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Rudolf Steiner and Odo Casel on the Christian Mystery

Ross Arlen Tieken

Western Esotericism: History and Methods

Spring 2013

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Front image:

de Juanes, Juan. Christ the Eucharist, 16th Century (Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest).


Introduction 3
Section 1: The Concept of Mystery in Steiner and Casel 5
Section 2: Christology as Key to Historiography 15
Section 3: What is Esoteric Historiography? 21
Works Cited 23

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This essay compares two very short, very different books. The Holy Grail: The Quest for the
Renewal of the Mysteries by Rudolf Steiner is a collection of meditations on the meaning of the
Holy Grail as it appears in medieval literary works, interpreted through Steiners Anthroposophy,
or Spiritual Science. Through this work, Steiner reveals a historical interpretation of the
significance of the person Christ and the Christ-event. Using the elusive nature of the Holy Grail
as a symbol of the Christ-events mysterious character, Steiner underscores a historical
interpretation of the Catholic Church in which earthly power and spiritual authority are seen as
occluding the Mysteries of Christ. Steiner then offers Anthroposophy as the ideal method with
which to recover these Mysteries, and bring the Holy Grail, as it were, out of the Castle.
The other work is a famous theological essay by Benedictine monk Odo Casel of Maria
Laach Abbey in Germany. In The Mystery of Christian Worship, Casel employs historical-critical
methods and patristics to elucidate the circumstances necessary for the emergence of Christianity
from the milieu of Mystery Religions in the Roman Empire. Casel offers his own historical
interpretation of the person of Christ and the Christ-event. Casel believes that Christs mystical
body is perpetuated and promulgated by the sacred liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church,
especially through the Holy Eucharist. By employing the language of the historical mystery
religions, and by offering congregants the mystical body of Christ, Casel asserts that the Catholic
Church, through its earthly power and spiritual authority, manifests the Mysteries of Christ
constantly through the Mystery of Christian worship.
The comparison of these works offers fruitful information regarding the difference
between esoteric and exoteric historiographies of the Christ-event. In both Casel and
Steiner, it is clear that both Christ the person and Christ the event somehow mediate between
Man1 and the Divine. It is also clear that this contact or encounter with the Divine is desirable
and even necessary to provide satisfaction to Mankind for both Steiner and Casel. Christ (both

1 Stylistic Note: I will be using Man and Mankind (as opposed to man, denoting an individual male of the
species Homo Sapiens Sapiens) throughout this essay to denote Humanity or Humankind. I do this for several
reasons: first, it is an unnecessary waste of space to constantly refer to Humanity as such when Man denotes the
exact same quantity, second, both Casel and Steiner use Man, so its use in the present essay parallels their work,
third, to borrow Jacques Barzuns explanation The reasons in favor of prolonging that usage are four: etymology,
convenience, the unsuspected incompleteness of man and woman, and literary tradition. For further explanation,
see pages 82-85 of Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life. (New York: Harper-
Collins, 2000).

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the person and the event), then, reveals a mystery about Mans relationship to the Divine that is
desirable and in need of promulgation. The history & method of the Christ-Mystery disclosure is
where Casel and Steiner definitively oppose each other, revealing their ideological assumptions
and preoccupationsrevealing, indeed, their identity as exoteric or esoteric thinkers.
I will not be engaging with Steiners entire corpus; it is far too vast. In a similar vein, I will
concentrate on only Casels The Mystery of Christian Worship. Furthermore, I will not be evaluating
the historical claims of either Steiner or Casel. I will instead be examining the use of history to
advance their separate argumentswhat I shall call their historiography. I will additionally be
examining the place given to Christ in their works, which I shall call their Christology. I will
argue that the differences in directionality of mediation, location of Authority, and the historical
model employed by Steiner or Casel results in radically divergent and mutually incompatible
interpretive models for the Mystery Religions, for Christ, for the Catholic Church, and for Man
in general.

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The Concept of Mystery in Steiner and Casel:

The understanding of how Christ relates to history in Steiner and Casels works revolves
around the concept of mystery (the Mystery, the Mysteries, mysterium, etc.) and it would behoove
us to explore that concept first and how either author uses this concept to establish a
metaphysical grounding for their assertions.
Steiner has a very particular understanding of the Ancient Mystery religions, what he
most often simply calls the Mysteries. He clearly ascribes to a perennialist interpretation of the
Mysteries: When we go back to the profound priestly wisdom at the heart of [the religions of
various peoples], there is overriding agreement... The knowledge of the Mysteries was a universal
phenomenon. 2 He falls neatly into that pattern of thought and mytho-historical interpretation
that Wouter Hanegraaff calls the ancient wisdom narrative, 3 that is, the assertion in
Renaissance philosophy that the truth claims of the pagan philosophers (especially Plato)
should be related to Christian revelation, whether in the form of prisca theologia or philosophia
perennis. 4 For Steiner, Plato knew of his agreement with the Egyptian priestly authorities... it was
said that of Pythagoras that he had travelled to Egypt and India and was instructed by the wise
men there... A fully developed mysticism existed among the Pharisees... These are some of the
many phrases that clearly place Steiners historical imagination within the ancient wisdom
tradition, along with the Platonic Orientalism central to Hanegraaff s thesis.5 Furthermore,
Steiners habit of linking up the wisdom of the Egyptians, the Greek philosophers, India, and the
Jews (along with the Germanic myths and the Celtic Druids) is clearly a practice of concordance in
Antoine Faivres sense.6 The Mysteries are for Steiner the higher reality of all religions, by
which Man becomes divinized through initiation: The true Osiris is to be found in the human
soul. For although the soul is, to begin with, connected to the transitory realm, it is destined to

