The concept of a unified trinity is important in Anthroposophy. Steiner found the concept of trinity fascinating and fundamental. He saw threefoldness as a basic cosmic principle.
In some ways, the highest trinity described in Steiner's doctrines coincides with the Christian concept of the triune God — three persons in one. But the Anthroposophical take is, as usual, distinct.
Here are some quotations dealing with this subject. The first several come from prolific Anthroposophical author Roy Wilkinson, writing explicitly about the triune Godhead. We will then look at numerous statements by Steiner about trinities of various types.
“The names of the gods or divinities are as varied as the peoples and it is not proposed to list them here ... In the Western world the gods have receded ... This does not mean, however, that the gods no longer exist and for those who, like Rudolf Steiner, possess extended faculties of consciousness, the world of higher beings is still accessible ... Above [man], in the spiritual world, are three ranks of higher beings, reaching to the Godhead which is so far beyond him as to be incomprehensible in his present state of development.” — Roy Wilkinson, RUDOLF STEINER: An Introduction to His Spiritual World-View (Temple Lodge Publishing 2005), p. 185.
[Temple Lodge Publishing 2005.]
“The human being is...exposed to the forces of advancement and retardation, of good and evil, of God and the devil ... In very rough outline it can be said that the Hierarchies provide substance, then impulse and activity to awaken activity. The activity is transformed into inner life which then proceeds under its own impetus and become creative. Man will become ‘like God’ ... [T]he highest members of the First Hierarchy, the Seraphim, receive the impulse from the Godhead to create man and an environment in which he can evolve, i.e., the solar system ... [The lower members of the three Hierarchies have subordinate tasks fulfilling the plan of the Godhead.” — Ibid., pp. 186-188.
“All is born out of the creative activity of spirit-beings or Hierarchies, which collectively are under the guidance of the Godhead.” — Ibid., p. 84.
“[I]t was the intention of the Godhead to create a being [man] who would eventually be free to take his own development in hand." — Ibid., p. 123.
“In order that man could develop according to the ideas of the Godhead, the physical body had to be endowed with many potentialities.” — Ibid., p. 189.
It may be worth noting that while Wilkinson, true to Steiner, says that the Godhead is so far above us as to be incomprehensible, he nonetheless confidently tells us what the Godhead has in mind. If you find a contradiction in this, you may not be helped much by the following statements by Steiner himself, which expand the discussion of Godhead to Trinity(ies) in various forms.
Herewith, Steiner on trinity and trinities:
“The Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones are for us the highest Hierarchy among divine Beings, because they have already passed through their solar system evolution and have risen to mighty cosmic deeds of sacrifice. Hence it is that these Beings have come into the actual direct vicinity of the highest Godhead of which we can speak at all: the Trinity, the three-fold Divinity. Beyond the Seraphim we have to see that highest Divinity of which we find mention by almost all nations as the threefold Divinity — as Brahma, Shiva, Vishnu, as Father, Word, and Holy Ghost. From out [of] this highest Godhead, this most exalted Trinity, stream forth the plans for a new cosmic system. Glancing back at ancient Saturn we say to ourselves: before any of this ancient Saturn came into Being, the plan of it had grown within the divine threefold Unity. But the threefold Unity has need of Beings to execute its plan. These Beings must first prepare themselves for the task. The Beings who, are so to speak, nearest God Himself, who, as is beautifully expressed in Christian Western Esotericism, ‘bask in the light of God's countenance,’ are the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones. These take up the plans of a new cosmic system streaming from the divine threefold Unity. This is naturally expressed more figuratively than it really is, for we have to express in human words such sublime activities, for which, in truth, this human language has not been created. No human words exist to express such sublime activity as that, for instance, when the Seraphim, in the beginning of our solar system received the highest plans of the divine Threefold Unity containing the evolution which our solar system has to pass through, namely Saturn, Sun, Moon, Earth, Jupiter, Venus and Vulcan.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL HIERARCHIES (Anthroposophical Publishing Co., 1928), lecture 5, GA 110.
“It was the special talent of Oriental wisdom, pre-Christian wisdom, to understand recurring development as a triad. The grandeur of this ancient world view was limited by what we may think of as a predisposition in favor of events that recur and are timeless. And when this world view comes to a conclusion, trinities confront us everywhere, and fundamentally these represent the clairvoyant perception of what lies behind coming into being, passing away, and renewal. Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu, this trinity of creative forces is the foundation of all things. In the time preceding Krishna's revelation it was recognized as a trinity that could be perceived through clairvoyance, and it was seen as Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. The image of this trinity exists wherever time is seen only as the successive recurrence of the same.
