Julian the Apostate

Anthroposophical Quarterly 6.2 (Summer 1961): 38-44.

Julian, afterwards called the Apostate, was born in Constantinople in the year 331 A.D. The age was one which in some respects resembled our own. Rudolf Steiner indeed compared the first four hundred years after the Mystery of Golgotha with the three or four centuries which have elapsed since the scientific revolution. There was the same gradual and increasing loss of confidence in an old order, both of life and of thought, which had hitherto held unchallenged sway. The most thoughtful and the best educated men feared the impending collapse of a way of life which their ancestors had built up with painful labour, sacrifice and heroism over a thousand and more years. Yet they were helpless to save it because of their own diminishing confidence in its spiritual foundations. Moreover the period culminated in a crisis during which the continued existence of the Roman Empire was itself in issue.

If we would seek to understand Julian, to grasp in some measure all that was at stake for him – and for the world in the tragedy of his life – we must begin with some kind of picture of the background into which he was born. I must therefore try first of all to sketch in, however crudely and imperfectly, the point in the long perspective of world-history at which the spiritual evolution of Western man had then arrived.

What chiefly concerns us in this context is the state of religion – using the term in its widest sense. From the earliest days of human civilization this had taken two contrasted forms:—On the one hand the experience of the mass of mankind in myth, cult and ritual; and, on the other, for a selected few, initiation into the Mysteries, where the spiritual world was apprehended in a more direct way and where a strenuous effort was made to transform the personality and to become, as it were, reborn.

But, from the beginning of the Graeco-Roman Age, the attempt began to be made to link these two extremes with a third way. And this is the way that the Greeks called Philosophy. In the writings of the Greek philosophers we find the myths being interpreted more and more as allegories. At the same time, from frequent and guarded allusions, we are kept aware that the content which they were seeking to transform in this way from pictures into thoughts – the very ability to distinguish the thought-content from the myths which portrayed them – was something which these philosophers owed to their own participation in the Mysteries.

Long after the death of Plato, this aspect of philosophy (and of course it is only one aspect) began to come more and more into the foreground. From about the end of the second century A.D. those of Plato’s followers whom we now call Neo-Platonists – men like Plotinus, Porphyry, Proclus, Iamblichus – began to develop in a most elaborate way both the allegorical approach to mythology and what I will call for short: the “Mystery-Approach”. At the same time they tried to bring the two together into some kind of harmony. Iamblichus, for example, who died about the time Julian was born, and whom Julian revered above all other philosophers, wrote a treatise on The Mysteries, which is still extant. The full title is On the Mysteries of the Egyptians, Chaldeans and Assyrians; and this draws our attention to another process, which had been going on at the same time.

With the consolidation of the Roman Empire and the ever-increasing ease of communication between East and West, other myths and cults – with their corresponding Mysteries and Mystery-teachings – had been spreading their influence in the Graeco-Roman world. Osiris, Isis, Attis, Cybele, Serapis and other Divinities, pointing back to earlier Ages than the Greek, made their appearance in the Roman Pantheon; and one of the characteristic tasks which the Neo-Platonists set themselves was to relate these with the familiar gods and goddesses of classical mythology and to demonstrate that they were the same Beings under another name.

Alongside of all this Christianity was steadily increasing the number of its adherents.

This – very crudely and onesidedly put – was the cultural background to the time of Julian the Apostate. He was born into a world in which the three modes or ways of religious experience to which I have referred were still very much in evidence, but in which all three had acquired a modified form: First, the post-classical life of myth and cult in the popular sense – but even here, more conscious of itself, now, as having a symbolic significance, and diluted, as it were, with all sorts of exotic and oriental additions. Secondly, philosophy, in its predominantly Neo-Platonic form – more of a theosophy than a philosophy in the modern sense of the term. And thirdly:—A much more widespread, more easily accessible, and for the most part a degenerate, cultivation of the Mysteries, including not only those of Delphi, of Eleusis and of Ephesus, but also Mysteries of Hecate, Isis, Cybele – and, above all perhaps, the Mysteries of Mithras, with their Persian origin, to which we shall have occasion to refer again later.