2Rudolf Steiner, The Holy Grail: The Quest for the Renewal of the Mysteries (Forest Row, East Sussex, United Kingdom:
Sophia Books, 2001), 17.
3Wouter Hanegraaff, Esotericism and the Academy: Rejected Knowledge in Western Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2012), 6.
4 For full discussion of these terms, refer to Hanegraaff, 7.
5 Hanegraaff, 12.
6 Antoine Faivre, Access to Western Esotericism (New York: State University of New York Press. 1994), 14.

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give birth to the eternal. The experience of the mysteries is transmitted through initiation,
which taught that whoever aspires to the highest stage of being must recapitulate inwardly on a
microcosmic level the universal and macrocosmic events connected with a Divine figure. The
goal of such an experience was to die to earthly things and make a confession of their unity
with the eternal order.7 Behind this interpretation of the Mysteries of the ancient world, the
metaphysical claim that humanity, by recapitulat[ing] macrocosmic events in microcosmic
ritual initiations, a change is enacted in the substance of the body, that lower nature must
become a grave from which the higher nature can rise to new longer as one belonging to
transitory nature.8 In other words, a microcosmic ritual process enacted in accordance with
macrocosmic realities enacts a substantial change within the initiate. This interpretation of the
Mysteries is in accord with Faivres concepts of correspondence and transmutation. 9
Steiners interpretation of Christ and Christianitys place in the Mysteries is complex. On
the one hand, Steiner acknowledges that Judaism grafted on...those ideas from the Mysteries. 10
Furthermore, the expectation of a Messiah and the development of Kabbalah (the ancient
Mystery of Judaism, according to Steiner) made Judaism ripe for the emergence of a uniquely
initiated figure. All that Christ had to do was to extend the offer of initiatory salvation (that is,
dying to ones earthly self and coming into experiential, confessional contact with infinity)
should not be limited to a few select individuals, that all people should share in redemption.
Furthermore, this figure must take upon himself, as a person, the spiritual role that had formerly
been played in the community by the Mystery cult. Notice that there is no need for Christ to be,
as the Catholic Church teaches, fully divine and fully man. Christ only must be an extraordinary
man that reveals the certainty of the truth contained in the... Mysteries.11 In other words,
Christ had to close the gulf that separated the initiates from the ordinary people. 12

7 Steiner, 14.
8 Steiner, 15.
9 Faivre, 10-11, 13.
10 Steiner, 16.
11 Steiner, 18.
12 Steiner, 19.

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Let us explore the implicit assumptions here: Christ need not be uniquely incarnated, but
only uniquely gifted. Also present is the assumption that without the process of initiation,
ordinary people did not share in the Mystery, at least not to the extent of initiates. But Christ
will serve as the mediating factor between the Divine and Man, through Steiners Mystery of
Golgotha in which Christ so perfected his inner state, so purified and aligned his ego with the
Infinite and Divine, that Christ became that Divinity Himself. After this Christ-mediation, one
need only have faith in the Divine rather than experiencing the Divine directly in a
correspondence-powered initiatory transmutation, as in the ancient Mysteries. The Gospels,
Steiner elaborates, do not carry weight as statements of truth in themselves. They are believed
because they are grounded in the personal presence of Jesus, and because the Church...draws
from that personal presence its power to make the truth manifest... Jesus attained oneness with
God; therefore one must cling to him, so as to share in his divine nature as part of the
community that he founded. That is the Christian claim. 13 The Mystery of Golgotha was at first
experienced spiritually, like the old mysteries. This Mystery what had been reborn for all
humanity...the mystery of the higher ego...was symbolically indicated by that sacred vesselthe
Holy Grail. He goes on further to assert that a temple built to house this (symbolic) vessel was
maintained by the Rosicrucians. Steiner particularly admires the Gospel of John for revealing
the continuity throughout all time of the divine principle and its rebirth. 14 The mystery of the
Holy Grail, then, for Steiner is the rebirth of human awareness of the divine principle, made
possible by the sacrifice of Christ, the Mystery of Golgotha. The mystery of the reborn God
had its being in humanity. To complete the esoteric painting, as it were, Steiner goes on to
announce that a Brotherhood of the Holy Grail was formed to protect the mystery, to guard the
secret, and furthermore that the time has come when these secrets may be made known, when
the spiritual life can make the hearts of human beings mature enough to understand this great

13 Steiner, 21.
It is interesting how Steiners argument about the nature of power in the Church corresponds to the argument Max
Weber makes about the institutionalization of Charisma the ordinary and the charismatic are constantly
interwoven in the process of institution building. For further discussion of how Steiners interpretation of the
Catholic Church embodies this sociological theory, see S.N. Eisenstadt, ed., Max Weber on Charisma and Institution
Building (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968), xxxviii.
14 Steiner, 23.

