The Colorfulness of the Cross

It is no coincidence that I, born in the war year 1942, have some very vivid images come to me. Among many others, this one memory comes forth now: a walk along the North Sea coast, along the border between Flanders and Northern France.

My father is walking next to me. He is in a lively conversation with a man I do not know – two friends meeting each other again after the war, but I don’t know that at the time. A few steps ahead of us I see my mother, arm in arm with the friend’s wife. We are not allowed to walk on the beach – there are bunkers and undefused landmines in the sand. Suddenly, I stumble and injure my knee. Nobody notices it. For a moment, I stay back behind the adults. Kneeling, I look at the injured knee. A few drops of blood appear. I cry out, «But it’s bleeding!» No one hears me. Far ahead of me, in the dazzling midsummer light, the horizon expands. The adults are only blurry contours. A moment of fading fear. Then I start running. And already I am again at my father’s side. Saved.

Salvation: a Watchword passing by

Among the many, sometimes radically opposed watchwords that circumvent each other in this time of crisis, one has its own whole resonance. It is the watchword, ‹salvation›. It can appear in the sky like a shining star, and the word alone has an immediate effect on those who find themselves in extremely threatening circumstances. It does so even if it creates courage for just a moment. Quite often, such a moment depends on whether they can be saved or not. This is the case for even those who are not directly at risk – bystanders breathe a sigh of relief when salvation is announced. What we call salvation refers above all to that which has fallen into extreme distress – whether that’s people, nature, or values that must not be lost.

A person can pray for salvation, and already during the prayer, the first, tender, salvific ‹breath› can come to him. Prayer lifts one out of despair and fear. The request to be saved contains a promise that the salvation will come: «But where the danger is, also grows the saving power.» – Hardly any other Hölderlin quote was used as often during the Covid crisis as this one!

When it comes to salvation, there is someone to be saved and someone who saves the other. Question and answer, call and help. As twins, they have emerged from a primal unity. And this unity is not salvation, but that which goes beyond that: redemption. Redemption doesn’t only contain salvation but also healing. That which has fallen out of context, so that salvation became necessary, is to be healed. But not as a ‹restoration› of the past but in a new life-shaping wholeness. Only then redemption will be possible.

To this day, there is a great deal of the essential in salvation. As a real archetype, salvation is still effective. No matter how diverse the context may be, the basic elements are clear: a person is in acute danger. He is defenselessly at its mercy. Only a miracle can save him. «Help! Help me or I’m doomed!» With this cry for help, Tamino opens the well-known Mozart opera ‹The Magic Flute› in his first scene:

«Help! Help me! or I’m doomed,
I’m about to be devoured by this ravenous serpent!
Oh my god! It’s getting closer!
Aieee, Look out! Somebody help me! Anybody? Help!»1

Salvation comes from the outside, through a ‹Deus ex machina›. While Tamino faints, the door of the temple opens. His call for help is answered. Three ladies wrapped in veils appear, who will accompany him on his further journey. He is freed from immediate danger. He is saved! Whether this salvation will also lead to healing and finally to redemption is the central theme of the ‹Magic Flute›.

The Gnostic Myth of Salvation and Redemption

In many Gnostic paths, ‹salvation› is a central motif around which not only a doctrine but a practice has formed. In the understanding of Gnosticism, being human means being at the mercy of the dark forces. Fallen out of the original home of light, every human being is already in an imposed exile by his birth on Earth. Hans Jonas characterizes the Gnostic paths as a deep sense of the tragedy of every human existence and as an expression of a nostalgic need, even as insatiable homesickness for a world without the suffering caused by evil. A key term for this is alienation, the painful experience of being a stranger, a banished person here on Earth. Real-life, one’s real home is somewhere else – the location of humanity’s longing, that’s where the direction of salvation. Salvation means liberation from the existential need of exile on Earth and restoration of the original state in the kingdom of light. In the imagery of the Gnostic teachings, this is presented as a return to the primordial home of light. To be able to be taken back into this home becomes the goal of their practice, in which both knowledge and a certain asceticism play a role. Numerous Gnostic teachings, therefore, proclaim a doctrine of salvation that is very often embedded in a detailed cosmogony. The creation myth begins with a single principle, the kingdom of light – a healthy, self-contained world in which only peace reigns. Nothing disturbs this ability to rest within oneself. Through the ‹fall into sin› of an entity of light, an accident that was never part of the divine intentions, the kingdom of darkness arises. Contrary to the kingdom of light, darkness represents an abysmal world where greed, hatred, and fear reign. It is the matter par excellence, the ‹Hylè›. In matter, the second principle, the realm of darkness born of this sinister act, is at work, where the creation of the cosmos, the Earth, and humanity on Earth now begins. As far as people awaken in this dark world and come to the realization of their situation, they pray for help and return to their place of origin. Origin is the ‹perfect world›. But the kingdom of light has demarcated itself since the fall into sin. In order to continue to protect themselves from the forces of darkness, the beings of light have blocked access. Only very few, under the strictest conditions, can find their way back. For the others, there is no salvation. The Gods have withdrawn from Creation. Those who are left behind are left to their own devices.

