A (Christian) sacrament (from the ecclesiastical Latin: sacramentum "[religious] mystery") is a physical act that is performed in such a way that a spiritual process is symbolically expressed in it and is thus intended to make people aware of the effects of the spiritual in everyday life. Sacramentalism is a conscious action from the spiritual.
The Essence of Sacramentalism
„It is the essence of sacramentalism that man fills the everyday with spiritual consecration. The ancient sagas had the purpose of setting the souls of men in the right vibrations so that they were filled with spiritual power. The simplest action of a naive mind can be sanctified by this. This is something that is effective and will always be effective. Those who know this also know that a conversion is necessary in our culture. No matter how hard one tries to bring this physical plan into harmony, into order, it will fail as long as one works only on the physical plane; if harmony is created on one side, disharmony will arise on the other. But if you let the spiritual work, you will see that the mundane is handled in quite a different way. That is sacramentalism.
This idea also underlies Christian sacramentalism: healing from the spiritual plane. A sacrament is a physical act performed in such a way that it symbolically expresses a spiritual process. It is a symbolism that has its justification in higher plans. Nothing in the sacrament is arbitrary. Everything, down to the smallest detail, is an image of a higher occult process. He who wishes to understand a sacrament in which the ceremonial is an image of a spiritual process must acquaint himself with what underlies it. It is an occult process which is withdrawn from the outer eyes. In every sacramentalism there is not only something intellectual taking place, but something that has a real, occult meaning. Take, for example, the occult significance of fire. Fire did not exist in the earliest epochs of development. It could only come into being when the earth was so far compacted that this fire could be beaten out of earthly matter. Therefore, the invention of fire is described to us as a process of our fifth root race.
Prometheus brought fire from heaven to earth. The bringing forth of fire has given our culture its character. Realise what it would be like if we had no fire. In the first epochs of time we had no fire. Our development owes everything intellectual, everything technical, to fire. Fire is that which leads down to the physical plane. We owe material culture to fire. The priests therefore had to see something special in fire. Therefore, in the second post-Atlantean cultural epoch, the Persian magicians saw in fire above all that which must work in the sacrament. What did the Persian priest ceremonially realise on his altar? Occultism knows that there have been seven Zoroasters. The Zoroaster of history is the seventh. The Persian magician had a special way of bringing forth fire. This process was the image of the great cosmic creation of fire. There stood the Persian magician with his thyrsus and did his ceremonies, which every occultist knows well, but only the occultist. This process was an image of the great cosmic creation of fire. When the priestly schools no longer understood how to produce fire with the thyrsus, they at least sought a natural fire. First they created fire through lightning, and then they propagated it through the so-called eternal fire, which could only ever be lit one after the other. The fire that is produced by nature is said to be more effective than the artificially produced fire. When an animal epidemic occurred in England in 1826 and in Hanover in 1828, people took wood and rubbed fire with it because they believed that the herbs cooked with it were more effective.
Man must again create spiritual life in every movement and every step; and to reintroduce this is the task and the endeavour of the spiritual movement. The sacramentalism of the past must return. One must know that it is different to act out of the spirit than to act out of the material. To let spiritual life flow out again, that is our aim.“ (Lit.:GA 92, p. 35f)
The 7 Sacraments
In the Orthodox Church there are seven sacraments, which are regarded as sacred mysteries. In the tradition of the Roman Catholic Church, too, a seven-fold number of sacraments has prevailed since the 13th century. In the Protestant and Anglican Church, on the other hand, only two sacraments are accepted today: the Lord's Supper and baptism. The other five sacraments are regarded here only as rites with a sacramental character. Martin Luther, however, originally also counted confession among the sacraments.
According to Rudolf Steiner, the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church correspond to seven stages of human development in earthly life between birth and death, which are related to the seven members of man:
„That which lies in Catholic dogma goes back to certain forms of older knowledge. One imagines that between birth and death man goes through seven stages. First of all, birth itself, then what is called maturation, puberty, then what is called the realisation of inwardness around the age of 20, then the feeling of not conforming to the world, of not being fully human, that is the fourth. And then, isn't it true, the gradual growing into the spiritual. These things then became somewhat fluctuating, but one imagined the whole of human life, including social life, in seven stages, and one imagined that man grows out of the spirit between birth and death. In modern times, the Catholic Church does not recognise pre-existence. There is only a thought of God, and this growing out of the thought of God is represented in seven stages. These seven stages must [each] be countered by other forces. Birth is an evolution, maturation is an evolution, each form of evolution is countered by a form of involution: birth by baptism, puberty by confirmation. Each sacrament is the inverse of a natural stage in evolution. One can say that Catholic doctrine presents seven stages of evolution, which it juxtaposes with seven stages of involution, and these are the seven sacraments, four of which are earthly, namely Baptism, Confirmation, Sacrament of the Altar, Repentance. These four are as general-human as physical body, etheric body, astral body and I. If you go higher, you come to the spirit-self, life-spirit and spirit-man. Just as the coming in from the spiritual world, so the three last sacraments are those that go into the social: marriage, ordination, last rites. The penetration of the spiritual world is expressed in the priestly ordination. So these are the seven sacraments, the last of which are last rites, priestly ordination and marriage. The sacraments are simply the inverse processes for the natural processes that take place for man, and the corresponding ritual acts are also arranged accordingly.
