensible. At bottom, it is arrogance and pride that find expression in the materialistic view of the world. It is human pride, manifesting in a strange way! Man does not want to be a reflection of the divine and spiritual, he wants to be merely the highest of the animals. There he is the highest. But the point is, among what sort of beings is he the highest? This pride leads man to recognize nothing beyond himself. If the natural scientific outlook on the world were to be true to itself, it would have the mission of impressing this fact again and again upon man: You are the highest of all the beings of which you can form an idea. The ultimate consequences of the point of view that sets out to be strictly scientific, are such as to make a man turn pale when they show him on what kind of moral groundwork they are based — all unconscious though he may be of it. The truth is, we are to-day living in a time when Christ Jesus is being crucified in a very special sense. He is being put to death in the field of knowledge. And until men come to see how the present way of knowledge, clinging as it does to the senses and to them alone, is nothing but a grave of knowledge out of which a resurrection must take place — until they see this, they will not be able to lift themselves up to experiences in thought and feeling that partake of a true Easter character.
This is the thought that we should carry in our hearts and minds to-day. We still have with us the tradition of an Easter festival that is supposed to be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon of spring. The tradition we have, but the right to celebrate such a festival — that we have not, who live in present-day civilization.
How can we acquire this right again? We must take the thought of Christ Jesus lying in the grave, of Christ Jesus Who at Easter time vanquishes the stone that has been rolled over His grave — we must take this thought and unite it with the other thought which I have indicated. For the soul of man should feel the purely external, mechanistic knowledge like a tombstone rolled upon him; and he must exert himself to overcome the pressure of this knowledge, he must find the possibility, not to make confession of his faith in the words: “Not I, but the fully developed animal in me,” but to have the right to say: “Not I, but Christ in me.”
It is related of a learned English scientist that he said he would rather believe that he had by his own force worked his way up little by little from the ape stage to his present height as man, than that he had descended from a once ‘divine’ height, as his opponent, who could not give credence to the ideas of natural science, appeared to have done.
Such things only serve to show how urgent it is to find the way from the confession of faith: “Not I, but the fully developed animal in me,” to that other confession of faith: “Not I, but Christ in me.” We must strive to understand this word of Paul. Not until then will it be possible for the true Easter message to rise up from the depths of our hearts and souls and enter into our consciousness.
“The time has come,” Steiner tells us—this in 1920—“when humanity must realize with full and clear consciousness that supersensible knowledge has now to arise out of the grave of the materialistic outlook.” An urgent warning indeed, and 91 years after these words were spoken who will care to argue that there is no world-catastrophe for us to face? The time clearly is ripe–indeed overripe–for the resurrection of the soul and spirit!
“Selfish love,” Catherine of Siena comments in another letter, “makes us unappreciative and ungrateful because we attribute all we have to our own shrewdness. And what is the evidence? Our ingratitude, shown in the sins we commit every day. Gratitude, on the other hand, is proof that we are attributing to God alone all that we have.” Language of another time, the middle ages being in so many ways a time of moral fervor, yet how can we miss the point here–its connection with Steiner’s comments? What gratitude can there be when we have worked our way up little by little from the ape stage to our present height as homo sapiens? When “selfish love” turns out to be at once the driving force and the crowning achievment of evolution a la the Übermensch of Friedrich Nietzsche?
And truly does it not come down to this, that on that night in the garden of Gethsemane, on that night in which he was betrayed, Jesus Christ sweated blood, suffering beforehand the full weight of humanity’s ingratitude of ages for the sacrifice he was about to make, a sacrifice intended to restore each and every soul to the likeness of God? How to find the way, as Steiner words it, from the confession of faith: “Not I, but the fully developed animal in me,” to that other confession of faith: “Not I, but Christ in me”?
How to find the way, as Steiner also expresses it, so that it will “be possible for the true Easter message to rise up from the depths of our hearts and souls and enter into our consciousness”?
Regarding this question of finding the way, we can consider what the anonymous author of the Meditations on the Tarot (Letter XIV Temperance) has to say about what he calls “the gift of tears”:
“Tears” – like “sweat” and “blood” – signify, both as an expression and as a fluidic substance, more than the physical body-fluid secreted by glands in the eyes. They signify also the subtle fluid of a spiritual and psychic nature which emanates from the heart, i.e., the “twelve-petalled lotus” of man’s super-physical organization. The expression “to have tears in one’s voice” already points to inner tears, and the expression “to lament one’s weaknesses” goes further in the same direction.
The fact that there are tears of sorrow, joy, admiration, compassion, tenderness, etc., signifies that tears are produced by the intensity of the inner life. They flow – whether inwardly or outwardly is not important – when the soul, moved by the spirit or by the outer world, experiences a higher degree of intensity in its inner life than is customary. The soul who cries is therefore more living, and therefore fresher and younger than when it does not cry.
The “gift of tears” is comparatively recent spiritual phenomenon in the history of human spirituality. In the ancient world one wept only ritually, i.e., through verbal lamentations and through prescribed gestures of mourning or grief, and it was amongst the chosen people, Israel, the real weeping began. It was as a manifestation of the share that the chosen people had in the mission of preparing for the coming of Christ – who wept at the time of Lazarus’ resuscitation and who sweated sweat and blood the night in the Garden of Olives—that real weeping came to have its rudimentary origin from the womb of this people. And to the present day the Jews preserve, cultivate and respect the “gift of tears”. In fact, every revelation in the narrative of the Zohar is preceded or accompanied by the weeping of the one who had it and who comes to share it with the others. And, more recently, it was the same with the tsaddikim (righteous ones) of the Hassidim of eastern Europe. And the weeping wall in Jerusalem. . . .
