THE LORD'S PRAYER
An Esoteric Study
Today I should like to indicate the extent to which religious systems
reveal, in specific instances, their hidden spiritual-scientific foundations.
It is a small but important aspect of the occult scientific basis of religions
that I wish to discuss. Even the simplest people in contemporary society
recognize this hidden background of religions as a spiritual fact involving
the deepest truths. Seeking these truths brings to light how wisdom-filled
and fraught with mystery are the ties binding together the spiritual life of
Think of Christian prayer. You all know what it is. It has often been spoken
of, and anthroposophists have often reflected upon its relation to the
spiritual-scientific world view. This spiritual-scientific world
conception has brought to members of the anthroposophic movement another
method of elevating the human being the human soul to contact
with the divine, spiritual, cosmic forces. This method is meditation, by
which a person experiences the spiritual content within himself, and receives
something of what is given by the great guiding spirits of humanity or by
the spiritual content of great civilizations in which the human being
immerses himself and so identifies himself with the divine spiritual
currents in the world.
Meditating in even the simplest way upon one of the formulas pronounced by
the spiritual leaders of mankind, admitting to the mind a formula that
embodies a great thought not every thought is suitable, as you know,
but only one handed down for this purpose by the guiding spirits of humanity
and letting such a formula really live in the heart and experience,
brings a person to union with the higher spirituality. A higher power, in
which he lives, streams through him, and patient perseverance to the point
of letting this flow of power strengthen him enough morally and
intellectually, brings him to the moment when the content of his meditation
can awaken the deeper forces latent in the human soul. This kind of
meditation may reach any of a number of stages, from the smallest gain in
moral strength to the highest attainments of clairvoyance. But time,
patience and energy are needed to bring most people to the higher degrees
of clairvoyance by this means.
Meditation is usually thought of as an oriental approach to the divine. In
the Occident, especially in Christian communities, prayer has taken its
place. It is by prayer that the Christian customarily approaches the
Divine, and through it he seeks entry to the higher worlds.
It should be noted by the way that what passes for prayer today would by
no means have been considered such in early Christian times, least of all
by the Founder of Christianity, Christ Jesus Himself. For if it were to
happen that someone were really to gain the gratification of his personal
wishes by prayer or entreaty, he would soon entirely disregard the
all-embracing effect that the granting of the prayer should bring. He would
assume that the Deity granted his wishes rather than those of others.
One peasant might pray for sunshine for a particular crop; another for rain
for another crop. What would Divine Providence then do?
Or suppose two opposing armies are facing each other, with each side
praying for victory and supposing its cause alone to be just. Such an
instance makes immediately obvious how little universality and sense of
brotherhood attach to prayers arising out of personal wishes, and the
granting of such prayers by God can satisfy only one group of supplicants.
People so praying disregard the prayer in which Christ Jesus set forth the
fundamental attitude of mind that should prevail in all prayer: Father,
let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be
done. This is the Christian attitude of prayer.
Whatever the object of the prayer, this fundamental temper of mind must
echo readily as an undertone in the soul of the petitioner for his prayer to
be given in a Christian manner. When this is the character of his plea, the
form of his prayer will be but a means of rising to higher spiritual realms
to experience the Divinity within the soul. It will be such, moreover, as to
expel every selfish wish and will-impulse. Its spirit will be that of the
words, Not my will, but thine, be done. The result will be a
rising to the divine world and absorption in it. Attainment of this soul mood
in Christian prayer renders it similar to meditation, though more colored by
feeling. Originally, Christian prayer was not essentially different from
meditation. Meditation is more imbued with thought, however. Through
it, the thoughts of the great leaders of mankind draw the meditant onward
toward harmony with the divine currents streaming through the world.
Through feeling, prayer accomplishes the same result.
The goal of both prayer and meditation is thus clearly the soul's union
with the divine currents in the world. This union, on the highest plane, is
the so-called unio mystica, or mystical union, with the Godhead.
Never could the human being attain to this union with God, never could
he gain a relationship with higher spiritual beings, were he himself not an
emanation of the divine-spiritual. Man's nature is twofold, as we know.
In him are the four oft-mentioned human principles physical body,
etheric or life-body, astral body and ego. Then, within the ego, he has the
possibility of unfolding for the future the three higher principles
manas, buddhi and atma, known in our western languages as spirit self,
life spirit and spirit man (see Note 1).
To understand rightly this twofold human nature, let us consider the
period of man's origin. From previous lectures, you will remember that
man now represents the blending of these two natures the blending of
the three higher potentials (spirit self, life spirit and spirit man) with the
four existing lower principles (physical body, etheric body, astral body
and ego) developed in a far-distant past, which we term the Lemurian
epoch of the earth. Tracing man backward from the present epoch
through the Greco-Latin, Egypto-Chaldean, Persian and Indian periods of
mankind to the great Atlantean flood recorded in the deluge-myths of all
nations, we reach those ancestors of ours who lived on the land-mass we
call Atlantis, between present-day Europe and America. Still further
back, we come to a primeval land-mass, which we call Lemuria, lying
between Australia and India. It was in the middle of that Lemurian period
that the higher triad of spirit self, life spirit and spirit man united with
the four lower human principles physical body, etheric body, astral
body and ego.
