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Love (GermanLiebe, from Middle High German: liep "lovely, good, pleasant, worthy, joy"), as the mutually promoting and appreciating striving towards each other, up to a conscious, knowing participation in the being of the other, transcending one's own being, is to be brought to the highest development on our earth. It is thus far more than a mere feeling of increased sympathy and affection. Rather, love is the living force which spiritualizes the etheric body into the life spirit (Buddhi) which is carried through by the Christ consciousness. This is the actual evolutionary goal of earth and human development. The earth shall thereby become the Cosmos of Love in the future. In this sense, love is considered the highest of the three Christian virtues mentioned by Paul (1 Cor 13:13).

The opposing force to love is hate, which is due to Lucifer's influence (Lit.:GA 162, p. 269). In pure love only the astral forces of sympathy rule and thereby all forms of egoism are excluded. In hate, egoism is intensified to the highest degree; only forces of antipathy prevail in this case.

Intuitive thinking and love

In intuitive thinking, which is able to put itself consciously into the innermost core of another being, the power of love lives in a purely spiritual way. In his "Philosophy of Freedom" Rudolf Steiner writes:

„No other human activity of the soul will be so easily misjudged as thinking. Wanting, feeling, they warm the human soul even in the after-experience of its original state. It is all too easy for thinking to leave the soul cold in this after-experience; it seems to dry up the life of the soul. But this is only the strongly asserted shadow of its luminous, warmly submerging reality into the world appearances. This immersion happens with a power flowing in thinking activity itself, which is the power of love in a spiritual way. One must not object that he who thus sees love in active thinking merely transfers a feeling, love, into the same. For this objection is in truth a confirmation of what is asserted here. For he who turns to essential thinking finds in it both feeling and will, the latter also in the depths of their reality; he who turns away from thinking and turns only to "mere" feeling and willing loses from these the true reality. Whoever wants to experience intuition in thinking, will also do justice to the emotional and volitional experience; but emotional mysticism and metaphysics of the will cannot do justice to the intuitive-thinking penetration of existence. The latter will all too easily come to the conclusion that they are in the real; the intuitive thinker, however, without feeling and alienated from reality, forms in 'abstract thoughts' a shadowy, cold conception of the world.“ (Lit.:GA 4, p. 143f)

Love as a reflection of the pre-earthly existence

„What we experience in the pre-earthly existence in association with the beings of the higher hierarchies leaves behind in our earthly life, as it were, a heritage, a faint shadow of this coexistence with the beings of the higher hierarchies. If we did not have this coexistence with the beings of the higher hierarchies between death and a new birth, we could not develop the power of love here on earth. For that which we develop here on earth as the power of love is, however, only a faint reflection, a shadow of the coexistence with the spirit beings of the higher hierarchies between death and a new birth, but it is nevertheless just a reflection, a shadow of this coexistence. That we can develop human love here on earth, that we can develop understanding for another human being here on earth, comes from the fact that we are able to live with the beings of the higher hierarchies between death and a new birth. By way of spiritual-scientific observation one can well see how those people who have acquired only a small gift in earlier earthly lives - we will shortly come to talk about how one acquires this gift - in order to live together properly with the beings of the higher hierarchies in its appropriate time after death, how these due to certain states are there completely devoted to these beings of the higher hierarchies, and yet how these people here on earth develop only a small power of love, namely of general human love, which expresses itself merely in the understanding of other people.

It is among the gods where we acquire in our pre-earthly existence the gift of looking at the other human being, of noticing how he feels, how he thinks, of comprehending with inner sympathy what he is. And if we had not - one can call it that - the aforementioned contact with the gods, we would never be able to develop on earth that insight into the other human being, which is the only thing that basically makes earthly life possible. When I speak of love and especially of general human love in this context, you must think of love in the concrete sense I have just described: in the sense of a truly intimate understanding of the other human being. And if one adds this understanding of the other human being to the general human love, then one has at the same time included everything that is human morality. For the earthly human morality, if it does not move in mere phrases or flowery words or in resolutions that are never fulfilled or the like, is based on the interest that one human being takes in the other, on the possibility of sincerely looking into the other human being.

