Life & Soul Life and Soul

Heretic of the week: Rudolf Steiner

Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) was born in Donji Kraljevec, now in Croatia but then in the Hungarian half of the Austro-Hungarian empire. His father was a telegraph operator on the railroad, rising through the ranks to become a station master. Thus, the family enjoyed a comfortable but peripatetic existence.

Baptised and raised Catholic, young Rudolf began to have mystical experiences from the age of nine. Sent to university in Vienna, he studied philosophy and various sciences; one of his instructors was the apostate priest Franz Brentano. Here he lost his faith in the Church but afterwards continued to have mystical experiences and to study and write about various philosophies and religions. Gradually evolving his own far-reaching system of everything (a favourite habit of German-language philosophers), he came to accept karma, reincarnation and much else, which in 1902 led him to the Theosophical Society (TS). He became head of its German-Austrian branch.

Steiner broke with the TS in 1912/13 and formed his own Anthroposophical Society (AS), now a worldwide concern and headquartered in Switzerland. It is hard to give an simple account of the AS’s teaching, ranging as it does through all of Steiner’s interests in education, medicine, the performing and visual arts, social sciences, agriculture, and much else. Echoing the TS-sponsored Liberal Catholic Church (LCC), the AS backs the Christian Community, which encompasses Steiner’s idea of “true Christianity”; unlike the LCC, it does not claim the Apostolic Succession.

But the most successful of Steiner’s ventures by far has been the Waldorf Schools, now found on every continent. While not suitable for Catholics, it should be noted that they do – in keeping with Steiner’s love of Western culture, if not the faith that created it – centre their education around the liturgical calendar in a way that puts us to shame.