Moving Beyond Aristotle and Plato

In response to a question from a friend (“What is the School of Archangel Jesus?”), I decided to go back and revisit a lecture from Valentin Tomberg that I hadn’t read for quite a long time. Tomberg’s first lecture from the series Inner Development, “The New Michael Community,” given in Rotterdam in 1938, begins with his extremely brief outline of the new Grail Community, a Community whose motto is to be Michael Sophia in Nomine Christi. He spends a good deal of this lecture describing the nature of the School of Michael and its relationship both to Sophia and to the threshold between the spiritual and material worlds.

For those of us involved with the Sophia Foundation or any of Robert Powell’s work, this lecture is key. This lecture planted the seed for two perspectives which lie at the heart of our work and our approach to spiritual life. The first perspective is hidden in the motto of the Grail Community:  Michael Sophia in Nomine Christi. What is contained in this simple phrase is the following:  the 20th into the 21st century witnesses the advent of Christ’s second coming. In order to facilitate this, three great Teachers of Humanity came to establish three spiritual schools on Earth. These three schools satisfy completely different needs of the spirit, yet are meant to be complementary to each other.

The first school was founded by the first great teacher, Rudolf Steiner, over the course of the years 1902-1925:  the School of Michael. The primary aim of this school is to enable human beings to rise to the Cosmic Thinking of Archangel Michael:  it works for Wisdom.

The second school was founded by the second great teacher, Valentin Tomberg, over the course of the years 1940-1967:  the School of Christ (represented by Archangel Jesus). The aim of this school is to bring human beings to a higher level of morality and experience of conscience:  it works for Goodness. (Although to be clear, this School was unable to incarnate fully as intended by Valentin Tomberg. More on this later, perhaps).

The third school has been developing under the guidance of Robert Powell and Karen Rivers, inspired by the third great teacher, the reincarnated Novalis, since the year 1994:  the School of Sophia. This school works on the heart forces of the human being in order to promote feelings of love and community:  it works for Beauty. This school, like the Michael School, has properly incarnated, and has attained its mature manifestation in the Grail Priesthood of the Sophia Foundation. (A much clearer and thorough description of the three Great Teachers is given in Robert Powell’s Most Holy Trinosophia).

In fact, we might characterize these three schools in relation to the three classes of the Middle Ages:  the workers, the priests, and the knights. The Michael School consists of laborers in the fields of Thought, of Wisdom. The Sophia School is made up of priests in the church of Beauty and Love. And the Christ School is meant to be composed of knights on the battlefield of Good and Evil.

This is of course a woefully brief characterization that could be discussed at length, but it will suffice for now.

So much for the first perspective (that of three teachers and three schools) that has become a guiding light in the work of the Sophia Foundation and of Robert Powell. It is the second perspective that has become somewhat more entrenched and divisive—and as we will see, is very likely based on a misunderstanding of the words of Valentin Tomberg. This perspective has to do with the so-called “Aristotelian” and “Platonic” karmic streams, and their respective relationship to Michael and Sophia.

Tomberg refers to Sophia and Michael each guarding different sides of the Threshold to the spiritual world. Sophia wishes to administer revelations from the spiritual to the earthly, but stands as a warning to the spiritual beings who wish to bestow their revelation upon human beings. Michael, on the other hand, stands as guardian of human beings towards the spiritual world, only allowing those who are adequately prepared to cast their gaze across the threshold. He is the guardian of the revelatory content bestowed by Sophia, and simultaneously puts out the call to “Michaelites” who are ready to investigate and research beyond the threshold.

For readers who have the English edition of Inner Development, it is especially between pages 28-31 that the core characteristics of these Michaelites are presented. On the one hand, there are Aristotelians, those who research and bring to conscious understanding the spiritual realities operating behind the manifestations of nature. On the other hand, there are Platonists, those who research and bring to conscious understanding the spiritual realities operating behind human history, particularly in the realms of karma and reincarnation.

Note that both of these streams are Michaelites. The following quote from the lecture has led to a certain level of confusion:  “The men and women of Sophia, of revelation, will walk the path together with the men and women of knowledge; the Platonists will stand guard together with the Aristotelians at the threshold of the spiritual world.” Here two separate ideas have been merged into one. It ought to read as such:

“The men and women of Sophia, of revelation, will walk the path together with the men and women of knowledge.

The Platonists will stand guard together with the Aristotelians at the threshold of the spiritual world.”

You see, Tomberg is making a sharp distinction here:  the Sophia School will be a revelatory stream. Meanwhile, the Michael School, which is composed of both Aristotelians and Platonists, is a stream dedicated to knowledge. Both the Aristotelians and Platonists must stand together as Michaelites, as “men and women of knowledge” to guard the threshold of the spiritual world.

