Rudolf Steiner
Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) was born in what is now Croatia. The man who would later become an occult thinker and founder (in 1912) of the philosophical and educational movement known as Anthroposophy studied natural science as an undergraduate and then embarked on an intensive study (1889-1897) of Goethe's writings on science (in preparation for the definitive Weimar edition of his work).

After a short stint as a literary editor and as general secretary of the German division of the Theosophical Society, he broke with Madame Blavatsky and Theosophy to found his own rival group, establishing its headquarters in Dornach, Switzerland, building (in 1913) the Goetheaneum, an art noveau architectural monument to the ideas of Anthroposophy and launching the Waldorf School method which would incorporate his educational theory.

A prolific lecturer and author (a projected collected works would contain over three hundred volumes!), he was the author of such books as A Theory of Knowledge: Implicit in Goethe's World Conception (1886), Occult Science (1914) and The Philosophy of Freedom (1916).

Barfield's growing interest in and indebtedness to Steiner, whose ideas C. S. Lewis greatly mistrusted, led to Lewis and Barfield's "great war" in the 1930s.

Overt discussion of Steiner's huge influence is surprisingly rare in Barfield's work (though he never fails to acknowledge his debt). The following represents a sampling of Barfield's comments on Steiner's consequence and significance.

  • Steiner's lifework reveals--even to those who reject his findings--mental capacities and qualities of heart and will which may reassure us, by exemplifying, that the stature of microcosm is not, or may at least not be in the future, out of reach of man as we know him. In him we can observe, actually beginning to occur, the transition from homo sapiens to homo imaginans et amans. (LS 100)
  • It was a year or two before my first book was published [History in English Words (1926)] that I first came into contact with the writings of Rudolf Steiner. I began, after some hesitation, to study his spiritual science, or Anthroposophy, seriously and steadily; and this went on side by side, in close interaction with [my] other studies. As time went on, three things in particular struck me most about Anthroposophy. The first was, that many of the statements and ideas which I found there produced an effect very similar to the combination of words to which I have already alluded [see felt change of consciousness]. As in the one case, so in the other, this effect was independent of belief. Something happened: one felt wiser. . . . The second was that, so far as concerned the particular subject in which I was immersed at the time, that is the histories of verbal meanings and their bearing on the evolution of human consciousness, Steiner had obviously forgotten volumes more than I had ever dreamed. . . . some of my most daring and (as I thought) original conclusions were his premises. . . . The third was, that Anthroposophy included and transcended not only my own poor stammering theory of poetry as knowledge, but the whole Romantic philosophy. It was nothing less than Romanticism grown up. (RCA 12-13)
  • From Steiner . . . I learned for the first time that a serious attempt to obtain exact results with the help of a perceptive faculty developed through controlled [systematic] imagination had been made more than a hundred years earlier, and by no means without success, by that uncrowned king of Romantics, Goethe. (RCA 16)
  • I have been shocked and puzzled to have it borne in on me over and over again that even those who are prepared to lend a very sympathetic ear indeed to my own observations, whether on language and poetry or on the wider issue of the whole evolution of human consciousness, are not in the least interested in the news about Steiner which it has been one of my main objects in life to set before the educated public with all the earnestness and sobriety at my disposal. (RCA 16-17)
  • That future historians of Western thought will interpret the appearances of Romantic philosophy towards the close of the eighteenth century as foreshadowing the advent of Rudolf Steiner towards the close of the nineteenth I have no sort of doubt. (RCA 19)
  • To say that [Steiner] advocated, and practiced, "the systematic use of imagination" is to place so much emphasis on the mere beginning of what he taught and did, that it is rather like saying that Dante wrote a poem about a greyhound. Steiner showed that imagination, and the final participation it leads to, involve, unlike hypothetical thinking, the whole man--thought, feeling, will, and character--and his own revelations were clearly drawn from those further stages of participation--Inspiration and Intuition--to which the systematic use of imagination may lead. (SA 141)

See as well the Rudolf Steiner page elsewhere on this website.

See in particular "Listening to Steiner," "Introduction" (RCA 7-24), Saving the Appearances, Chap. XX.