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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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The Christian Mystery
GA 97

X. The Lord's Prayer

4 February 1907, Karlsruhe,

All the prayer formulas and words of wisdom that have come down to us from the great religions contain many of the profound secrets of existence. Only we have to understand that all the different religions had prayer but differed in so far as with some of them prayer took more the form of meditation, as it is called, whilst Christianity and some other religions had prayer in the true sense, as we know it today. Meditation is above all part of Oriental religions. It means to enter deeply into a spiritual content, and this is done in such a way that by entering deeply into this the individual concerned finds himself in accord with the worlds divine and spiritual ground and origin. Please understand me rightly. Some religions give their members formal meditations, which may be prayer-like formulas into which people enter deeply, so that they become aware of the stream of divine and spiritual life present in their souls, giving themselves to the divine ground and origin of the spirit at such moments. The formulas are essentially based on thoughts, however. Basically speaking, Christian prayer is no different, only the content is more based on inner responses and feelings. A Christian enters into the essence of the divine that streams through the world more by way of inner responses and feelings.

It should not be thought, however, that Christian prayer has always been, or indeed can be, taken the way it often is today. There is an exemplary Christian prayer in which Christ Jesus himself showed, as clearly as anyone can possibly show, what the mood of a Christian should be in prayer. It is simply this: ‘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. Let us consider these words. In the first place it is a genuine petition―to let the cup pass, but at the same time wholly given up to the will of the divine spirit: ‘But not my will but your will be done.’ This mood, where we let the will of the divine spirit be alive in us as we pray, giving ourselves up to it, not wanting anything for ourselves but letting the divine spirit have its will in us, this mood must be present as an undertow, the basic note in our prayer if it is to be Christian.

It is quite clear that with this it is impossible to have an egotistical prayer. It is also impossible for other reasons to offer an egotistical prayer to God, for then one of us would ask for rain, his neighbour for sunshine, and both would be asking for purely egotistical reasons, not to speak of situations where two armies face each other about to do battle and each asks that it may be victorious, which is of course quite impossible. But if there is a basic mood of ‘not my will but your will be done’, we can ask for anything, for we are then giving ourselves up to the will of the divine spirit. I would like to ask for this, but I leave it to the divine spirit to decide if it shall come to be or not.

That is the basic mood of Christian prayer, and it is in this aspect that the most comprehensive, most universal prayer of Christian tradition arose—the Lord's Prayer, which tradition says was taught by Christ Jesus himself. It is indeed one of the most profound prayers in the world. Today we are no longer able to know the profound depths of the Lord's Prayer in its original language. But the thoughts it contains are so tremendous that it does not lose anything in any language.

When you consider the prayers of other nations, you will find prayers to have been of the kind I have characterized wherever religions are in their prime, have reached their peak. However, once the religions had come down in the world those prayers assumed a character that was no longer entirely right. They have become magic formulas, means of idolatry. At the time when Christ Jesus taught his people to pray, many, many such magic formulas were in use, all of them having had profound meaning at their origin. Such magic incantations would always refer to things people liked in outward ways, asking for things in an egotistical way governed by personal wishes. The lord taught that Christians should not pray like that. That kind of prayer has to do with superficial things. A Christian should say his prayer in seclusion, that is, in his inmost soul, the part of it where the human being can make the connection with the divine spirit. We must understand, of course, that something lives in every human being that may be compared to a drop from the ocean of the divine, that there is something in every human being that is like God. It would be wrong, however, to think that a human being in himself is like God. When we say: something in the human being is like God, this does not mean the human being himself is equal to God, for a drop taken from the ocean is the same as the ocean in substance, but it is not the ocean. And so the human soul is a drop from the ocean of the divine, but it is not God, and just as the drop can unite with its own substance when you pour it into the sea, so does the soul, being a drop of divinity, unite with its God in a spiritual way during prayer or meditation. This union of the soul with its God is called ‘to pray in private’ by Christ Jesus.

As a first step we have characterized the mood of Christian prayer, the Christian human mood needed for this prayer. We can now contemplate the contents of the Lord's Prayer itself. The words were that the Lord's Prayer is the most comprehensive prayer. You will therefore feel the need, as I do, to take a very comprehensive look at the world in order to understand the Lord's Prayer. We'll have to take a long roundabout route to understand it. We need to consider the nature of the human being from a particular point of view. You know that we do this the way it has been done in spiritual research through the ages. Let us briefly consider it once more.