In his fundamental writing, Hans Jonas points to a strange correspondence between the Gnostic doctrine and life experience and certain philosophical paths of the 20th century. Since Nietzsche proclaimed the death of God, God has withdrawn from the world, according to Jonas. There are no longer any visible signs of an ‹elsewhere›, of the transcendent, and humanity is left to its own devices, «condemned to freedom», as Jean-Paul Sartre later put it. Jonas recognizes in Heidegger’s term ‹thrownness› an echo of the well-known formulation from the school of the Gnosis of Valentinus, in which the word ‹to be thrown› has already been applied: poû eneblēthēmen (ποῦ ἐνεβλήθημεν).

«What makes us human beings free is the insight into who we have been, who we have become, where we have been and where we have been thrown, where we are rushing, and from what we want to be liberated.»2

It is also noteworthy how salvation and liberation are linked in this formulation and how insight becomes a liberating factor. Liberation remains an individual matter – an open possibility reserved for the person who can come to insight. Those who do not have this possibility are left to their own devices and are excluded from salvation.

A special Soul Color

In its historical manifestation (3rd to 17th centuries), the doctrine of Manichaeism in cosmogony and eschatology has many similarities with the Gnostic paths of the time. In Manichaeism, too, the question of evil and the position of humanity in a world in which the forces of evil are at work is central. In the deeply philosophically and religiously impacted first three centuries after Christ, Manichaeism bears witness to a very differently colored mood of the soul, which is also present in its later development. Although radical in its depiction of the two principles, light and darkness, there is no principled rejection of the world as a fallen product of misfortune. Creation is not rejected. On the contrary, where its beauty comes to fruition, it is praised and illustrated in the different art forms, in music, paintings, and hymns. Certainly, matter, the hylè, has a bitter taste. But neither despair nor fear prevails. In the Manichaean miniature fragments, for example, from the culture of Central Asian Manichaeism (8th to 13th centuries), one finds a reflection of beauty in the vivid expression of colors and the balanced application of calligraphy. Where does this mood come from? A mood that comes to you like a hunch, like the first day of spring, and that suggests that there are other things that are effective in Manichaeism.

Even before there is talk of Creation, it is not unity that appears, but duality. Light and darkness are there before eternity, equal to each other in every respect. This perspective of duality in Manichaean cosmogony means, among other things, that it is not easy to speak of a return to an original ‹unity›. The two primordial principles, light as well as darkness, undergo a joint development, whereby a process of condensation, of shaping oneself in matter, is followed by a process of dissolution. This perspective points into the future, not just backward. It is about the intention of a transformation, not about restoring the former state.

The human being, as a bearer of this intention, is called upon to participate in its realization. Only then can light and darkness reach their moral dimension. This can only become apparent at the moment when one becomes aware that the two ‹natures› – light and darkness – are present as basic tendencies in one’s nature. Rudolf Steiner pointed to this intention for the future of Manichaeism as particularly important. The intention is like a seed waiting to germinate. But isn’t it precisely this potency to germinate that can be guessed in advance? Is it this, which confronts us as a very strange mood of the soul?

«A core point of the Manichaean doctrine is the theorem of good and evil. For the common view, good and evil form two absolute, incompatible opposites, one of which excludes the other. On the other hand, according to the Manichaeans, evil is an integral part of the cosmos, it participates in its evolution and must ultimately be absorbed and transformed by good.»3

Conflict versus Creation: the Crucified Soul of Light

At the heart of Manichaeism is the mixing of light and darkness. This mixing, ‹Gumezishn›, an important motif in Iranian Manichaeism, is caused by the fact that after prehistoric humanity went towards the dark forces, its soul of light surrendered to darkness and was dismembered by it. The soul of light is torn apart into countless light particles. The dark beings seize them and devour them. A third substance is created: the mixture of light and darkness.

Light and darkness did not arise in Manichaeism, as in some Gnostic teachings, because an ‹accident› occurred in the kingdom of light that created a downward development of the light ‹from top to bottom›, whereby the realm of darkness is formed from the removal of the light, as a kind of eclipse, and the Creation could take its beginning. Hans Jonas speaks of a ‹vertical› dualism.

