Remembering Friedrich Rittelmeyer

5 October 1872 – the Birthday of Friedrich Rittelmeyer, a Protestant German minister, & theologian; friend of Rudolf Steiner; co-founder & driving force of The Christian Community.

Growing up in Frankish Schweinfurt – his father was a Lutheran minister – it was already clear to him as a child that he wanted to go into a religious profession. From 1890 Rittelmeyer studied philosophy & Protestant theology. His teacher Oswald Külpe, encouraged him to write his dissertation on Friedrich Nietzsche.

He also went on a study trip to meet theologians & socially-engaged ministers of the time, as well as members of the Moravian Church. From 1895 to 1902 he was at the Stadtvikar in Würzburg. In 1903 he took up the preachership of Heilig-Geist-Kirche in Nuremberg. There he married Julie Kerler on 5 April 1904. Rittelmeyer worked & closely collaborated with Christian Geyer, the head preacher of the Sebalduskirche, together they produced two joint volumes of sermons. Around 1910 they both led discussions with the Bavarian church council on a liberal interpretation of the Bible.

Also inn 1910 the Nuremberg school teacher Michael Bauer enabled Rittelmeyer to have his first encounter with Rudolf Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy. Rittelmeyer described the encounter & discussed Steiner’s personality & work in his book ‘Rudolf Steiner Enters my Life’.

In 1916 Rittelmeyer was sent to the Neue Kirche in Berlin, working as preacher there. He  opposed the First World War, & with 4 other Berlin theologians signed a proclamation of peace & understanding on the occasion of Reformation Day (October 1917).

In September 1922 he established the “Movement for Religious Revival” (Christengemeinschaft) Rittelmeyer acted as its first “Erzoberlenker” or Head Priest, & from its base in Stuttgart was the leading envoy right up to his death.

 

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The Birth of The Christian Community by Patrick Kennedy

In September of 1922, a group of 45 courageous, devoted and enthusiastic men and women were gathered together in Dornach, Switzerland. There, with the help of Rudolf Steiner, the inaugurator of modern spiritual science or Anthroposophy, the events took place which led to the founding of what we have come to know as The Christian Community.

For a year and a half they had been meeting, planning and seeking for a way to renew the religious life. It was poignantly felt that one could not authentically pray and experience the Spirit in the traditional forms anymore. Many of them had been through the trench-warfare and destruction of the First World War and come home to a spiritual life that was bankrupt in the face of such horrors.

Emil Bock

Although the vast majority of them were under 30 (Emil Bock was 28, Rudolf Frieling was 21) all of them, young and old, had come to recognize the spiritual giant who could lead them to the wellspring and source of religious renewal: Rudolf Steiner.

Alfred Heidenreich, who pioneered the work of The Christian Community in England, North America and South Africa, tried to express what Rudolf Steiner meant to the movement in his moving and personal book on the events surrounding the founding entitled Growing Point:

“The significance of Rudolf Steiner for Christianity is not confined to the foundation of The Christian Community. He was himself, simply as a being, an event in the history of Christianity. In the memorial article which Dr. Friedrich Rittelmeyer [first leader of the movement and one of the most well known Lutheran ministers in his day] wrote after Rudolf Steiner’s passing…:

Rudolf Steiner

“In earlier ages, the fact alone that such an all-embracing genius gave witness to Christ as being the greatest reality in earthly history, would have had a profound effect. But in Rudolf Steiner much more was present. One could put it like this: he comprehended all branches of learning so spiritually and so deeply, and he recognized Christ in such big and broad dimensions that eventually Christ shines forth as the true light in all spheres of life. He observed strictly the necessity for each sphere to form its own method according to its intrinsic laws. He never carried religion into anything from without. But he illuminated all realms of knowledge with such powerful light, that Christ became visible in it. A Christ, it is true, far greater than the Christ of the Churches; but a Christ related to the Bible and to the Christ of the early Christians.”

“Thus, he advanced the science of language to the point where it could understand why Christ is called ‘the Word’. Thus, he carried medicine to the point where medicine could understand again ‘the body of Christ’. Thus, he carried astronomy to the point where Christ became visible as the true ‘Light’…he taught how science could again become reverent and devout. He built a temple for all sciences, so high and so broad, that their servants could work in it without sacrificing an iota of their personal freedom or of the special characteristics of their province.  He united the learning of the age with Christ, and Christ with the learning of the age.”

