I have blogged before on the strange revelation or prophecy from the early 1900s onward and standing at the heart of Rudolf Steiner's entire (vast) corpus - and therefore - presumably, although I'm not sure - that also of Owen Barfield.
You will need to read that post first...
Now; I find that I cannot just put this prophecy aside and move-on, but I keep returning to think about and consider the matter. Because if it was true - this would, of course, be the most important fact in the world - and, although Steiner (in his later works) was often/ usually wrong in detail, he was nearly-always right in essence.
Thus I shall entertain the thought that Rudolf Steiner was factually correct that the Second Coming of Christ has by-now already happened, and not as an incarnation of the bodily Christ but in 'the etheric'; and I shall further assume that while the core revelation is true, the details are mistaken - so that there needs to be a clarification.
Then, I shall see where this experimental-assumption gets-me; and whether it makes any kind of sense...
1. If Steiner genuinely knew that Christ was to return in the Etheric; my understanding is that this was not a chronologically exact foreseeing of the future - because I believe such predictions to be an impossibility.
So that in reality Steiner's prophecy was actually an announcement of a current state of affairs; and it meant that the Second Coming had already happened, which is (I infer) how Steiner knew about it.
So instead of something going-to-happen circa 1933, let's assume instead that there was a return of Christ from circa 1750 - in other words from the beginnings of the movement called Romanticism.
This is how Steiner could sense the event; sense it both directly - as an ongoing reality; a fact of daily life; and he could also sense it from his profound studies of Goethe and the other German Romantics, and the change that had come over their thinking.
2. What about the Etheric? What does that mean?
Translating Steiner's categories of The Self (as I understand them) the Etheric comes in-between the Physical Body and Consciousness (the Astral Body) - so Christ's return is not in his body (i.e. he is not incarnated), and it is also not in a way of which people are conscious.
The Etheric implies that Christ is felt; a transformation of Life, an unconscious feeling, at the level of instinct.
The presence of Christ in the Etheric is known as an instinctive feeling.
3. Does this make general sense? Yes, it does.
The impulse of Romanticism came upon Western culture beginning from 1750 - affecting poetry, literature - including the invention of the novel almost exactly in 1750, music, visual arts, philosophy...
Romanticism also affected Western culture, through several later waves - eg the 1890s, the 1920s, the 1960s-70s) in terms of a new and strong (often destructive) impulse of individualism, political radicalism and revolution, the sexual revolution, an assertion of the instinctive (and 'primitive', or 'tribal').
In religion and spirituality we could point to Quakerism, the US New Religions of the middle 1900s, New England Transcendentalism, Walt Whitman, DH Lawrence, the Beats, the New Age... Every movement (good, and - mostly - bad) that contains a theme of instinct, personal revelation, intuition, utopia, altered consciousness, hopes of transcendence or higher evolution; all such could be interpreted as having some degree of unconscious awareness of the new possibilities deriving from the actual felt presence of Christ.
We could posit that there was indeed a second coming of Christ perceptible at an unconsicous level; but distorted, and indeed twisted to evil by such factors as adherence to materialism; the pro-instinctive, short-termist and hedonic theories of the sexual revolution; consumerism; and by the cultivated spite and resentments of the various Leftisms and, in general, politics conceived as primary.
Probably the main evil-tending distortion is that Modern Man will not allow himself to become conscious of Christ.
In other words, we could ascribe the malign phenomena of Steiner's own amazing 1918 true-prophecy to Western Man's failure to respond properly to the Second Coming; indeed, by our wicked choice to have perverted and inverted our instinctively-felt urgings of Christ.
4. What would be the implications? (Continuing to entertain the notion that this understanding is correct.)
Well, one implication would be that we need to become conscious of Christ's presence... This needs stating more strongly: we must become conscious of Christ's presence in this world, and of his direct influences on each of us, individually.
To become conscious of an instinctive-feeling means that we each need to do 'scientific' work - because that is the core nature of science: to do science is to become explicitly conscious of phenomena.
Therefore we each need to become scientists of our-selves.
And that is exactly what Steiner and Owen Barfield (and, of course - following them, myself) have argued is the primary task of Modern Man; which is to embark on a 'scientific' introspection, to develop a clear knowledge of our own thinking, to make intuitions both primary and explicit; and to do all this is the Christian context of its being done in light of the first and second commandments to love God, and neighbour.
5. Does this kind of 'Second Coming' even make sense to a Christian?
Well, maybe. I am more inclined to think so than before I embarked on this exercise.
It may make sense if our understanding is that this mortal life is about experiences from-which we need to learn in order to become more divine. If, in other words, our main task (as mature adults) is theosis rather than salvation - because salvation, while not universal, is by-default; and Hell must positively be chosen.
On such a basis, it is imaginable that a return of Christ at the level of unconscious instinctive awareness may be a means to this end.
In sum; I am surprised what good sense can be made from making the contingent assumption that Steiner was correct-but-with-errors when he announced the Return of Christ in the Etheric...