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mystery and that if human beings allowed themselves to be summoned by spiritual
science...that the Christ ego may be received into their being.15
These claims reveal several key features of Steiners entire outlook. First, Kocku von
Stuckrad would recognize Steiner as engaging in esoteric discourse, since Stuckrad claims that
the pivotal point of all esoteric traditions are claims to 'real' or absolute knowledge and the
means of making this knowledge available. 16 Second, Steiner, in revealing his interpretation
of the Holy Grail, is directly contradicting his own assertions about Christianity; Steiner
claims that an initiate needs only faith to participate in the Mystery of Golgotha on page
twenty-one, but by the end of the first chapter this Mystery needs protection, guardianship.
This contradiction is a constant presence behind Steiners historiography. The first section
of the second chapter is entitled The Gnostic crisisand the loss of the Mysteries,
demonstrating that Christs universally redemptive quality (although it is ostensibly
experienced even by people who are unaware) had disappeared, and was lost. Steiner asserts
that Christianity emerged only slowly from the Mysteries. 17 He largely ascribes the fading
away of the understanding of the Mysteries to the growth of the Churchs earthly power,
which resulted in the suppression of the Gnostic sect, which Steiner characteristically
identifies as being much closer to grasping the Mysteries than ordinary historical
traditions. For Steiner, The Gnostics were confident that the wisdom of man could give
birth to a Christ by whom the historical figure could be measuredin the light of which
alone the historical figure could be given his rightful significance.18
Interestingly, a double-sided critique of exoteric Christianity emerges. On the one
hand, Christianity is not exclusive enough, because the mystery is being enacted by those
without any awareness, un-initiated. On the other hand, Christianity is too exclusive,
because it excludes any difference of opinion: as more power went to the institution.
Steiner claims that during the first centuries of Christianity the search for the way to God

15 Steiner, 24.
16 Kocku von Stuckrad, Western Esotericism: A Brief History of Secret Knowledge (London: Equinox, 2005.), 10.
17 Steiner, 25.
18 Steiner, 27.

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was much more individual. 19 In order to make sense of this phenomenon, Steiner proposes
a grand meta-historical evolutionary timeline for Mans spiritual development.
The progression proceeds from sentient body, in which the whole of the human
beings knowledge lives in the senses, to sentient soul in which the manifestation of the
divine through the senses grows dim and fades away replaced by mere sense
impressions...and within them, the divine now manifests itself in spiritual form, in pictorial
ideas. It is in this age of Mans development that the Gnostic knowledge really began and
lived. It was a wonderful and living knowledge in which human beings knew they could
share if they developed their inner being in purity. Then, Man enters the age of the
intellectual or mind soul in which the outer world...became a which they obtained
the answers by kindling the inner force to draw forth the images of the world of the gods
from within. It is in this age that Platonism emerges.20 Next, Steiner elaborates on the role
of the Mysteries. In the Mysteries, such Gnostic knowledge as still remained from the Age
of the Sentient Soul was faithfully preserved. Individual striving for spiritual knowledge
resulted in ritual acts. Those initiates who perceived the divine were those who perceived
the cosmic significance of the Mystery of Golgotha. But as the human capacity for such
knowledge faded, angel beings preserved the knowledge in divine mysteries. In this
way, claims Steiner, Gnostic knowledge of the Mysteries was maintained while human
beings were diligently eradicating exoteric Gnostic knowledge. 21 Here, behind Steiners
light and pleasant prose, we feel teeth and claws. Anthroposophy must now move past the
content of the sentient soul into a new era of human life: the consciousness soul.
The Grails role in this is as a symbol for the elusiveness of the Mysteries in Christian
Europe: the Holy grail, fundamentally...means the reappearance of the essence of the Eastern
Mysteries, 22 covered up by Christianity. Always cloaked in pagan symbolism and literary

19 Steine, 26.
20 Steiner, 29, 30, 31.
21Steiner, 30, 31, 32.
For similar schemes of human spiritual evolution, see the work by Jocelyn Godwin, Atlantis and the Cycles of Time
(Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2011). Blavatsky is also (in)famous for her human evolutionary paradigm, but the
impression Theosophy made on Anthroposophy has yet to be thoroughly explored.
22 Steiner, 42.

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forms, it symbolizes for Steiner the lost pagan knowledge eradicated from Christian
theology 23the Grail Castle is Wouter Hanegraaff s wastebasket of pagan ideas, it seems.
The remainder of Steiners book is an Anthroposophical reading of the Grail Legends,
and is not comparable to anything that Casel does, so I will not cover it here. Although Steiner
starts out the book by relating a common if simplistic reading of European history, throughout
the small tome he introduces more and more spiritual agents and occult categories until, by the
end, the reader is swamped and must refer to Steiners outside works, such as An Outline of Occult
Science to make head or tail of it. Steiners evolutionary view of Mans spiritual destiny and
capabilities allows him to make the claim that he is founding the New Mysteries, with all of the
power (and more!) of the ancient mysteries, and placing Anthroposophy at the turning point, he
is implicitly superseding the Mystery of Golgotha, which depended on a particular stage in
human consciousness to understand its significance.
Steiner never says definite or theologically precise things about Christ, but the easiest way
to understand Christ the person and the Christ-event is, for Steiner, an Anthroposophical
interpretation of the Mystery of Golgotha. Christ emerges, then, as a gifted sage, who enacted
the necessary sacrifice that would complete the ancient mysteries and usher in a new era of
human consciousness. Christs role can be understood as mediatora mediator between
human consciousness and the divine realm.

