Teilhard and Steiner:
Cosmogenesis in light of Anthroposophy
Introduction: As Above, So Below
The human is a spiritual being of universal significance. If my reader lacks the courage required for such an affirmation, they need read no further, because though one may have ears to hear and eyes to see, without an open heart these sensory organs will remain deaf and blind to the wisdom I wish to share.
I repeat, the human is a spiritual being of universal significance. History leaves record of a few special individuals who have realized the meaning of this essential truth, but their teachings have often been obscure and shrouded in secrecy. In what follows, I share my still limited understanding of the insights of two such illumined beings with you because I feel the time has come for the mysteries to be opened and made accessible to everyone. For both of these men, Rudolf Steiner and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, human consciousness and the process of cosmic evolution are corresponding phenomena that cannot be understood in isolation.
Knowledge of this correspondence between microcosm and macrocosm is not new. On the contrary, it is perhaps the oldest secret doctrine at the core of all subsequent esoteric science, first appearing in the Emerald Tablet of the “thrice great” Hermes: “As it is above, so it is below; and as it is below, so it is above.”
It is this doctrine of correspondence that makes possible a synthesis between natural and spiritual science, between cosmology and theosophy. For Steiner, this synthesis took the form of anthroposophy, “a path of knowledge guiding the spiritual in the human being to the spiritual in the universe.”
Anthroposophy attempts to situate the human within the complex and evolving interpenetration of mineral, etheric, astral, and spiritual planes constituting our total being. It is a direct response to the one-dimensional worldview of scientific materialism, wherein the human spirit is reduced to an anomaly in an otherwise disjointed world of purposeless matter in motion.
Modern science has no doubt made many astonishing discoveries about the universe during the course of the last several centuries. The enchanted medieval cosmos, with its crystalline heavenly spheres and static hierarchies, represented, in many respects, an oversimplified and immature picture of the universe. Beginning in the 16th and 17th centuries, Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo re-situated earth and humanity in a far vaster and more mysterious universe, shattering the spheres and calling into question the Great Chain of Being supposedly ascending from dust to divinity. It was not long before Newton, inspired by the Hermetic doctrine of a correspondence between heaven and earth, unified terrestrial and astrophysical law.
It would be a mistake to believe that the heliocentric displacement of earth or the law of universal gravitation somehow contradict the deeper truth of humanity’s universal significance. Nor do the more recent discoveries of thermodynamics and biological evolution in any way remove the human phenomenon from the heart of the cosmos. On the contrary, 20th
century cosmology has re-confirmed another ancient Hermetic principle, that ours is an infinite universe whose circumference is nowhere and so whose center is everywhere. As Teilhard allows us to see, space and time, matter and energy, can now be understood as interwoven threads of single a living matrix that is irreversibly growing toward increasing complexity and consciousness. “The human is not the static center of the world, as was thought for so long,” writes Teilhard, “but the axis and arrow of evolution—which is much more beautiful.”
Nonetheless, the old conception of the macrocosm, according to Steiner, has died away, and for good reason. Human beings used to be as children, passively receiving the lessons of cosmic wisdom from the primeval macrocosm. It was as if the light and music of the heavenly spheres thought for a still unconscious human soul.
“The old macrocosm had to die,” says Steiner, so “that [humanity] might sever [itself] from it with full self-consciousness.”
Earth is not a mere speck of dust in the endless empty expanse of physical space, however, but—with the participation of human consciousness—“in its unity an embryo—the seed of a macrocosm newly rising into life.”
A similar image is found in the Emerald Tablet, wherein the One which made all things opens an economy between earth and sky, what is below and what is above, in order to transform, through a series of steps, the grossness of earthly matter into the subtler substance of fire. The story is archetypal and runs through all of Western esotericism: matter is a fallen form of Spirit, the One become many; but in so falling, Spirit, though perhaps perfect in its transcendence, betrays a lack of completeness. Spirit, already All, desired to take on earthly flesh—to become human—so as to love and to know itself in All.
