Gospel of John as an initiation document
The Gospel of John is not just a text, it is a work of art and composition with not just esoteric meaning but also spiritual forces behind it that can serve as an initiatory pathway. That is, if one uses the verses for deep repetitive meditation and contemplation, it affects one's spiritual development.
It is also a form of early theosophical or spiritual sciencific text written in christian symbolic form.
The text is a meditative prayer from the beginning to 'and the darknesses did not comprehend it', it should be contemplated in meditation to develop imaginations and gain a living experience of what lies in those words by the power of the soul. Chapters 1 to 12 are experiences in the astral world, chapter 13 and those that follow experiences at the spirit world.
The Gospel of St John was written by Lazarus-John, the 'disciple whom Jesus loved'.
Lecture coverage and references
Rudolf Steiner covered the Gospel of John (as well as the Book of Revelation) in multiple cycles. We distinguish
- (a) general coverage of its contents, and
- (b) the use of the Gospel as a meditation and initiation document for practical exercises.
Regarding (a) - these are given here as an overview reference, and because they also contain references to (b) - see lecture extracts below
- 1906-02-GA094: 3 lectures
- GA096 and GA097 contain 3-4 lectures
- 1907-11-GA100 is a full cycle of 8 lectures
- 1908-05-GA103 in a second full cycle of 12 lectures
- 1909-06-GA112 is a third full cycle of 14 lectures
- 1910-01-GA117A called 'the gospel of John and the three other gospels' contains 11 lectures of which 5-6 relate to John's gospel.
- GA068A contains four lectures on the gospel of John, besides many other lectures on the Bible and esoteric christianity. Key lectures are
- 1909-02-28-GA068A called 'the esoteric meaning of the gospel of John'
- GA267 contains practical meditation exercises that Rudolf Steiner have to his students individually, see below for extract and references
1904-07-25-GA090A expands on the Gospel of Mark as an special initiation document ('urkunde') that was existed a century before the founding of Christianity. Through the ages these were not written down, but passed on, later they were described in symbolic language that required occult studies for anyone to understand or use them. The process of baptism - suffering - death and resurrection is something that was enacted in the three years by Christ Jesus, but this process had been enacted countless times in the temples of initiation and is thus also a mystical fact. Reference is made to old ages and cultures in India, Middle Asia, Iran, the Egyptian priests and Druid priests. It is this process that was described in this special initiation document, that was also used by the first teachers of christianity, to tell about what happened in the old initiation temples.
The Gospel of John is truly the occult or esoteric gospel: from the 13th chapter onwards it is impossible to comprehend the contents intellectually, but each individual sentence is filled with occult forces. .. The Gospel of John was therefore used by the rosecrucian pupils as life elexir. From the washing of the feet onwards, the whole contact has to be lived mystically. If one applies the Gospel to one's whole being and permeates himself with it lively, will have inner experiences and afterwards comprehend a lot that just cannot be understood without this experience. Every person can experience and 'live' every sentence in this mystical way. That is how to consider the position of this great teacher standing in the beginning of Christianity, and the new element was that hereby became public what before was mystery wisdom.
The lecture continues on the importance of devotion ...
The disciple who wrote down the gospel of John first of all described something he had himself experienced. Chapters 1 to 12 are experiences in the astral world, chapter 13 and those that follow experiences at the spirit world. This is highly significant and characteristic of the whole of it. .. .. This is a meditative prayer from the beginning to 'and the darknesses did not comprehend it.' When the soul gains living experience of what lies in those words, the powers arise that enable us to grasp the content of chapters 1 to 12.
In 1907-06-27-GA100 (SWCC) , Rudolf Steiner gives a German version of the key first section.
The purest of Gospels is the Gospel of St. John: it is not only a poetical work, but a book of life, it needs to be experienced. ..
.. Among many books, the Gospel of St. John is the one which indicates the methods by which it is possible to fathom the depths of Christianity. Even when Christianity did not as yet exist in its present form, it was already taught in the Mystery-schools; for instance, in the school of Dionysius the Areopagite, a disciple of the Apostle Paul. ..
