Caveat

Among the throes of this volume’s nine-year birth process, the ordering of the essays has been one of the most difficult, but all pale compared to the final pang, the ultimate decision about where to place “The Nativity.” It is by far the most difficult and complex of the essays in this introductory volume. At both the outset and conclusion of the publisher’s editing and review procedures, the suggestion was made that putting it first would bewilder, if not offend, the reader, perhaps even blocking entry into the more apprehensible portions beyond.

But throughout that process, and in spite of its difficulties, I have obstinately maintained that there is only one place it can go, at the beginning. For this, I bear sole responsibility. The two Evangelists who even undertook to tell us of the birth of Christ placed it first. Their divine accounts are brilliant, collectively complete, and without conflict in the finest detail. While they are probably the most widely known portions of the Bible, they are also among the least understood and most problematical. Yet they are the foundation for understanding the entire biblical message.

The preeminent Evangelist John says simply “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1,14). Etched deeply in my mind are words of Steiner, beyond my present retrieval, to the effect, “If we are to understand the most magnificent event in all creation, how can we expect it to be simple or to demand less than the greatest effort that we can put forth?” The opening paragraph of Lect. 5 in From Jesus to Christ (JTC), though not the one I have in mind, is similar:

If you recall that in the course of our lectures we have come to look upon the Christ-Impulse as the most profound event in human evolution, you will doubtless agree that some exertion of our powers of mind and spirit is needed to understand its full range of influence. Certainly in the widest circles we find the bad habit of saying that the highest things in the world must be comprehensible in the simplest terms. If what someone is constrained to say about the sources of existence appears complicated, people turn away from it because “the truth must be simple.” In the last resort it certainly is simple. But if at a certain stage we wish to learn to know the highest things, it is not hard to see that we must first clear the way to understanding them. And in order to enter into the full greatness, the full significance, of the Christ-Impulse . . . we must bring together many different matters.

One who meditates upon how the Creator (Jn 1,3) could become also the Created (Jn 1,14) must surely recognize the majesty of the powers and scope of actions involved. We cannot expect that understanding them should demand less than our most exacting spiritual and intellectual efforts.

My indebtedness to, and gratitude for the skill of, both the special editor and the final reader of this volume is immense. The latter, a highly talented young person, appended the following note to the essentially final draft of “The Nativity”:

It can be initially observed that there are many—perhaps too many—threads weaving in and out of this essay, making it difficult to apprehend the whole.

The severest test came from my own dear life companion, Jo Anne, whose instinctive beliefs unwittingly led me to Steiner in the first place. More simply disposed, she readily accepted the essay’s conclusions but found its detail frustrating and burdensome in the extreme.

For many, a simpler and more linear presentation may have sufficed. Yet what has held me on the original course is the conviction that over time all the essential elements of the story must, to the extent possible with my limited capacities, be included. For the fact that these could not be more skillfully presented, I can only apologize. But I must ask the indulgence of all who venture beyond this point to realize that the difficulties they encounter are not placed there for the sake of erudition and that they should not expect to fully grasp all in the first reading.

Much could be said for placing the essay at the end rather than the beginning, and some may actually benefit from reading the contents in that order. An understanding of the “Three Bodies” is possibly the most critical element of all. It is touched upon in the latter part of the General Introduction and then again in the Overview. Its threads permeate all essays, but it might be well at the outset to study at least the portions of the essay about the “Three Bodies” that precede their scriptural indications. One who expends some initial effort on the Charts & Tabulations will also gain understanding. But let there be no mistake. While this fundamental principle of the human being, the three bodies (physical, etheric and astral), is met at the beginning, it runs through the highest levels of anthroposophical study. Just as the child struggles to learn its ABCs, yet remains challenged in their use for life, so it is with this critical knowledge.

Even beyond the first essay only a rare reader will initially grasp the whole with ease. Not only is the subject matter in some instances demanding, but the mode of my presentation may often seem obscure or concentrated, particularly in spots where I have perceived thorny theological issues to be involved on the basis of otherwise existing understanding. Here I may dwell in greater detail or even engage in what, in biblical polemic, is pejoratively termed “proof texting.” The circumstance inheres in the goal I have undertaken, which is, considering the newness of approach to biblical understanding, to meet the needs of two diverse groups. One comprises biblical scholars, the other all those less focused who nevertheless sincerely seek, with some diligence, to understand the Bible’s theme and message in anthroposophical light. Both groups fall within the larger category of persons who recognize that the core of the Gospel (good news), the kerygma as we know it, is skeletal, and that vast portions of our “theology” are man-made doctrines or interpretations added after the passage of the Evangelists and those who saw the risen Christ in apostolic time. While I exclude no part of the Bible from consideration, both groups must exclude all who are too wedded to any particular doctrinal persuasion within Christendom to objectively and conscientiously consider what anthroposophy has to offer. Finally, the greatest understanding will come from reading when one has both alertness of mind and time for contemplation, as well as the patience of allowing some things to be taken tentatively and matured by accreting knowledge.

   
Preface to the Revised Edition
The Nativity, Page 1