Hugo Schuster—Priest July 2, 1876 – April 1, 1925

Die Gruender der Christengemeinschaft: Ein Schicksalsnetz
By Rudolf F. Gaedeke
Translated by Gail Ritscher

A few months after Hugo Schuster’s death, when recalling how anthroposophical work in Switzerland had developed, Marie Steiner wrote, “The late Hugo Schuster was there at the very beginning, with his drive, his charm, and his lively initiative. He died as a priest of the Old Catholic Church, prefiguring, in a way, what was destined to appear later in The Christian Community.”1 From the age of 28, Hugo Schuster was a pioneer of anthroposophy, and he served it with full awareness and great devotion. As fate would have it, after turning 42 he also became a pioneer of The Christian Community, unintentionally and for him almost unconsciously.

He was born on February 7, 1876, in St. Gallen, the fourth in a gaggle of six siblings, all brothers except for one younger sister. His father was a successful carpet dealer, a business Hugo was initially meant to join, and to that end he went through business management training in Vevey, Bradford, Stuttgart, and Basel. This line of work, however, was not at all to his liking.

Already as a child, it was clear that his life lay in an entirely different direction. As his sister wrote after his death, his life was marked by certain special characteristics: “Despite the sunny home in Schönbühl, Hugo was a delicate little boy requiring unusual care and concern. Extremely sensitive in both body and soul, he happily avoided loud games, preferring to spend his time with books and paints while his siblings roughhoused outside. […] His propensity toward the mystical showed up early in his games. His deep religious feeling and his yearning to be of service was revealed in his burning desire to be a missionary, one who could carry light into the heathen world. Unfortunately, his physical frailty dashed any hopes of fulfilling this desire.”2

When Schuster returned to St. Gallen at around 27, he joined a small theosophical working group that had already been meeting for many years under the leadership of Otto Rietmann. At that time, insufficient notice had been taken of the fresh new wind beginning to blow through the Theosophical Society because of the work of the German Section. Schuster now put maximum effort into forming connections with this section, which had just been founded (1902) by Rudolf Steiner and was being led by him. He turned first to Marie Steiner (then still von Sievers), with the goal of inviting Rudolf Steiner to lecture in Switzerland. This finally came about on September 8 and 9, 1905, in St. Gallen, where Rudolf Steiner gave two talks, one public (Tasks for the Present—the Message of Theosophy) and one to a more intimate circle (About our Planetary System). On September 9, Schuster became a member of the German Section of the Theosophical Society, and this started a process in St. Gallen that led relatively quickly to the founding of the Ekkehard Branch on January 1, 1906 (still under the leadership of Otto Rietmann). Schuster was similarly active in Basel and Bern, where branches were also established. In Basel, he was among the founding members of the Paracelsus Branch, along with Rudolf and Elisabeth Geering-Christ, with whom he formed a lifelong friendship. He lived with them for many years—at least from 1909 to 1913—in their house named “Im Wiesengrund” (In the Valley Meadow). It is noteworthy that Rudolf Steiner’s reflections on the gospels, which had begun in Germany with the Gospel of John, continued in these new branches in Switzerland: In Basel in 1909 and 1912 with the Gospels of Luke and Mark, respectively, and in Bern in 1910 with the Gospel of Mathew. Schuster was no doubt present for these cycles, as well as many other lectures by Rudolf Steiner during these years in Switzerland. Where possible, he also helped to initiate and, at least in Basel, to lay the groundwork for them.

1913 saw a major shift in his life. He was 37 years old and was standing in the second moon node of his biography. He quit his job and, relatively late in life, decided to study theology. In the winter semester of 1913, he began his studies in the Christian Catholic Department of the University of Bern and sat for his theological exam in 1918. On July 23, 1918, he was ordained as a priest and spent a year as a vicar in Basel.

