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.”
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.
Herman Groh was a man of the world who broadened his education throughout his life. He spoke many languages and understood several more. Outwardly, Groh’s life took him first to Russia, Siberia, and Vladivostok during the First World War, and then (1928) to California for 6 months. In other words, he traveled from East to West before settling in the center, where he focused his energies. This also seems to correspond to the major inward gesture of his life.
Born into a Berlin merchant family in Berlin-Charlottenburg on 11 June 1894, Groh attended a grammar school in Cologne from Easter 1901 until his graduation at Easter 1912, receiving a comprehensive education with an emphasis on classical languages. Already at this age, he read philosophical books and Shakespeare during class. He exercised his lanky body with iron discipline and became the top athlete in his class. He went on long hikes with his comrades, becoming well-acquainted with the environs of Berlin and the Brandenburg region. Given the number of kilometers covered, they were really more like marches than hikes. His gym teacher, Döhring, not only took his boys out into nature, but in the evenings after the hikes also enthusiastically introduced them to the world of idealistic philosophy and classical literature.
Groh reportedly nearly drowned around this time while swimming in the Müggelsee (a lake outside Berlin). He saw his entire life up to that moment pass before him in full detail. During the same timeframe, while playing ice hockey on a frozen lake, he once saved the life of someone who had broken through the ice.
He passed his high school graduation exams at 18 and a half, later explaining that this was thanks to his A in gymnastics. Before the First World War broke out, he completed a voluntary one-year tour with the cavalry in Schleswig and began his studies in Freiburg/Breisgau, studying philosophy and political economics. He became particularly engrossed with Hegel.
Drafted at the outset of the war, he was a 21-year-old junior cavalry officer in Russia when he was captured in 1915 during a patrol in Courland. It was not until January 1921 that he returned home (via China) after a long Russian captivity.
His time as a prisoner-of-war in Siberia, and then ultimately as an able-bodied citizen under the “Reds” brought him many “opportunities”—for example as a lumberjack or as a librarian in Minussinsk—a calmer phase in a compound in Krasnoyarsk. He was able to continue his Hegel studies there, and this brought him into contact with the epistemological writings of Carl Unger and books by Rudolf Steiner. (The books had been sent to a comrade by a friend from Vienna). The book How to Know Higher Worlds impressed him the most, and it was after reading it that Groh decided to return to Germany to meet Rudolf Steiner, although he had actually intended to remain in Russia.
Even before this calmer chapter during the turmoil of revolutionary Russia, Groh had faced death a second time: Having escaped from a camp with a friend and walked 2,000 kms through Manchuria, he was captured in the last town before the Chinese border and imprisoned. The “Reds” released him shortly before he was shot: just before his execution the news of the tsar’s assassination arrived. Following his release from captivity in Vladivostok and his return to Europe by steamship, Groh met a group of students from Tübingen travelling for the anthroposophical First Class course in Stuttgart in 1921. Among them was Gerhard Klein, who later became his brother-in-law. His first question to them was reportedly about whether there was a real community here. He became one of the participants in the so-called Autumn Course, the second major round of teaching for the founding circle, to which Rudolf Steiner had invited people to Dornach.
Without finishing his studies or professional training, Groh committed himself to this common goal. In 1922, he reportedly made most of the journey from Berlin to Breitbrunn on foot, as simply driving to such an important event was out of the question. Unfortunately, he is missing from the Breitbrunn group picture. He then drove with the others to Dornach and was ordained by Emil Bock in the first Goetheanum on 16 September 1922 as the 21st member of the circle.
Herman Groh founded his first congregation in Essen-Mülheim. He chose this city because there were hardly any anthroposophists, thus also no branch of the Anthroposophical Society. He then worked in Vienna starting in 1929, setting up a small chapel in his home in Grinzing. During this time, he heard Dr. Roman Boos make serious attacks on The Christian Community, which shocked him deeply. Finally, as of 1935, he worked in the Dresden congregation for his third sending.