Correctly speaking, at that period in the Lemurian epoch, the highest
being on earth was not yet a physical human being in our sense of the
word. Only a kind of envelope existed, made up of the highest animal
nature a being, or collection of beings, made up of the four lower
principles of human nature. But until then the higher human being, which
is the internal part of human nature, destined to evolve further and further
in the future through the three principles of spirit self, life spirit and
spirit man, rested in the bosom of the Godhead.
To picture the scene at that time by a trivial modern comparison, it was as
though all the people living on earth had been building bodies capable of
receiving a human soul as a sponge absorbs water. Picture a vessel of
water. It is impossible to tell where one drop of water ends and another
begins. But picture also a number of little sponges immersed in the water,
each soaking up a part of it. What had been a uniform mass of water is
now distributed among the many little sponges. So it was with human
souls in that remote age. Previously, they had been at rest, without
individuality, in the bosom of the Divine First Cause, but at that
particular moment they were absorbed by human bodies and so
individualized, like the water by the sponges.
What was then absorbed by the separate bodies, or four lower principles,
continued to evolve further, and will so continue into the future. In
spiritual science it has always been called the higher triad, and the
triangle and the square were made symbols, especially in the
Pythagorean school, of the human being as he came into existence at the
middle of the Lemurian epoch. The diagram on the next page thus
represents the constituent elements of the human being,
But the higher, eternal portion, which passes through all incarnations, has
a double character, as you can see, From one side it may be regarded as
the primordial, eternal element of humanity and, from the other, as a drop
of the Divine Essence given up by the Godhead and poured into the
fourfold human vessel. As a result, a drop of the independently
individualized Divinity is to be found in each of us human beings.
The three higher members of the human being the eternal portion
may thus be looked upon as the three highest principles in man, but
equally as three principles in the Godhead Itself. Actually, the three
highest principles of human nature are at the same time the three lowest
principles of the Divinity nearest to man. An enumeration of man's
principles must start with the physical body, continue with the etheric
body, astral body and ego, thence from spirit self to spirit man. But a
corresponding enumeration of the principles of those Divine Beings who
gave a drop of their own soul nature to man at the time of which we are
speaking in the far-off past, must begin with spirit self, continue with life
spirit and spirit man, and thence proceed to principles above spirit man,
of which contemporary man can only conceive when he is a pupil of
You see that the three principles of higher human nature may be looked
upon as three divine principles, and today we shall so regard them, not as
human, but as divine principles, describing them accordingly. The
highest principle in us, which we shall only develop at the end of our
earth incarnations, or, we may say, at the end of our present planetary
course, is called spirit man in terms of spiritual or occult science. The
original essence of this human principle is faintly comparable to the will
element in present-day human nature. This comparison is not exact, but
only a faint indication. Yet the fundamental character of this highest of
the divine principles in us is of the nature of will a kind of willing.
This will element in us, today only feebly developed in our inner being,
will become in the course of our ever ascending development the
predominating principle in us.
Man is today essentially a consciousness, or understanding being, whereas
in many ways his will is limited. He understands the surrounding world as
a totality that is, to a certain degree but has no real
control over all that he penetrates with his knowledge. This control by
his will is a development of the future, and it will become ever stronger
until he attains that central goal of existence known to spiritual science
as the great sacrifice, signifying the power of will to sacrifice
oneself completely, not merely in driblets of human sacrifice of the kind
of which man is capable today with his puny present feelings and will
power. In future time he will have developed the strength to sacrifice his
whole being by letting it flow directly into material substance.
One may picture this great sacrifice, the highest expression of
will in divine nature, by imagining oneself before a mirror in which one's
image is reflected. This image is, of course, an illusion, a semblance. Now
carry over this image to the point of imagining yourself dying, sacrificing
your existence, your feeling and thought, your very being, to inject life
into that image. Spiritual science in all ages has called this phenomenon
the outpouring, the emanation. If you could really
make this sacrifice, it would be clear that you would no longer be here
because you would have given up your whole being to this reflected image
to imbue it with life and consciousness.
When the will has become capable of making the great sacrifice, it
actually creates a universe, great or small, whose mission is bestowed
upon it by its creator. Such is the creative will in the Divine Being.
The second principle in the Godhead, life spirit, insofar as it has flowed
into humanity, has already been indicated in the comparison that has been
made with the mirror. This second principle is the reflected image itself.