Those who immerse themselves into the first words of the Gospel of St. John from the standpoint of esotericism, experience that they become within them a quickening force. But the Gospel of St. John must be applied as it was originally intended to be applied; and we must have the patience to take the first sentences of the Gospel of St. John again and again as a subject of meditation, and to let them pass every morning before our soul. They will in that case have the power to draw out of our soul deeply hidden forces. But we must of course have a correct translation of these words expressed in German word-characters, they must more or less express what the original text contained. In a translation which is as faithful as possible, let me now show you that the real life of the spirit is indicated in the words of the Gospel of St. John.
the English translation below is of the German lecture text given by Steiner
“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was a God. This was from the very beginning with God.
All things came into being through Him, and except through Him, was not anything made that was made.
In Him was the life, and the life became the light of men. And the light shone in the darkness, but the darkness did not comprehend it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not the Light, but a witness for the Light; for the true Light which lighteth every man had to come into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through Him, but the world did not comprehend Him.
To each man He came, even to the Ego-men, but these individual men, these Ego-men, received Him not.
As many as received Him could manifest themselves through Him as children of God. Those who confided in His name are not born of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have heard His teaching, the teaching of the only Son of the Father, filled with devotion and truth.”
and follows and explanation of the stages of the Christian initiation
I could now tell you many things of how you would have to immerse yourselves in each chapter of St. John's Gospel. Let me only give you one example — how you would have to use the chapters from the thirteenth chapter onward, if you were a true disciple of Christian Initiation. What I am telling you in words, has occurred in fact .. to render it more comprehensible, I will clothe it in the form of a dialogue, giving you an idea of what took place between teacher and pupil.
1907-12-14-GA068A on the gospel of John 1908-04-04-GA068A on the gospel of John comments on its use as a meditation book
The gospel of John is therefore not just a book as any other, it is a book of initiation; a book that should be brought to live in one's soul. It is in the first place a book of meditation, and each human soul who wants to be a pupil of Christ has to live oneself into what is described there and go through them himself.
The gospel of John is the cornerstone of the teachings of Christianity.
All that we have been trying to present in the language of Esoteric Christianity, deep mysteries of existence familiar to those who were “servants of the Logos in the earliest times,” all this is presented unequivocally in sublime, clear-cut verses in the Gospel of St. John. One must, however, translate these first words in the right way, in conformity with their meaning. Properly translated, these words give the actual facts which have just been presented. Let us bring these facts again before our souls, in order that we may fully comprehend their value.
- In the beginning was the Logos which was the archetype of the physical human body, the foundation of all things. All animals, plants and minerals appeared later, for the human creature alone was present upon Old Saturn. In the Old Sun stage, the animal kingdom was added, in the Old Moon stage, the plant kingdom and upon the Earth the mineral kingdom appeared.
- Upon Old Sun, the Logos became Life and upon the Moon, it became Light; then when the human creature became endowed with an ego, the Logos as Light confronted him. But he had to learn to know the nature of the Logos and learn in what form It eventually would make its appearance. First there was the Logos which became Life, then Light, and this Light lives in the astral body.
- Into the human inner being, into the darkness, into the ignorance, the Light shone. And the meaning of life upon Earth is this: that Man should overcome this darkness of the soul, in order that they may recognize the Light of the Logos.
The first words of the Gospel of St. John are incisive, although, perhaps, very difficult to understand, as many may say.
But should the most profound mysteries of the world be expressed in trivial language? Is it not a strange point of view, a real insult to what is Holy when one says, for example, that in order to understand a watch one must penetrate deeply into the nature of the thing with the understanding, but for a comprehension of the Divine in the world, the simple, plain, naive human intelligence should suffice?
It is a very bad thing for present humanity that it has reached the point of saying, when reference is made to the profoundness of religious documents: why all these complicated explanations? It should all be plain and simple. However, only those who have the good intention and good will to plunge down into the great cosmic facts can penetrate into the deep meaning of such words as those at the very beginning of the most profound of the gospels, this Gospel of St. John, words that are in fact a paraphrase of Spiritual Science.
Let us now translate the introductory words of this Gospel:
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was a God (or divine). This was in the beginning with God. Through the same all things were made and save through this Word, nothing was made.
In It was Life, and Life became the Light of men.
And the Light shone into the darkness, but the darkness comprehended it not.
How the darkness, little by little, comes to an understanding of the Light is recounted later on in the Gospels.