Therefore we owe to this people not only the Bible, not only Christ in the flesh, and not only the work of the apostles, but also the gift of tears—warm and sincere—which is the vivifying fluid that emanates from contact between the image and the likeness in us. . . .
Above I said that the personages of the Zohar cry when they grasp a profound spiritual truth. The following is what there is to say on this subject from the point of view of Christian Hermeticism: There are three principle modes of authentic spiritual experience: vision, inspiration, and intuition—or, perception of spiritual phenomena, spiritual communication and spiritual identification. Vision presents and shows us spiritual things, inspiration infuses us with understanding of them, and intuition reveals to us their essence by way of assimilation with our essence. Thus St. Paul had the vision of Christ on the way to Damascus, from whom he received communications that he obeyed and the carrying out of which constituted his apostolic work—including his journeys—and when he said, “I live, but it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians ii, 20), this was knowledge through identification or intuition.
Tears produced by the intensity of inner life—perception through vision, understanding through inspiration, knowledge through intuition— tears from the heart, yes, and would not simple gratitude and reverence, in the grasping of profound spiritual truths, as with the personages in the Zohar, bring tears to any of us, whether inwardly or outwardly? And would not this gratitude and reverence enable “the Easter message to rise up from the depths of our hearts and souls and enter into our consciousness”? To find the way from the confession of faith: “Not I, but the fully developed animal in me,” to that other confession of faith: “Not I, but Christ in me”? We can consider what Catherine of Siena in her Dialogues (The Dialogue of the Seraphic Virgin St. Catherine of Siena) has to say about this gift of tears :
How the four stages of the soul, to which belong the five . . . states of tears, produce tears of infinite value: and how God wishes to be served as the Infinite, and not as anything finite.
“These five states are like five principal canals which are filled with abundant tears of infinite value, all of which give life if they are disciplined in virtue, as I have said to you. You ask how their value can be infinite. I do not say that in this life your tears can become infinite, but I call them infinite, on account of the infinite desire of your soul from which they proceed. I have already told you how tears come from the heart, and how the heart distributes them to the eye, having gathered them in its own fiery desire. As, when green wood is on the fire, the moisture it contains groans on account of the heat, because the wood is green, so does the heart, made green again by the renovation of grace drawn into itself among its self-love which dries up the soul, so that fiery desire and tears are united. And inasmuch as desire is never ended, it is never satisfied in this life, but the more the soul loves the less she seems to herself to love. Thus is holy desire, which is founded in love, exercised, and with this desire the eye weeps. But when the soul is separated from the body and has reached Me, her End, she does not on that account abandon desire, so as to no longer yearn for Me or love her neighbor, for love has entered into her like a woman bearing the fruits of all other virtues. It is true that suffering is over and ended, as I have said to you, for the soul that desires Me possesses Me in very truth, without any fear of ever losing that which she has so long desired; but, in this way, hunger is kept up, because those who are hungry are satisfied, and as soon as they are satisfied hunger again; in this way their satiety is without disgust, and their hunger without suffering, for, in Me, no perfection is wanting.
“Thus is your desire infinite, otherwise it would be worth nothing, nor would any virtue of yours have any life if you served Me with anything finite. For I, who am the Infinite God, wish to be served by you with infinite service, and the only infinite thing you possess is the affection and desire of your souls. In this sense I said that there were tears of infinite value, and this is true as regards their mode, of which I have spoken, namely, of the infinite desire which is united to the tears. When the soul leaves the body the tears remain behind, but the affection of love has drawn to itself the fruit of the tears, and consumed it, as happens in the case of the water in your furnace. The water has not really been taken out of the furnace, but the heat of the fire has consumed it and drawn it into itself. Thus the soul, having arrived at tasting the fire of My divine charity, and having passed from this life in a state of love towards Me and her neighbor, having further possessed that unitive love which caused her tears to fall, does not cease to offer Me her blessed desires, tearful indeed, though without pain or physical weeping, for physical tears have evaporated in the furnace, becoming tears of fire of the Holy Spirit. You see then how tears are infinite, how, as regards the tears shed in this life only, no tongue can tell what different sorrows may cause them. I have now told you the difference between four of these states of tears.”
The fifth state of tears—or rather the first, depending on the point of view—the state of “the worldly man’s tears” as Catherine calls them, which state actually betokens the state of materialism’s crippling lack of gratitude, need not occupy us here, since these are by no means, in Catherine’s felicitous phrase, “tears of infinite value”, as philosophically, by materialism’s own self-understanding, they indeed can never be.
“Love follows knowledge,” says Catherine of Siena in The Dialogue (Dialogue 1). “We trust and believe in what we love” (8). “The heart is always drawn by love” (26) “The soul cannot live without love. She always wants to love something because love is the stuff she is made of, and through love I [God] created her” (51). “One who knows more, loves more” (66).
Gratitude, tears, love: these three must come together in us if we would come to real knowledge. Without them how will there be any possibility for “the true Easter message to rise up from the depths of our hearts and souls and enter into our consciousness”?
Without them how will physical tears evaporate in the furnace to become the tears of fire of the Holy Spirit?
“I long to see you,” writes Saint Catherine in a letter, “so totally ablaze with loving fire that you become one with gentle First Truth. Truly the soul’s being united with and transformed into Him is like fire consuming the dampness in logs. Once the logs are heated through and through, the fire burns and changes them into itself, giving them its own color and warmth and power.”
The gentle First Truth—the Truth that is the Risen One who at Easter time vanquishes the stone that has been rolled over His grave, so that I can say, “Not I, but Christ in me.”
Pax et bonum,