In Manichaeism, on the other hand, light and darkness are given as primordial principles ‹before all eternity›, even before Creation is mentioned. They are opposite in nature to each other but equal to their essence in every respect. That is why Hans Jonas calls Manichaean dualism ‹horizontal›. So there is no fall into sin as the primary reason for the emergence of the two kingdoms and no eclipse of the falling light.

In the Manichaean cosmogony, Creation arises from the conflict between light and darkness. Creation does not arise in spite of the conflict, but because of the conflict. Conflict precedes Creation, not the other way around. It is not about a struggle within Creation. The conflict, with all its strife and loss of collateral that arises from it, continues throughout the entire process of Creation. So there is not first a Creation in which a conflict suddenly flares up. First, there is the conflict, a dispute that ignites between two radically opposed principles, and from this ever-raging dispute arises the Creation. Because creation finds its origin in conflict, the event of creation could be interpreted negatively. (What develops from a conflict cannot be a sign of good!) But Creation is the answer to the conflict. It was only from the conflict that it was made possible.

In the view of Manichaeism, Creation is instead an instrument through which the transfiguration of the cosmos becomes possible at the end of the third great age. Creation is a means of healing and redemption. Even the living soul of light’s sacrifice, the archetypal first human on Earth which had yet to be created, is not a tragic misfortune that should have been prevented. The soul of light is not saved. Unlike the spiritual principle, the light nous, there is no return to the home of light for them. Necessarily, this sacrifice is accompanied by the unspeakable suffering of the soul of light. It suffers in the parts of light that have been mixed into the innocent creatures of nature. In countless hymns, it lets its urgent need resound and asks to be liberated.

It is precisely because of this sacrifice, however, that the mixing of light and darkness begins, and thanks to this the possibility of future healing and redemption opens up. Through the various major stages of Creation, this substance of mixing will condense to the point where matter is formed. This means that elements of the soul of light are still present in matter.

Matter, then, is not an end-to-end result that arose from the efficacy of darkness but emerged from the mixing process in which both light and darkness were involved. The scattered parts of the soul of light form a cross of light on which the soul appears crucified and which spans the entire created world.

In Western Manichaeism, this cross of light was invoked as ‹Jesus patibilis›, the sum of the light bound in the world. One of the central tasks in a Manichaean community was to free these scattered light elements from their bondage during the cultic lord’s supper of the Electi so that they could be ‹collected› again. In this way, they were taken into healing, a new context, in the so-called ‹pillar of glory›, as a harbinger and sign of future creation.

A Never-Ending Deed

The cross erected on Calvary is a deed. On the wooden cross, that is, on the Hylè, on the matter, the one who performs this deed was hanged. He was neither saved nor could He save Himself. The seven words spoken on the cross are the words of a Crucified One in carrying out this deed. Nowhere else but on the cross could they be spoken. The cross is a sign and an image all in one.

The cross as a sign allows the effectiveness of the deed on Calvary to spring anew every time. The cross as an image reveals the reality of the being, in the incessant execution of this deed. Every spiritual efficacy leaves its trace. A sign is a means by which this trace can remain permanently in the world of the visible. And become effective. As a sign, the cross marks the uninterrupted effect of the deed carried out on Calvary. A sign does not refer but completes. Under the sign of the cross, the deed on Calvary is carried out anew in its effect. Every time. A spiritual efficacy can be experienced directly in its truth. The direct experience of the spiritual reality of the cross is inexhaustible. The picture conveys this inexhaustible. It lives. It lives everywhere where the vertical and the horizontal intersect. In every human form, as in every tree, it comes to meet us.

Crossing is neither touching nor passing each other. Crossing means: penetrating. And in this penetration, the possibility of a transformation opens up. In intersecting, penetration acts with a potency that exceeds any comprehension – a potency that can be recognized in the cross as a sign and as an image. It is a power that is able to encompass and hold together all living things.

To encompass in such a way that no one is lost – this is the horizontal dimension of the cross. This dimension is constantly permeated by that which descends from the highs to the lows. And that after crossing with the dimension of the horizontal can rise again from the depths: the vertical dimension.

Where the two intersect, both the need to be saved and the need for healing that affects all creatures meet. Only then does the power of the Savior work. And we will be saved and healed.

About the design Easter 2022 – according to our sentiment – includes silence, Holy Saturday. Christine Gruwez takes the word out of silence. With the color moods, we follow that.
Design: Fabian Roschka.

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  1. First act, first scene. W. A. Mozart, The Magic Flute, Reclam 1991, p. 7.
  2. Hans Jonas, The Gnostic Religion. The message of the Alien God and the beginnings of Christianity, Religion. London 1992, p. 334 ff.
  3. Rudolf Steiner, Cosmogony. Second lecture, May 26, 1906, in: ders. Cosmogony (GA 94), Dornach 2001, p. 23.

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