Odo Casels understanding of Mystery often is expressed in similar ways to Steiners, but
because Casel is a Catholic theologian and a Benedictine monk, his historical meditation yields
an incredibly different Christology and Historiography. First, while Steiner has a perennialist
view of the Christian mystery, Casel has a traditionalist view. Casel is completely aware that
Western Civilization (at his time) is experiencing a revival of occult and mystical strains of
thought, but to him, it is a disheartening fact, that the wave of mysticism which is now passing
over our age after the high tide of rationalism neither moves toward not is in any way formed by
the norms of Catholic Christendom.24 Casel clearly rejects Anthroposophy, or would if he knew
about it: this mysticism, rooted in the Orient and developed in most recent times by the

23 Steiner, 41-53.
24 Odo Casel, The Mystery of Christian Worship (New York: Crossroads Publishing, 1962), 50.

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Germanic peoples after the emancipation of the individual, is fundamentally different from
ancient, formal, communal mysticism which gave shape particularly to the hellenistic mysteries,
and then found its crown in Christianity. 25 Casel, rather than enacting a practice of
concordance by which the content of various ancient philosophies are found to be similar or the
same, has the duty to show that all pre-Christian philosophies are inadequate and need Christ to
become complete. The religion of the Logos whose Spirit acts in the church and his appearance
as a man among men, can show the only sure way and clear end to this longing (emphasis mine).
The only Mystery, then, is Christs incarnation, and the ritual enacting that mystery works only
because of Grace, not a theory of correspondences. Gods infinitely above the world
yet by grace he dwells within his creatures, within mankind: he is at once transcendent and
immanent.26 Although, like Steiner, Casel theorizes about the Mysteries as essentially a sacred
drama, the ritual process works not because of the Platonic/Hermetic relationship of the
microcosm to the macrocosm, but because of commemoratio The ritual performance and
making present of some act of the gods, upon which rests the existence and life of a
community. For Casel, this memorial act shares in the suffering of the gods: there is no deeper
oneness than suffering and action shared, and the community, just as in Steiners interpretation,
win[s] a share in the new life of God; they enter his chorus...the become gods...its aim is union
with the godhead, share in his life. 27 Also similar to Steiner is Casels assertion that individuals
with singularly high aspirations join these communities and are close themselves off from the
However, Christianity is more than simply another mystery religion with an especially
good god-figure at the center, as it seems to be in Steiner. Christ is essentially important to the entire
Mystery process, and it is essentially important that he is fully man and fully God, so as to represent
a perfect union of the transcendent with the immanent, of the eternal with the Temporal. Gods infinitely above the world yet by grace he dwells within his creatures, within mankind:
he is at once transcendent and immanent. 28 This is the very Mystery which the Church with

25 Casel, 52.
26 Casel, 4.
27 Casel, 53.
28 Casel, 4.

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the Spirits breath upon her has given visible countenance by the work of many hundreds of
years...we need not go looking for it, we need only give ourselves to it.29
What is it? Here I must quote at length from Casel.
Christs mystery in Gods revelation in the saving action of his incarnate Son and the redemption
and healing of the church. It continues after the glorified God-man has returned to his Father, until the full
number of the churchs members is complete; the mystery of Christ is carried on and made actual in the
mystery of his worship. Here Christ performs his saving work, invisible, but present in Spirit and acting
upon all men of good-will. It is the Lord himself who acts this mystery; not as he did the primaeval mystery
of the Cross, alone, but with his bride, which he won there, his church; to her he has now given all his
treasures; she is to hand them on to the children she has got of him. Whoever has God for his father must,
since the incarnation, have the church for his mother. As the woman was formed in paradise from the side
of the first Adam, to be a helpmate, like to him, the church is formed from the side of Christ fallen asleep
on the cross to be his companion and helper in the work of redemption. At the same time, the fathers teach
us the mysteries flow in water and blood from the Lords side; the church was born from Christs death-
blood and the mystery with it; church and mystery are inseperable. This is the last ground for the fact that
the mystery of worship becomes liturgy. 30

Clearly the manner in which humans may receive Christs mystical bodyvery different
than the Christ-ego of Steineris not through spiritual science or through Anthroposophy but
through the Catholic Church. Casel is dismissive of the anthropocentric nature of new religous
movements: Today the world outside Christianity and the church is looking for mystery; it is
building a new kind of rite in which man worships himself. But through all of this the world will
never reach God. Let us hold fast to the mystery of Christ, the gift the Father sent among us in
the incarnate Word.31 The bride of Christ, his body, is the Church32 , and it is the Lord himself
who acts this mystery, not us. For theocentric Casel, the Church possesses earthly Authority, not
because of political mass, but because the Church preserves the heart of all mystery at her own
heart. As he sacrificed for her, she now takes an active part in his sacrifice, makes it her own, and
is raised thereby from the world to God, and glorified. 33 Casel suggests that we turn attention

29 Casel, 7-8.
30 Casel, 38-39.
31 Casel, 7.
32This is what Casel asserts happens in the Eucharist; the church is his body(page 28). For Casel, since Christ is
no longer visible among us, in St Leo the Greats words, what was visible in the Lord has passed over into the
mysteries. We meet his person, his saving deeds, the workings of grace in the mysteries of his worship. Importantly,
the faithful do not merely meet Christs divine nature, but his person; for Casel (and for the entire Roman Catholic
Church) the congregant meets Christ body and his blood, with his Soul and his Divinity. See Compendium of the
Cathechism of the Catholic Church (Washington, DC: USCCB Publishing, 2006), 84.
In Christian initiation, that is, baptism, rather than having experiential contact with the Infinite Mystery as in
Steiner, the incorporation into Christs mystical body takes place (see Casel, 14.).
33 Casel, 13.