Alfred Heidenreich wrote, “Rittlemeyer’s description opens up a vista for the future. The condition of the Middle Ages when Church and civilization were identical is not likely to be repeated. If it were, it would be a relapse into a past phase of evolution. We must move towards a future where Christianity and civilization become identical; where the very methods of scientific research will be Christian, and where it will be felt that what is not Christian is not scientific.

In this civilization, the ‘Church’ will have its special place. Like the mother whose children have grown up and become independent, the Christian Church of the future will be able to concentrate on its particular task. It will practice the personal meeting with Christ as a Being.”

Alfred Heidenreich

Heidenreich reveals the most important aspect of this founding in this last sentence. It was not a startling new teaching or religious philosophy that was formulated. If that were the case, our movement would long have faded away. No, at the beginning of a new Christian priesthood and sacramental stream stands an event: on September 16th, 1922, the first Act of Consecration of Man was celebrated by Friedrich Rittlemeyer, and in that moment the movement was granted the grace to work in Christ.  “…The event was astounding. But the reality was as plain as a sunrise. You do not dispute the sun. You bow to its rays” ~Heidenreich  This experience became the bedrock of the founders’ ability to proclaim Christ, for they had experienced him. It was not an abstract theology but an experience of the divine in the ritual that became the foundation for their and all future work in The Christian Community.

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What is the Christian Community?

The Christian Community (German: Die Christengemeinschaft) is a Christian denomination founded in 1922 in Switzerland by a group of mainly Lutheran theologians & ministers led by Friedrich Rittelmeyer, inspired by Rudolf Steiner, the Austrian philosopher & founder of anthroposophy. Christian Community congregations exist as financially independent groups with regional & international administrative bodies overseeing their work. There are approximately 350 worldwide. The international headquarters are in Berlin, Germany.

The Christian Community is led by the “circle of priests,” with leaders known as coordinators appointed within the circle. A first coordinator (Erzoberlenker) is consulted by two second coordinators (Oberlenkers). There are also third coordinators (Lenkers) on the regional level & a synod of priests. There is no additional ordination for the leadership. The priesthood of the Christian Community has always been open to women.

The Christian Community does not require its members to conform to any specific teaching or behavior.  Seven sacraments are celebrated within the Community: the Eucharist, generally called the Act of Consecration of Man, & six other sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Marriage, The Last Anointing, Sacramental Consultation (replacing Confession), &Ordination. There is also a special Sunday service for children of school age.

Rituals & sacraments are the same wherever they are celebrated. Services are generally celebrated in the language of the country in which they celebrated. The Act of Consecration of Man lasts approximately one hour. Sunday services are longer than weekday services because they contain a sermon in addition to Holy Communion. For the sacramental wine used in communion non-fermented grape juice is used rather than alcoholic wine. Three Christmas services are celebrated, one on December 24 (at midnight) & two on December 25. There are also added prayers for different liturgical seasons of the year.

Some chapels have an organ, & occasionally the organ has quarter tones in addition to the conventional (equal temperament) tuning.

The Christian Community practices a complete freedom of teaching. The Priests may exert this freedom of teaching, provided that they do not contradict the sacraments which they celebrate. There is no official theology, nor articles of belief. Whatever is taught or written is a personal view.

Basic tenets of some priests of the Christian Community are 1) free will, 2) reincarnation & 3) focus on Christ. For example, Jesus of Nazareth is seen as a physical vessel that enabled the spiritual being called Christ to influence the world.

The ideology of some priests of the Christian Community could be summarized with the following points:

The modern human being requires a renewed religious movement

The Soul is immortal via re-incarnation

Jesus & Christ are separate entities, focus is on The Christ

Christ is both, external & internal reality (Christ is not only ‘out there’ but at the same time ‘in here’) “Christ in me”

The New Testament has priority over other documents in Christianity

No missionary work or public marketing is done because finding this religion is based on free will.

~ compiled by hag