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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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The Christian Mystery
GA 97

XI. The Lord's Prayer

6 March 1907, Cologne

When we speak of prayer in the Christian sense we have to understand above all that prayer is really nothing else but to enter deeply, giving oneself up, into the divine. In the great religions where people seek to achieve this giving up of self more by entering into deep thought, people speak of meditation; in religions where the devotion comes from the heart more than the head, more from the personal sphere, it is called prayer. In the Christian religion this devotion has gained personal character; in the old religions it was more unconscious and impersonal. People knew thousands of years ago that there is an eternal, divine principle. Example of slave who said to himself: One life of many. People of those times therefore had hope in life, courage, strength and certainty. It was a kind of looking out from life in time to life eternal. A time had to come, however, when the human being looked up to his god in a personal way. Exoteric Christian teaching is that a tremendous amount depends on the individual person who went from birth to death. This is also why meditation assumed the more personal aspect of prayer. But we should not forget that in the Christian faith there is an exemplary prayer: ‘Father, if it can be done, let this cup pass away from me, but not my will but your will be done.’103Matthew 26: 39.

If you develop this mood, you have a Christian prayer. A prayer in which someone asks things for himself his personal affairs, is not a Christian prayer. You may have two armies about to do battle, with both praying for victory. Two farmers, one asking for rain, the other for sunshine. What is the god supposed to do? True Christian prayer has nothing to do with such personal wishes and desires. The personal prayer, the true prayer, may also include personal petitions, but the guiding principle must be: Not my will but your will be done. This exemplary Christian prayer of Christ Jesus, the Lord, thus gives the mood which prayer should have. There are many Christian prayers, but the Lord's Prayer, the prayer of prayers, is the one of which we can say that there is hardly anything else in the world that contains so much and such important things as this Lord's Prayer. And we then remember how Christ Jesus introduced this prayer. ‘Go into seclusion to say your prayers’, he said.104Matthew 6: 6.

Everywhere, in all religions, you have formulas for meditation and magic formulas. Such magic formulas are of the same significance for meditation as actual meditations. People sought to give themselves up to their god in meditation with them, and they also wanted to give themselves up to their god by practising magic. Christ Jesus warned, however: ‘Do not pray for the things that happen in the streets; go deep down into your innermost being when you pray.’ Something of the divine nature lives in human beings, a drop of the divine spirit, and it is the same in substance as the godhead. The ocean as a whole and the drop of water are also the same in substance.

And so let us consider the universe and man in the way in which it was customary in the earliest esoteric schools. We'll go back to the time when the human bodies that were in the process of preparation were waiting, as it were, for the divine seed, the human soul coming down from the godhead. At that time the world was populated by plants and other things, including animal-human bodies. Man as he is today did not yet exist. The souls were gradually preparing the present-day body for themselves. A spiritual fluid was all around the earth. And now imagine someone taking a hundred tiny sponges and taking up a drop of the fluid in each. You now have a drop of the divine in each. Before, souls had been in the ocean of the godhead, now they were incarnated drops. Those souls were still very imperfect when they thus incarnated for the first time, but they already held the potential for man's higher nature—atman, buddhi, manas—which was to unfold and develop in life on earth. The animal-human being already had the four lower members at the time, but it needed the soul to transform them so that atman, buddhi and manas might arise.

Let us now consider this process of evolution esoterically, taking two points of view. Firstly, man grows increasingly more divine in atman, buddhi and manas; secondly, the drop of godhead is in him.

Let us first of all consider higher man in his divine aspect. In the Christian schools it was taught that one should first consider the highest aspect of the divine spirit; man would have risen to this when he came to the end of his evolution. Atman, the will, is this highest principle, will-like by nature. When man has reached perfection, his will shall be his greatest power. The will must then flow out from him. Every resolution made in the will shall immediately become action. Our atman is will-like by nature. In atman, the godhead first of all let its will flow into us. The divine will lives in us and in all things.

The second higher principle in us is the buddhi. Streaming down into man, the godhead goes from atman to buddhi. How does the divine will work? We can only gain understanding by considering the concept of offering or sacrifice. Imagine you are looking into a mirror. You see your own figure. This figure is similar to you. Now imagine a creative will in you. You would then have given everything you have, all of your life, all of your essential being to the image. You would then live in this image. This is how you may think of the creative sacrifice of the divine will. The divine will is not merely reflected in things, in the images, but sacrifices everything, putting it into them, and you so have the sacrificed divine will in the whole of cosmic space. A Christian thus sees a mirror image of the godhead, the divine will, in everything that exists in this world. You have the sacrificed godhead in the cosmic space, and this mirror image of the godhead was called the ‘kingdom’ in esoteric Christian terminology. The divine will multiplied millions of times and reflected again―that is what the ‘kingdom’ was to them. The creative atman, the buddhi living in us, the creative spirit in the world—that was the ‘kingdom’.