There is one further thing I want to draw attention to. Beginning, I should say, well back in pre-Christian times there is observable a gradually increasing emphasis, a growing concentration of religious attention, on one particular phenomenon of human experience – at once a very common and a very important phenomenon. It is not that this phenomenon had never played a part in religious experience before. It had, at least in one period, occupied the leading position. But now, in these particular centuries, it was coming steadily more and more into the forefront; and it had reached a kind of maximum at about the end of the third century. I am speaking of the Sun.

It is not till the revival of Hellenism under the later Roman Emperors that Helios – the God who actually bears the name of the shining disc which we seem to see in the sky – is heard more often on the lips of many than the name of Apollo, or even of Zeus himself. Nor was it only in realms permeated by the Greek spirit that this change was going on. Let me only instance the Jewish religious sect of the Essenes, for whom the rising Sun played an important part in their ceremonial life. The religion of Mithraism, which found such a hospitable welcome in the hearts of numberless Roman soldiers, centred very much round the Sol Invictus – the Unconquered Sun, whose birthday was celebrated on the 25th December in each year.

Now in the Roman world, as happened also with so many other things – for that is the nature of the Roman impulse – this movement of the human soul – if I may so call it – also found a more external, and a coarser, expression. Claudius II, Aurelian (who even assumed the title of “Lord and God” on medals) and, above all, Diocletian, linked the worship of the Sun more and more closely with the worship of the Emperor. Diocletian, indeed made himself a Roi Soleil, not in the artificial manner of a Louis XIV, but with the most literal intent. He was more like an oriental despot than a Roman Emperor. His courtiers were obliged to prostrate themselves before him. His was the last persecution of the Christians by the Roman power; and it was instituted in an attempt to restore the pagan religion, or “Hellenism” as it had begun to be called, to its former splendour. When he died, in 305 A.D., he was succeeded by Constantine.

Most people know that Constantine was converted to Christianity and that, after the battle of the Milvian Bridge, he installed Christianity as the established religion of the Roman Empire. Many are aware that his moral character nevertheless left much to be desired. But few perhaps have realised the extent to which the first Christian Emperor managed to combine the new faith with this recent image of the Sun-King, or Sun-Emperor. For instance, Constantine erected in his new capital of Constantinople a huge porphyry column, 120 feet high. This column was surmounted by a statue of the God Apollo, the head surrounded by seven mystic Sun-rays. The rays were said to be made out of nails from the Cross of Christ. The countenance of the statue was however a portrait of Constantine himself. We are told that both Pagans and Christians bowed before this column when they passed it.

Perhaps this hasty summary may have given some slight idea of the religious climate prevailing in the Roman Empire, and particularly around the Imperial Court, when Julian was born, in Constantinople, in 331 A.D. – only 20 years after the battle of the Milvian Bridge.

I have called what had been happening a “movement of the soul”; but of course the history of religion – man’s relation to the spiritual world – is not simply a history of the human soul. This assumption that religion is a purely subjective affair has done more than anything else to make modern history the caricature of the truth which for the most part it is. In fact, the history of religion, and indeed of the human race, includes those objective events occurring in a non-physical, supersensible realm, to which religion is rather the response of the human soul. And it is just here, of course, that those who have made some study of the work of Rudolf Steiner confidently accept his help.

The truth is that the changes I have been tracing cannot possibly be understood in depth without some understanding of the great historical event which formed the core of all Dr Steiner’s teaching about the history and destiny of the Earth and Man. I refer to the fact that the great Being, who incarnated in a very special way in Palestine and died on Golgotha, had been, before His descent on Earth, in an equally special way the Spirit of the Sun. He ceased to be the Spirit of the Sun only in order to become the Spirit and Meaning of the Earth. But this event, although it culminated in the years of His earthly incarnation, was not a sudden one. He had been – and this was always known in the uncorrupted Mysteries – on His way down, as it were, for some thousands of years before He entered a human body and walked as a Man on Earth. It was there – on Earth – from now on, and not, as formerly, in the Aura of the Sun, that He was to be found by the questing soul of man. But this change, too, did not take effect quite abruptly.