In what remains of this short essay, rather than explicitly arguing in favor of the re-unification of science and mysticism, I will assume that, actually, the two have never parted company. I do not believe there has ever been a scientific genius whose insights were derived solely from the measurement of matter in motion. If human consciousness was uninformed by the higher senses of imagination, inspiration, and intuition, the Scientific Revolution could never have taken place. Instead, in what follows, I aim only to remind my reader of the spiritual evolution they have always been participating in by exploring, with both Steiner and Teilhard as my guides, the newly emerging correspondence between consciousness and the cosmos that, with the help of the Cosmic Christ, is unfolding upon the earth. This exploration will involve both anamnesis and metamorphosis, requiring both a meditative plunge into the depths of cosmic memory and a faithful leap to the heights of divine imagination.
Earth Evolution and the Human Spirit
“Long ago,” writes Teilhard, “the precursors of our chemists worked furiously to find the lapis philosophorum—
the philosophers’ stone. Today our ambition has grown.”
It is no longer enough to turn lead into gold, though the symbolism underlying such a procedure is not at all off the mark. Earth may at first have seemed to be made only of metals and minerals, but this was but the outer shell of a germinating seed still in the process of elemental transmutation.
Teilhard describes the juvenile earth as already lined by an inner spiritual potential for life, adding that
“in rhythm with the awakening forces of synthesis included in matter, its activities, dormant until then, were set in motion…[as] over the entire periphery of the newly formed globe, the tension of internal freedoms began to rise.”
The earth has from its beginnings been developing from the mineral realm into progressively more complex and more conscious kingdoms of nature: first into the watery etheric body of plants, then to the air-like astral body of animals, finally becoming a vessel for the “essential fire”
of the human spirit. This is of course a symbolic and alchemical way of representing the movement from lower to higher kingdoms, but it does not at all contradict Teilhard’s more detailed paleontological account of the tree of life. He painstakingly recounts the entire history of life on earth, from the first pre-living polymers, to simple cells, to metazoa, on to fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, primates, and finally, reflective human beings. I say “finally,” because for Teilhard, unlike many natural scientists, the evolution of “the ‘galaxy’ of living forms” on earth “outlines a vast ‘orthogenic’ movement of enfolding,”
meaning that its processes are directed toward a specific end. The current state of earth evolution is, in this sense, the culmination of an anthropocosmogenesis
Having reached this point, the earth’s work is, strictly speaking, finished. Its cosmic will has now converged and been hominized.
The time for humanity to consciously participate in the full flowering of the spiritual seed that is our planet has arrived. As Teilhard describes it, the earth now awaits the “advance of a circle of fire around the spark made by the first reflective consciousness.”
For Teilhard, as for Steiner, this requires not only realizing the human being is “inevitably the center of perspective,” but also “the center of construction
of the universe.”
In our age of the spiritual soul,
the spiritual forces of the cosmos are no longer thinking for
human consciousness. This spiritual umbilical cord has been severed. Rather, out of the active freedom of our spirit-seeing consciousness
the universe that once produced humanity is now being remade within us.
The changing relationship between the human microcosm and the macrocosm is a result of the evolution of consciousness. Most historians mistakenly believe that human beings have always experienced themselves and the world in the same way we do today. The mythical beings and magical forces that were so important to earlier ages are explained away as projections or fantasies of a more primitive intellect.
In truth, primordial humanity was still immersed in a dream-like consciousness directly inspired from above by contents of the spiritual world. As Steiner puts it, this earlier humanity experienced itself “as a drop out of the sea of cosmic spirituality, a drop that has separated itself off for the time of this earthly life, only to unite itself again when the earthly life is over.”
Today, humanity is passing through a temporary period of separation from the spiritual world as a result of an increasingly sense-bound materialistic outlook. We no longer recall what came before our birth, nor are we sure what awaits us after death. Instead of cosmic thoughts streaming in from above, the main contents of experience have become sense perceptions of the surfaces of objects. Ideas now require the effort of our own soul-activity; our task is to become increasingly conscious of our inner spirit, our ability to think freely independent of the outer world. “What came from the heights,” Steiner writes, “has to be found again in the depths.”