A dangerous misunderstanding of the above has come about in certain circles. There has developed a false equivocation between “Sophian” and “Platonist,” as though the Platonic stream of Michael were the same thing as the Sophia stream of revelation. This is not the case. This way of thinking only breeds divisiveness. One begins to imagine that all mainstream or traditional Anthroposophists are Aristotelians; that they are stuck in a one-sided version of Anthroposophy; and that they have “missed the boat” and rejected the Platonic element, which Steiner foretold would come to Anthroposophy at the turn of the 20th to the 21st century. He emphasized the need for these two groups to work together to bring Anthroposophy adequately into the world. One begins to identify all Sophians as Platonists, and that they carry the “next level” of spirituality that has been rejected by mainstream Anthroposophy.

True as the above may be on some level, the reality is (as reality tends to be) much more complicated.

There was of course discord and enmity for a time between the Aristotelian and Platonic streams of Anthroposophy. The rejection of Elisabeth Vreede, and along with her much of the Free Anthroposophical Groups, Valentin Tomberg, Willi Sucher, and others, more or less entailed a rejection and ejection of the Platonists from Anthroposophy (in April 1935). But this only held true for a time. The work of many of these Platonists has been recognized and integrated into mainstream Anthroposophy. Other Platonists have incarnated and work in a very strong way in modern Anthroposophy. Whether or not those Platonists are also Sophians, or for that matter whether all Sophians are Platonists, is another matter all together.

No, when we look at the Sophian streams, we are not looking for two different branches of knowledge. We are looking for two different forms of revelation, of mystical experience. And this is an important distinction to make. When we read Meditations on the Tarot, or Christ and Sophia, which were written by Valentin Tomberg (who described himself as a Platonist), and we compare these works to, for example, Through the Eyes of Mary Magdelene by Estelle Isaacson, we can feel that we are working with two different schools of spirituality. The former are Michaelic—certainly Platonic, but one could not say “revelatory.” They are books of knowledge. The works of Estelle Isaacson, on the other hand, are mystical and revelatory. It is not the knowledge conveyed, but the message that is being transmitted, the mood that is living, which is of primary import here. Isaacson’s works are, therefore, Sophianic par excellence. 

Clearly “Aristotelian” and “Platonist” are inadequate, indeed incorrect, titles to associate with the Sophianic stream of revelation. But if we reflect for a moment, we may find two other streams that we can characterize as the two streams which must work together in order to accomplish the mission of Sophia. Let us look to the Letter-Meditation on The Sun for a clue in this direction. Tomberg characterizes the experience of mystical revelation as such:

“According to the case, it can take either the character of a ‘conversation through forces’ or that of a ‘conversation through words.’ In the former case it is not precise and articulated thoughts or images which are communicated to you, but rather ‘forces’ or impulses—spiritual and psychic seeds impregnated germinally with moral ideas and judgements. In the case of the ‘conversation through words,’ a revelation of articulated thoughts and representations takes place. The revelation to the shepherds at Bethlehem can be considered as a prototype of the meeting whose character is ‘conversation through words’ and the experience of the mages of the Orient—who saw the star of the ‘king of the Jews…in the East,’ but who had to ask at Jerusalem, ‘where is he who has been born king of the Jews?’ (Matthew 2:2)—is an example of the meeting whose character is ‘conversations through forces.’ The ‘star’ of the king of the Jews gave them certainty concerning the coming of Christ and gave them the impulse to go and search where he was awaited, but it did not give them information with respect to the place and parents, whilst to the shepherds of Bethlehem is was revealed that ‘to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger’ (Luke 2:11-12), i.e. precise and complete information was given to them with respect to time, place, and external circumstances.”

Ah, and here we find more than clue, but a clear outline of the two revelatory streams of Sophia:  the Shepherds and Kings. The Shepherd stream of Sophia experiences revelatory content with sound and color, with precise and complete information. This is the type of revelatory experience had by Estelle Isaacson or Judith von Halle. On the other hand, the Kingly stream of Sophia experiences revelation on a more intuitive level, without sound and color, and must apply research and effort in order to come to clarity. One might characterize the mystical experience of a Carl Jung or St. John of the Cross as such.

Is there a uniting factor between the Shepherds and Kings, beyond the fact that they both came to see the newborn Jesus, and beyond the more-or-less arbitrary connection we have made between them by naming them the two streams of Sophian revelation? Both of these streams are related strongly to the individuality who incarnated as Mary Magdelene. In her incarnation as Abel, she was the primal Shepherd; in her incarnation as Solomon, she was a great King. (Note that the Solomon Jesus, visited by the Kings, is a product of the Solomon line—a kingly stream; while the Nathan Jesus listed by the Shepherds is the product of the Nathan line—a priestly stream. This brings us back to the Sophia School as a Grail Priesthood.)