One of the consequences which the great Event was gradually to entail was a change in the relation of man to his etheric body, and this not only during his life on Earth between birth and death, but also in the spiritual world before birth. It is particularly in this latter connection that Rudolf Steiner refers, in one of his lectures, to the period between the Mystery of Golgotha and the fourth century A.D. During these three or four hundred years, he says, man could still see the Sun-Spirit (though Christ Himself was already united with the Earth), because he still had an intimate relation with his etheric body before birth. Men saw the Sun in such a way that, through the etheric body, they still beheld, as it were, His after-image – as on a kind of spiritual retina. These conditions, he says in the lecture called Man’s New Need for the Christ (Z.41) continued until the year 333 A.D.; and he adds that there did not live in such people the need for the Christ, and instances Julian’s soul as one of the last to reach the Earth with this pre-earthly experience as part of its equipment.

Perhaps some at least of the things I have been saying may have inclined us to glance with a touch of more than ordinary interest and understanding and sympathy at the baby called Flavius Claudius Julianus, a nephew of Constantine the Great, who was crawling and running about in the women’s quarters of his father’s house in Constantinople in the early thirties of the fourth century A.D. His mother – a Christian of patrician birth – had died before he reached an age at which he could recognise her. We imagine him growing up, a rather solemn child, wide-eyed and full of eager questions on all manner of subjects. And he had already reached the ripe age of six, when he suffered the first of the many uprooting experiences which were to punctuate his short life on earth.

On the death of Constantine, in 337, his son Constantius instituted a family massacre, in which Julian’s father and several of his relations perished. When they reached Julian, the soldiers hesitated a moment before so young a victim; and in that moment a Christian priest somehow managed to snatch him away from the soldiers and hide him beneath an altar.

We catch a glimpse of him after this at Nicomedia in Bithynia, with his tutor, Mardonius, who (he tells us) was very strict with him and, for instance, made him keep his eyes on the ground as he walked through the streets to school. Mardonius was a Christian; but he loved the Greek Classics, and he knew them inside out in a schoolmasterly fashion. It was probably at this time that Julian acquired his intimate knowledge of Homer’s poetry, from which he afterwards quoted so frequently in all that he wrote. Later, he spoke of Mardonius with respect and affection. Mardonius had formerly been employed by his mother to read Homer and Hesiod aloud to her; and we find it difficult not to imagine the little boy, as he trotted along to school beside the old eunuch, piping up with a good many questions about her – especially as there is plenty of evidence of his affectionate nature; and we know that, as a grown man, he treasured her jewels and named a city (Basilinopolis) after her. Perhaps it was in answer to one of these questions that he learned that Basilina, before her delivery, dreamed that she had given birth to Achilles. But I rather doubt whether old Mardonius would have told him that – it might have given him a swelled head!

Then, when he was ten years old, came the second of those abrupt changes of fortune which were characteristic of Julian’s destiny. On the orders of Constantius he was sent to the gloomy fortress of Macellum in Cappadocia and there he grew up for the next six years, practically a prisoner, with little company except that of his elder half-brother, Gallus – a boy of very different character. Both boys knew that they were being strictly watched by the servants; and one imagines whispered conversations about this, and about the frightful day of the massacre – which Gallus himself had only escaped by an accidental circumstance. They were brought up in the Christian Faith, and there is little doubt that Julian, who took everything seriously, was by no means unimpressed by the Christian ritual and the Christian teaching. Later, after his apostasy, he showed how well he knew the Gospels. Nevertheless, it must have been at this time, too, that he began to have those vivid experiences of the sun and the stars of which he tells in the opening sentences of his Hymn to King Helios:

from my childhood an extraordinary longing for the rays of the God penetrated deep into my soul…

Elsewhere he describes how he was once thrown into a kind of ecstasy, in which Helios revealed himself to him.