When we have a human being before us, we have first of all the physical body which has its substance and forces in common with all minerals and seemingly lifeless products of nature. But this physical human body is not the only thing we have in the space before us, which is what materialists may think; it is only the lowest principle of human nature. The next principle we discern is the ether body or life body of the individual, and this he has in common with the plants and the animals, for every plant, every animal and every human being must call the chemical and physical matter into life; they cannot give life to themselves. The third principle is the astral body, the bearer of pleasure and pain, drives, desires and passions and the notions we have in everyday life. Man could not have any of these if it were not for the astral body. He only has it in common with the animals. Animals, too, feel pleasure and pain, have drives, desires and passions, and so they also have this body. And so the human being has his physical body in common with the seemingly lifeless minerals, and his ether or life body with all things that grow and reproduce themselves, the whole plant world. He has his astral body in common with animal nature. Then he has one more thing and this is something that takes him beyond the three natural worlds of this earth, making him the apotheosis of creation. This is the fourth principle of his essential nature.

We find it if we give the matter a little thought. There is one name that differs from all others. You cannot say ‘I’ to anyone else. To everyone else I am a ‘you’, and everyone else is a ‘you’ to me. ‘I’ is a name the meaning of which can only arise in the inner soul itself. It can never come to you from outside if it refers to you yourself. People who lived with the more profound religions always knew this, at all times, and they would therefore say: ‘When the soul begins to give this name to itself inwardly, the god in man begins to speak, the god who speaks through the soul.’ The name ‘I’ cannot come from outside, it has to arise in the soul itself. This is the fourth principle of human nature.

Occultists of the Hebrew faith called this ‘I’ the name of God that may not be spoken. ‘Yahweh’ actually means ‘I am’. Whatever interpretation scholars lacking inner knowledge may give, in reality it meant ‘I am’, and that is the fourth principle of the essential human being. These are the four aspects that make up man in the first place. We also call them the four members of man's ‘lower’ nature.

Now to understand the whole nature of man you will have to go back a little in human evolution. This takes us to many different peoples that preceded us—ancient German and central European development, the Graeco-Latin and Chaldean peoples, Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians and Hebrews, the Persian peoples and all the way back to the people with whom our present civilization started, the Indians. They, too, had ancestors but those lived somewhere quite different, on the continent which now is the bottom of the sea between Europe and America, on Atlantis. This was washed away by tremendous floods, the land went down in a mighty natural event that lives on in the myths and legends of all nations as the Flood.

But even Atlantis was not the earliest civilized land on earth. Going back a long way we come to the region where man developed his present-day form, a land that lay more or less between today's Indochina, Australia and Africa. This was ancient Lemuria, a land where conditions were very different from those we know today. People do not usually realize how great and comprehensive the changes have been that occurred on earth in the course of human evolution. There we come to a time when man's lower nature did already exist. Creatures consisting of the four members—physical body, ether body, astral body and I-nature—went about on earth then. They were organized at a higher level than the highest animals of today, but they were not yet human—animal-humans, but definitely not like today's animals. Our animals are degenerate descendants that have developed from those animal-humans by lagging behind and by involution. Something very special happened among those animal-humans which lived at that time.

They were ripe at that time to receive the power into them which is our higher power of soul. We might put it like this: lower human nature united with the human soul at that time. This human soul had until then rested in the keeping of the godhead, being an inherent part of the godhead itself. Up above, therefore, in the realm of the spirit, there was the divine spirit, and down below were the fourfold human forms, which had been maturing up to this point and were now ready to receive droplets of this divine spirit. We can get an idea of what happened then by using a picture. Think of a glass of water. You take a hundred tiny sponges and try gradually to take up a drop of the water with each of these sponges. You then have a hundred drops which previously had been completely one with the water and are now distributed among one hundred small sponges. This is a simple image to show you how the process of ensoulment went at that time. Until then the soul had rested within the great universal divine spirit like a drop in our glass of water. The physical human forms then acted the way our small sponges do. Droplets of the spirit separated out from the universal divine substance; they became individual, and as souls were like drops in those enveloping forms. They then began to develop the human being as he is today, an entity with soul and body. Those souls incarnated for the first time then. Afterwards they went through many, many incarnations, developing their human body into the form it has today. The event which happened at that time, however, was that parts of the divine principle united with the lower members of human nature. They progressed with every incarnation, became more perfect with every incarnation, to reach a certain culmination at a future time.