Steiner is careful to point out that what is most significant about the age of the spiritual, or consciousness soul (beginning around 1500 CE) is not the ideas developed by modern science concerning the natural world, but rather the effect these ideas have had on the evolution of humanity’s self-knowledge.
The spiritual macrocosm died away only to re-appear within the microcosm as the spiritualized material of the earth—which is to say, as human consciousness.
Despite the alienation from outer nature and spirit that this death-rebirth process has temporarily required, it remains for consciousness a crucial and necessary initiation into a higher form of being and knowing. The process is akin to wandering in the desert in order to purify the soul in preparation for the realization of an otherwise unimaginable future mission. Steiner teaches that we must have confidence in the world and the courage to persists in our longing for spiritual truth if this mission is to become clearer to us.
The next step of cosmic evolution requires the free participation of our consciousness. In other words, the full flowering of the earth depends upon humanity’s becoming conscious of the cosmic will that has unconsciously struggled through billions of years of evolution to give birth to us.
Teilhard describes this rebirth of the cosmos within consciousness as
“the entry of consciousness, forever, into a framework of new dimensions
; and consequently, the birth of an entirely renewed universe, simply by the transformation of its most intimate stuff, without a change of line or fold.”
Consciousness, or what might also appropriately be called the human spirit, is for both Teilhard and Steiner an “inner Sun” that not only illumines our sensory experience of the world, but confers upon the universe itself a “form of unity it would never have had if it had not been thought.”
As Steiner puts it, “human beings do not just understand what nature has produced; they carry nature further.”
Our thinking is not simply an inner mental activity mirroring or representing some state of affairs in an outside world. Thinking is a higher dimensional folding of space-time upon itself, which is to say that consciousness is both unique and continuous with the ongoing development of the universe. I do not represent a world that remains outside myself when I think; rather, the world process comes to know itself in my thinking.
“Therefore,” writes Steiner, “thinking must never be regarded as a merely subjective activity. Thinking is beyond subject and object.”
In thinking, I do more than receive impressions of a finished world—I actively participate in cosmogenesis. On earth, this means contributing to the emergence of an entirely new envelope surrounding the biosphere: the noosphere.
The Role of Christ in Noogenesis
As Teilhard sees it, individual consciousnesses are being forced to converge upon themselves into an “almost solid mass of hominized substance”
due to the spherical shape of the earth. In whatever direction we head, we find not more land, but more people. This psychic compression has been going on at least since the Neolithic revolution, when agriculture increased our population and commerce lead to cities, some of which became especially wealthy and developed into empires hungry for the spoils of war. Noogenesis has not been a peaceful process, but even in the most violent of attempted conquests, the interpermeable nature of the psyche resulted in the endomorphosis of conquered and conqueror: both were left forever changed, becoming less defined by particular cultures and more by their humanity.
The assimilative function served by the wars of the past is little consolation for our contemporary predicament: it is no longer spears and arrows powered by the human hand, but atomic missiles fired from orbiting satellites that threaten our earthly wellbeing. The future destiny of all life on earth still rests in human hands—but hands that, with the push of a button, could eradicate forever billions of years of accumulated evolutionary innovation. The evils of war, perhaps for several centuries now, have ceased to serve noogenesis. Today, war (whether waged by one human society upon another, or by human industry upon the earth) represents a vestige of our less than human past. The pressure is increasing, the temperature continues to rise, and it is becoming more and more apparent that “brought to its thinking stage, life cannot continue without structurally needing to rise even higher.”
Both Steiner and Teilhard feel that only the cosmic love of the Christ impulse can safely carry humanity through this difficult transformation. Christ, for Teilhard, is a “universal Presence…, an expanding Center which is trying to find itself a sphere,” while earthly humanity represents “a sphere that is extending deeper and deeper, and needs a center.”