The person who has an understanding of man will receive the social-moral impulses from this very understanding of man. So one can therefore say that man has gained all moral life within the earthly existence during his pre-earthly existence, in such a way that from the coexistence with the gods the urge remains for him to form such a coexistence at least in his soul also on earth. And this shaping of such a coexistence, so that one man with the other accomplishes the earthly tasks, the earthly mission, that alone leads in reality to the moral life on earth. So we see that love and the effect of love, morality, are definitely a consequence of what man has gone through spiritually in the pre-earthly existence.“ (Lit.:GA 219, p. 61ff)

The three stages of love by Plato

Plato depicted how love rises to its highest form through three stages that reflect the soul's elements:

  • Philía - the love of friends, based on mutual recognition and mutual understanding, is rooted in the intellect or mind soul. To this level belongs also that form of love which Plato called stoika and which is directed to certain objective interests or activities - to a "favorite occupation".
  • Agápe - the selflessly promoting love, which is directed as pure love of neighbor - up to love of enemy - without self-interest to the well-being of the beloved being, proceeds from the consciousness-soul, which already leans towards the spirit-self.
  • Éros - sensual-erotic love, the passionate desire of the beloved being, combined with the desire to be loved oneself as well, is an expression of the sentient soul.

In modern usage, the expression "platonic love" abbreviates to mean that the lovers are connected only by their mutual spiritual-emotional interest, but not by a sexual desire.

Faith, love, hope

Faith, love and hope are the three Christian virtues of which Paul says in the Song of Songs:

„1 If I spoke with the tongues of men and with the tongues of angels, and had not love, I should be sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 2 And if I could speak prophetically, and knew all mysteries, and all knowledge, and had all faith, so that I could move mountains, and had not love, I would be nothing. 3 And if I give all my goods to the poor, and let my body be burned, and have not love, it is of no profit to me. 4 Love is patient and kind, love is not jealous, love does not take pleasure, it is not puffed up, 5 it does not act unseemly, it does not seek its own, it is not provoked, it does not reckon evil, 6 it does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices in the truth; 7 it bears all things, it believes all things, it hopes all things, it endures all things. 8 Love never ceases, whereas prophetic speaking will cease, and tongues will cease, and knowledge will cease. 9 For our knowledge is fragmentary, and our prophetic speaking is fragmentary. 10 But when that which is perfect shall come, then shall that which is in part cease. 11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, and thought as a child, and was wise as a child; but when I became a man, I put away that which was childish. 12 Now we see through a mirror a dark image; but then face to face. Now I know in bits and pieces; but then I shall know as I am known. 13 But now there abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but love is the greatest of these.“

Love and the etheric body

Love is the actual virtue of the etheric body. The etheric body is at the same time the love body.

„Love is not only something that binds people together by appropriate bonds, but something that the individual human being also needs. The human being who cannot develop love power also deserts and withers in his being. Just imagine a person who is really so full of egoism that he cannot love. Basically, it is quite sad - even if such people exist only to a certain extent, and thus can be seen - to see such figures who cannot love, who spend their lives in some incarnation without generating that living warmth in themselves, which is generated only when we can love only something, this or that in the world. There is something quite sad about seeing figures who cannot do this striding through the world in their aridity and dryness; for the power of love is a life-force that kindles and keeps alive something that rests even deeper in our being, a power even deeper than faith.