By continually meditating upon passages of the Gospel of St. John, the Christian pupil is actually in a condition to reach initiation without the three and a half day continued lethargic sleep. If each day he allows the first verses of the Gospel of St. John,
- from “In the beginning was the Word”
- to the passage “full of devotion and truth,”
to work upon him, they become an exceedingly significant meditation. They have this force within them, for this Gospel is not there simply to be read and understood in its entirety with the intellect, but it must be inwardly fully experienced and felt. It is a force which comes to the help of initiation and works for it. Then will the “Washing of the Feet,” the “Scourging” and other inner processes be experienced as astral visions, wholly corresponding to the description in the Gospel itself, beginning with the 13th Chapter.
The Rosicrucian initiation, although resting upon a Christian foundation works more with other symbolic ideas which produce katharsis, chiefly with imaginative pictures. That is another modification which had to be used, because mankind had progressed a step further in its evolution and the methods of initiation must conform to what has gradually been evolved.
1909-02-28-GA68A is called 'the occult/esoteric meaning of the gospel of John'
The following verses are discussed: John
- 1,1 - In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God
- 6,48 - I am the bread of life
- 8,58 - Jesus said to them “Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM"
- 10,30 - The Father and I are one.
- 14,10 - Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing his works
- 15,1 - I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower
- 15,5 -I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.
1909-11-06-GA068A is called 'the higher meaning of the gospel of John'
1910-01-15-GA117A concludes with:
.. the Gospel of John has the power to convey the Christ Impulse. The more we read and contemplate the Gospel of John, the more we will be filled with the glowing spiritual fire that Christ Jesus talked about.
Words of practice
A lifelong practitioner of exercises writes (2020):
As regards the Gospel of John, I strongly recommend the following; meditate it one verse per day (Steiner’s advice to a student). I did it myself and have done it 3 times now. Each time takes roughly one whole year - but by meditating each word and making it come alive in that way, you will find that it comes alive for you like watching a film, but even more livingly. I cannot recommend it strongly enough.
In GA267 p 205 gives Archive no 3223-3226 [the below is just an extract]
It is necessary to meditate every morning, throughout one year, in the following way:
- 1st month: complete immersion for half an hour in the words of the gospel of John 1:1 and 1:2
- 12th month: likewise, 1:14
[this is complemented with additional meditations afterwards, in a similar fashion, on the first book of Moses (Genesis)]
The designated length of these and all the exercises should not be governed by the clock but by the feeling of time we acquire. The content of all biblical texts that belong to the above meditation must as far as possible be transformed into an image and conceived pictorially. For instance, in 1:1-2 of the Gospel of St. John, picture a mighty sphere within which all substance is in motion so that it forms itself in accordance with the wise meaning of the 'divine Word' resounding through it. My lectures contain the building blocks of esoteric Christian tradition, which can guide the soul in transforming biblical words into the right, authentic images. As far as possible, adhere to these foundations.
Furthermore, GA267 gives, in section A-9 (p 189-201), additional 'exercises with meditations on the Gospel of St. John'
References and further reading
- Fred Poeppig: 'Das Johannes-Evangelium as Meditationsbuch' (published as 'Das Johannesevangelium' (1961)
- Georg Kuehlewind: 'Becoming Aware of the Logos: The Way of St. John the Evangelist' (1985)
- Adrienne Von Speyr:
- 'The Word: A Meditation on the Prologue to St. John's Gospel' (2019, original 1953)
- 'Water and Spirit: Meditations on Saint John's Gospel 1:19 to 5:47' (2019, 1949 in DE)
- 'John, Volume 1: The Word becomes Flesh' (1994)
General on John's Gospel:
- Rudolf Steiner: 30 lectures in GA100, GA103, GA112, GA117A (and GA094/094.3, GA097)
- Hermann Beckh: 'John's Gospel: The Cosmic Rhythm -Stars and Stones' (1930 in DE, 2015 iN EN)
- Friedrich Rittelmeyer: Briefe über das Johannes-Evangelium (1938)
- Christoper Rau: 'Struktur und Rhythmus im Johannes-Evangelium' (1972)
- George Mlakuzhyil: 'The Christocentric Literary Structure of the Fourth Gospel' (1987, 2011)
For reference: online version Version 1