So, life is not so simple as we thought it was. It is not only that Aristotelians and Platonists must learn to work together; Shepherds and Kings must also learn to cooperate. Above and beyond this, Michaelites and Sophians must unite their complementary forces: not just respecting, but honoring and revering each other’s differences, as members of different streams, yet learning to work together. And of course, there are many of us who belong to both schools (I might consider myself a Platonic King, for example). This is very important; in fact, ultimately it will be important that there are individuals who are members of all three schools, who have integrated them into a harmonious unity.

Which brings us to the third school, the School of Archangel Jesus (or Christ). What is this school? Are there two representative streams who must work together here? This is harder to answer, as I believe this school was a sort of miscarriage. It has been preserved  in two ways:  through the notes of the Lord’s Prayer Course which was held between 1940-1943 in Amsterdam, and through the anonymously written Meditations on the Tarot, which for all intents and purposes founded the Christ School in the heart of anyone who lovingly devoted their attention to the 22 Letter-Meditations contained within this text. It was an ingenious move, really:  to unofficially found the Christ School amongst an enormous spectrum of spiritually striving individuals. A very strong foundation is laid for the existence of this school, and in a way it does exist, but informally, stealthily. It remains to be seen whether it is the destiny of this school to incarnate in a formal, external way, as has the Michael School (in the form of the First Class of Spiritual Science, which has been in existence for 94 years) and the Grail Priesthood (which has been in existence in a limited sense for 24 years, and a broader sense for 12).

But in spite of all this, can we discover two streams active within this School? Well, we have looked at the two streams of Abel in reference to Sophia:  Kings and Shepherds. The Kings represent the human/spiritual realm (awakening the Ego); the Shepherds the animal/astral (awakening the Spirit Self). Might we find two streams in the Christ School related to the plant/etheric realm (awakening the Life Spirit) and the stone/physical realm (awakening the Resurrection Body)?

For this, we must look to the individuality who incarnated as Lazarus. Who did this individual incarnate as during the times of Abel and Solomon? At the time of Abel, he incarnated as Abel’s older brother, Cain—a Gardener; and during the time of Solomon, the architect of the Temple, he incarnated as Solomon’s partner and rival, Hiram Abif, the actual builder of the Temple—a Mason.

And so, with the Christ School, we are dealing with another stream altogether. In fact, we find that we are dealing with nothing less than the Rosicrucian stream—for Lazarus incarnated in the 14th-15th century as Christian Rosenkreuz. This stream is deeply associated with the Freemasons, with the Tarot, and with the Knights Templar—bringing us back to the characterization of the Christ School as a school of Grail Knights.

This school has less to do with knowledge or revelation, but with deeds, both inner and outer. It has to do with the overcoming of evil inwardly, overcoming the double, in order to create new and ever higher forms of Goodness within; and it has to do with overcoming evil externally, in order to create new and ever higher forms of Goodness without. The only other individual to have traversed the path through the nine sub-earthly spheres other than Christ himself was Lazarus. He is our guide in the navigation and transformation of Evil. Lazarus was given Christ’s ether body (Life-Spirit) when he was raised from the dead; and we are all given a new physical body, the Resurrection Body, through Christ.

Here we do not look to the Nativity of the Christ Child to find the archetypes of Gardener and Builder:  we look to his Entombment and Resurrection. For he was entombed in a grave belonging to Joseph of Arimethea, a stone-mason. And when he rose from the dead, he first appeared to Mary Magdalene in the form of a groundskeeper, a gardener.

Michael guards this side of the threshold, the side of human beings. Sophia guards the other side, that of the spiritual world. But the Threshold itself is Christ—it is Conscience. The aim of the Christ School is not to stand guard over one side or the other, but to be the Threshold itself, to cultivate ever deeper levels of Conscience that the Threshold may open ever wider between the spiritual world and humanity, between Heaven and Earth. Its members are the cultivators and builders of the future—the New Jerusalem.

And this third stream is in the same situation as the others. It must find a way to enhance cooperation between the Gardeners and Masons; and it must find a way to properly engage with both the Sophianic and Michaelic streams. I reiterate that it will be of great importance for there to be individuals who feel themselves to be active members of all three streams, in order to bring about the Grail Community of our time:  Michael Sophia in Nomine Christi.

As a final note, and keeping in mind that Tomber described the upper chakras as chakras of knowledge, and the lower chakras as those of revelation, here is how these streams might relate to the seven chakras of the human being:

Crown—Plato

Brow—Aristotle

Larynx—Michael (Mason)

Heart—Christ

Solar Plexus—Shepherd (Gardener)

Sacral—King

Root—Sophia