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to that mysticism which blooms in the heart of the church herself, which belonged to her very
being from the first, and which is therefore open to all Christians...liturgical mysticism. 34 The
growth of its earthly authority, seen as a major problem and the cause of the mysterys occlusion in
Steiner, is the very thing which allows the continual incarnation of Christ to the people in Casel.
While Steiner is conflicted over the wide availability of the mystery versus the need for secrecy
and intensity that is the benefit of an elite practice (like the ancient mysteries), Casels assertion is
that through the elite practice of intense devotion and pristine maintenance of the Mystery, the
Mystery is provided for the most people possible. This is because for Casel, the mystery is not
enacted by human agency. Its enacted Christ, through Grace, and while inner preparation for the
Mystery is essential, a congregant does not need to be in full experiential communion with the
divine to receive the mystery. This is very unlike Steiners confession in which the initiates
were able to declare that they had seen suspended before them the prospect of infinity, reaching
up to the divine; that they had felt within them also the power of the divine and had laid to rest
in the tomb all that had held down that power.35 For Casel, the same process, the same
communion happens, whether or not the congregants are conscious of it. The Mystery happens
because of Christs agency, not human will. Nearly a hundred passages throughout The Mystery of
Christian Worship sound very much like this one: The real actor in the church year is the mystical
Christ, the glorified Lord Jesus, together with his bride the church, who in her inmost being is
with him in heaven already.

For Steiner, the Church was busy exporting the mystery from its institution, a process
exemplified most strongly by the persecution of the Gnostics. For Casel, the Church was busy
protecting the Mystery from heretics who were trying to keep Christs body for themselves.
Indeed, the church is of its own very essence...a mystery religion, and the mystery language is its
own most rightful possession. 36 For Casel, Mans spiritual development through history is simply
a history of the longing for Christ, the Christ-Event, and the subsequent incarnation of Christ
through the Church to fulfill that longing. History for Casel is not a process, but an illusion made

34 Casel, 50.
35 Steiner, 15.
36 Casel, 34.

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holy by the Christ-event. He quotes from the proposition of the Regensborg Diocesan Synod:
The powers which God sent to form the Christian thing made their entrance into history in the
mighty framework of ancient culture, and in the works of the church fathers the well-spirngs of
European culture brought to ripeness their most precious fruit.37
It is easy to see the source of the difference between Casel and Steiner just by looking at
the titles of their books. For Steiner, the Holy Grail is a symbol of The Quest for the Renewal of
the Mysteries, but for Casel, the Mystery is in the singularthere is only One Mystery, and its
renewal is continuous through the Church.

37 Casel, 51.

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Christology as Key to Historiography

I cannot accurately reflect the complexities of Casel (nor Steiner). Thankfully, the present
essay confines itself to a certain set of concerns, which I have attempted to represent in the chart

Casel Steiner

Historiography Linear along classical Evolutionary; progressive.

Christian lines, prioritizes Man develops different
transcendence & eternity, capacities as species matures
surrounds the Cross

Christology Fully Man and Fully God, Great Initiate and Sage,
mediator for us through his enacted necessary sacrifice to
own grace and compassion complete the Mysteries
for us.

Direction of Mediation God loves Man, but as Man desires God, and we are
incomplete beings, we are able to become divinized if
unable to love Him back we participate in the Mystery
without gift of Grace of Golgotha; Anthroposophy,
the purifying of the ego

Location of Spiritual The Roman Catholic Church In the self, in noble human
Authority as the Bride of Christ, and endeavor towards the divine,
the gateway to the in wisdom

Nature of Mystery Religions Evidence for the ancient The pristine keeper of
longing for Christ, but Wisdom left over from the
inadequate to his revelation. Age of the Sentient Soul in
Gives liturgy its language and the ancient world, corrupted
cultural power. by institutional Christianity

Nature of the Catholic The bride and mystical body The exoteric power structure
Church of Christ and keeper of the that defeated the Gnostics
mystery that He established; thus making the Mystery of
the Eucharist Golgotha unattainable for
most people