“The significance of a new era is recognized when the gift of seeing events in historical perspective arises, that is, when time is taken into account in relation to evolution, when time is looked upon as a real factor. It was a special task of Western knowledge to develop a historical sense, to penetrate into the truths of history. And the two streams in human evolution coming from East and West differ in that the East looks at the world unhistorically, while the West, prompted by a new impulse, begins to look at the world from a historical point of view. It was the world view of the Hebrews that gave the first impulse to this historical viewpoint.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE GOSPEL OF ST. MARK (Anthroposophic Press, 1986), lecture 6, GA 139.
“Those people who lived more to the West went through different experiences. There we see remarkable and important inner events in the evolution of mankind. Let us take the case of a remarkable philosopher of the sixth century before the Christian era, Pherecydes of Syros. He was indeed a remarkable philosopher, though present-day philosophers do not count him even as a philosopher at all. There are books on philosophy which actually say — I will quote a few words verbatim — that all he gives are childish symbols, childish descriptions. So does a man today speak who imagines himself to be greatly superior to those ancient philosophers. He calls these notions ‘childish and ingenious.’ Nevertheless, half a millennium before the Christian era a remarkable thinker emerged in Syros. Certainly he describes things differently from other thinkers, who were later to be called philosophers. For example, Pherecydes says, ‘Underlying everything visible in the world is a trinity: Chronos, Zeus and Chthon.*] From Chronos comes the airy, the fiery and the watery element. Ophioneus, a kind of serpent being, comes into conflict with all that stems from these three powers.’ Even if we have no clairvoyance but only some imagination it is possible to see in front of us everything that he describes. Chronos is put forward not merely as abstract passing time but as a real being in a perceptible form. It is the same with Zeus, the limitless ether, as a living self-perpetuating being; while Chthon, who draws down to earth what once was heavenly, draws together into the planet earth all that is woven in space, in order to make earthly existence possible. All this happens on earth. Then a kind of serpent being interferes, and introduces, so to speak, a hostile element. If we examine what this remarkable Pherecydes of Syros describes, it can easily be understood without the aid of spiritual research. He is a last straggler endowed with the clairvoyance of earlier times. He sees behind the sense world to the real causes, and these he describes with the aid of his clairvoyance. Naturally this does not at all please those who prefer to juggle concepts. He sees the living weaving of the good gods and how hostile powers interfere in their work; and all this he describes from the viewpoint of a clairvoyant. He sees how the elements are born out of Chronos, out of Time seen as a real being.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE GOSPEL OF ST. MARK, lecture 7.
“To His intimate disciples Christ spoke these words: ‘Behold the life of the Earth; it is related to the life of the Cosmos. When you look out on the Earth and the surrounding Cosmos, it is the Father whose life permeates this Universe.* The Father-God is the God of Space. But I make known to you that I have come to you from the Sun, from Time — Time that receives man only when he dies. I have brought you myself from out of Time.** If you receive me, you receive Time, and you will not be held spell-bound in Space. But you find the transition from the one trinity — Physical, Etheric and Astral — to the other trinity, which leads from the Etheric and Astral to Spirit-Selfhood. Spirit-Selfhood is not to be found in the earthly world, just as the Earthly-Physical is not to be found in the Cosmos. But I bring you the message of it, for I am from the Sun.’
"* Cp. Paul: ‘God that made the world and all things therein, being Lord of heaven and earth, giveth to all life and breath and all things, and is not far from each one of us, for in him we live and move and have our being.’ Acts XVII, 24 — 28.
"** ‘Time,’ as here used, is what we usually designate as ‘Eternity’, i.e. a continuous, unbroken time-experience. What we usually call ‘Time’ is our spatialised concept of real Time, separate successional events, measured by spatial changes [sic: notes included in the text].” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FESTIVALS AND THEIR MEANING, Vol. 3 (Anthroposophical Publishing Co., 1958), lecture 6, GA 236.
“Formerly, man had the consciousness, ‘I have a dark form, but I am connected with the eternal being.’ Who was it that destroyed this consciousness? It was the air-breath that entered into man — Typhon [in Greek mythology, the son of Gaea and Tartarus]. Typhon is the name of the air-breath. When the Egyptian soul experienced within itself how the formerly united stream divided itself into light and air, the cosmic event became a symbolic picture for this soul — the murder of Osiris [Egyptian god of the afterlife] by Typhon, or Set, the air-breath. [Seth is the Egyptian god of violence and discord.]
“A mighty cosmic event is hidden in the Egyptian myth that allows Osiris to be killed by Typhon. The Egyptian experienced the god who came from the sun and was still in harmony with his brother, as Osiris. Typhon was the air-breath that had brought mortality to man. Here we see one of the most pregnant examples of how the facts of cosmic evolution repeat themselves in man's inner knowledge.