The coincidence is enough to convince Teilhard that our earthly mission has been seeded from above
, that we are in no danger of suffocating as a result of increasing compression upon the earth. He recognizes that our violent and seemingly chaotic movement towards “a planetary Flux of co-reflection”
is supported from within
by an incarnating divine axis.
“What comes down to us from those heights,” writes Teilhard,
“is not merely air for our lungs; it is the radiance of a love. The World, therefore, is not simply a place in which a Life can breathe because its power to look into the future has been aroused; we can see its evolutive summit and so feel its absorbing magnetic attraction.”
Love, then, is the engine of evolution that is consummating the noosphere. As the universe becomes increasingly Christified as a result of earth’s noogenesis, the human psyche finds itself operating within a new charter, the details of which are a result of what Teilhard calls “the Divine Milieu.” As this milieu continues to manifest on earth, the difference between the universal and the personal will be broken down. The individual ego, while remaining unique, will begin to participate in the universal being of Christ.
“And so,” writes Teilhard,
“the possibility is disclosed for, opens out for, Humanity, not only of believing and hoping but (what is much more unexpected and much more valuable) of loving, co-extensively and co-originally with all the past, the present and the future of a Universe which is in process of concentration upon itself.”
According to Steiner, this process of concentration has hit a fever pitch during our age of the consciousness soul. As a result of telescopes giving us a better look at the stars, and the disenchanting effects of natural science generally, the inner human being “had to embrace the spirit of a sensory world—one that fills the spatial universe everywhere in the same way.”
Our expanded perception of outer space lead to a corresponding contracted perception of inner spirit. For many, the universe now seems to be a dead and empty place. As was discussed above, this period of alienation is necessary for the development of human freedom. The role of Christ, as Steiner sees it, is to provide a guarantee of this freedom, if only we “turn to Christ consciously in the spiritual frame of mind which [we] possessed subconsciously during the descent from supersensible spirit-existence to the use of intellect.”
This descent from our original participation in the music of the cosmic spheres to the dead way of thinking reigning at present can only be reversed by a movement of loving openness toward the world, an act of will which might also be termed “faith.” Noogenesis depends both on the strength of our collective bond and the courage of our individual will.
Christogenesis and Etheric Vision
Teilhard and Steiner are Christ-centric thinkers, but in our increasingly interconnected planet, there are more spiritual paths available than ever before. They both feel there is something unique about the Christian spiritual impulse, that it serves the needs of our moment better than any other. Teilhard is quite aware, however, that imposing “a ready-made Divinity from outside” upon those of a non-Christian persuasion is no better than “preaching in the desert.”
Steiner is careful to point out that there is an experiential basis for Christian revelation, and that as more people begin to experience the Christ Event as “mystical fact,” our task will be to develop “an understanding for the possibility of entering the spirit world free of any religious denomination, going simply through the power of good will.”
In this section, I will attempt to articulate what makes Christianity unique and why it is that Teilhard and Steiner find it so important for the evolution of human consciousness on earth.
Teilhard lists three attributes that any Divinity still capable of speaking to modern humanity must possess. This God must be: 1) vast and mysterious as the Cosmos, 2) immediate and all-embracing as Life, and 3) linked to our human efforts on the earth.
The first requirement is a result of Teilhard’s own experience as a scientist learning about the immensity and perplexity of the universe. As his knowledge of nature increased, his former faith began to seem childish. This tension between scientific facts and religious revelation allowed him, throughout his life, to share in the anxieties felt by so many non-believers. But like many Christian natural philosophers before him (like Aquinas and Hegel, to give two examples), he was able to bring together the Bible and the book of Nature. For Teilhard, there is “a secret message explanatory of the whole of Creation…allowing us to feel God in everything we do and in everything that is done to us”: the universe is Christ incarnate.