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To elaborate, Casels position is that Mediation is enacted by Gods grace, through
incarnation of Christ, who gives power to the Church through apostolic succession and
establishment of sacraments, the Church passes on through the Eucharistic mysteries, thus
uniting all Catholics in the mystical body of Christ. The Location of Authority is thus in God,
and in Gods grace which is dispensed and embodied by the Church, which has the Authority to
distinguish between people. This Authority comes from the Godhead, not from its members. It
distinguishes, prohibits, protects, etc. in order to preserve the pristine nature of the sacraments.
His historical model is one of separation from eternityChrist is revelation of Eternity in
Temporality, thus sanctifying the process of history. However, God remains eternal, history has
no meaning without Christs incarnation, which makes humanity holy. Mystery religions express
eternal longing of Man to unite with the Divine,38 the tendency of the temporal to unite with the
eternal. However, they were historically before the incarnation, so they had no real object onto
which to focus their energies.39 However, the language is useful for expressing the need for the
eternal in Christ and so became enshrined in the liturgies, perfected by the incarnation. Christ is
eternal, non-physical, super-cultural, non-experiential God fully but manifests in historical time
in physical place in a cultural context able to experience and be experienced in order to provide
an object for our longing, to provide a historical locus for that desire for the Divine. He
establishes a ritual mystery so that Man may partake of His mystical body whether they be
simpleton sinners or ascetic hermits. Inner state of ones consciousness when partaking of this
ritual is important for personal devotion but not necessary to receive the mystery. The Church is
the established structure which provides earthly mediation to the Divine, as the continuing
presence of Christ (the only and perfect mediator). The liturgy and ritual consumption of the
mystical body is the central duty of the Church. As the ritual must remain the actual partaking of
the mystical body, it is important that the Church remain as pristine in theological vision and
ritual action as possible, recognizing that any human institution is incomplete, and that popular
understanding of the importance of such an act is proper. Man is an incomplete being trapped,
as it were, in time, space, culture, and experience. However, because Christ incarnated as a man,
Mans life and being is sanctified. However, in order to allow completeness, we must acknowledge

38 Casel, 32.
39 Casel, 54-55.

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our incompleteness, which means subjecting our personal Authority to the Authority of the
Church and our subjective states to the Objective transformation of Christs body.
For Steiner, Mediation is enacted through mental states, meditation, preparation, and
inner realities. We are in contact with the Divine when we clear away the things that the Divine is
not, most effectively through ritual practices (recommended through Anthroposophy). The
location of Spiritual Authority is therefore in Man, in the Self, in the Ego, which is perfectible in
the form of the Christ-ego. That is not to say that the Individual is the Spiritual Authority, but
rather that the true Ego, the I behind the I, is the source of this knowledge. However, it is within
our power as individuals and necessary for self-actualization that we desire to unite fully with this
divine Ego. Steiners historical model is therefore Evolutionary; different ages of Man have
different mental/bodily/spiritual capacities, and individual Wills (like Christs) can bring upon
the development of a new capacity to achieve the Christ-ego. Christ is a Man that became
divinized through the triumph of his will and the total self-sacrifice that exposed the true divine
ego underneaththe Christ-ego. We (the moderns) are therefore to equal Christ in our capacities
as long as we partake of the Christ-ego through the Mysteries. The Ancient Mystery religions
were religious forms of spiritual brilliance and synthesis, brought to their completion by Christs
sacrifice, then slowly institutionalized by the Church with her earthly power, thus cordoning off
the Mystery from Man in general. These mysteries, sharing in the ancient wisdom of previous
ages when Man had radically different spiritual capacities, passed through the secret
brotherhoods of the Rosicrucians and the Wisdom of the East until they were taken up by
angelic beings. Anthroposophy is the founding of the New Mysteries, built for the particular
capacities of modern Man. The Catholic Church, however, is an earthly power that repeats the
mysteries but in a hollowed-out form, because of both their wide availability and their exclusivity.
The Church, early on, removed the Mysteries, expressed through the Gnostics, in an effort to
consolidate earthly power through their status as an official religion. However, Christs real
message is that Man is the Divine incarnate and we must try and realize this despite the outside
structure of the Church and the hollowed (not hallowed) ritual forms that resemble the Mysteries.
Casel and Steiner thus begin in similar places: the ancient mystery religions reflect the
longing of man to unite with the divine; Christ is the crown of the mysteries, by enacting certain
rituals the sacrifice is made present again, etc. But by the time the texts have run their course,
they are radically divergent on almost every point of shared interest. This separation in views can

Ross Arlen Tieken 17

be seen as a result of the location of Authority, but primarily it is a result of the differing
directions of mediation.
Steiner is writing from the perspective of a post-Protestant, post-Enlightenment
worldview. One of the most important shifts of the Reformation was the re-location of Spiritual
Authority. No longer did revelation belong the Tradition, but now it only belongs to the Text. Sola
Scriptura. But there was another, more subtle effect of the Reformation, another re-location of
Authority. Since the Text alone had authority, interpretation of the Bible becomes the most
important source of truth. However, when disagreements arise, what happens? No Church
authority or hierarchy can pull from sacred tradition. What necessarily must occur is the
establishment of a priesthood of all believers, that is, all believers have the capacity for divine
mediation. The re-location of spiritual authority from Tradition to Text was paralleled by the re-
location of spiritual mediation from the Church to the Self. Although the subsequent blossoming
of humanist, anthropocentric philosophy art and action in the Renaissance and Early Modern
periods can be attributed to this movement, Casel is suspicious: if the last results of an age of
individualism inspire us with something less than admiration, we must not forget how deceptively
attractive those beginnings were.40 If the Human has the ability to reach the Divine by force of
his own will, and if Christ was a Human that realized this Divinity (as Steiner claims) through the
purification of his ego, then Christ becomes an example of the human capacity for apotheosis, but
not God Himself. Casel attributes the recession of the Mystery to the very attitude that Steiner
In the piety of this period, next to God stands man, free, independent, seeking his own way to God, no
longer raised up by God to himself. The one indeividual fights in a solitary battle for the heights; the church
as the mother of graces moves into the background. Thus a new conception arose in the life of piety witha
carefully adjusted psychology adapting itself to each individual, and metholds of interior life to stimulate
each individuals gifts.
The clear consequence of this was a withdrawal of emphasis on the churchs mystery....
Our time has brought the fall of rationalism and a new turning to the mystery. The humanization
of religion had progressed so far that, finally, there was no religion left. 41