And just as we are embedded in a body of faith, which from other points of view we also call the astral body, so we are embedded in a body of love, which from other points of view in spiritual science we have learned to call the etheric or life body. For the forces which first work up to us from the depths of our being out of our etheric body are the forces which express themselves in the fact that man can love, that is, love at all stages of his existence. If man could completely remove the power of love from his being - even the most egoistic man cannot do that, for, thank God, it is part of what man can egoistically strive for that he can love something; Let us say, to use an obvious example, that if he who can no longer love anything else often still begins, when he becomes quite stingy, to love money. Now the beneficent power of love is at least still substituted by a power of love manifesting out of thorough egoism. This shell then, solely maintained by the powers of (substituted) love, with no real of love left in the man, would shrivel up completely and the man would really have to die of love-emptiness. The human being does indeed die physically from love emptiness. The shrinking of the forces of love is the same thing that we can call the shrinking of the forces of the etheric body, because the etheric body is at the same time the love body.“ (Lit.:GA 130, p. 174f)

Light is love

„Let us now remember that on the old sun man received the disposition of an etheric body , that fiery, luminous, shining of the sun is the very disposition of the etheric body. It represents another aspect of love in the spirit: light is love. In the etheric body, therefore, love and the longing for love are given to us, and we can rightly call the etheric body the love body: light and love.“ (Lit.:GA 127, p. 187)

Love and Egoism

„A second basic force is love. No one lacks it, it is always there, it cannot be eradicated. Whoever would believe that the greatest hater, the greatest egoist has no love, is in error. To think so is quite wrong. The longing for love is always and always here. Whether it is love of sex, love of a child, love of a friend, love of anything, love of a work, it is always there. It cannot be torn out of the soul, because it is a basic power of the soul. But as man needs the air to breathe, so he needs the work of love, the activity of love for his soul. Its opponent, its hindrance, is egoism. But what does egoism do? It does not let the love work out, it presses it into the soul, always and always. And as the air must flow out when breathing, so a person does not suffocate, so love must flow out, so that the soul does not suffocate from what is forcibly pressed into it. To put it simply: the soul burns up in itself at its own fire of love and perishes.“ (Lit.:GA 127, p. 187)

Love and Wisdom

Love must be coupled with wisdom if it is to be wholesome.

„It is a true saying: love is the highest good. But it can also have the most sinister consequences. In everyday life one sees this, and I relate here an example that has been experienced. A mother loved her little daughter very much, and out of love she let her daughter do whatever she wanted. She never punished her, she fulfilled her every whim. The little daughter has become a 'poisonsmith', and out of love she has become so. Love must be paired with wisdom, it must become an enlightened love, only then can it work truly well. The theosophical teaching is called upon to bring it this wisdom, to give it this enlightenment. And when man has absorbed what is said and taught about the development of the world, about that which is apparently so far, so distant, what is communicated about the connection of man with the macrocosm, then man will so become that his enlightened love will face the neighboring man, in order to see into him and understand him, and so to become an enlightened love of man.“ (Lit.:GA 127, p. 187)

Love and the I (I-ego, I-self)

Love can only prevail in a being that has an independent I. The I and the ability to love connected with it is an original gift of the Elohim, the actual creator gods of our earth; but it can mature to its full height only through the free act of man. Real love is not possible without freedom. The actual essence of love is only created through freedom. Freedom and love are two poles that inseparably belong to one another. However, both can only be attained by giving man the possibility to fall prey to evil as well.

Love is the only one of the three God qualities (wisdom-love-power) that cannot be dominated by the powers of the adversaries. Wisdom alone can make one selfish and lead to Lucifer's kingdom and the power or force can be abused by Ahriman. Only the love has remained in Christ, it brings one nothing for future earth lives but is always a debt to be settled for the past.

A symbol of love

In order to meditate on the essence of love, Rudolf Steiner gives the following symbol: Imagine two glasses; one is empty, the other is half filled with water. By pouring water from this glass into the empty glass, it does not become emptier, but fills itself more and more with water, the more one pours out of it. Love is also like that - the more one gives oneself away selflessly, the richer, the more fulfilled one becomes inwardly. (Lit.:GA 136, p. 58ff)

The meaning of physical love

On the Old Moon there were three kingdoms of nature:

  • a plant mineral kingdom, which stood higher than the present mineral kingdom;
  • a plant-animal kingdom of sentient plants;
  • a kingdom of human animals that stood higher than the present animal kingdom and lower than the present human kingdom.

