Prophet, Priest and King: Understanding Ourselves as the New Community of the Christ, a series by Rev. Michaël Merle
reported by John-Peter Gernaat (This is not a transcript of the talks but a report drawing in the main themes of the talks.)
What are the traditions behind the story of the Magi? The Gospel of Matthew tells us that priest-kings saw a star that they had been awaiting which set them on a journey to Palestine. They travelled to the most obvious city, Jerusalem, but what they were seeking was not there. When they find the child they give three gifts to the child that were precious in terms of their traditional understanding and wisdom. A tradition has arisen that there were three priest-kings or magi. They were called Kaspar (or Gaspar), Melchior and Balthazar. According to tradition Kaspar is the oldest and is European, Melchior is middle-aged and from Asia and Balthazar is the youngest and is from Africa. In the middle ages maps of the world represented a T with the crossbar across the middle of a circle (O), representing in part the Nile River, and the down bar (representing the Mediterranean Sea) cutting the lower half of the world in two. East (the Orient) was at the top of the map– hence finding one’s way or moving in the correct manner became known as orientation. These maps were based on a Roman map that can be found on the wall of capitols all over the Roman world. These maps represented the whole world and therefore the three Magi originating from these three continents also represented the whole of humanity. The idea of the three continents was connected in the mind of the ancient world with the three sons of Noah (each son having populated one of the three continents). There are, however, other traditions, such as a Syrian tradition that describes twelve magi or a whole community of magi as representing the whole of humanity.
How have the Magi come to be associated with Epiphany? Epiphany means revelation or revealing, the manifestation of God’s glory.
The first Epiphany story is the Baptism of Jesus of Nazareth in the Jordan. The heavens opened and, with John the Baptist as the witness, the Spirit descended in the form of a dove and Christ permeated the sheaths of a human being. The Spirit anoints the human being, and the Christ permeates the human being. Only a very special human constitution at that time could bear such a permeation by the Christ. This required a long period of preparation, which we are studying in the Old Testament Study, and that which we have heard in the birth of two Jesus children in talks this year and previous years, around the festival of Christmas. For early Christians, this revealing of the Christ was the most important event, after the Easter mystery. They also recognised the revelation of Christ that occurred at the Wedding Feast at Cana. With time the Wedding Feast at Cana became linked to the Epiphany celebration, and the gospel passage that recounts this was read on the Sunday after the Epiphany reading of the Baptism. But the Magi also recognised the revelation of the Christ in the star that appeared to them. This revelation then also became connected with Epiphany and for many is now the only event remembered as connected with Epiphany. In the western church tradition this gospel passage of the Magi became the reading for Epiphany and the Baptism in the Jordan was moved to the following Sunday.
What was the revelation that the Magi saw? Did they indeed see a new star in the heavens? This seems unlikely as they were the only ones privileged to see the star, Herod and all the wise men and scribes in Jerusalem could not see a star. It is therefore likely that the star was a light that arose for the Magi through their inner work as a result of their specific initiation. A magus is the word for a priest of the Zarathustran religion, the plural gives us magi. These were therefore men initiated in the way of the Zarathustran tradition and the gifts they brought were precious in the tradition of the Zarathustran religion. They may not have been the most costly gifts in the ancient world or their value understood by everyone.
The Magi recognised Jesus as being King, Priest and Prophet. In the Old Testament it is Zadok the Priest and Nathan the Prophet who anoint Solomon as King. This passage was put to music by Handel for the coronation of George II of the United Kingdom. The Magi could recognise those who were to be anointed. Only kings, priests and prophets were anointed. In the royal child in Bethlem, the Magi recognised a kingly child, a priestly child and a prophetic child. This child was the last human being who had the possibility of being king, priest and prophet. Since the Baptism it is no longer possible for a human being to be a prophet. This may not sit well today with many religious movements. John the Baptist may be viewed as the last prophet of the Old Testament tradition and the first New Testament prophet. Jesus is recognised by Islam as the holiest of prophets. Anyone who holds himself today to be a prophet connects himself to a pre-Christian tradition and not a Christian tradition. (In this sense it is important that we note that Rudolf Steiner was not a prophet nor a ‘guru’, as some people might like. He could certainly be viewed as a contemplative. Contemplatives are deep, prayerful people of insight and action. Their contemplation translates to activity in the world. This is different from a meditatant. Clairvoyance, however useful, is not a requirement of a contemplative. Clairvoyance still needs to be interpreted with careful consideration. Such well-considered understanding of what has been seen or perceived by one clairvoyantly could form part of a contemplative character.) The word prophet from the Greek means to foretell, to tell before it happens. The prophets of the Old Testament were seers. The way for Old Testament prophets usually led to condemnation from those who did not want to hear the message of God, and ultimately to death. Most of the Old Testament prophets struggled to take up their task. Many tried to escape their task, such as Jonah and Elijah. Being a prophet set the person apart from society. Even Jesus struggled when it came to prophetic statements. In the synagogue in Nazareth Jesus say: “this is coming to pass …” and the people threw him out of the synagogue and the town. The prophets of the Old Testament were tasked to ensure the preparation for the coming of Christ. After the coming of Christ into the human constitution prophets are no longer needed.
