The eye is formed by the light for the light

From Anthroposophy

'The eye is formed by the light, and for the light' is a statement by Goethe often used and explained by Rudolf Steiner.

The literal quote by Goethe is:

“If the eye were not born of like nature to the sun it could never look upon the sun"

“The eye is a creation of the light".

This statement points out a fundamental truth regarding the origin of the human eye as a sense organ, namely that this organ has been created by the spiritual forces or influences that it now allows to perceive. This is also true for each of the other sense organs such as the ear, etc.


  • spiritual scientifically, in an evolutionary perspective (1910-08-23-GA122)
    • the Spirits of Form (SoF or Elohim) worked on Old Moon within this light, and were sinking down with this light into Man. It is only on Earth that as a result of this work, as stated in the Book of Genesis, "God said, Let there be light', as at that point the SoF were no longer flowing within the light, but light streamed back to them from objects, and objects appeared to them from without.
  • mundane facts and images
    • The eye is created by the light: when animals possessing eyes migrate into dark caves, they soon lose the power to see, through lack of light.
  • Christ-Jesus saying ‘I am the light of the world’
    • the 'mystical Christ in us' was not always in Man, he can now be experienced by those whose spiritual vision is opened such as Paul, but for this the historical Christ-Jesus and the Mystery of Golgotha (MoG) were necessary. Just as the eye can originate only through the effect of light, so in order that there could be a Christ-in-Man, the historical Christ-Jesus and MoG must have been there (1911-10-04-GA131)
      • for further/deeper study and contemplation on this point, see also 'giving and receiving', 1904-11-09-GA089 and Schema FMC00.187 and variants up to FMC00.187D on Christ Module 7 - Cosmic dimension
    • in relation to the healing of a Man born blind: if Christ is to pour into the Man's individuality a power enabling him to render his eye sensitive to light, then Christ must have in him the spiritual force which is in the light (1909-07-03-GA112)


Lecture coverage and references


But true progress in Science, as also in Art, has never been the product of such methods of observation or servile imitation of Nature. What thousands observe and pass by is then observed by one who, as the result of this same observation, discovers a magnificent scientific law. Many before Galileo had seen a lamp swinging in a church, and yet this man of genius had to come and discover from it the laws of the pendulum, which are of so great importance in Physics.

‘Were not the eye of the nature of the sun, how could it behold the sun,’ exclaims Goethe; he means that none can glance into the depths of Nature who lack the necessary disposition and productive force to see more in the realm of fact than the mere outward facts.

This is not accepted. The mighty achievements for which we have to thank Goethe's genius should not be confounded with the deficiencies inherent in his investigations, owing to the lower level of scientific experience at that time. How his own scientific results stand in relation to the progress of scientific research has been aptly characterised by Goethe in a picture: he describes them as pawns which he has perhaps moved forward too daringly on the board, but which should allow the plan of the player to be recognised. If we take these words to heart, then the following great task accrues to us in the field of Goethean research: to revert in each case to Goethe's own tendencies. The results which he himself gives us may stand as examples showing how he attempted to solve his great problems with limited means. It must be our aim to solve them in his spirit, but with the greater means at our disposal, and on the strength of our richer experience. In this way a fructification of all the branches of research to which Goethe devoted his attention will be possible, and, what is more, they will all bear the same uniform stamp, and form links within a great uniform conception of the world. Mere philological and critical research, the justification of which it were folly to deny, must await extension and completion along these lines. We must gain possession of the rich store of thoughts and ideas that are in Goethe, and, making this our starting-point, scientifically carry on the work.


The physical body is a sum of physical apparatuses: the eye, a cam­era, and the ear, a stringed instrument. These apparatuses are perme­ated by the etheric body, which enlivens them and then passes on sensations to the astral body, the bearer of pleasure and suffering, of drives, desires, and passion, and further on to the I. ...

There are as many worlds as the human being has sense organs to perceive. ...

Without eyes there is no light. If we had an organ to per­ceive electricity, we would perceive it, just as we now perceive light.


I have often explained that Goethe's beautiful words, which spring from a deep knowledge of Rosicrucian initiation, are based upon profound occult truth:

‘The eye is formed by the light for the light.’

I have pointed out that Schopenhauer is right when he says:

‘Without the eye there is no light.’

Yes, but where does the eye come from? Goethe quite rightly says:

‘Without light there would never have been an organ sensitive to light — an eye.’