After participating in Rudolf Steiner’s last major lecture in Dornach in September 1924, he was married there on 26 September to his colleague Gerhard Klein’s sister Lilli. Alfred Heidenreich celebrated the marriage sacrament in the White Hall of the first Goetheanum. Gottfried Husemann and Marta Heimeran were witnesses and five other colleagues were present. The couple had six children.
In 1939 in Dresden, before The Christian Community was banned, Groh was drafted into the Wehrmacht at the beginning of the Second World War, even though he was already 45. Due to his excellent language skills, he was transferred on the recommendation of his brother-in-law Gerhard Klein from a veterinary hospital for horses to the large prison camp Mühlberg/Elbe as an interpreter for Russian, English, and French. He cultivated extensive connections with the captured Russians and Frenchmen. Instead of carrying a revolver for his personal security, he carried his sandwich with him when he had to accompany the prisoners. A prison chaplain later called him a “true Christian”; that is what he proved to be there. Johannes Lenz wrote about this time in more detail in the journal Die Christengemeinschaft, 2004, p. 579ff. When a typhus epidemic broke out in the camp and all the Germans decamped, he remained steadfastly at his post until he caught the disease himself.
As the person responsible for all church services in the camp, he worked closely with clergy of all denominations from a multitude of countries. With the help of a Russian clergyman who had been captured by the Germans while serving as a French soldier, Groh translated the Consecration of the Human Being into Russian.
After his recovery from typhus, he was released from service in 1944—again based on a recommendation—when his father fell seriously ill. Then he was obliged to manage his father’s chain of stores “Groh Brothers Milk and Cheese,” with all its products and dairies. While thus occupied, he experienced the collapse of the Third Reich in Berlin. The war had barely ended when Groh began to celebrate the Consecration of the Human Being again in the center of Berlin, where he lived on Brüderstraße in the Nikolai-Lessing House along with Anna Samweber. He brought his will to bear with particular intensity when celebrating. On long walks through the destroyed city, he regathered the members of his congregation. But as early as 1947, the leadership of The Christian Community suspended him from his parish duties because of his rigid attitude toward social and cultic matters, so from then on he no longer celebrated the sacraments. In 1952, Groh moved to his family in Gur Husum near Jever in East Frisia.
Herman Groh’s unconditional devotion to the absolute, to the spirit in thought and will, which he had learned from Hegel, had something exclusive, even one-sided about it. He was radical in this and used to demanding everything from himself and others. It testifies to his spiritual energy that he would read the entire Gospel of Mark standing up every day during Holy Week. He had divided it into 96 sections and he recited the Lord’s Prayer after each section. He remarked laconically that it only takes about four hours if done without stopping.
In addition to serious, faithful pastoral care, training his spiritual capabilities was important to him. He studied anthroposophy just as seriously. He vigorously and repeatedly worked through Rudolf Steiner’s four basic books according to the seasons of the year. He read the Old Testament in the original Hebrew. It is certainly a missed opportunity that he was not tasked with retranslating at least certain parts of it.
Although he burned whole stacks of manuscripts with translations, some things were saved. Groh’s life’s work can be seen in his work on the rhythms of the Old and New Testaments. He explored these rhythms in his daily polyglot studies. He always studied the Greek, Latin, English, French, and German texts in parallel, and in the case of the Old Testament he added the Hebrew text. He indicated his findings on the composition and rhythm of the texts with markings in his edition of the Bible; many people today use them as a study guide.
Groh studied the quality of time in general. He was convinced that one should be able to distinguish a Wednesday from a Thursday “atmospherically” at any time, even in a dark dungeon. Another leitmotif was the study of the Holy Scriptures over the course of the year. Additionally, he researched English and American literature for the occurrence of occult events. And finally, he always read as many international newspapers as possible.
He had thus been going along tirelessly engaged in learning until, after 63 active years, 12 of which he was forced to spend as a soldier and prisoner, a short, serious illness ended his life. This man of the world, who had come to know, understand, and love this earth and its peoples so fully, the priest, who had worked on himself so assiduously and was always available for people to talk to: now he was entering the world to which, after all his studying, praying, and meditating, he felt he belonged.