And now, at the age of sixteen, another change, equally abrupt. He was released from the fortress, and his life suddenly blossomed into that of a wealthy and popular undergraduate. He travelled, visiting a number of Greek cities, and finished up in Athens, which was the Oxford of that time and was full of Neo-Platonists. Formerly he had been obliged to procure and study their teachings by stealth; but now he assiduously attended their public meetings. Like every good undergraduate, he studied hard – and talked even harder. We have a description of him at this period from his friend, the Orator – or, as we should say, the Lecturer or Don – Libanius:

Of medium stature, broad-shouldered, his body well knit and above all of an attractive countenance. His eyes were full of radiance, and he had that moving look of ardent youth, ready to raise itself to all that appears just and noble.

We are told that he was ready to chat on equal terms with anybody he met in the street or elsewhere. His affectionate nature inspired affection in others and he was soon surrounded by a happy circle of friends and fellow-students.

From Gregory of Nazianzen – his friend and fellow-student in Athens, who after his death wrote of him with such venom – we learn that there was another side of the picture. He was nervy. The broad shoulders were in constant motion, the radiant eyes were restless, the head for ever too violently nodding assent or shaking in disagreement. He laughed too loud and too easily and his words came tumbling out on top of each other in his eagerness to ask and answer questions.

It was at this time, too, that he developed his strong appetite for – what I will call the “Sensational Occult” – Theurgy, Mediumism, Soothsayers, Magic on the physical plane and at the level of the conjuring-trick, all shared in his rather undiscriminating enthusiasm.

We must remember that all this time – and indeed from the age of six onwards – like Hamlet towards the end of the Play – he knew he was being watched, watched, watched… watched, as also in Hamlet’s case, by the secret agents of an absolute Monarch, who had murdered the father and now lived in perpetual dread alike of the ambition and the vengeance of the son. At any moment the knife of the assassin or the sword of the executioner might fall – as it did fall in the year 354 on his brother, Gallus. Meanwhile, at the age of nineteen, Julian had turned against Christianity and formed his resolution, should he ever attain power, to restore the worship of the ancient Gods; though he concealed this movement of his soul from all but his closest friends. During the same period he was initiated into more than one of those Mysteries to which I have already referred.

Then, at the age of twenty-three, another of those violent changes! He was directed to leave Athens and all his friends and report to Milan, where the Emperor, Constantius, was at that time holding his Court. He supposed that the bright day was over and he was travelling to his death. But, when he reached Milan, instead of being murdered, he was raised to the dignity of Caesar – a sort of Prince of Wales but with much greater responsibilities – and sent into Gaul, which was at that time overrun by the Germans and in danger of being lost altogether to the Empire.

How he dreaded it!  He wrote a letter to the Empress, Eusebia, who had previously taken him under her protection and perhaps saved his life, begging to her to get him sent back to Athens, instead, to go on with his beloved studies. And then… he pulled himself together… and did not send the letter! It must have been a kind of climacteric of his life. He invoked the aid of Athene and of King Helios and accepted what he took to be his destiny. This included marriage with Constantius’s sister Helena – an event which seems to have stood for very little in his life – and perhaps also in hers.

What followed in Gaul is wholly fascinating to read about. For consider the situation! Here was a gentle student – almost a bookworm – suddenly converted into a General; and a General with a victorious enemy in front, a corrupt and demoralised Army theoretically – but only theoretically under him – and behind him a mass of spies and intrigues and professional jealousy, all directed to ensure that he should have no real power whatever, and no substantial success which might render him too popular.