The eye is created by the light. A single instance will demonstrate this. When animals possessing eyes migrate into dark caves, they soon lose the power to see, through lack of light.

[healing of the blind man]

The eye was formed by light. If Christ is to pour into the Man's individuality a power enabling him to render his eye sensitive to light, then Christ must have in him the spiritual force which is in the light. This must be indicated in the Gospel of St. John. The healing of the man born blind is preceded by the chapter in which we read:

‘Then Jesus spake again unto them saying: I am the light of the world.’

The healing of the man born blind is not mentioned until after the words ‘I am the light of the world’ have been spoken.


[Goethe's: “The eye has been formed by the light for the light.”]

I have often called attention to an important saying of Goethe's: “The eye has been formed by the light for the light".

This saying should be taken quite seriously.

All Man's organs have been formed by his environment, out of his environment.

It is a superficial philosophy which stresses only one side of this truth, that without the eye Man could not perceive light. For the other important aspect of the truth is that without light the eye could never have developed; and in the same way without sound there would have been no ear.

Looked at from a deeper standpoint Kantianism is very superficial, because it only gives half the truth. The light which weaves and floods throughout the cosmos — that is the cause of the organs of vision.

  • During the Old Moon stage, the main task of the beings who took part in the development of our universe was the construction of our organs. First these organs have to be built up; then they are able to perceive. Our present objective consciousness is due to the fact that organs have first been formed for it.
  • The sense organs, as purely physical organs, had already been formed on Old Saturn, with the eye somewhat like the photographer's camera obscura. Purely physical apparatuses like that can perceive nothing. They are constructed according to purely physical laws. In the Moon period the organs acquired an inner life.


  • on Old Saturn the eye was so formed that it was merely a physical apparatus;
  • at the Old Moon stage, through the sunlight which fell upon it from without, it was transformed into an organ of perception, an organ of consciousness. The essence of this activity during the Old Moon evolution is that the organs were, so to say, drawn forth from the beings.

During the Earth period light works essentially on the plants, maintains plant development. We see the outward result of this activity of light in our flora.

[Moon-Man and -consciousness]

During the Old Moon evolution light did not act in this way, it drew forth our organs; and what was perceived by Man at that time was this work upon his own organs. He perceived it in the form of pictures which seemed, it is true, to fill cosmic space. The pictures seemed to be spread out in space. In reality they merely represented the work of elementary existence upon the human organs. During the Old Moon stage, what Man perceived was his own inner becoming, he perceived this work upon himself, saw the way he was fashioning himself, the way he was evolving his perceiving eye out of his own being.

Thus the outer world was an inner world, because the entire outer world was working upon his inner being. And he made no distinction between outer and inner. He did not perceive the sun as external to himself. He did not separate the sun from himself, but within himself he felt his eyes coming into existence. And this active coming into existence of his eyes expanded for him into a pictorial perception which filled space. That was how he perceived the sun, but it was an inner process. The characteristic thing about the Moon-consciousness was that one was surrounded by a world of pictures, but these pictures represented an inner development, an inner formation of soul. Thus the Old Moon-Man was enveloped in the astral and felt his own development as an external world.

Today it would be an illness to perceive this inner development as an outer world, not to distinguish these pictures from the world outside, to perceive the outside world merely as a reflection of one's own growth. During the Old Moon evolution it was normal. For instance, Man perceived in his own being the work of those beings who later became the SoF [or Elohim]. He perceived the activity of the SoF somewhat as today you might perceive your blood flowing into you. It was inside him, but it was reflected in pictures from without.

[Old Moon cosmos]

But on Old Moon, such a consciousness was the only one possible. For what happens upon our Earth has to take place in harmony with the whole cosmos. A consciousness such as Man has upon the Earth, with this distinction between outer and inner, with this perception that real objects are there outside us, and that our inwardness exists alongside them, called for the whole evolutionary transition from Old Moon to the Earth, called for an entirely different kind of cleavage in our cosmic system. During Old Moon evolution, there was no separation between Moon and Earth, as there is today. We have to think of Old Moon as the present Earth would be if the moon were still united with it. So all the other planets, including the sun, were quite differently formed; and under the conditions which then obtained only a picture-consciousness was possible. It was only after our whole cosmos had assumed the form it now has, encompassing the earth, that our present objective consciousness could develop.

Such a consciousness as Man has on earth today was withheld from him until the time of Earth evolution. Not only was Man without it, but none of the other beings whom we speak of as belonging to this or that hierarchy had it. It would be superficial to think, because the angels underwent their human stage on Old Moon, that they must therefore have had on Old Moon such a consciousness as Man has today on the earth. It was not so, and this is what distinguishes them from men — that they experienced their humanity in another consciousness.