At this moment in time, I believe that those of us who experienced the new Christianity imparted to us last autumn through the rituals and the breviary by our teacher Dr. Rudolf Steiner should, considering the present situation, feel obligated to help establish this Christianity right now as an active and influential force. Furthermore, those of us who are willing and able to devote all our energy to this task alone and are ready to act immediately, should start making intensive preparations together. Forming such a community strikes me as the necessary step now, as only this kind of community would be able to grasp the impulses imparted by the spiritual leader of a movement for the renewal of religious life.
This prospective community must hold in its consciousness that the focal point of future congregational life must be communal prayer in accordance with Christian rituals. The community must be an open one, trusting that the performance of these rituals will be made possible through a new connection to the spiritual stream that began with the deed of Christ and continues with the living Christ, a new beginning that will be given to people in due time.
This community can become strong through a life in Christ.
This community will work out of the power of Christ to reorganize of all areas of life and to create new forms of living in community with a view toward the work in future congregations.
Many questions have arisen among us since the Dornach course. Many practical details are still missing, and much of what we do have needs further elaboration. We must ask Dr. Steiner to help us continue our preparations.
I am resolved and prepared to join forces with those who see their life’s task as spreading the new Christianity. I will leave all past commitments behind and am ready to start work immediately. I request to shoulder the karma of the community, and I hope my own is not too heavy for the community to bear.
https://www.thechristiancommunity.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/GrohHeadshot-e1706897913929.jpg1122800CCNAhttps://www.thechristiancommunity.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/logoBLK-1.pngCCNA2024-02-02 13:22:312024-02-02 13:22:31Herman Groh - 11 June 1894, Berlin – 14 December 1957
Dr. Rudolf Frieling has been one of the most important representatives of the Christian Community since its founding. As a priest, he co-founded the congregations in Leipzig, Vienna, and New York. He made his influence felt through countless lectures and important writings, as well as through the publication of the magazine for the Movement for Religious Renewal. He was a leading teacher at the priest seminary for 50 years. He was part of the Movement’s leadership starting in 1929, before ultimately taking over as Erzoberlenker in 1960 and serving in that central position for 25 years.
Rudolf Frieling was born on March 23, 1901, in Leipzig. His father was a Protestant minister. Starting in 1902, he grew up with his brothers near the Rüdigsdorf Castle estate in Kohren- Sahlis, south of Leipzig, where his father served as a chaplain. There he could experience the wonderful natural surroundings of castle and park, which are linked with such names as Münchhausen, Schwind, Julius Mosen, and Rilke. His childhood was rich with sense-stimulating impressions, a “fantasy world,” as he called it. When he was three, one of his sisters died. The mantric form of the burial liturgy, which his uncle later had to repeat to him, gave him a deep experience of language.
When his father was transferred after seven years and became the resident minister in Chemnitz, the boy experienced this deliberate move from the country to the city as a “death sentence.” City and schools were a constant agony for his extremely sensitive soul. Nevertheless, he completed high school in the spring of 1920 with an outstanding Abitur (final exam).
Three experiences from his school days were especially important to Frieling: During a summer vacation in Warnemünde on the Baltic Sea, he was present when the German fleet departed. The result was a deep and life-long connection with the ocean, ships, and the navy.
Frieling also developed a special relationship with death stemming from the death of a teacher when he was 12, which shocked him deeply, and from a family life shaped by the many funeral services his father was obliged to perform.
The experiences during a vacation in Thüringen near the ruins of a cloister were so strong that Rudolf Frieling wanted to become a monk—and he immediately began to live like a monk and playact small rituals.
It had already become clear to him in high school during the war years that he wanted to study theology, and he started to do so on his own, completely independently. In addition, ever since he had learned about anthroposophy at 17 through a newspaper article by Friedrich Rittelmeyer, he had been reading more and more writings by Rudolf Steiner. Thus, by the time he started studying in Rostock in 1920/21, he had already become deeply engaged with theology and anthroposophy through self-study. It was under these circumstances, struggling to find the truth, that the student who was still a nobody wrote the famous Friedrich Rittelmeyer the letter provided at the end of this article. This letter describes not only Frieling’s inner state, but also that of a large number of founders. (Almost simultaneously with the letter, Rudolf Frieling sent his first essay called “The John Gospel in the Light of Expressionism” to Friedrich Rittelmeyer, as the publisher of the magazine “Christentum und Gegenwart” (Christianity and the Present Time).