But Anthroposophy cannot be the answer for Casel. Although it is clear that Steiner
desires contact with the divine, and can achieve experiences of magnitude and meaning, his
entire philosophy is an exercise in futility to Casel, because, for Catholics, humans are inadequate
and need mediation through Christ to reach the reality of God, which is not merely transcendent

40 Casel, 3.
41 Casel, 4, 5.

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and unified, but immanent and multiplesimultaneously. Since Christ incarnated out of
compassion for Man, and furthermore (Casel claims), established a mystery by which his
followers could become members incorporate in the mystical body, congregants share in Christs reality
through the Church through the Sacraments alone. It is no wonder that Casel laments that the
wave of mysticism which is now passing over our age... [is not] formed by the norms of the
Catholic Church. Steiner looks upon the church in the manner of a Renaissance man or a
Reformer; for Steiner, the Church is a mere juridical institution, a moral activity, a function of
popular education...the highest and finest desires and capacities of the human mind have only
too often soght satisfaction elsewhere.42 Casel recognizes in people like Steiner the desire for
mystical union with the Divine, but without the mediating sacrament of the body of Christ
only shared under the Authority of the Catholic Churchit can never be adequate. Casel does
not, cannot believe that even those with the most potent desire and extreme skill could reach the
transcendent without mediation. That mediation requires Authority, in Casels view: In Catholic
Christianity the mystery was kept in fact and protected by prescription.
However, Steiner, as a post-Protestant occultist, does not believe in the mystical body of
Christ as mediated by the Church. His version of the Divinity of the Christ is that Christ enacted
some massive force of will to overcome the gap between humans and the Divine. His history of
humans relationship to the transcendent is a history of occlusion and secrecy, in which the
Roman Catholic church obscures and obstructs the desire of man to reach the highest goal
union with the Divine. Consider that for Casel, the mystery religions were noble but inadequate
attempts at mediation, because Christs historical incarnation is necessary for that mediation to
happen. Casel believes that early Christianity used this mystery vocabulary, however, because up
until the time of Christ, there had been a longing for the transcendenta longing represented
and enacted through mystery cults. For Steiner, the mystery cults already possessed the wisdom,
and merely found a new and better mystery god with the person of Christ, who enacted the
mystery myths in historical time and set the example for the world to follow. But, says Steiner, as
Catholicism cast off paganism (by which he means the Mysteries), and became interested in
civil society and political power, it became necessary to control access to the mysteries, to

42 Casel, 50.

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maintain control.43 Casels objection is that the Church must use outward signs, that is, exoteric
signs, to indicate inward, esoteric realities, and that the Churchs Authority (here both
metaphysical and political) is necessary for maintaining access to the Mystery.

In other words, the difference between the Christo-centrism of Casel and Steiner comes
down to directionality of mediation. For Steiner, Christ the Man bridges to God. For Casel, God
the Christ bridges to Man. This seemingly small difference between the two vectors, if you will,
of the Man-Christ-God mediation results in a completely different interpretation of history, the
role of the Church, and in the plan for mystical renewal. For Casel, the inner state of the
congregant is irrelevant to the the reception of the mystery; if the layman is aware of the
Mystery, all the better, says Casel, and it is by this awareness that culture has a chance at renewal.
But the Mystery will remain whether the congregation is aware of it or not. Christ has already
enacted the mediation and the Church, his bride and continuing mystical body, operates and
functions with the Grace of God, not the State of Man. Steiner however believes that is the State
of Man that matters for the reception of God, and Christs sacrifice, having provided mediation
to the divine through one mans great Will, has awakened in him (and us! he proclaims) an
exemplar of a perfected ego that raises itself up to God. And so Steiner prescribes not a
participation in a larger structure, but a new process of gnosisSpiritual Science,
Anthroposophy. Through Spiritual Science, Steiner claims that man can once again perfect the
Christ-ego through the Holy Mysteries (represented by the elusive, pagan Grail). But importantly,
it is Man that reaches the inner state (a mental state, signaled by the dependence on psychological
language), and not God.

43Steiner, 26.
The occlusion of the mysteries was partly the fault of the Church destroying the Gnostics, and partly the result of
sensory evolution.

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What is Esoteric Historiography?