We call this part of higher nature which came in as a power at that time, changing lower nature and in the process of change rising to a higher level itself, the core of man's essential nature: spirit self, life spirit and spirit man, or manas, buddhi, atman. These are the elements of the divine spirit through which man gradually transforms his lower into his higher nature, step by step. With his power of manas he restructures the astral body, with buddhi the ether body, and with the power of atman he restructures the physical body. He has to transfigure them all, making them spiritual, if he is to reach the goal of his evolution one day. And so we once had four members—physical body, ether body, astral body and I—and at that time were then given the seed potential for higher development which is really something that flows from the highest spirit—the threefold higher nature of man, the divine core of our being, the divine potential in man. We can look at this higher part of human nature in two ways. One is to say: that is the higher nature of man, and man is developing towards it in the course of evolution. Or we consider it to be part of the divine spirit from which it has come, the divine element in the human being. A Christian will primarily consider it in this second way, and we are going to do this as well now and see if we can discern the essence of these higher powers in human nature. We'll start with the highest principle, the element which in man is called the power of atman. What I am going to tell you now is not some kind of external definition, for I want to characterize the true nature and essence of this higher principle of human nature. The principle that becomes power of atman is, in so far as it is a power that comes from the divine spirit, will-like by nature. Think of your own powers of will, of the part in you that is able to will, and you have a shadowy reflection, a shadowy picture of the element that comes from the power of atman, from the divine. The human will is the human being's least developed power today. The will is, however, able to develop more and more, until the time comes when it reaches its culmination and is able to achieve what is known in all religions as ‘the great offering’ or ‘the great sacrifice’.

Imagine yourself standing before a mirror and looking into it. Your image is exactly like you in every aspect of your physiognomy, your gestures; it is like you in everything, but it is a dead image of you. You stand in front of it as a living entity and come face to face with your dead image which is like you in everything except for your livingness, your substance and content. Imagine now that your will has developed to the point where it would be capable of deciding to give up your own existence, your own essential nature and give it over to your mirror image. You would then be able to sacrifice yourself wholly, so that your mirror image may be given your life. Such a will is said to ‘emanate’, to let its own essence go. It is the highest development of the will, known to Christians as the ‘divine will of the father’.

The human will, then, is today the least developed of our soul powers. It is, however, in the process of developing such power that it will be able to achieve ‘the great sacrifice’. That is the true nature of the potential which lies in the power of atman—will-like nature in so far as it is an out-flowing of divine essence.

Let us now consider the second principle of man's higher nature—the buddhi or life spirit—looking at it as an out-flowing of the divine spirit, which is the view taken in Christianity. You will find it easiest to get an idea if it if you now consider not the power that flows out to give life to the mirror image but to the mirror image itself. In the mirror image the original being is perfectly repeated; it is the same, and yet not the same. If you apply this to the world, to the whole universe—how the divine world will in one point is reflected in all directions.

Think of a hollow sphere, as it were, that is reflective inside. The one point inside is reflected inwards infinitely many times. Everywhere, in infinite recapitulation, the divine world will; mirror images everywhere, aspects of the divine.

Look at the cosmos, the universe like this, as a mirroring of the infinite world will. The divine world will is not in any one entity that exists but is it reflected everywhere in infinitely many ways. The mirroring of the godhead—with the godhead remaining at the point where it is but at the same time giving life to every point in which it is reflected by making ‘the great sacrifice’―that is the ‘kingdom’ in Christian terminology. And this term ‘the kingdom’ refers to the element which in man is the buddhi. If you consider the universe with regard to the creative, productive principle that flows from the divine origin, then the element that comes immediately next to the atman is the buddhi, the divine spark. As a ‘kingdom’ it is universal and cosmic.

And let us now turn our attention from this to the details of the kingdom. We first considered it as a whole. Now we come down to detail. In what way do we distinguish the one from the other? With the ‘name’, as it is called in Christian terminology. Each is given a name, and that is how distinction is made between the many different things, the individual aspects of the kingdom. To a Christian, the ‘name’ is something which is often called the ‘idea’, the particular nature of a thing. Just as an individual person is distinguished from another by name, so the name is felt to be such that it also holds part of the mirrored divine essence. A Christian has the right relationship to this name if he understands that every aspect of the kingdom is an out-flowing of the divine, and knows with every bite of bread that it is an out-flowing, a mirror and a part of the godhead. A Christian should clearly understand this in relation to even the least of things. In human nature, the individual spirit brings it about that each becomes an individual compared to others. What the name is in the kingdom, man has in his individual spirit self or manas because he is a separate part of the godhead, has a separate name, a name which for each individual goes through all incarnations.