At this juncture, it is necessary to make a comment about the Old Catholic Church—in Switzerland, the Christian Catholic Church. It had broken away from the Roman Catholic Church in reaction to the First Vatican Council of 1869/70, during which the doctrine of papal infallibility was declared as dogma. It preserved the ritual, but in conjunction with great freedom, including on questions of faith. From the outset, the ritual was celebrated in the vernacular. Rudolf Steiner, at 21, once talked about this church to his friend Albrecht Löger, saying, “I have to admit, a short while ago when you talked about Old Catholicism and were working so hard on its behalf, I couldn’t see anything appropriate about it. Now everything is clear to me. I realize just as clearly why this precise religious form alone is appropriate for our folk.”3 When the “Catholic” ritual stream unites with the “Protestant” impulse for freedom, a new “religious form” is created which carries the future in it, “prefiguring, in a way, what was destined to appear later in The Christian Community” (Marie Steiner).

It was still during his time as vicar in Basel that Schuster was asked by Rudolf Hahn, the stenographer for many of Rudolf Steiner’s lectures, to perform the funeral rite for his wife, Marie. Hahn did not belong to the Christian Catholic church, nor had his wife, but, as an anthroposophist, he had asked Rudolf Steiner to speak at Marie’s funeral. Steiner had agreed, but on the condition that his words precede a religious funeral ceremony. Hahn thus turned to fellow anthroposophist Hugo Schuster, who performed the funeral—two months after his priest ordination—on September 22, 1918, in the presence of Rudolf Steiner. Hahn later reported that Steiner found the Christian Catholic ritual “rather too meager” after all; something brand new ought to be created. A few weeks later, an anthroposophist named Marie Leyh passed away. Schuster was again asked to perform the funeral, and it took place on January 14, 1919, in Arlesheim. This time, however, Schuster—as a Christian Catholic priest— used a completely new ritual imparted to him by Rudolf Steiner. In terms of humanity’s spiritual life, this was a vitally important moment. First, a portal was opened through which a stream of new and appropriate rituals began to flow. Although The Christian Community was founded only in 1922, Rudolf Steiner later said that the funeral rite shared in 1919 already “conformed with our Christian Community.”4 Second, this funeral rite addressed the human spirit—which enters the “light of spirit land” after death—as fully valid again for the first time since its nullification over 1,000 years prior. According to Rudolf Steiner, the 8th Ecumenical Council of 869 abolished the spirit as an independent member of the human being. Hugo Schuster is thus the first, before Herbert Hahn and Friedrich Rittelmeyer, to actively step into this new ritual stream in extremely tight collaboration with Rudolf Steiner and without discernable intention of his own. An unwitting pioneer! Steiner worked with Schuster two more times in a similar fashion for the funerals of Johanna Peelen on May 12 and Caroline Wilhelm on October 27, 1920. It is conceivable that Schuster held additional funerals within his community using the new ritual, but we have no further exact information. One thing of which we can be sure, incidentally, is that Schuster’s community was unaware of his anthroposophical background.

Somewhere around the time of the new funeral rite came Schuster’s request to Rudolf Steiner for a new translation of the mass. Steiner acquiesced and, on April 20, 1919, sent him the first part of the translation (gospel and offertory). He translated the additional parts (transubstantiation and communion) between June and October, 1921. This was by no means a full translation of the mass, but rather a translation of “the essence,” along with the explanation that the being of the mass was fourfold. It is pretty safe to conclude that Schuster did not use this rendering when he celebrated the mass. After all, compared to normal practice, it was incomplete. It is more likely that Schuster would have found the translation meaningful for his inner life. Philologically, it is far from always exact and it reveals new things, which makes it an important connector between the traditional mass and the Act of Consecration of the Human Being.

After completing his vicarship in Basel, Schuster received his own provisional pastorate in Magden, Aargau Canton. On August 31, 1919, he was voted in as acting priest. His style was impressive, full of deep sentiment (Gemüt), will forces, and missionary zeal. In a village that basically survived off of cherry orchards and liquor distilleries, he started a campaign against alcoholism with the support of the communist village teacher. The campaign was successful (thus ending the community’s custom of offering free beer to students after school outings!), even earning acknowledgment and support from some alcoholics. Naturally, however, there was also great opposition, and this created a deep rift in the community that persisted far beyond Schuster’s own active involvement. Even his opponents granted, however, that he was particularly good at dealing with children and young people, an area in which he achieved much, inaugurating practices that outlasted him.