An exact repetition of the past never takes place. Each evolutionary impulse happens once only, and happens for its own sake and not for the sake of repeating something. Thus to produce what we know today as human, earthly consciousness all the processes which have actually brought this Earth about were needed — for that purpose Man had to be there as man. It was impossible for such a form of consciousness to develop at an earlier stage of evolution. To us an object is something outside us; earlier, all the beings of whom we can speak had a consciousness which made no distinction between outer and inner, so that it would have been nonsense for any of them to say:

“Something is standing before me.”

Even the Elohim could not say that; they had no such experience. They could only say:

“We live and weave in the cosmos; we create, and in creating are aware of this our creation; objects do not stand before us, do not appear to be before us.”

To say “objects appear before us” conveys a situation in which we are confronted by something real formed in an external space from which we ourselves are separated. This did not come about even for the Elohim until the time of Earth evolution. During Old Moon evolution, when these Elohim felt themselves weaving and working in the light which streamed from the Sun upon Old Moon, they might have said to themselves:

“We feel ourselves to be within this light, we feel how with this light we sink into the beings who live as men on the Moon; we speed through space with this light.”

But they could never have said: “We see this light outside us.”

There was no such thing on the Moon. That was a completely new Earth experience.

[Let there be light]

When at a certain stage in the Genesis account the momentous words occur And God said, Let there be light, it meant that something new had happened, that the Elohim did not merely feel themselves to be flowing with the light, but that light streamed back to them from objects, that objects appeared to them from without. This is expressed by the writer of the Genesis account when to the words

And God said, Let there be light

he adds:

And God saw the light.

In this ancient document there is nothing superfluous, nothing meaningless. If only men could learn, among much else that this document could teach them, to ascribe to it nothing that is not pregnant with meaning, to take nothing in it as an empty phrase. The writer of the Genesis account wrote nothing unnecessary, nothing by way of commonplace embellishment to enhance the beauty of the creation of light; he does not make the Elohim say anything like this: “We see the light and are very pleased with ourselves that we have made it so well.” What the brief sentence emphasises, what it signifies, is simply that something new has come about.

Moreover it does not say merely And God saw the light, but that He saw that it was beautiful — or good. Note that in the Hebrew tongue the distinction between “beautiful” and “good” was not made as it is today. The Hebrew language has the same word for good and for beautiful. What is the significance of this? In ancient Sanskrit, even in German, there is still an echo of what it meant. The word “beautiful” covers all words in all languages which mean that an inner spiritual element reveals itself in an external form. To be beautiful means that something inward is externally manifest. Today when we use the word “beauty” we are thinking most truly when we hold that an inner spiritual reality in the beautiful object is represented on its surface in physical form. We say that something is beautiful if the spiritual, so to say, shines through what is externally sense-perceptible. When does a marble sculpture become a thing of beauty? When its form arouses the illusion that spirit indwells it. Beauty is the manifestation of the spiritual through the external.

Thus when in Genesis we come to the words God saw the light, we can say that they convey the specific quality of Earth evolution; also that what could formerly only be experienced subjectively now manifests itself from without; that the spirit presents itself in its external manifestation. Thus we can paraphrase the biblical words by saying

“and the Elohim experienced the consciousness that something in which they themselves formerly existed confronted them as an external phenomenon; and they realised that the spirit was behind this appearance and came to expression in the external.”

This is the significance of the word “beautiful” or “good.” Wordy explanations will not help us to understand the Genesis account, but only diligent search for the secrets which are really hidden behind the words. Then research will yield rich fruits; whereas all too many interpretations are nothing but tiresome pedantry.

[Separation of Sun and Moon]

Let us go a step further. We have seen that the characteristic features of the Old Moon evolution were only able to come about through the separation of the Sun from the Moon. Then we have seen that during the Earth evolution it again became necessary for the sun to separate off from the Earth; we have seen that a duality is necessary for a life of full consciousness. The Earth element had to withdraw. But in such a withdrawal something else is also involved; the elementary conditions of the moon nature and of the sun nature change, become different. If you make a study of our present sun, even from a purely physical aspect you are obliged to say to yourselves: “The conditions which we have on Earth and which we call solid and liquid are not to be found in the physical sun.” The most you can say is that the sun still condenses to the gaseous state. This is recognised by modern physics. Such a separation of elementary conditions comes about through the severing of what was previously a unity.