So we now have this threefold nature before us as an out-flowing of the divine spirit, and in this sense atman is the will of the godhead, buddhi or the life spirit the kingdom of the godhead, and manas or the spirit self the name of the godhead.

Let us now consider the four lower members of human nature, beginning with the physical body, which is the lowest. It has the same material substances and forces as outer physical nature, but is also constantly converting those substances and forces. These move in and out of the human physical body, and its very existence depends on their moving in and out. It can only continue by continually renewing and changing itself using the outer physical substances. It forms a whole with the rest of physical nature. Just as you cannot cut off this finger and have it remain what it is—it will shrivel up as soon as you separate it from the rest of the body and is what it is only because it is part of the whole organism—so you cannot separate the physical human body from the earth and have it remain as it is. Man thus is an entity that is connected with the elements of the earth. Physical substances and forces move in and out, and this makes him such that he can only maintain his essential nature through them. This characterizes the physical body.

The second member is the ether or life body. Here we must understand that it is the principle which calls the merely physical substances and forces to life. It bears the powers of growth and reproduction, the signs of life altogether, and also something entirely different—all the qualities of the human being that are of a more lasting nature than his short-lived drives, desires and passions. What makes him different from them? If you want to grasp this difference, think back to the time when you were eight years old. Think of everything you have learned since then, all the concepts and ideas, experiences and events that have enriched your soul—it is a tremendous amount. But now you need to think about something else, and that is how slowly, at a snail's pace, something else is going. Remember that you had a violent temper as a child, and consider if this temper does not still come through at times, with your inclinations or your temperament still largely the same. All this has not changed as much as your experiences have. You might compare the things you learn, experience, with the minute hand of a clock, and the changes in character, temperament and habit with the hour hand. This difference exists because the former are sustained by the astral body, whereas the latter, which move so slowly, are sustained by the ether body. If your habits change, that is a change in your ether body. When you have learned something, it is a change in your astral body.

For someone who becomes a pupil of genuine occultism in the higher sense, training is not a matter of external learning, for all occult training takes place in the ether body. You therefore have done more for your actual occult training if you have managed to change just one deep-rooted character trait than if you have gained any amount of external knowledge. Distinction is therefore made between the exoteric, which is sustained by the ether body, and esoteric, which is what the ether body needs. The ether body also sustains memory as a quality, not as the memorizing of things. If your memory is to get clearer, for instance, this involves changing the ether body; if it gets less good, this is a change in the ether body, a change in your power of memory. Something else is also of infinite importance for us. The way human beings are now, they live in two directions. Each belongs to a family, a tribe, nation and so on, and has certain qualities in common with others, qualities that relate him to that context. French people have different ones from Germans, these again others than the English, and so on. They all have certain tribal characteristics in common. But apart from this each has his own individual characteristics, and with these goes beyond nation or tribe, becoming an individual person. You are part of a community because of particular qualities of the ether body. The ether body has the qualities through which you are a member of a nation, a race, and humanity as a whole. But to find the things that take you outside this community, you have to look to the astral body. This makes people individual.

A person's whole life in the community therefore depends on his ether body finding the right balance with the ether bodies of the people with whom he has to live. If it cannot find it, the person cannot live in that community, something will go wrong and he'll be on the outside. The human ether body thus has the task of adapting to other ether bodies. The astral body gives the individual aspect; it must above all live in such a way that the person does not commit personal sins. The astral body goes astray in one direction or another because of personal sins; those are the failings of the astral body. Being out of harmony with the community, those are failings of the ether body. When esoteric Christians were accurate in their use of words they would call the failings of the ether body ‘trespass’ or ‘fault’, something that upsets the balance in relation to others. A failing of the astral body, which arises from one's individual nature, was called ‘falling into temptation’. The astral body is subject to temptation in its drives, passions and desires. It falls into error by falling to temptation within itself. That was the distinction made between ‘fault’ and ‘falling into temptation’ in esoteric Christianity.

Now to the fourth member of the essential human being—the I. We spoke of the physical body, which exists on the basis of metabolism, exchange of substances; the ether body, which may have committed faults; the astral body which may fall into temptation. Now the I. It is the very source and origin of self-seeking, of egotism. It was the I which brought it about that the element which was at one in the great divine spirit has entered into many individuals. It was due to the I that it fell away from oneness and entered into individual. Christian gnosis therefore considered the I to be the actual origin of egotism and selfishness. For as long as the individual entities were at one in the godhead, they could not go against one another. They could only do this when the ‘I’s had become separate. Before, they could only will as the godhead willed. This way of developing in opposition to others which is egotism is called the failing of the I, and in Christian tradition the moment when this soul descends into the body is exactly defined as the Fall, biting into the apple. The actual failing of the I is called ‘evil’. The failing of the fourth member thus is evil. Only the I can fall into evil, and this came about when the bite was taken of the apple. In Latin, the word malum means both ‘apple’ and ‘evil’.

