I have found it important in spiritual research to know who the speaker of a given statement is; who stands behind it. This, to me, is an integral part of an idea, an inseparable part of its truth. In mathematics a statement may stand entirely on it’s own merits. However, this is due to humanity having developed to such a state that we are capable of thinking logically without error, and because the axioms of mathematical discourse are self-evident. With spiritual perception, humanity in general, and myself specifically, has not yet developed to the state where spiritual axioms are self-evident. I do not see with clarity facts such as would, for example, illuminate the exact circumstances of other peoples previous incarnations. I can think logically about the implications of one or more such facts as are revealed to me, but the fact itself I have to either accept or reject without the absolute certainty that I can apply to numbers. From here we leave the realm of the self-evident for the realm of judgment. When I have to judge the relative worth of an idea, I recognize that logic is insufficient. Emotions play a large role, specifically whether we like or dislike the idea. There is nothing wrong with this. It is, in fact, the direction towards which we are all evolving. As we advance and purify our inner life (transform our astral body, in the anthroposophical parlance) our feelings will become progressively more reliable as a guide to judgment. Indeed, when the work on that stage is finished, our feelings will become an organ of perception, as reliable as the eye, only what we will see with them is the spiritual world. But since I am not yet so advanced as to be able to rely on my feelings for absolute certainty in judgment, I must consider other factors, as well as live with the uncertainty of never really knowing for sure. Among the other factors, I include the source of a statement and it’s context. That is, I consider who said it and what were they trying to accomplish. Knowing who the speaker is helps me in judging their current statement, as I can get a general feeling for the import of the current statement based on what I might know of previous statements. For example, with Rudolf Steiner, everything of his that I have been able to test I have been able to verify. Therefore, he has built up a fair degree of credibility in my estimation, so when I read a statement of his that at first seems unlikely to me, I withhold judgment in deference of his track record. This is not the same as saying that I believe everything he says, or that I believe he is infallible, only that I will make a special effort to understand, which I might not for another speaker.
Now I am fully aware that not all of Steiner’s statements and indications are contained within the Complete Works. And I have read most of the published material by his students. Published materials by Steiner’s students I feel to be generally reliable, as most were level headed people who were genuinely striving to present his statements faithfully. So “Rittlemeyer says that Steiner told him…” is nearly as reliable to me as reading it in “a stenographic record, unrevised by the lecturer” (a lecture cycle), both of which are second to Steiner’s own written words in his published works.
A third category of statements is: “Someone told me that someone told them that Steiner said…” Here you have the danger of the telephone effect, over 70 to 100 years and three or more people. In addition, the motives of someone who felt it necessary to withhold a statement of Steiner’s, not just at the time, but for decades afterward, and then chose not to publish it, but instead to tell it to another person, who then retells it to us, are to me somewhat suspect. Why did they not write a short piece for one of the many anthroposophical journals, titled “My interview with Rudolf Steiner?” Were they unsure of their memory, or whether they comprehended it properly? Did they feel that it was too important, too special, to be shared with other anthroposophists (the concept of a privileged “inner circle” which, I would maintain, is inimical to the spirit of Rudolf Steiner’s whole mission)? Why did they not want their name attached to it? Had they mixed their own insights with the initial idea to such a degree that they could not separate their own idea from Steiner’s? The answers to these questions would be important to me in considering how to value the statement itself, and especially if the statement is a bold and significant departure from the remainder of Steiner’s work. Whose statement is it, when it is at this point so far removed from the purported author?
I am reminded on this point of the early history of Buddhism (as explained by Alan Watts in his “The Way of Zen”). Early followers of Buddha, and even monks writing hundreds of years later, felt that any conception of Buddhism they had they really owed to Buddha. Without Buddha, they would not have been able to write their works. So out of the purest sense of individual modesty, they did not put their own name to it. Buddha inspired them, so Buddha was the author. For this reason, it is nearly impossible to determine what, if anything, Buddha actually said in a literal, word for word sense, or even how close a text is historically to the life of Buddha.
So this is why I am such a stickler for sources and citation in Anthroposophy. Not that I am against further independent research, or the striving of individual anthroposophists to explain the present and recent history, or any other point of inquiry not answered by Steiner during his lifetime, from out of their own insight. I only request that they attach their own name to their own efforts, and resist the temptation to imply that their work is so implicit in Steiner’s that his name somehow should be attached to it. Steiner’s name has so much authority for so many people, that there is a great temptation to state “Steiner says…” and then retell from memory my impression of a lecture I might have read years ago. But who is actually speaking at that point? I am. So in reality, “My impression of what Steiner says is that…” or “I remember reading in Steiner that…” is both more honest and more truthful than “Steiner says…”