“In this way the trinity of sun, moon, and earth came into being. All of this was communicated to the Egyptian pupil in deep and consciously formed pictures.” — Rudolf Steiner, EGYPTIAN MYTHS AND MYSTERIES (Anthroposophic Press, 1971), lecture 5, GA 106.
“[W]hen we go to sleep at night, setting forth with our Ego and astral body, leaving behind the body of our waking life, Angels, Archangels and higher spiritual Beings enter into us and animate our organs while we are outside — until we re-awaken. And what is more, as to our ether-body, even in our day-waking life we are not able to fulfill what is needed there. The Beings of the highest Hierarchy — Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones — have to indwell this ether-body even while we are awake; they remain there always ... [I]f we ourselves had to achieve all the great and wonderful processes taking place [in the physical body], we should not merely do it very badly; we could not set about it at all. Here we are utterly helpless. What outer anatomy ascribes to the physical body could not even move a single atom of it. Powers of quite another order are required here, namely none other than those that have been known since primeval times as the supreme Trinity — the Powers of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They — the essential Trinity — indwell the physical body of man.” — Rudolf Steiner, “Man as a Picture of the Living Spirit” (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1972), a lecture, GA 228.
“[W]e should be able to feel, when we are speaking about rheumatism, gout, constipation, diabetes, migraine, about all conditions that are somehow connected with deposits which express the inherent weight of the substances, we should feel that something is entering into our experience that can be expressed in the words: Earthly gravity has laid hold of the human being. Much is contained in such words. You should permeate your investigations with such feelings.
“Just think how abstractly, how brutally, how heedlessly investigations are made into these things today and you will realize what is really lacking and has been killed, in spite of the fact that Arabism did conserve much of the wisdom, conscientiousness and skill of ancient times. It has been killed because Moon, Sun and Saturn — this Trinity which was then disguised as Father, Son and Spirit — disappeared and was repudiated by Arabian thought in Mohammedanism with the words: ‘Away with this Trinity. Mohammed proclaims only one God!’ (Mohammed himself did not say this, but the Angel who inspired him, did. He was not one of the best Angels although he was a very wise one.) And so we see that all differentiations in the world are allowed to disappear; things which ought to be known are darkened and our medicine has become an Arabian-Mohammedan medicine. European humanity was incapable of discovering the truth. Today these things must be known or mankind will go to pieces.” — Rudolf Steiner, COURSE FOR YOUNG DOCTORS (Mercury Press, 1994), lecture 4, GA 316.
"So that we may know where we are, we must be able to give them their proper place in the order of the hierarchies. You will no doubt remember, from the various lectures I have given in the course of years, or from what you have read in my OCCULT SCIENCE , that in the hierarchical order going from above downward, we distinguish, first, a trinity which we call the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones. You know that then we come to a second hierarchy which we call the Kyriotetes or Dominions, the Dynameis or Mights, and the Exusiai or Powers, or Revelations; when we come to the lowest trinity, we usually make use of Christian designations, and speak of Archai, or Principalities, or Spirits of Personality; of Archangeloi or Archangels; of Angeloi or Angels. Those in this lowest group are the spiritual Beings who stand nearest to man. Only then do we come to man himself, as the tenth member within the hierarchical order. Now the question is, where within this order do the Elohim belong?
"We find them in the second of these trinities, and identify them with those Beings whom we call Exusiai or Powers, or Spirits of Form. We know from what we have been taught for years that during the Saturn evolution the Archai, the Spirits of Personality, were at the human stage, the stage at which we ourselves now stand. During the Sun evolution the Archangeloi or Archangels had their human stage; and during earth existence it is man who is at this stage. One grade above the Spirits of Personality we have the Spirits of Form, the Exusiai, who are also called Elohim. Thus the Elohim are lofty, sublime spiritual Beings who had advanced beyond the human stage before the time of Saturn, when our planetary existence began. We get an idea of the sublimity of these Beings if we bring home to ourselves that in the order of the hierarchies they stand four stages above the human. The spirituality which was weaving in this realm — which was, so to say, practising cosmic meditation, cosmic musing — and out of this cosmic meditation brought about our earth existence, was four stages above the human stage. Spiritual Beings at this stage can through their meditation work creatively — they are not, as men are, limited to the creation of thought forms. Because the meditative activity of the Elohim is four stages higher than human thinking, it is not merely an organising, a creative activity within the sphere of thought, but it forms and creates existence." — Rudolf Steiner, GENESIS (Anthroposophical Publishing Company, 1959), lecture 4, GA 122.