As human beings we are all kings. No one can convince another person of anything that the person does not accept for themselves through their own thinking. In history the king’s word convinced his subjects and kept the peace. Today peace is possible only through the cooperation of people, creating harmony between king and king (read queen for king as well, or consider that every human being, male or female may feel themselves as king – so that this term is no longer bound to gender). Human beings are destined to be priests. The Book of Revelation in chapter 1 and 5 describes the community of Christians as a kingly, priestly community.
In terms of our development from prophet to contemplative (moving from the development of old, to the new Christ centred development), we may consider the enlightenment of the Buddha as particularly significant. The Buddha completes the developmental path of the chakras by opening the crown chakra. This was the Chakra Path of the Vedas, the opening of the chakras from the base chakra to the crown chakra. The new path for us is the path of drawing the spirit into ourselves, which is the path of the descending chakras. We draw our star into ourselves. The star that the Magi saw shone on a being who was the new sun which would shine in his own constitution. All of Greek thinking can be seen as the first stage in this new descending chakra path. It is an important part of drawing the power of the Divine capacity into human thinking. It is this thinking that Paul uses in his epistles and we can say that Paul Christianised Hellenic thinking. Much of the work that is needed on the forehead chakra has already been accomplished and allows us the ability to contemplate the scriptures, entering into a new relationship through the contemplation of the Gospels and New Testament into this reality. This is then drawn down into the throat chakra, the chakra of expression. It takes time for humanity to find a new voice that creates, a voice that does not merely echo, but creates. This voice will be loving. Previously, our voice was prophetic, the voice of what is not happening. Now our voice will be the voice of what is because of what is said, tying us back to the Elohim who spoke creation into being.
When the Buddha opened the crown chakra it revealed an etheric heart and this thousand-petaled lotus flower faded. The energetic heart was drawn down into the energy centres after the enlightenment of the Buddha and the crown charka is no longer a centre. The crown chakra may be viewed as having been just on top of our heads like a crown containing the energy of our ‘I-ness’. This etheric heart was then lit, one might say, by the power of the Spirit at Whitsun, when our ‘I’ incorporated into our physical body. The seven-fold descending chakra path now begins with the forehead chakra (or third eye). A new chakra centre with eight petals appears between the solar plexus and the sacral chakra. The new number order from top to bottom can be seen on the western facade of Chartres Cathedral. More about this will be covered in the talk set for 7 February.
We work into these first three chakra points of the descending experience in The Christian Community in the Sacrament of Baptism which is then affirmed during the Act of Consecration of Man when we, the congregation, make the three crosses over these three charka points (the throat chakra sitting behind the chin when our spine is properly aligned). We are connected with our new-found thinking which is hard won through our own efforts and then graced, taking rational mind soul thinking into consciousness soul thinking. We connect with our will and the centre of activity and finally over the heart about which more will be said in the next newsletter as part three of this series will not be available in time for this newsletter. The congregation works into these charka points making three crosses while the priest inscribes a sun-cross or Celtic cross. In a way the trinity of the sun cross becomes a three-foldness in the human being.
The throat charka can be aligned with the idea of priesthood, not ordained priesthood but the priesthood of the people. The role of priesthood is to act on behalf of. Aaron and even Melchizedek are modern priests and in combination with acting on behalf of, the key aspect of priesthood is the offering of a sacrifice. This clearly differentiates a priest from a minister or pastor. The question must arise: what can we offer the Father, when everything that is, is made of the Father? We offer Christ to the Father in as much as we have received the offering of the Christ, we offer this to the Father. This is the only worthy offering we have to give the Father. As The Christian Community everyone is invited to be part of the act of offering in the Act of Consecration of Man and therefore we sit there as a priestly people while the ordained priest fulfils the ritual actions of the offering. We sacrifice part of our selfish intention to align ourselves with this sacrificial path.