At that time, Friedrich Rittelmeyer was living on the Birkwitz castle estate in Silesia recovering from his accident, and he had his wife answer the letter in way that would give the recipient courage and strength to continue his intensive studies.
While Frieling had studied in Rostock at first with Professor Althaus, among others, he was now drawn to Marburg/Lahn for the summer semester in 1921. He wrote a paper that he himself described as “non olet” (literally: doesn’t stink) about “Church Relations in Chemnitz around 1670,” which contained a chapter on Valentin Weigel. He found the material for this in the visitation files of that time that were preserved in the archives in Dresden.
In his first weeks at Marburg, Frieling had met fellow student Martin Borchart, who was also the (anthroposophical) branch leader. Then Johannes Werner Klein came to visit him in his dorm room and encouraged him to go to Stuttgart with him to attend the first theological course by Rudolf Steiner in June. Frieling followed this call. Despite being only 20 years old, he was already well prepared for the course both in terms of theology and anthroposophy. Once they had all arrived in Stuttgart, everyone gathered in a classroom at the Waldorf school for an introductory talk and a meet-and-greet. It is a commonly recalled how standoffish certain participants at first found the somewhat shy and awkward Rudolf Frieling.
From the summer of 1921 on, studies in Leipzig and the steps toward the founding of The Christian Community unfolded in tandem. Rudolf Frieling wrote at that time: “It often weighs heavily on my soul how little prepared I am, but I realize that the times demand we get started soon. I am also under no illusion that the time will ever come when I say: “Now I am completely prepared!” These sentences are characteristic not only of Frieling’s humbleness, but also of the way he energetically stepped forward to work for a known good.
From the winter semester of 1921/22 until 1924, he studied in his birth city of Leipzig while he founded the congregation with Johannes Perthel. He then did his Ph.D. on “The Reformation in Zwickau.”
One of his striking characteristics was his inexhaustible humor. A fat book of anecdotes could be written with hilarious stories and word plays. “I do not belong to the mimosa confession,” he wrote once. The first time he was meant to speak to the Leipzig congregation, it did not take long before he had already “said everything that he knew,” and the experienced Johannes Perthel had to step in and bridge the embarrassing gap. Rudolf Frieling: “We were much too young, after all. It was a children’s crusade.”
After completing his studies and his first activities in Leipzig, Rudolf Frieling worked in Mannheim (November 1924 to October 1926) and then Nürnberg. Members recalled long after the fact how they had learned Greek with him back then in order to be able to take up the St John Gospel in its original language.
In October 1927, he moved to Vienna in order to help build up the congregation until The Christian Community was banned in 1941.
He had married Margarethe Gayda on January 3, 1925, during the Berlin Convention in the Singacademie. From then on, a 45-year intimate common bond played a major role in Rudolf Frieling’s life work.
In April 1929, the office of Lenker (regional coordinator) was conferred on him, and he worked as such during the 30s in Bavaria. In 1938, Emil Bock designated him as his successor in the office of Erzoberlenker (chief coordinator). In August 1949, he became a titular Oberlenker (senior coordinator), and on February 24, 1960, he became Erzoberlenker. He then occupied this position a few years longer than Emil Bock.
While The Christian Community was banned, Rudolf Frieling at first found a position at the Vienna Antiquities and Monuments Office. “The monument that needed protecting was myself.” From November 1941 all the way into December 1945, he was deployed as a medic in Austria, in the region in which Rudolf Steiner had spent his childhood and youth. Later, he was in the vicinity of Berlin, and after the war ended, he was still in Stade as a prisoner until he was released to Marburg/Lahn, where his wife had found refuge with her parents after Vienna was occupied.
An episode reported from the beginning of the ban on The Christian Community shows Rudolf Frieling’s inner strength: A visiting colleague told him about the resigned attitude he had found among his friends during his travels. (The situation then was deadly serious.) Rudolf Frieling, slamming his hand on the table, yelled: “I don’t give a hoot about a Christian community that is blown over by the first wind. We will have to withstand very different storms still.”