It is this secret that, when revealed within one’s heart (for it cannot be outwardly seen), demonstrates the conjunction of both humanity’s heavenly and earthly attractions. The vast Cosmos becomes the mysterious body of God.
The second requirement stems from Teilhard’s plea for the priestly class to engage more fully with the world, rather than remaining merely “the people who bury you.”
He finds it imperative that the religious must not only study within religion in order to defend it, but apply their passionate religiosity to other fields, especially to science, where the disenchanting metaphysical assumptions of materialism are so often taken for granted. The natural world, studied religiously as the Body of Christ, may become, as William Law puts it, “a volume of holy instruction that leads us into all the mysteries and secrets of eternity.”
As Owen Barfield remarks in a similar spirit, “There will be a revival of Christianity when it becomes impossible to write a popular manual of science without referring to the incarnation of the Word.”
Aside from fully engaging science, Christianity must overcome the contemporary sentiment that religion ought to remain a private matter. Morality can no longer be narrowly individualistic, but must emphasize our responsibility to “political duties, social duties, international duties, and cosmic duties.”
Many secular humanists believe that religion should not interfere with politics and government. Steiner would agree, but would also point out that a society awkwardly divided between public and private spheres is doomed to disintegrate. Instead, he recommends a more balanced threefold social order, composed of political, economic, and cultural spheres.
Spirituality (which includes an integral education) would guide the cultural sphere, while the political would assure the rights of individuals and the economic would assure that our collective needs and desires are met. Each sphere would mutually inform the others, but our core values would, for the most part, emerge from the cultural sphere.
To meet the second requirement, Teilhard also calls for a renewed appreciation of the power of love, which duty-based ethics tend to downplay. There is no more powerful force than love in the lives of human beings, and a religion that does not embrace its transformative potential has no future.
The third requirement is related to the second, but is aimed specifically at the potential otherworldly tendencies of Christianity, concerned more with the salvation of the soul than with the evolution of the earth. Earthly life cannot be understood as a mere passage to the next world. There is no more important doctrine in the Christian canon than that of the incarnation, the presence of the divine in this world.
In order to feel at home on the earth, and to take responsibility for its flourishing, it is also important to remember that what is below is like what is above, that time is not other than eternity, and that matter is secret spirit. Earth and humanity may be in the midst of evolution, but Omega is already and always ever-present. Earth is the site of our holiest action, but in eternity and in Christ, the Great Work has already been accomplished.
As Angelus Silesius writes,
“Friends, when you let your spirit rise above place and time, you can be in eternity every moment…The rose that your outer eye sees here has flowered like this in God through eternity…Sit in the center, and you will see everything at once, what happens both now and then, both here and in Heaven.”
Silesius refers not to you, but to the Christ in you, when he speaks of your spirit rising above place and time. The Christ in you is the presence of the end, the anticipation of Omega within your heart. Christ is love at work in the world. There is no higher wisdom in nature than that within the human heart, moved “like a wheel revolving uniformly by the Love that moves the sun and the other stars.”
To save the earth, we must find the Savior in our hearts.
According to Steiner, the Mystery of Golgotha cannot be understood in a merely historical or materialistic way; comprehending its meaning requires spiritual insight into earthly evolution,
such that the Christ Event is recognized as “a cosmic deed…springing from Universal love, intelligible only by the love in Humanity.”
The second coming of Christ will not be the return of God in physical form. Instead, the continued evolution of the consciousness soul will gradually (over the course of the next 2,500 years) allow human beings to begin to perceive Christ’s presence in the etheric envelope of the earth. The consciousness soul must develop beyond sense-bound intellectuality into the heart-thinking
of imagination before this will be possible.
Steiner points specifically to the decade between 1930 and 1940 as the time when signs of new faculties of soul would begin to manifest in certain individuals.
Teilhard is undoubtedly one of these individuals. In letters sent to friends from China written in 1939 just as Germany was invading France,
“he tells us that he gave himself to the writing of The Human Phenomenon
as his part in the combat—war being sublimated into a work to form new eyes, to enable the world to see and to become more.”
