This classic and influential book by Friedrich Rittelmeyer examines the key concepts of anthroposophy and tells the compelling story of Rittelmeyer’s encounter with Rudolf Steiner, his critical appraisal of Steiner’s ideas, and his gradual conviction. In the foreword, Tom Ravetz, introduces Friedrich Rittelmeyer and the book.
There are encounters between human beings which have dimensions that reach far beyond the personal. In this book, one of the leading theologians of his generation documents with searing honesty his encounter first with Rudolf Steiner’s work, and then with Steiner himself. In this personal encounter, a great turning point of human development played out. The intellectual training which led Rittelmeyer to be sceptical, even suspicious, of Steiner’s achievements, is our common heritage. We are still on the trajectory that was described by Immanuel Kant in his seminal essay, What is Enlightenment:
Enlightenment is man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage. Tutelage is man’s inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another. Self-incurred is this tutelage when its cause lies not in lack of reason but in lack of resolution and courage to use it without direction from another. Sapereaude! ‘Have courage to use your own reason!’ — that is the motto of enlightenment.
This movement from bondage to emancipation is a vital part of man’s journey, one which Rudolf Steiner himself had trodden and documented in his philosophical works before the turn of the twentieth century. That Steiner was able to continue on the path of thinking and break through to a new source of spiritual insight was the thing that was so incredible to a modern, intellectually trained soul such as Rittelmeyer. This is the reaction of many who meet anthroposophy today. The question whether thinking can lead to something more than scepticism has only grown stronger in the intervening century. In an age when the author of a book entitled God is not Great is lauded for his intellectual courage, and an unquestioned neo-Darwinian orthodoxy demands submission from field after field of intellectual endeavour, we urgently need to discover a path that unites the freedom of scientific endeavour with an acknowledgment of the spiritual nature of man.
What is so moving about Rittelmeyer’s account is the honesty of his description of the barrier that stood in his way. He describes his dislike of the culture of the then Theosophical Society, with its effete members and air of alienation from the world. He acknowledges, however, that the greatest obstacle is within himself:
‘When I was reading Rudolf Steiner’s works, a faint voice would often whisper within me, but only gradually did I become attentive to it. It said, ‘If this man is right, you — with all your knowledge — are just a pigmy! You may as well begin all over again, and even then you will never get to the point of proving these things for yourself with these higher organs that are promised! And so, if you let any of this teaching get into you, you will start as a pupil again and remain one for the rest of your life. You will have to build up your spiritual outlook from its very foundations, at the moment when you thought you were standing as a teacher before people, and when, moreover, they were looking for and needing you. And in any case you will never get very far in this new sphere.’
Rittelmeyer was able to overcome this obstacle and become a pupil of Rudolf Steiner in the deepest sense. He documents the course of their relationship, giving a level of intimate detail that deepens the connection that anyone interested in Rudolf Steiner has to this extraordinary man. It becomes clear that his inner path, following Steiner’s recommendations, led to a deepening of his relationship with Christ.
The more than personal dimensions of the relationship documented in this book become apparent towards the end, when Rittelmeyer makes the step first to join the Anthroposophical Society and represent Steiner in the world of learning, and then to be part of the foundation of the Christian Community and its first leader. In the world ushered in by Kant’s clarion-call to the human spirit to emancipate itself from tutelage, the unnamed slave-master was dogmatic religion. The great debates of the nineteenth century had played out around the issue of authority, and piece by piece the bastions of dogmatic authority were swept away. In the liberal Protestantism of Rittelmeyer’s day, faith had ceded all authority over the world of facts to science; religion was restricted to an inner realm of feeling and devotion. Only one with Rittelmeyer’s background could fully appreciate and take up the epochal task of founding a church which rested not on dogma but on a renewed experience of the reality of Christ that did not contradict thinking but redeemed it. The foundation of the Christian Community with the help of a renewed mystery-wisdom did not only address the crisis of modern thought, it reconnected the church to the time before it was necessary to exclude the inner, esoteric striving from the outer institution. It is deeply moving to realise that all this was only possible because one of the greatest theologians and churchmen of his age had the greatness to acknowledge that he might be a pigmy.