Throughout his sojourn in Magden, despite being physically distant and extremely busy, Schuster stayed in touch with work at the Goetheanum by collaborating with Rudolf Steiner on, for example, the aforementioned funerals of anthroposophists. He also participated in the second theology course (“Autumn Course”) in Dornach, from September 26 to October 10.
Here, he encountered not only Rudolf Steiner’s completed translation of the four basic mass sections, with which he was already familiar, but also the truly new “mass text” of the Act of Consecration of the Human Being. What that meant to him, we do not know. However, when some of the 100 plus participants who were fully vested in getting involved with the movement for religious renewal signed a declaration of commitment, Schuster’s name was not among the 69 signatures. At that point, his tuberculosis forced him to go on vacation at a health resort in Davos from October, 1921, to the end of February, 1922 (according to the Christian Catholic Synod minutes). Work became difficult for him after his return. His temporary replacement had apparently been more tolerant in many areas and had given very good sermons, which was not Schuster’s forte. When the final vote for priest (Schuster had only been acting priest until then) was held on July 9, 1922, he lost reelection by one vote. Amazingly, the matter did not end there. Because Schuster also had many strong personal ties in his community, the Aargau Canton Synod on August 21 decided to schedule a second and final vote for October 1.

Parallel to these dramatic proceedings in Magden, the founding of The Christian Community took place in Dornach from September 6 to 22, and Schuster was asked if he would like to participate. At the beginning of September, 1922, he wrote to Rittelmeyer saying that he could not commit to that. He actually wrote this letter after July 9, when he was voted out of office, and before the revote on October 1. When the revote then took place, the result of July 9 was validated. “This blow broke the priest’s heart,” wrote Schuster’s anthroposophical friend and colleague, New Testament professor Ernst Gaugler. “Whoever saw him in those days could only admire the way he spoke about his community. The full depth of his love was now truly revealed. He was like a father losing his family. In his pain and sorrow, he said repeatedly, ‘How I have loved them!’ He had given himself completely and could not entirely disengage. Anyone who cared for the church with him during the days of severe illness that followed knows how faithful he was to his church.”5


Schuster never served as a community priest again. He sought to regain his health in Arosa and then for nearly a year in Lucarno. His sister writes about his time there, “He was still to experience bright joy. In Frieda Kuenzle, he found a faithful, loving companion, whom he married in May 1924 and who was ready to accompany him through the most difficult time of his life.” When Schuster had sent Rudolf Steiner his application to the “FM” (ritual department of the Esoteric School) on March 19, 1906, he had written in the cover letter, among other things: “…at this moment, I also imagine, of course, a loving wife and a few sweet children. That would also be so nice.” This was not granted to him until now, a few months before his death. For Pentecost, on June 8, 1924, he celebrated the mass in Magden for the last time. At the end of the year, he relocated to Davos, where he died on January 4, 1925, at the age of 48. He was laid to rest in St. Gallen on January 7 with a Christian Catholic ritual, which was “rather too meager” for Rudolf Steiner, as Hahn reported it. Hugo Schuster had received the new ritual from Rudolf Steiner and was the first to hold it for others, thus placing himself in the future stream of the ritual. The fact that he himself was not led across the threshold by this ritual could be an indication of what his sister described as his “enigmatic complexity.” When Rudolf Steiner learned about Schuster’s death from Elisabeth Geering-Christ, he wrote her back on January 14, 1925, two months before his own death, “I was deeply shaken by the departure from the physical plane of our dear friend Hugo Schuster. You may be certain that I will be with him in my thoughts. He was a true anthroposophist, and the beginnings of the movement in Switzerland are in large part, in very large part, due to him.”

Michael Debus
From: Die Christengemeinschaft 12/2002


1 “Was in der Anthroposophischen Gesellschaft vorgeht” (Happenings in the Anthroposophical Society), News for the members, Nr. 47, 22 November 1925.
2 “Der Katholik,” Nr. 4/1925, 24 January 1925.

3GA 38, p 150

4 GA 236, 27 June 1924.

5 “Christian Catholic Internal Diary” 1926.

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