So, to sum up once more, the physical body is the same as the physical elements all around it and sustains itself in the continual exchange of substances and forces, in metabolism. The ether body is the principle which maintains the balance with other members of the community; it may commit faults. The astral body, which should not fall to temptation, and the I, which must not fall victim to egotism, to evil.

This fourfold principle unites with the threefold higher principle which is the divine core of being:

willkingdomname
atmanbuddhimanas

Think of prayer as the human being uniting himself with the godhead, doing so in seclusion. The original concept in Christendom was that the soul was seen as divine, a droplet from the ocean of the godhead. And this soul must plead that it may return again to its origin. This origin of divine human nature is given the name ‘father’. And the goal towards which the soul strives, where it will be united again with the principle that is called the ‘father’, is the devachan or heaven.

And now we think of the prayer of prayers—an appeal that individual human nature may find the way to divine father-nature.

This prayer had to plead that the three higher principles of human nature might be able to develop, ask that the ‘will’, the highest out-flowing of the divine, might come to realization in man; that the second principle of divine nature, the ‘kingdom’, might spread in the human being; that the third principle, the ‘name’, might be felt to be holy. This would therefore relate to the three higher principles, the divine nature in man. And for the four lower members of human nature one would ask: let my physical body be given the substances it needs to sustain itself. Let the ether body find the balance between its fault and the fault of others, so that it may live in harmony with the others. The prayer would have to be a plea that temptation would not drag down the astral body, and that the I might not fall into the evil that flows from egotism.

In a prayer of prayers, you must ask to be united with the father. You should do this in such a way that the individual aspects of your sevenfold nature are there before you in your prayer:

‘Our father, who are in heaven.’

You first invoke the father, then make the petitions that relate to the three higher principles:

‘Hallowed be your name, let your kingdom come to us.’

‘Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’

Then the four petitions that relate to the other four members of the essential human being:

‘Give us today our daily bread.’

‘Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.’

That is coming to terms with the people among whom we live.

‘Lead us not into temptation.’

Our astral body.

‘But deliver us from evil.’

Meaning from any out-flowing of egotism.

The seven petitions of the Lord's Prayer thus relate to the evolution of sevenfold human nature. From the depth of wisdom, going beyond the human being, the Lord's Prayer has been given to Christians as a Christian prayer, and in it lies everything that is known about the human being in theosophy. You only have to understand it and you have the whole of theosophical wisdom, in so far as it relates to man.

Prayers that do not just have a short-term effect but take hold of human souls through millennia, lifting up human hearts, have all arisen from the most profound wisdom. No such prayer has ever been given by someone putting together beautiful or uplifting words at will. They have been taken out of the most profound wisdom, for this alone gives them the power to influence human souls through millennia.

The objection that a simple mind will know nothing of this wisdom is pointless. The mind does not need to know any of this, for the power of the Lord's Prayer comes from that wisdom, and this influences human beings even if they do not know about it.

It merely has to be understood in the right way. Someone sees a plant and is delighted by it. Even the most naive mind will be delighted, though it knows nothing of the divine wisdom that lies in the plant. It is the same with the great prayers. You need not know the wisdom, and yet the prayer will have the power, the wisdom, the ability to lift us up, the sanctity of prayer. It may be born out of the greatest wisdom, but what matters is not to know that wisdom but to experience its power.

It is only in our time that the possibility exists to discover the things which Christ Jesus put into prayer and know again the power he put into it, especially the Lord's Prayer. It has been taken from the greatest depths of wisdom and knowledge about man and his sevenfold nature, and because of this it is great and powerful for even the simplest of minds, and even more uplifting for someone who is also able to gain the wisdom that lies in it. And it does not lose any of its power in the process, a power it has always had, touching us deeply and lifting our spirits. For the whole of theosophy, divine wisdom, lies in the Lord's Prayer.

The lord often spoke to the multitudes in parables. But when he was alone with his disciples he would explain the parables to them, for they had to gain the strength from the wisdom-filled explanation of the parables that would make them his messengers, make them know the means by which he himself gained the magical power that would make his work have the influence it was to have for millennia.

So this is something that can help us enter into the meaning of the Lord's Prayer.