Steiner likens etheric seeing to the capacity to read the Akashic record. This record is a form of cosmic memory working just beneath the surface of the world of the physical senses to shape and form its living features. Teilhard’s attempt to form new eyes so as to perceive the within of things is an example of the kind of heart-thinking that our age is being called to develop.
Steiner’s vision of the Cosmic Christ emphasizes the importance of earthly evolution. Developing the imaginative perception required to experience Christ’s presence in the etheric is only possible while incarnated in a physical body upon the earth (and multiple reincarnations may be required for its full flowering). The humanity of earlier epochs in the evolution of consciousness was able to see into the etheric realm bordering the physical world of the senses, but this dream-like clairvoyance obscured the material reality of the earth. Our task in the current age of the consciousness soul, after coming to experience nature entirely emptied of spirit, is to develop imaginative perception in a fully awakened, individuated state. Only then will Christ’s presence on the earth become apparent to us.
“We are approaching an age when people will feel they are surrounded not only by a physical, sensory world,” writes Steiner, “but also—according to their understanding—by a spiritual kingdom.”
This spiritual kingdom is what Teilhard referred to as the Divine Milieu, wherein he “saw the universe becoming amorized and personalized in the very dynamism of its own evolution.”
“We have within us mirror images of the great cosmos,” says Steiner, “and the members of our constitution–material, ether, astral, and I-being–are really realms of divine beings.”
The human being has come during the past 500 years to feel increasingly disoriented and alienated from the numinous dimension of the universe. We have great trouble recognizing our reflection in the stars above, and for most, the human constitution has been reduced to but one real member: the physical body.
But, if Steiner is correct, a seed has already been planted in our souls with the potential to restore our vision of the spiritual world bordering that of the physical senses. Teilhard’s vision of cosmogenesis unified by Christ’s love is an example of the kind of etheric perception that Steiner predicts will become more prevalent in the coming years.
“Driven by the forces of love,” writes Teilhard, “the fragments of the world are seeking one another so the world may come to be.”
Without love, the world itself would long ago have fallen to pieces. The human being now stands precariously at a fork in the road: either we will continue to feel the inertial pull of materialism and degrade further into a dehumanized techno-industrial wonder world, or we will answer the cosmic call to birth within ourselves an etheric organ of perception capable of granting us conscious access to the spirits of form (including Christ) at work behind sensory appearances. Only with the heartfelt imagination required for such perception will we overcome our materialist trance. With perception of Christ in the etheric comes also a release from the anxiety associated with death, as it becomes apparent that the spirit alive within us is immortal. If cultural anthropologists like Ernest Becker
are right, and death anxiety is one of the major reasons for most violence and intolerance on our planet, then the moral imagination granting one immediate experience of the non-physical aspect of their own and other’s being cannot develop soon enough.
Humanity is struggling to become the Spirit of the Earth, but as Teilhard says, this Spirit
“can only be born from a universal human love–a love that is armed with the force we still only lend to violence.”
We are beings of universal significance, but this status can no longer be taken for granted. It is now up to us to take the reigns of evolution and guide it toward Omega through the power of conscious amorization. I pray that humanity can face the future with an open heart; if the longing in my soul is not mistaken, a divine Face there awaits us.
v Barfield, Owen.
Ø The Rediscovery of Meaning. The Barfield Press: 1977.
Ø Saving the Appearances. Wesleyan University Press: 1988.
v Steiner, Rudolf.
Ø Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts. Rudolf Steiner Press: 1973.
Ø Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path. Anthroposophic Press: 1995.
Ø Mystics After Modernism. Anthroposophic Press: 2000.
Ø Outline of Esoteric Science. Anthroposophic Press: 1997.
Ø The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric. Anthroposophic Press: 2003.
v Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre.
Ø The Human Phenomenon. Sussex Academic Press: 1999.
Ø The Heart of Matter. Harcourt: 1978.
See Towards Social Renewal: Rethinking the Basis of Society