With the transition to the development of earth these kingdoms were split in each case into a higher and a lower realm of nature. From the plant mineral kingdom the minerals and the lower plants emerged. From the animal plant kingdom the higher plants and the animals were formed.

„The kingdom of the human animals also split into two kingdoms, namely into the two sexes. "* With it arose in man physical love, which formed the bond between the two sexes, and, on the other hand, the possibility of higher development, of spiritual knowledge. It is by this token oft he human kingdom splitting and physical love arising, that the gods could develop higher at the expense of the humans. For the gods the physical love of the humans provided the air for life just as for the humans and the animals the oxygen of the plants, as is the light radiated back from the mineral kingdom to the plants. In Greek mythology it is said that the gods live on nectar and ambrosia. This is the male and female love of the people. At the same time, the heart, lungs and warm blood developed in people - before that, people breathed through gills. They lived in an atmosphere that could not have been breathed into the lungs. - Now the respiratory organs which gradually transformed are able extract the oxygen from the air.

The ascent and evolution of man now consists of people overcoming physical love. The separation into the two sexes was necessary so that the intellect could develop in man. He was thereby divided into a lower and a higher nature. Now, however, that which unites the two sexes together must also be overcome again. It is a stage of ascent when man sacrifices the forces of physical love and transforms them into higher forces. By sacrificing these lower forces, the higher can come to light in him.“ (Lit.:GA 266a, p. 151f)


Love and sexuality

„For the human organism is, precisely during the period from the change of teeth to sexual maturity, also inclined as an organism to develop towards love. Well, one must see in our present age just the virtue of love in the right light. For love has gradually been morphed by materialism to an extremely one-sided conception. And since this materialism often wants to see love only in sexual love, it actually attributes all other expressions of love to hidden sexual love. And even in what I called the day before yesterday 'dilettantism-squared' - not that all of them would do it and plenty rejecting it - nonetheless, many psychoanalysts attribute very many phenomena of life to the sexual element, despite them having nothing to do with it. On the other hand, specifically a teacher and educator must have acquired something of the universality of love. For not only sexual love is formed in the age from the change of teeth to sexual maturity, but loving in general, loving for everything. Sexual love is only a part of the love that is formed in this age. In this age one can see how the love of nature develops, how the general love of man develops, and one must have a strong impression of how sexual love is only a special chapter in this general book of life that speaks of love. If you understand this, you will be able to orient sexual love into life in the right way. Today, basically, just for many theorists, sexual love has become the Moloch that has actually eaten up all tender love plants little by little.

Love develops in the soul in a different way than gratitude. Gratitude must grow with man; therefore it must be implanted at that age where the forces of growth are strongest. Love must awaken. In the development of love there is indeed something like a process of awakening. Love must also be kept in its development in the more spiritual regions. That into which man grows by gradually developing love in himself is a slow, gradual awakening, until at last the final stage of this awakening occurs.“ (Lit.:GA 306, p. 119ff)

Love, Eroticism, Sexuality

„Everything that is spiritual naturally has its external sensual form, for it is the spirit that submerges itself in the physical. It embodies itself in the physis. If it then forgets itself, if it becomes aware only of the physical, then it believes that that which is excited by the spirit is excited only by the physical. Our time lives in this delusion. It does not know love. It only fantasizes about love, even lies about love. In reality, it knows only eroticism when it thinks about love. I don't want to say that the lonely person doesn't experience love, because man in his unconscious feeling, in his unconscious wanting denies the spirit much less than in his thinking - but when the present civilization thinks about love, then it only speaks the word love, then it actually talks about eroticism. And one can already say: If one goes through the present literature, everywhere, where for example in German love is written, it could equally be replaced by the word 'erotic'. Since this is what a thinking immersed in materialism alone knows of love. It is the denial of the spirit which makes the power of love an erotic power. In many areas, not only has the genius of love, I would like to say its lower servant, eroticism, taken its place, but in many places the counter-image, the demon of love, has now appeared. The demon of love, however, arises when that which otherwise works God-willingly in man is taken up by human thinking, is torn away from spirituality by intellectualism.