This was the challenge and somehow or other he met it. In the 4 ½ years he spent in Gaul he crossed the Rhine four times and transformed the Germans from a growing menace to the Empire into a beaten enemy, glad to sue for peace on any terms. He transformed Gaul itself from something like a waste land into a smiling and prosperous province – so that her wretched inhabitants compared him to the Sun, rising once more on the darkness of their misery. He transformed the Army from a sullen and rebellious mass into a devoted band of enthusiastic followers. And, in the course of doing all this, he transformed himself. He had to. He transformed himself from a mild and excitable student into – I will not only say, an intrepid and efficient administrator – but into something like what we should now call a Tycoon. The telephone had not been invented, so he could not use four or five at once; but you can read in the contemporary historian, Ammianus, how he wore out his secretaries by dictating to them, so that they had to take on in relays; how he could listen to one secretary reading a report, while he dictated to another, and at the same time employed himself writing on a third matter with his own hand. It is possible that, by doing all this, he saved from a premature collapse, Rome’s Western Empire, and with that the whole of her pregnant influence on Western civilisation. He slept on a rug on the ground and shared the rations of the common soldier. His nights were divided into three parts, of which only the first was devoted to sleep. This part ended at midnight, when he rose and, after a prayer to the God Mercury (the divinity who leads our quickness of intellect) he gave the remaining hours till daylight, half to business, and half to the Muses, as he called it. It was in such circumstances that he wrote his fairly well-known Hymn to the Sun and the less known, but hardly less striking, Hymn to the Mother of the Gods.

But the Emperor, Constantius, had had enough of his cousin’s growing popularity, and made up his mind to get rid of him. He sent orders from Constantinople that Julian’s best troops were to be withdrawn and transferred to the East, while Julian himself was to return home. The troops mutinied. They clamoured to declare Julian Emperor. Again he hesitated. His wife was laying ill, and at the point of death. On his way to her apartment he passed an open window. He looked through it and implored a sign from Zeus. That night the Genius of the Roman Empire appeared to him in a dream, rebuked him for his previous delay and threatened to desert him for ever if this opportunity were let slip. Julian allowed himself to be crowned Emperor.

I find the bare chronicle of these events, which occurred in Paris in the Winter of 359, more exciting than the dramatic version of Ibsen, or the novel of Merejkowski.

There followed some months of long-distance and abortive negotiations with Constantius. They failed; and it was war to the knife between the two Emperors. One of the things which Julian had learned, in his capacity of “Tycoon,” was always to be a move ahead of the other fellow; and he now made and carried out brilliant plans for a lightning march on Constantinople. The troops were happy enough to march East with him. One last picture of him, on his way to the Danube, this time from Mamertius:—

beneath the weight of his armour, leading the march at a breathless pace, his shoulders running with sweat, his hair and beard thick with dust, but his eyes shining like the fire of the stars, which know naught of fatigue.

But, before he reached Constantinople, news was brought of the death of Constantius, and he found himself, without a struggle, Master of the civilised world – except for the Persian Empire.

There followed his twenty brief months on the Imperial Throne. He might have been expected to relax a trifle. Instead, he instantly began to devote the same unflagging energy, which he had formerly applied in Gaul, to the reformation of the Empire, including not only the system of taxation and the administration of justice, but also the system of public transport – all of which were in a pretty bad way. Including also – and above all, for him – the restoration of the pagan sacrifices and the pagan religion. Everybody knows of the difficulties he encountered there: on the one hand, the deep-rootedness of the Christian religion, which he never seems to have understood; on the other, the growing apathy of the Pagans and their loss of any real faith in, or enthusiasm for, their own religion. You may read of it in his own Letters, in his short satirical essay called Misopogon and in what has been recovered of his Polemic Against the Galileans.

He did not actively persecute the Christians, but he grew more and more embittered, both by the obstinacy of the Christians and by the apathy and frivolity of the Pagans. One thing that is remarkable is that the “new Look” which he endeavoured to give to Paganism bore a striking resemblance to the habits that were growing up among the Christians themselves. So that it has been said that, if he had had his way, he would have ended by establishing, not Polytheism, as it formerly existed, but “a polytheist Church”. Not only did he exhort the Pagan ‘congregations’ to live in charity with one another; he advised the priests to introduce into the temple ritual an address, which in a Christian church would be called a sermon. He was even fascinated by the organ – then newly invented – and so much so that he wrote a poem on it, which is still extant.