Look up now to see the part of the godhead that lives in the cosmos in its mirror image. This is able to identify the individual entity by its ‘name’ which is the manas, the spirit self, in us, it is our ‘name’. Manas is the name in us and in every single thing outside us. The name of every single thing was thus hallowed to man. And the pupil would be told: ‘You must clearly understand that when you eat a bite of bread that this, too, is something in which the godhead lies and it shall therefore be hallowed to you.’

In so far as our name is in God, it is manas, the name. Our buddhi thus is the kingdom. In our atman lives the divine will. These three are the divine elements in man. Man received these divine elements as part of his essential being, and in the world outside they are called name, kingdom and will.

And now, you see, the Christ wanted to teach his disciples by saying to them: the godhead was called the father, and the divine principle heaven. Union with the divine was only possible in that this divine principle now gave itself up to the three higher elements in man.

What does a Christian have to say, to bring this to expression?

Our father, who are in the heavens,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done on earth
as it is in the heavens.

The first three petitions of the Lord's Prayer thus speak in a quite specific way of man's three higher principles. These first three petitions have arisen from the higher spiritual nature of man.

Let us now consider the four lower members of man in esoteric terms—physical body, ether body, astral body and I.

The physical body is the one man has in common with all minerals, with physical matter and forces going in and out day by day. To develop his physical body, man must plead to be given the physical matter which is out there in the physical world. We have our ether body in common with all the people around us. The astral body is something more personal.

In the ether body we have things that are held in common in every family, in every nation. You belong more to a genus, a species, because you have an ether body. You are more of an individual because you have an astral body. You are a problem to the ether bodies around you if you are not in harmony with them, and this was called ‘trespass’ or ‘fault’ something we do to others with our ether body. But we also suffered harm ourselves because of this. Trespass is thus connected with the ether or life body. You commit a fault against someone near to you by injuring or damaging his ether body or life body. Take care not to do this, for only then will your own faults be forgiven.

What makes the astral body thrive? When the individual deviates from the true way he falls into temptation. The astral body is subject to temptation. Every way in which the individual sins is temptation.

The I is the fount of human independence but also of egotism, of selfishness. In this respect the I is the ‘evil’, which is the symbol for this. Malum is Latin for both ‘apple’ and ‘evil’. The Fall is the evil, the failing that arises from egotism.

When a Christian wants to ask that his four lower members may make good progress he will say, speaking for these entities:

Give us today our daily bread
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us,
and lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.

These are the other four petitions in the Lord's Prayer.

These were the petitions Christians were instructed in the esoteric schools to ask, they are the four formulas for the four lower members of the human being. Consider the last four petitions in the Lord's Prayer with reference to man's lower nature, and you find you have four petitions for the lower members, just as you have the first three petitions for the higher principles of man. The seven petitions in the Lord's Prayer thus contain the doctrine of the sevenfold nature of man, as taught in the science of the spirit.

In all the great religions there is not a prayer, a formula that has not been taken from the whole profound world wisdom. These prayers have their profound effect for the very reason that they have been born from this. It is thanks to the original wisdom of the world that the great religions have had an influence through thousands of years.

The father stands for the original essence of the world. It cannot be put more beautifully than it has been put in the Lord's Prayer. Because of this the Lord's Prayer touches human hearts and has great strength. You can't say simple people know nothing of this wisdom. They gain just as much from it. It is the same as when they take delight in flowers, having no idea of the wisdom that has created them. And so their souls may take delight in the Lord's Prayer without grasping its wisdom. The knowledge that lives in the prayer may not be grasped, but it can give people this strength. Those who gave the prayers to humanity, took them out of the most profound wisdom; hence the power of the great cosmic prayer. It is the secret of these prayers that they were taken from original wisdom by initiates and the founders of religions.

Now the time has come when people must know the deeper meaning of these prayers. We should say the Lord's Prayer daily. Everything we need to know about the nature of man is in that prayer. And by doing so, a person would receive what theosophical wisdom has to say about the nature of man.

The esotericism of the school created by Paul the Apostle was profound. Outside, Christianity was presented in an exoteric way. Dionysius the Areopagite was asked by Paul to take care of this esoteric wisdom. And so the realm of the spirit was envisaged with the dominions, principalities and powers, and people said to themselves: if we live the way the Lord's Prayer demands, we rise through dominions, principalities and powers all the way to the cherubim and seraphim and to the godhead itself in the Lord's Prayer.

This gives you the three stages: ‘For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory’, three stages in the realm of the spirit.

It is difficult to speak particularly about the Amen. All I can say is that it is an ancient formula that has become a bit mutilated.

We have seen, therefore, in how far the Lord's Prayer with the powerful effect it has on the human soul represents the doctrine of the sevenfold nature of man. This makes it the most effective prayer. This rhythm which is touched on in the soul came to the awareness of people who had the esoteric knowledge that a Christian who has said the Lord's Prayer has prayed human theosophy, has lived in the prayer. This theosophy is nothing new; it is something that lives in all hearts and is grasped in the spirit so that the light of understanding may extend to the divine realm. If this happens in human hearts and souls, people will find the way to the greatest heights of the spirit which they are capable of reaching.