The idea of the seven sacraments is certainly not an arbitrary one. It is rather arbitrary to limit these seven sacraments to two. This happened at a time when people no longer had any feeling for the inner numerical constitution of the world. It is these things, of course, that make Catholic priests who are to be taken seriously, especially the religious, such despisers of Protestantism. They regard it throughout as a rationalism, as something that knows nothing more.“ (Lit.:GA 342, p. 137f)
- The Act of Consecration of Man, the central sacrament of which is the Lord's Supper (Eucharist) and the Communion associated with it, is the most important cultic celebration in Christian Community. The sacramental wine used in communion is non-fermented grape juice rather than alcoholic wine.
- The Last Anointing
- Sacramental Consultation (replacing Confession)
- Ordination to Priesthood
Sacramentalism and the future mastery of the life forces
In the future, sacramentalism will lead to man learning to master the life forces, the life ether. Then he will also be able to produce life artificially in the laboratory. But this will only happen when man has attained that spiritual maturity by which the laboratory table becomes his altar.
„If you put a machine together, if you build a house, these are built according to the laws of the mineral world. A machine is built according to the laws of the mineral world, but we cannot build a plant in this way. If you want to have a plant, you must leave this work to the beings that underlie nature. Later it will be possible to produce plants in the laboratory, but only when this will be a sacrament, a sacred act for man. Man will only be allowed to represent the living when he has become so serious and purified that the laboratory table will become his altar. Before then, not the slightest thing will be revealed about how the living beings are put together. In other words, the I as a knowing being lives in the mineral kingdom and will ascend to the plant kingdom and will then learn to comprehend this just as it does the mineral kingdom today. Later it will also learn to comprehend the laws of the animal kingdom and then those of the human kingdom. All human beings will learn to comprehend the inner being of the plant, the animal and the human being; these are future perspectives.“ (Lit.:GA 98, p. 139)
Rudolf Steiner has often pointed out that in the future every external activity, including work on the laboratory bench, must also become a service of God:
„The laboratory table of the chemist, of the physical-chemical worker, of the clinical worker, must take on the form of an altar in human feeling. Work on humanity - and basically all work is work on humanity, even purely technical work - must be able to become a service of God.“ (Lit.:GA 343a, p. 129f)
The premature abuse of these powers would be black magic:
„Many people say: You anthroposophists dream that there is an etheric body, something that goes beyond the merely mineral, but you shall dream no more if we succeed in building up a living being in the laboratory in the same way as sulphuric acid is put together today, from the individual substances, from carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen and so on. - It is believed that the living being can be built up in the same way as sulphuric acid, for example, can be put together; it is believed that purely materialistic science will one day be able to do this. They believe that anthroposophists would be so foolish as to doubt that the time will come when plants will actually be produced in a retort.
That time will come. But those who stand on occult ground have always said so. They know that the time will come when man will absorb plant life into his own nature in the same way as he has today absorbed the mineral kingdom. And just as he builds houses out of minerals, just as he uses the forces of the mineral kingdom today, so he will one day, out of the forces of the plant kingdom, which will then be well known to him, without having to reach for the seed, without having to call upon the forces of nature in their incomprehensible way, produce the plant form and higher things still in the laboratory. But if this possibility of producing a living being in the laboratory were to occur prematurely, it would be what is called black magic for one who stands on the true ground of secret science. People must first become mature for every step of development.
There is an occult sentence which says: Only then will people produce living beings on the experimental table, as they produce mineral products today, when the laboratory table has become an altar and the chemical performance has become a sacramental act. - This is an occult sentence that has always been uttered. Truly, so long as one goes into the laboratory and believes that one can do the same with unholy feelings as with holy ones, so long will one never be able to produce a living being in the laboratory with the will of those who guide the development in the right way. Only then will it be possible when we know that a mineral product can be produced even if there is a villain at the laboratory table, but that a living being can never be produced if this is the case. For into the living being, when it is assembled, flows something that is within the human being himself. If man were a villain, the villainy would flow over and the being that came into being would be an imprint of villainy. Only when we understand what it means that man as a whole being works with his whole inner being in what he produces, only then will the world be ripe to produce the living, the vegetable, the animal and the human, in free activity. Then man will have ascended into the plant kingdom, when he will see through the plants just as well as he sees through the minerals today. He will have ascended to the animal kingdom when he understands sensation in such a way that he can make a sentient being through his own spiritual power just as he today makes an object. And he will have ascended to the human kingdom when he can shape man anew in free activity.“ (Lit.:GA 104, p. 198ff)
- Rudolf Steiner: Die okkulten Wahrheiten alter Mythen und Sagen, GA 92 (1999) English: rsarchive.org German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub archive.org
- Rudolf Steiner: Natur- und Geistwesen – ihr Wirken in unserer sichtbaren Welt, GA 98 (1996) English: rsarchive.org German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub archive.org
- Rudolf Steiner: Die Apokalypse des Johannes, GA 104 (1985) English: rsarchive.org German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub archive.org
- Rudolf Steiner: Vorträge und Kurse über christlich-religiöses Wirken, I, GA 342 (1993) English: rsarchive.org German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub archive.org
- Rudolf Steiner: Vorträge und Kurse über christlich-religiöses Wirken, II, GA 343a (1993), ISBN 3-7274-3430-9 English: rsarchive.org German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub archive.org
References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
Email: email@example.com URL: www.steinerverlag.com.
Index to the Complete Works of Rudolf Steiner - Aelzina Books
A complete list by Volume Number and a full list of known English translations you may also find at Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works
Rudolf Steiner Archive - The largest online collection of Rudolf Steiner's books, lectures and articles in English (by Steiner Online Library).
Rudolf Steiner Audio - Recorded and Read by Dale Brunsvold
steinerbooks.org - Anthroposophic Press Inc. (USA)
Rudolf Steiner Handbook - Christian Karl's proven standard work for orientation in Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works for free download as PDF.