What would have happened, if there had not been good reasons for his conducting a campaign against Persia, we cannot say. In fact, he left Constantinople at the head of his Army in the Spring of 363 on the 26th June of that year, somewhere near the banks of the lower Tigris, hastening up without his armour to restore the morale of his soldiers during a temporary reverse, he was wounded by a spear – probably thrown by one of his own Christian followers. He tried to pull out the spear in order to return to the battle, but he cut his hands on it so severely that he had to abandon the attempt. The following day, in his tent, surrounded by a group of devoted military and philosophical friends, he died of the wound. He was 32 years old.

I have purposely concentrated attention on his life rather than on anything he thought, or wrote. There is great spiritual depth in the Hymn to King Helios, and the ardour and sincerity which breathe through it can make a deep impression. But it does bear the marks of the haste with which it was composed (he tells us it took him three nights) and the words and ideas tumble out in bewildering disorder. Of actual content there is probably not much that could not be extracted from the works of other Neo-Platonic philosophers. It was because of what he was that Rudolf Steiner could refer to Julian as “one of the really great figures in the history of the world”. It was by virtue of what he did and suffered that he was indeed a Leader of Human Experience.

Of what he did, I have said a good deal. He transformed himself so completely, that by the time he died, the Ego that once had slept so mysteriously in the little boy trotting along beside Mardonius was wide awake and in absolute control of almost every movement of every muscle of his body. I think no-one but the wilfully blind can fail to connect this with the fact that, before he went into Gaul, Julian was initiated into more than one of those Mysteries to which I have referred – and, in particular, the Mysteries of Mithras, to which he himself attached the most importance.

These Mysteries were specially calculated to develop physical endurance and physical courage. But this, of course, was not all. One of the highest stages of Initiation in tem was that of the “Sun-Hero”. Probably very few genuinely attached this grade. And it may well be that, of that few, Julian was the only one who has left a recorded mark on the history of the world.

And yet, perhaps most of all it is in what I have said less about – because it is probably already in the thoughts of many here – it is in what he suffered, at a crucial moment of the spiritual conflict between the Old and the New in the evolution of human consciousness, that Julian takes his place as a Leader of Human Experience.

There is an abiding tragedy in that evolution, and it is this:—That, on the one hand, the Old must, it seems, be utterly rooted out, destroyed, obliterated, to make way for the New; and yet, on the other hand, it is wrong, and even disastrous that it should be so. It is disastrous, because it is precisely the old Wisdom that is best adapted to comprehend the New. Everywhere there is that tragedy. If only the Old could be aware of its need for the New – while there is still time! In Julian’s day, it was just those whose hearts most needed the Christ, whose minds were the least prepared to understand Him in depth. On the other hand it was the minds that were still basking in the spiritual sunlight lingering on from the past, which were best equipped to comprehend the light that was coming into the world. It was those souls, which had had the pre-natal experience of the Sun in their etheric bodies, who might have grasped the fact that the Christian Mystery is also the Mystery of the Spiritual Sun; but they did not feel the need.

And so, instead of harmony, the two extremes clashed. The pagan philosophers saw nothing in Christianity but ignorant and vulgar iconoclasm. The Christians had no eyes for Julian’s sublime Mystery of the Threefold Sun. They could only see the coarse idolatry implicit in the external Sun-Cult of Constantine and his predecessors, and this they rightly abhorred.

Thus, after Julian’s death, the battle continued to rage – and Christianity won. But it was, in many respects – certainly not in all – an external, superficial Christianity, a Christianity of the Extremists, a Constantinian Christianity. One interpretation of Julian’s last words – Vicisti, Galilaee! – is that he really said: “The Galilean has conquered – not the Christ.”