After World War II, he worked out of Marburg as a “traveling preacher,” with particular focus on the congregations in the Rhein-Ruhr region, then for quite a while in Upper Bavaria, where large groups of members and friends had fled to many small towns.
In 1949, he moved to the United States, where he founded the first congregation in New York and from there was active for The Christian Community in other cities. This time lasted until 1954, after which he lived and worked in Stuttgart in the Fiechter/Bock house until he had to be entrusted to the Morgenstern House nursing home for the last two years of his grave illness. He died on January 7, 1986, at almost 85.
“An enlightened Christianity has once again become possible [through anthroposophy]. The Christian Community, on its special turf, also seeks to serve this kind of enlightened Christianity.”
A profound student of anthroposophy, Rudolf Frieling sought for enlightenment through the awakening spirit throughout his life. He was an outstanding lecturer and preacher. For almost 50 years, his classes at the priest seminary were among the most impactful student experiences. His theological works are available today in a four-volume set.
As a priest, because of his office on behalf of the priesthood (erzoberlenker), he was responsible for carrying out the sacrament of ordination. Through this, his impact extended in a special way far beyond lectures and writings to his service to the Word.
Letter to Friedrich Rittelmeyer, Berlin
Most Honorable Minister!
Please forgive me, a total stranger, for asking you in writing for a big favor. I realize that I am being rather importunate, to say the least, but I do not do so on a whim. After waiting for a long time, I now see no alternative but to write you.
I am a theologian; it is about Rudolf Steiner.
Perhaps it would be best for me to quickly summarize what I have been doing until now. I became interested in theology in secondary school, particularly the New Testament. After a few years, I ended up out in left field, with Heitmüller1-Bousset2-Jülicher3-(Joh. Weiss). I took this position not because I enjoyed destroying and negating, but because I believed I owed it to my sense of truthfulness, to my scientific conscience; I made many sacrifices of the intellect in the process, some of them quite painful. I was in no way inwardly satisfied. All that was left of Christianity for me was veneration for the prophet Jesus based on the radically sanitized Mark and some logia (sayings attributed to Jesus Christ), but even this basis seemed to me to waver at times under the influence of Wrede and Bruckner. The St John Gospel had a powerful impact on me, but I thought I had to deny it any historical value. Paul struck me as having very little to do with Jesus.
I became aware of anthroposophy through your article on Steiner in the ChristianWorld in the fall of 1917. You wrote once that, of course, there were also those kinds of people who treated Steiner’s teachings as new “Catholic dogma.” Well, what is a person to do? I could not just fish out a couple of crumbs that happened to appeal to my subjective taste and assimilate them into my world view, dismissing other things that struck me as unlikely. What right would I have to do that? After all, I cannot check what the man is saying. I do not know where his infallibility stops, where the border between the objective and the subjective lies with him. Either I doubt his infallibility, in which case everything is pretty worthless for me, because then I do not have the right to fish out this or that, or I simply have to believe. I am comforted by the fact that you, as a theologian, must have grappled with all these thoughts, too. It pains me that I am unable to take a certain stand with unshakable firmness, I am jealous of professors who have the often-naive conviction that their world view is the only right one, and I often consider myself as lacking in character because I sway back and forth between one viewpoint and another. I had thought that, with the help of anthroposophy, I would finally be able to take a specific stand on religion, but the aforementioned considerations seem to have placed even that into question. I do not want to start all over again, though, so I am asking you, if you have time, to perhaps clear some things up for me, because I do not want to turn completely away from anthroposophy yet, as I had placed such great hopes on it. Until I have tried everything, I cannot decide on this new painful amputation.
