Christianity and the Ancient Mysteries: Reflections on Rudolf Steiner’s Christianity as Mystical Fact

By Rosemary
 Usselman, September 2018

In the 1950s and 1960s, Charles Kovacs was a class teacher at the Edinburgh Steiner School. It was his modus
 operandi
 to write abundant notes in preparation for his lessons and a series of books have been published, compiled from these notes, on the subjects taught in the main lesson at Steiner schools.

These books are widely used in schools, no doubt because Kovacs was adept at explaining whatever subject he chose to focus on in a straightforward manner. This latest volume has also been compiled from notes he made, not this time in connection with school lessons but in preparation for twenty-five anthroposophical study group meetings that were held for the purpose of studying Rudolf Steiner’s key work on the development of Christianity: Christianity as Mystical Fact and the Mysteries of Antiquity.

Kovacs considers Christianity as Mystical Fact (1902) as being of key importance as it was one of two books (the other being Mystics after Modernism) written by Steiner that heralded the coming of ‘spiritual science’ and that could be called anthroposophical as opposed to philosophical works. He writes that whilst not containing any of the ‘anthroposophical’ terminology that he would use in subsequent works, Steiner had in this work added his own insights to the already documented ‘dry historical facts’ concerning the ancient mysteries and furthermore, such insights were drawn “from a higher knowledge than can be found in mere scholarship.” Kovacs’ notes have been sequentially arranged so that they correspond with the chapters in Steiner’s Christianity as Mystical Fact (henceforward CaMF) to aid easy cross-referencing and “for those who like to follow things up for themselves in the anthroposophical literature,” references have been inserted in the text by the editor of the book.

Kovacs’ profound knowledge of esoteric writings, mythology and Christianity becomes evident as he spans history from ancient Greek times through to the Mystery of Golgotha and beyond. ‘Mysteries and Mystery Wisdom’ is the first of the chapters in CaMF on which he elucidates. He looks at the ancient mystery temples and their initiation rituals, shrouded in secrecy, and contrasts how it was in ages past, when only a few people went through the initiation process, with the future, when it will become the obligation of every human soul to become an initiate. He explains how the mystery knowledge sat alongside the popular religions of the time without being in conflict with them, because divine wisdom and cosmic and spiritual truths were recognised as being at the root of all the popular mythologies, sagas and legends.

Moving on to the next chapter he discusses the mysteries and their connection to the early Greek philosophers – Heraclitus, Pythagoras, Socrates and Plato. In their time, the gradual ebbing away of the faculty for imagination had begun and these renowned personages were the heralds of an awakening of the faculty of thinking as a new way of understanding the world.

Over the next six chapters Kovacs examines the ancient Greek myths, showing how they can be interpreted and how what lay hidden in the images of mythology and which worked on an unconscious level in the human soul could be raised to a conscious level. The ‘initiates’ in these myths (Theseus, Heracles, Jason, Prometheus, Odysseus, Persephone and Demeter) can be viewed, he writes, as the pioneers of mankind’s spiritual progress and he shows how each relates to the various stages of mankind’s evolution.

The Egyptian mysteries are explored. The Osiris myth is seen as being connected with the development of I (ego)-consciousness. Kovacs refers to the inability of the Egyptians to awaken to the I-consciousness and this led to Osiris (the same being as Yahweh/Jehovah, according to Steiner) giving to the Jews as a people the task of developing it, until such time as Christ bestowed it upon every individual, at which time their task was done. The lives of Buddha and Jesus are described as being a process of initiation and the history of the Jews also is a story of initiation, ‘the initiation of a whole nation,’ one that was steered by the ‘initiate prophets’ of the Old Testament (Moses, Elijah, Jonah, Daniel, et al).

In the chapter in CaMF titled ‘The Gospels’ Steiner speaks of the difficulty of deciding which events written about in the Gospels are to be taken as symbolic and which can be regarded as having actually happened. Kovacs discusses an example given by Steiner relating to the fig tree and this leads to an explanation of the symbolism of the fig tree.

The following chapter deals with the ‘raising of Lazarus,’ an event that Steiner was the first to interpret as ‘an act of initiation’. It was, however, a new kind of initiation, one of ‘initiation through the forces of Christ’. Kovacs then devotes no less than four chapters to Steiner’s chapter on ‘The Apocalypse’. The Apocalypse, as foretold to John (the reincarnated Lazarus) in The Book of Revelation, can be interpreted as an initiation of mankind as a whole. The concept of group-karma, and the dangers that can be encountered on the path to initiation, are considered.

Next follows a chapter looking at the historical background of the life of Jesus. Three religious groups – the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Essenes – are discussed and their different belief systems examined.

In the next four chapters in his book Kovacs explores ‘The Nature of Christianity’ and some fundamental differences and antagonisms between the mystery traditions and Christianity. The Gnostic teacher Valentinus and the Pistis Sophia (a fragment of a Gnostic manuscript said to contain the direct words of Christ) are discussed.

The next chapter Kovacs addresses was titled ‘Christianity and Pagan Wisdom’ in CaMF and here he looks in particular at the two personalities Philo of Alexandria and the Neo-platonist Plotinus, who both seemingly had ‘Christian’ experiences.

The final chapter in CaMF deals with the direction the Christian religion took in the centuries following the Mystery of Golgotha, in particular the influence of the Sadducees and Augustine, a convert to the Church of Rome.

Charles Kovacs’ Christianity and the Ancient Mysteries is an interesting and informative book, one that would be a good study companion for Steiner’s Christianity as Mystical Fact.


Sixteen artistic works painted by Kovacs are featured in this volume; they provide a pleasant ‘intermission’ midway through the book.

Charles Kovacs, Christianity and the Ancient Mysteries: Reflections on Rudolf Steiner’s Christianity as Mystical Fact, Floris Books 2017, ISBN: 978-178250-447-6, Pb, pp171, £12.99

Published in cooperation with newview.org.uk

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