Julian was not in a position to understand the inevitable tragedy. He did something else. He lived it. And he lived it in a way, and to a degree, which has perhaps never been done before or since. He lived it, as his own intimate, personal experience, in effort and frustration, in bitterness and sorrow, in anger and resentment, in broken friendships and wounded affections. He lived it on his deathbed – when there seems no doubt that he did exclaim, at one point: “Helios, thou hast destroyed me!” He lived it in the hopes and joys and the moments of glad insight, of which he also had some share.

But though he did not understand it, it may well be that the subconscious pressure of the immemorial tragedy was one of the motives that lay behind his expedition to Persia. There were good enough political reasons for it; but Rudolf Steiner has affirmed – what others also have suggested – that one of his motives was to seek in Persia for the original Mysteries of Zarathustra, from which Mithraism had sprung. There perhaps – who knows? – he would have found at last the true secret of the Sun-Spirit, which the original Zarathustra was the first to teach, and which itself pointed back to a time past, when the Sun was still united with the Earth – before the seeds of the tragedy were sown – and forward to a time future, when the tragedy might be transcended. It was this very secret, which Julian really longed to bring to mankind.

Nor is that longing of his merely an interesting historical event which is past and done with. In that new perspective of history which we are slowly learning to master, it can become quite obvious to us that such a longing as this, energised with a life time of self-transformation in selfless activity – works on. That, not only in subsequent incarnations on Earth but also from the spiritual world between death and re-birth, it has worked further, will work further, and is now working further towards its ultimate fulfilment.

To-day, also, we live in the shadow of a great misunderstanding. Now, the question is, whether East and West will clash in violent conflict, one seeking to obliterate the other – or whether a wisdom which penetrates to the depths from which they both spring, will harmonise and unite the two conflicting impulses. The tragedy is, as I have said, that this is the thing which, we must feel, ought to happen; and this is the thing which never does happen. Always the two extremes clash and one of them is destroyed. Must, then, the old tragedy by played out again – and this time on a scale which may destroy the world? On past form, the prospect is not hopeful.

And yet… there is one thing, which modern historians who look down cast perspectives and infer the future with scientific accuracy from the past, always (or is Teilhard de Chardin an exception here?) leave out of account. And that is the very fact that they have that perspective, whereas those at whom they are looking did not; that those on whom their backward gaze is fixed, had not themselves a backward gaze. We are not only involved in the tragedy; we can also be aware of it. With the advent of world-history – and it is really quite recent – the secret of the evolution of human consciousness had begun to emerge from the Mysteries and to penetrate into the minds of an increasing number of men. It is just of this emergence and of this penetration that Rudolf Steiner was a pioneer of pioneers. We cannot go out and find – at least I do not think we should find – in the heart of Persia, or of the East, the Mystery of the Threefold Sun; but we can seek the Christ everywhere on Earth and indeed in the heart of the West. And, if we were successful – because of this emergence into the light of day of the secret of our evolution – we should in fact also find the Threefold mystery of the Sun-Spirit – of the Cosmic Christ, Who is as relevant to man’s knowledge of the material universe as He is to those social and moral values which the West has built up so painfully and laboriously and now refers to so vaguely as its “Way of Life”.

If I am right in my suggestion, and this vast perspective of the past, that is opening up to us, really does give us a peculiar advantage over all the generations that have gone before, it would seems we cannot avoid the conclusion that we bear a correspondingly heavier burden of responsibility for the future than ever they did. Let me only add, therefore, that, if anyone were minded – or perhaps only half-minded as yet – to acknowledge a formidable responsibility, or nerve himself to cope with what bears all the marks of a desperate situation, I cannot at present think of any historical figure, whom he would do better to set before himself in contemplation than that of Julian the Apostate.

Owen Barfield

Copyright © 1997 — Owen Barfield Literary Estate.       Return to Top.