"What matters is this: that we as human beings can so unite ourselves with the cosmic course that we are in a position to follow the living transition from the unity into the trinity, the return from trinity into unity. When, by complementing the Easter thought with the Michael thought in this way we have become able to perceive rightly the primordial trinity in all existence, then we shall take it into our whole attitude of soul. Then we shall be in a position to understand that actually all life depends upon the activity and the interworking of primordial trinities. And when we have the Michael festival inspiring such a view in the same way that the one-sided Easter festival inspired the view now existing, then we shall have an inspiration, a Nature/Spirit impulse, to introduce threefoldness, the impulse of threefoldness into all the observing and forming of life. And it depends finally and only upon the introduction of this impulse, whether the destructive forces in human evolution can be transformed once more into ascending forces.
"...If we want to see the inwardly active principle, if we want to see the formative process, we must see forming and shaping as associated with threefoldness, with trinity.
"Hence, the ancient Indian view was of a year divided into a hot season, which would approximate our months of April, May, June, July; a wet season, comprising approximately our months, August, September, October, November; and a cold season, which would include our months, December, January, February, March. The boundaries do not need to be rigidly fixed according to the months but are only approximate; they can be thought of as shifting. But the course of the year was thought of according to the principle of the “three.”
"And thus man's whole state of soul would be imbued with the predisposition to observe this primal trinity in all weaving and working, and hence to interweave it also into all human creating and shaping. We can even say that it is only possible to have true ideas of the free spiritual life, the life of rights, the social-economic life, when we perceive in the depths this triple pulse of cosmic activity, which must also permeate human activity." — Rudolf Steiner, THE CYCLE OF THE YEAR AS BREATHING PROCESS OF THE EARTH (Anthroposophic Press, 1984), lecture 3, GA 223.
Perhaps we should conclude by returning to Steiner's followers.
We quoted Roy Wilkinson, above. Here is a comment "Zenon" posted
at the Rudolf Steiner Archive Open Forum.
This is a fairly representative piece of Anthroposophical prose,
meditating upon wisdom received from the father of Anthroposophy.
"'The Christ' is the Cosmic Being that mediates and reconciles vast energies of both a positive and negative nature, whose sources are no less then [sic] God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, respectively.
"All three Cosmic Beings comprise the Holy Trinity and this is law conformable [sic]. There are trinities at all levels of Being. Recall that in his Hierarchies Lectures Steiner cites that the great spirits work in groups of threes — receiving their commands from the Creator.
"We microcosmic beings are in a definite way a very tiny replica of the action of that law when we examine our own bodies at work. The brain-nervous system acts 'downward' from above, as it were, and the metabolic-limb system acts 'upward' from below, while the heart-rhythmic system mediates (reconciles, balances) the two opposing energies. Without this threefold action our organism would fail, and indeed many human illnesses are in large measure due to an imbalance in the action of these three forces." — "Zenon," http://www.rsarchive.org/Forums/view.php?bn=eliboard&key=1157044144&first=&last=&here=.
* "Chronos is not time as we think of it today. Chronos is a being that in contemporary language can be called 'spiritual' if one keeps in mind that one does not thereby exhaust its meaning. Chronos is alive and its activity is the devouring, the consumption of the life of another being, Chthon. Chronos rules in nature; Chronos rules in man; in nature and man Chronos consumes Chthon. It is of no importance whether one considers the consumption of Chthon through Chronos as inwardly experienced or as external events, for in both realms the same process goes on. Zeus is connected with these two beings. In the meaning of Pherekydes one must no more think of Zeus as a deity in the sense of our present day conception of mythology, than as of mere “space” in its present sense, although he is the being through whom the events that go on between Chronos and Chthon are transformed into spatial, extended form.
"The cooperation of Chronos, Chthon and Zeus is felt directly as a picture content in the sense of Pherekydes, just as much as one is aware of the idea that one is eating, but it is also experienced as something in the external world, like the conception of the colors blue or red. This experience can be imagined in the following way. We turn our attention to fire as it consumes its fuel. Chronos lives in the activity of fire, of warmth. Whoever regards fire in its activity and keeps himself under the effect, not of independent thought but of image content, looks at Chronos. In the activity of fire, not in the sensually perceived fire, he experiences time simultaneously. Another conception of time does not exist before the birth of thought. What is called 'time' in our present age is an idea that has been developed only in the age of intellectual world conception." — Rudolf Steiner, THE RIDDLES OF PHILOSOPHY (Anthroposophic Press, 1973), part 1, chapter 2, GA 18.
— Compilation and commentary by Roger Rawlings