We have seen that the Earth develops in such a way that a gradual densification downward takes place from warmth to solid, to earth, and that what is above as elementary existence light-ether, sound-ether, life-ether — seems to press inwards from without. But this description does not fit the part which goes out as the sun. It would be better therefore to say that there are seven states of elementary existence. The first, the most rarefied state, which constitutes and brings about life; then what we call number, or sound-ether; then light-ether; then warmth-ether; then we have air, or the gaseous element, the watery element and fmally the earthy or solid. It is in the earth that we have to look mainly for the elements up as far as warmth. Warmth permeates the Earth, whereas the Earth only shares in light in so far as the beings in its environment — or if you like the bodies in its environment — take part in the life of the earth. Light streams upon the Earth from the sun. If we wish to locate the three higher elementary states — light-ether, the ether of spiritual sound, and life-ether — we must place them in the sphere of the sun. In the Earth we have to look for the solid, fluid and gaseous elements; warmth is shared by both earth and sun.

The Sun separated off for the first time during the Old Moon evolution. It was then that the light was for the first time active from without, but not then as light.

I have just pointed out that the sentence in Genesis which reads And God saw the light ... could not have been spoken in respect of the Old Moon evolution. There one would have had to say that the Elohim speeded through space with the light, were in the light, but saw it not. Just as today one swims in water and moves forward in it without actually seeing it, so one did not see the light, but light was a bearer of the work in cosmic space. It was with the coming of Earth evolution that light began to appear, to be reflected by objects.

It was natural that this, which held good for light on Old Moon, should itself reach a higher stage of development during Earth evolution. It is therefore to be expected that what applied to light on Old Moon should during Earth evolution apply to the chemical [or sound] ether.

This would involve that what we call spiritual sound was not perceived by the Elohim as reverberating back to them in the manner of the reflected light. Thus, if Genesis wished to convey that evolution was advancing from the activity of the light ether to that of chemical ether, it would have to say something like this:

“And the Elohim saw the light in the developing Earth, and saw that it was beautiful.”

But it could not go on in the same way to say:

“And the Elohim during this phase perceived the sound-ether”; it would have to say “they lived and wove in it.”

Nor could it be said of the second 'day' of creation that the Elohim perceived the stir which separated the elements above from those below; it could not be said of this work of the Elohim that they perceived. The words 'perceive' and 'beautiful' would have had to be omitted. Then the description would correspond with what can be observed through spiritual science.

Thus the seer who wrote the Genesis account had, when describing the second 'day', to leave out the words: And God saw ...

Now look at Genesis.

  • On the first 'day' it reads: And God saw the light, that it was good.
  • On the second day of creation, after the end of the first day, it says: And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters ... and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.

The sentence And God saw ..., which we find on the first day, is left out on the second day. Genesis gives the facts as we should expect them to be given from what we have been able to observe by spiritual scientific method. Here again is a knotty point of which the commentators of the nineteenth century have not known what to make. There have been commentators who said: “What does it matter if the second time the words are omitted? The writer just forgot them.” Men should learn that Genesis not only records nothing irrelevant, but also omits nothing relevant. The writer has forgotten nothing. There is a profound reason why on the second day of creation these words are not to be found. Here we have another example of what fills us with immense reverence for such ancient records.


In Western philosophy it was said that without eyes none could see colour nor hear without ears; the universe would be without light and sound. True as this is with regard to seeing and hearing, it is equally true that without light no eye could have come into existence nor could man have had any perceptions connected with it.

As Goethe says:

If the eye were not born of like nature to the sun it could never look upon the sun", and “The eye is a creation of the light".

The Mystical Christ, spoken of by those whose spiritual sight is opened and who behold him as Paul did, was not always in Man. In pre-Christian times he was unattainable in any development through the Mysteries in the way in which he was to be found after the Mystery of Golgotha. That there might be an inner Christ and that the higher Man could be born an historical Christ was needed, the incarnation of the Christ in the Jesus.

As the eye can originate only through the effect of light, so in order that there could be a Mystical Christ the historical Christ must have been there.

Had there been no documents containing a biography of Jesus of Nazareth this could still be said and felt, for Jesus is not to be recognized through external writings. This fact was long known in the evolution of the West and will again be known. Spiritual Science will so formulate that it can draw together from out its various spheres what will lead to a real understanding of the Christ, and thereby to an understanding of Jesus.


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References and further reading