This issue is far too large for the scope of this paper. However, this contrast between Casel
and Steiner raises very important questions about the history of Esoteric discourse, related to its
close relationship to Christian theology, especially in Protestant and post-Protestant
When the power of mediation between the Divine and the Earthly is relocated, it
accompanies a shift in priorities that can only be described as tectonic. The Catholic Church
claims that God is both transcendent and immanent, and that the immanence is made possible
only through the incarnation of Christ (fully Man and fully God). Thus priority is placed on that
incarnation, which could help explain the almost ferocious devotionthroughout the entire
world of Catholicsto the Vessel of the Incarnation, the Theotokos, the Virgin Mary.
If, however, the Bible is the only and complete revelation of Gods presence to mankind,
as in the theology of John Calvin, there flourishes an obsession with legal process, law, market.
Calvin is so legalistic because to Calvin, the revelation of God, the mediation through which he
and his community are able to have contact through the divine, rests in the Word. The Word
must also be made present to allhence the emphasis on translation to the vernacular. Calvins
strict legalism and the literalism that has resulted from his theology could very well be a direct
result of the relocation of Mediative Authority from the Body to the Word.
What happens when the Word is deconstructed? The mediative authority moves from the
Text to the Reader, to the Self. The modern way of understanding Authority is entirely
democratic, even when it comes to spiritual matters. The ability to mediate between the human
and the divine rests in the Self and its inner states.
Generally, in Protestant churches, the emphasis is on the Scripture, and on preaching. In
Catholic Churches, the emphasis is placed on the Eucharist, the partaking of the mystical body.
In Steiners Anthroposophy, the emphasis is on the process of inner ego-transformation and
perfection. Perhaps this divergence in priorities is the reason behind the reaction to New Age in
the Catholic Church one of mistrust. Casel laments the New Ages separation from the True

Ross Arlen Tieken 21

Incarnation; similarly, Pope John Paul II asserts that Christian meditation as a flight from the
self 44 and warns that New Age religious views concern only inner states.45
Steiners Esoteric Historiography is the conviction that exoteric structures conceal
Mystery rather than mediating Mystery. Steiners esotericism is an interpretive model, dependent
upon a Protestant intellectual milieu. Although I need to do much more work on individual
esoteric writers, I think that this general principle would apply widely. Perhaps the arrival of
Esoteric Historiography in the Renaissance, with Ficino, is due to the supposed lack of mystery
within Protestantism, or rather, the re-location of the mystery to completely inner states and
private domains. Mediation by structures, traditions, codesmediation by the Church having
been done away with by Luthers priesthood of all believerswas out of the question for a
Protestant culture, but inner states of transcendent meaningfulness are difficult to manufacture.
To preemptively deflect the accusation that Protestantism had caused the problem of separation
from the mystery, it is possible that the Esoteric polemic retroactively blames the exoteric
Catholic Church for concealing the Mystery. This accusation finds new ammunition in the
Catholic suppression of the Gnostics and the decline of mystery religions.
Whether it is an appropriate historical critique or not, however, the assertion that
Christianity is a system of more or less dogmatically certain truths to be accepted and confessed,
and of moral commands to be observed or at least accorded recognition46 has held held sway
over many, Steiner included, although he is sensitive to the psycho-historical importance of the
Christ-event. But even this sensitivity is reserved for the Gnostics, the Rosicrucians, and the
brotherhood of initiates founded to preserve the mystery...the Brotherhood of the Holy Grail.
Perhaps Esoteric scholarship paints with the same historical brushif Casels historical reading
has any truth, it would seem to indicate that Catholicisms own Mystery has been tossed into the
wastebasket of history.

44Joseph Ratzinger, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of Christian
Meditation (Vatican: Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 1989), section I, paragraph 3. (http://
45 Pontifical Council for Culture, Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of
Life: A Christian Reflection on the New Age (Vatican: Pontifical Council for Culture, Pontifical Council for Interreligious
Dialogue, 2003), section 3.2, Spiritual Narcissism?. (
46 Casel, 9.

Ross Arlen Tieken 22

Works Cited:

Barzun, Jacques. From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life. New York: Harper-Collins, 2000.

Casel, Odo. The Mystery of Christian Worship. New York: Crossroads Publishing, 1962.

Eisenstadt S.N., ed. Max Weber on Charisma and Institution Building. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968.

Faivre, Antoine. Access to Western Esotericism. New York: State University of New York Press. 1994.

Godwin, Jocelyn. Atlantis and the Cycles of Time. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2011.

Hanegraaff, Wouter. Esotericism and the Academy: Rejected Knowledge in Western Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 2012.

Pontifical Council for Culture, Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life:
A Christian Reflection on the New Age. The Vatican: Pontifical Council for Culture, Pontifical Council for
Interreligious Dialogue, 2003.

Ratzinger, Joseph. Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation. The
Vatican: Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 1989.

Steiner, Rudolf. The Holy Grail: The Quest for the Renewal of the Mysteries. Forest Row, East Sussex, United Kingdom:
Sophia Books, 2001.

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Compendium of the Cathechism of the Catholic Church. Washington, DC:
USCCB Publishing, 2006.

von Stuckrad, Kocku. Western Esotericism: A Brief History of Secret Knowledge. London: Equinox, 2005.

Ross, this is terrific - clear, with a carefully delineated scope, and well grounded in the text. It also offers a
useful and interesting perspective on the two views, the traditional eucharistic theology next to the esoteric,
showing the way the way Steiner's views actually map onto the translation of authority to text which you mark
as a protestant characteristic. The points of comparison are felicitous, allowing you to make a solid general
point without dissolving in generalities. I have to suggest it suggest it seems more carefully proofread than
usual as well...
grade for this essay: A; grade for course: A.

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