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Schmidt Number: S-2171

On-line since: 17th Jamuary, 2008

A lecture by
Rudolf Steiner
Berlin, February 17, 1910
Bn 59, GA 59, CW 59

Medieval mysticism prepared the way for spiritual science; prayer prepared for medieval mysticism. Today the essence of prayer has been misunderstood. Prayer is intended to produce the divine spark, the special life of the soul. For this, we must understand both the soul and the soul in relation to the future set before us by world wisdom.

This lecture, Das Wesen des Gebetes, was given by Rudolf Steiner in Berlin, February 17, 1910, and is contained in Pfade der Seelenerlebnisse (Vol. 59 in the Bibliographic Survey 1961). The translation has been revised for this edition by Gilbert Church, Ph.D. This First Edition, from 1952, is copyright by Henry B. Monges.

Copyright © 1952
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Rudolf Steiner

In my recent lecture on mysticism I spoke of the particular form of mystic absorption that appeared in the Middle Ages between the time of Meister Eckhart and that of Angelus Silesius. This type of mysticism is distinguished by the fact that the mystic seeks to become free of all the experiences aroused in his soul by the external world. He seeks to acquire the feeling that proves to him that, even when everything of the everyday world is removed from his soul and it withdraws into itself, a world of its own still remains within it. This world always exists but is outshone by the experiences that work so powerfully on man from without. Thus, it generally appears as a light so faint that most men do not even notice it. The mystic usually calls it “the spark.” Yet, he feels sure that it can be fanned to a mighty flame that will illumine the source and foundation of existence leading man along the path of his soul to the knowledge of his origin. This may, indeed, be called “knowledge of God.”

In the same lecture we saw how medieval mystics held that this spark, constituted as it is at the moment, must grow by itself. In contrast, we pointed out that modern spiritual research calls for a conscious and controlled development of these inner soul forces, so that they can rise to higher forms of knowledge, designated the imaginative, the inspirational and the intuitive. This medieval absorption is thus the beginning of true higher spiritual research that does indeed seek the spirit through the development of the inner being but, through the method of approach, is led beyond it to the source and foundation of the existence of all facts and phenomena, and of our own souls as well. Mysticism, therefore, appeared as a sort of first step to true spiritual investigation. If we have the ability to sink ourselves in the fervor of a Meister Eckhart, to recognize what an immeasurable force of spiritual knowledge it brought to Johannes Tauler, to see how deeply Valentin Weigel or Jacob Boehme were initiated into the secrets of existence by all that they attained through such absorption even though they passed beyond it, or to understand what an Angelus Silesius became through its means, how he was enabled not only to gain an illuminating insight into the great laws of spiritual order but also to utter with glowing rapturous beauty all sorts of sayings about world secrets, we shall then be able to realize the depth and force of this medieval mysticism and to see what an enormous help it can be to anyone who wants to tread the path of spiritual investigation.

Medieval mysticism thus appears to us, particularly as the result of that lecture, as a great and wonderful preparatory school for spiritual research. Indeed, how could it be otherwise? After all, our own object is simply to develop the spark of which the mystics spoke through its own inner forces. They believed that they might surrender themselves in the peace of their souls to the little glimmering spark, so that it might begin to burn ever more brilliantly of itself. Spiritual science, however, is convinced that, for the growth of the spark, we must use the capacities and forces that are placed under our control by the wisdom of the world.

This mystical attitude, then, is a good preparation and guide for spiritual science, and the soul activity that may in the true sense be called prayer is a preparation for this medieval absorption. Just as the mystic is enabled to attain a state of absorption because he has, even though unconsciously, trained his soul to have the right temper for such mysticism, so if we want to work our way through to this absorption, treading a path that shall end there, we shall find a preparation in true prayer.

In the development of the last centuries, even from a spiritual aspect, the essence of prayer has been misunderstood in many ways by various spiritual currents or thought. Thus, it will be difficult for us to get a true understanding of it. If we remember, however, that the last centuries have been associated particularly with the appearance of egoistic currents of spiritual thought that have laid hold of all sorts of people, we shall not be surprised to find that prayer has been dragged down among the egoistic wishes and desires of men. In fact, prayer can hardly be more misunderstood than when it is permeated with some form of egoism. In this study we shall try to consider prayer entirely and without prejudice from the point of view of spiritual science.

To get some preliminary understanding of prayer we might say that, while the mystic assumes the existence in his soul of some