I read with great interest your further remarks on this subject in “The Christian World” in 1918 and 1919, as well as in “Christianity and the Present.” They also allowed me to get over much that was off-putting in Steiner’s books, which I then began to read. A new world literally opened for me. It was as if I was rediscovering the New Testament. It was so comforting to have the religious feelings of my childhood restored to me, of course endlessly deepened and widened. The idea of Christ began to dawn on me, and with it a better understanding for Paul, for Luther, for the church in general (including the Catholic Church, which, in terms of reverence for Christ, could strike me only as incomprehensible and “unchristian”). It was truly a “pleasure to live,” especially as a theology.
The only way I could provisionally justify this swing to the right to my scientific conscience was with Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophy. But then came a major step back. I read various anti-Steiner articles, including some claims that definitely burst my bubble. For example:
that Steiner draws from the genealogies in Matthew and Luke the existence of two Jesus children. Even if you get used to this idea, there are still the consequences to deal with: Two virgin births!! Two Marys, two Josephs! I felt like cold water had been dumped over my head, and my faith in Steiner was severely shaken.
that Christ escaped before the Passion (suggested in the report of the fleeing young man). I do not know where in Steiner this is written, but perhaps there is some misunderstanding here, because how do you explain the great weight given to the Mystery of Golgotha and the claim that Christ entered into the spiritual atmosphere of the earth at that time, if he was no longer even on Golgotha? Maybe there is an error here on the part of the reporter (Lic. Peters—Hanover, in the Sachsen church newspaper)?
Steiner’s view of the gospels also caused me serious discomfort. What he wrote about them in “Christianity as Mystical Fact” was not clear enough for me. Were the synoptic reports, which seem to be so naïve and are so vividly alive, supposed to trace back to Mystery traditions? These thoughts are extremely hard to follow.
Steiner’s exegesis on Christmas also struck me as highly dubious.
My whole view of things once again began to vacillate. What I learned from various Steiner disciples was of little help. They often did not seem so clear themselves. In any case, such people have not the vaguest idea of what lies on a theologian’s heart. That holds true for the following questions as well: 1) Does it not come down to self-redemption for Steiner? 2) What happened to Luther’s deep experience of sin and grace? The feeling of separation from God, or, as Rudolf Otto stresses, the mysterium tremendum? 3) Is there a personal relationship to God? I frequently encountered such objections when I came to Steiner’s defense—often not easy; the most difficult thing, at any rate, is the question of what is true? In the end, it comes down to either simply believing Steiner or not.
Do not take me for a hopeless rationalist. On the contrary! But unclarity of thought can be so terribly painful that it can also damage religious life. When, for example, the thought comes to me that everything is merely a suggestion, then that cripples my inner life. The question of what to think of Christ now is no academic doctoral question. I am tired of constantly searching and wondering. I yearn for certainty.
How can I come visit you where you live? I will admit the following: I have heard it claimed many times over the past months that your illness is the result of Steiner exercises, even that you were in a mental institution. As I was exceedingly frightened particularly by the latter claim, I turned to Prof. Merkel in Nürnberg, who was kind enough to tell me that I had been taken in by some tall tales. That made me very happy. Then there was the rumor that you had broken ties with Steiner. Naturally, this all contributed to my complete confusion regarding anthroposophy. Happily, this is not true, either (the break with Steiner).
I am no longer bothered by reincarnation and the peculiar cosmic picture, or by the nature of some Steiner followers. I am only concerned with Christology and what hangs together with that. I am familiar with what you wrote to rebut Johannes Müller and Gogarten. The worst thing for me right now is the business with the two Jesus children, particularly the consequences of this, a terrible scandal; the escape from the passion of Golgotha; the view of the gospels; the issue of self-redemption; sin; and the personal relationship to God (an abyss separates meditation from prayer!)…
I do not get very far with the little bit said in “Christmas,” the “Lord’s Prayer,” and “Christianity as Mystical Fact.”
So, as I said, I would like to join the Steiner movement, but I find it impossible for the aforementioned reasons, at least temporarily. On the other hand, I already have too much to thank anthroposophy for to simply tuck it away on a shelf with a light heart. That would throw me back into uncertainty.
Sending you heartfelt wishes for a speedy recovery and I again beg your pardon for my forwardness.
1 German Protestant theologian
2 German theologian and NT scholar
3 Professor of Church History and NT Exegesis, at the University of Marburg