Who was Rudolf Steiner?

The First Goetheanum, Dornach, Switzerland

Another important perspective to emerge from Steiner´s spiritual investigations was a series of concrete evolutionary connections between the world´s great religions in which is revealed the vital, necessary and distinct roles played by each of them in human development. These are documented, for instance in “According to Luke”, by Rudolf Steiner, and “The Great Religions” by Pietro Archiati.

The capacity for truly free thought which was brought specifically by Christianity (even if certain organised forms have contradicted that), was posited by Steiner to lay the foundation not only for the subsequent emergence of science as it is presently known, but also for a future synthesis of science with human spiritual capacities which fully transcend organised religion. Thus we find before us a remarkable vision in which universal truths are individually arrived at, are scientific-objective, span both material and spiritual realms and are given distinct expression by every individual who realises them. Steiner referred to this distant situation as one in which ´every human being will become their own religion´. This great and lofty word-view which Steiner cultivated found its way into the world first through the context the Theosophical Society and subsequently through the Anthroposophical society which he himself founded.

In the late 19th and early twentieth century, the Theosophical Society was perhaps the foremost organisation concerned with bringing esoteric knowledge of re-incarnation and karma to the West. Founded in New York in 1875 by the Russian Helena Petrovna Blatvatsky, it had subsequently become established in numerous other countries. As a researcher concerned with how spiritual truths were to emerge in the West, it was natural for Steiner to involve himself in this society, and this he did, in 1902 became the General Secretary of its 10 branches around Germany.

Differences of understanding with the rest of the Theosophical leadership about the relationship between Eastern and Christian esotericism however, became and increasing source of tension.

When the Theosophical leadership proclaimed in 1909, erroneously in Steiner´s understanding, that the young Indian boy Jiddhu Krishnamurti was a re-incarnation of Christ, a separation was initiated. By 1913, along with certain likeminded former Theosophists, he had founded the Anthroposophical Society which remains to this day a focal point for the continuation of his work.

Krishnamurti meanwhile, subsequently himself denounced the idea that he was a re-incarnation of Christ, and separated himself from the Theosophical Society in 1929. The historical evolution of the Theosophical Society and Anthroposophical Society, and of the general relationship between Eastern religions and Christianity in the post-19th century West is of course considerably more complex and important than can be accounted for in this brief outline. The interested reader will find it traced in scholarly depth in Sergei O Prokofieff´s 2009 book “The East in the Light of the West”.

Suffice here to say that prior to, during and subsequent to his membership of the Theosophical Society, Rudolf Steiner´s work matured into what eventually became Anthroposophy; both a method of spiritual research and a body of knowledge produced by that method.