The new path of priesthood that we, as humanity, follow may be considered in terms of the throat chakra. Rudolf Steiner in Knowledge of the Higher Worlds gives a characterisation of the descending eight-fold path of the sixteen petaled lotus of the throat chakra. Eight of the sixteen petals were activated in the ascending charka path; we are working on the other eight petals in the descending path. The eight activities that Rudolf Steiner refers to are infused with the power of the Christ. Although they seem similar to the Buddhist path (and are connected) this is the Christianised path. The eight-fold path is strongly connected with Francis of Assisi who lived out a priestly life although he was not ordained to priesthood. Of all people, Francis lived out the reality of ‘Christ in him’ in the fulness of this eight-fold path. This eight-fold way is evident in Luke’s Gospel.
The first step on the eight-fold path is Right View or Right Understanding. For the Buddha this meant that life is illusion and that all suffering comes through attachment to this life that is illusion. For us it is important to have a clear view of the path in order to walk this path. Rudolf Steiner describes this first step as the way in which ideas are acquired. Ideas should always carry significance. Our view is based on the significance of the idea. And the significance has to do with our future development. Ideas should allow us to progress in our development. In Luke 4 Jesus returns to Nazareth and speaks in the synagogue after reading from the prophet Isaiah. Jesus of Nazareth says that this word of scripture “is fulfilled in your hearing”. Those who heard the words first approved but soon questioned the truth of this and disapproved, hounding Jesus out of town. This time in Luke’s Gospel is the time of calling the seekers, calling the disciples to follow him. They do so in terms of a right or renewed view or understanding of the way.
In the Buddhist path the first two steps are linked and the next three are linked. However, if we look at the path as a whole, the second, third and fourth step are linked to an idea in Zarathustrianism. These steps within the eight-fold path are:
In Right Thought in Buddhism the elimination of the three poisons of greed, anger and ignorance are espoused. Rudolf Steiner describes this step on the new path as the resolution to act only out of well-founded considerations. We should resolve to never act on someone else’s insight or on hearsay. We may take in someone else’s insight and work with it until we have made it our own and then act on our own well-founded considerations. This is the path of our own way and common agreement is reached through each one’s own consideration not through the convenience of accepting the thoughts of another.
In Right Speech Michaël looked at Frances of Assisi and his writing of the Canticle of the Sun in which he addresses the whole of the cosmos as his brother and sister. This changes the relationship in which the ancient world saw the sun and the moon as gods. The period of history referred to as the scientific enlightenment saw these as only celestial bodies. What Frances of Assisi brings in his relationship to the cosmos is that these are not gods but our spiritual brothers and sisters – he sees us in a relationship to the spiritual reality of the cosmos. The Buddhist path is to speak only words that are true, honest and not duplicitous, and contain compassion, confidence and altruism. Rudolf Steiner speaks of the considered relevance of speech and communication. Michaël shared a part of a lecture by Dr Michaela Gluckler in which she shared the importance of speech in a pedagogical setting. This excerpt will be available as a download from the MailChimp newsletter as well as from the website within this report. Here are a few lines that are relevant: “The wisdom of language is transformed astrality. Speech is the astral quality completely dominated and worked through by the ego.” “… speech brings the wisdom of the Spirit Self (which we are developing – Ed.) into our ego awareness”. “We feel that the world of inspiration we enter through speech is a higher world, that speech is something like the last greetings in our normal life from this higher world.” In an aside on the basis of the words from the lecture: “Speech … protects and holds off aggression…” Michaël mentioned that Rudolf Steiner indicated that since the time of Christ the Buddha has aligned himself with the planetary forces of Mars. Therefore, any confrontation with another should be faced through right speech.
The next steps on the path are Right Action or Right Deeds; then Right Livelihood; Right Effort, and then what the Buddha refers to as Right Mindfulness; and finally, Right Concentration. Rudolf Steiner says for Right Action we are now involved in the regulation of harmonious actions – our actions are in harmony with our speech. Right Livelihood is the management of a harmonious life in conformity with nature and with spirit. Our concern for nature should be real. Right Effort is the endeavour to thoroughly fulfil our obligations. Right Mindfulness is to gather a rich store of experiences that are useful for our individual development and use them for our counsel. When we achieve our own priesthood as human beings where do we turn for counsel? By aligning ourselves with what one person can do through their ordination during the Act of Consecration of Man in the words that reach across the threshold through the power of the thinking of the priest and the speaking of the priest, strengthens the capacity in us to find our words and speak our truth. Right Concentration is now renewed as the practice of introspection in order to take prudent self-counsel. In our time self-counsel is not often possible and the wonder of conversation, described by Goethe in the Green Snake and Beautiful Lilly as more precious than gold, allows for worthy counsel to occur. In the future, when we learn to converse with ourselves, we will be conversing with the whole of the community, leading to a harmonious understanding within the whole community even though they do not hear the words we speak within ourselves.
This report will be continued in a report of the final talk in the series in the March newsletter.
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