So, the descending path is this: One recognizes the genius of love, one has the thoroughly-spiritualized love. One recognizes the lower servant, namely, eroticism. But one falls for the demon of love. And the genius of love has its demon in the interpretation, not in the real form, but in the interpretation of sexuality by the present civilization. How it is already spoken today not only of eroticism, if one wants to approach love, but only of sexuality!

When this civilization talks about sexuality is included, one can say, much of what is aimed at today as so-called teaching about sexuality. In its intellectualized discourse about sexuality nestles the demonology of love. As on another level the genius, that should be followed by its corresponding Epoch, appears in its demonic form, because the demon enters where genius is denied, likewise has it manifested in this field, where the spiritual should appear in its most intimate form, in the form of love. Our age often prays to the demon of love instead of the genius of love, and confuses that which is spirituality of love with the demonology of love in sexuality.

Just in this field, of course, the most complete misunderstandings can arise. For what originally lives in sexuality is permeated by spiritual love. But mankind can fall down from this spiritualisation of love. And it falls down most easily in the age of intellectualism. For when the intellect takes the form I spoke of yesterday, then the spirituality of love is forgotten, then only its outward appearance is considered.

It is in man's power, I would say, that he can deny his own being. He denies it when he sinks down from the genius of love to the demon of sexuality - whereby I do quite understand the kind of feelings about these things as they are mostly present in its contemporary expressions.“ (Lit.:GA 225, p. 181ff)

The place of love in religions and for people in general

Understanding the essence of love and acting out of love is of great importance for the respect of people for whom the good, the right, the ideals of the earthly good life may turn out to be very different from what we subjectively approve of (cf. . Tolerance).

Love is a common denominator for all people, including unbelievers, materialists, etc. In all conflicts where people strive for unity, love creates peace. Love also builds bridges between Christian and other non-Christian religions (including ideologies such as Marxism, etc.), because according to Christian understanding the work of love is identical to the work of Jesus Christ. Everywhere where love is, or where it is asked for, according to the Christian understanding is the presence of Christ: "Knock and ye shall be opened".

Love as the etheric body of the Christ impulse continues to work and weave in human development

Ever since the Jordan baptism of Christ he lived in the body coverings of Jesus of Nazareth, i.e. in his astral, etheric and physical body. When he died on the cross he took off these covers. From then until the end of the earth's development, its new coverings are formed from what people develop in terms of amazement, love, compassion and conscience. The astral body of Christ is woven out of the amazement of the people, his new etheric body out of love and compassion and out of the powers of conscience his new physical body.

„From what can solely be taken from the earth. That what has been happening on earth in the evolution of mankind, which began with the Mystery of Golgotha, since the fourth post-Atlantean cultural period in amazement or astonishment about things, everything that can live in us as a feeling of amazement and wonderment, will approach Christ (consciousness) and forms the (developing) astral body of the Christ-impulse. And everything that takes place in human souls as love and compassion forms the etheric body of the Christ-impulse, and what lives as conscience in people and animates them, from the mystery of Golgotha to the earth’s ultimate goal, that forms the physical body, or that which corresponds to it, for the Christ impulse.“ (Lit.:GA 133, p. 113f)


References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
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  1. In two other handwritten notes with the same wording it says: "This is how physical love arose among people. This enabled the kingdom of the gods to rise above the kingdom of men. These live from the physical love of human beings, just as human beings and animals live from the oxygen given off by plants, and like plants from the light reflected back from the mineral world. It is told in the Greek legend that the gods live on nectar and ambrosia, that is, the male and female love of men. The ascent of man takes place first of all through overcoming physical love; second, by regulating the breathing process, renouncing the life of the plant, the oxygen; thirdly, through the development of the Kundalini light, the renouncing of the light normally reflected back from the mineral kingdom."