Now imagine the inner being of a Divinity that has in this way created a
universe, with itself as the center. If, for example, you imagine yourself
as the central point in this room, surrounded not by these six surfaces of
walls, ceiling and floor, but by a hollow globe that reflects its content,
you will see yourself, as the central point, reflected on all sides,
everywhere. In like manner you can picture a Divinity as a central will,
reflected on all sides, and the mirror is both image of Divinity and the
universe. For what is a universe? Nothing but a mirror of the essential
nature of Divinity.
The universe lives and moves because the Divinity is poured into it
the outpouring when Divinity makes the great
sacrifice and is reflected in the universe. The pouring of life and
being into a reflected image is an exact picture of this divine creative
The divine will expresses itself in infinite diversity, animating thereby the
entire universe. In spiritual science, this process of Divinity repeating
itself in infinite differentiation, in multiplicity, is known as the
kingdom, distinguished from the will itself. The will is the central
point; its reflection, the kingdom. The will is in this sense comparable with
spirit man; the kingdom, or will's reflected image, with life spirit.
The kingdom, in turn, reproduces the being of the Divine in infinite
variety. Observe it fully, at least to the extent to which it is our kingdom,
our multiplicity, or universe. Observe its visible manifestations in
minerals, plants, animals and human beings. The kingdom is manifested
in each separate being of all these, a fact that even our language
expresses in the terms mineral kingdom, vegetable
kingdom, animal kingdom and all the great divisions of
our universe. The kingdom is all these; each of these in turn, is a kingdom,
and if we observe the mass of details involved, we find the nature of all
to be divine. In all of them the divine being is reflected, just as the
central being is reflected in a hollow globe.
So an observer, looking at the world in the sense of spiritual research,
sees God reflected in every human being as an expression and image of
the Divine. In a graded series of beings, in infinite diversity, the Godhead
appears in the kingdom, and the separate entities are distinguished from
one another in the sense of spiritual science by their names. An
observer at a stage of existence sufficiently lofty to look upon all these
separate entities as emanations, or outpourings, of
the Divine is able to give these entities their names, to give each
manifestation of the Divine its name.
Of all beings in the universe, only man thinks the name of each of the
separate members of the great multiplicity of the kingdom, distinguishing
each from all the others. The will, as we have noted is comparable with
spirit man; the kingdom, or reflected image into which the will has been
outpoured, is comparable with life spirit. The third of the
three highest human principles that emanate from the Divine, by which the
separate members of the great multiplicity of the kingdom are distinguished
from one another and separately named, is comparable with spirit self. The
occult science of the different religions has thus simply taught what it
was that emanated from the Godhead and flowed into a person to become
his eternal image or archetype.
Thus, if you could see yourselves in that condition to which you should
finally rise the condition of spirit man you would recognize its
If you would rise in thought to a comprehension of the vehicle of will
(spirit man) in other words, to life spirit you would see
that it is the kingdom that represents it in the divine sphere.
If you would rise to penetrate what the names, or conceptions or ideas of
things really signify in spirit, you would see that it is the name that
represents this wisdom in the divine sphere.
So does ancient teaching reveal that the emanation of Divinity, which has
flowed into human nature to form its eternal part, consists of name, of
kingdom, of will. Thus what is called the higher triad in man is
recognizable as part of the Divine.
To complete this picture, think of the four lower principles of perishable
human nature. The three higher principles may be thought of, we know,
as principles of the Godhead. Similarly, the four lower principles may be
considered as of the perishable world, as human principles.
Think of the physical body, composed as it is of the same substances and
Forces as is the seemingly lifeless world around it. The physical body
could not go on existing without the inflow into it of matter and force
from the surrounding world. The physical body, in a strict sense, is a
continual thoroughfare for all that is in it. Into it and out of it again the
substances continuously flow that are at one time of the outer world and
at another time within us. In the course of seven years, as we have
mentioned in other connections, the entire material composition of the
human body is renewed. In none of you are the substances that were in
you ten years ago. We are perpetually renewing the substances of our
physical body. What was formerly in us is now somewhere else,
distributed outside us in nature; something else has replaced it inside of
us. The body's life depends upon this continual inflow and outflow of
Just as we have considered the three higher human principles as parts of
Divinity, we may observe the four principles of our lower nature as parts
of Divine Nature.
The physical body may be seen as part of the physical substance of our
planet. Its substance is taken from the material planet, then is returned to
it. The etheric body likewise may be considered a part of the environment
surrounding us here, and so also the astral body.
Think of the etheric body and the astral body together. The astral body, as
you know, is the vehicle of all that lives in man as impulse, desire and
passion, all that surges up and down in the soul as joy and sorrow,
pleasure and pain. The etheric body, on the contrary, is the vehicle that
represents and bears within it the more lasting qualities of soul.
Often I have compared the development of the etheric body and astral
body with the hour-hand and the minute-hand of a clock. A great
difference is observable between what you knew and experienced as an
eight-year-old child and what you now know and have experienced, as I
have also reminded you on other occasions. You have learned so much,
gained so many concepts, in the intervening period. Much that your soul
has taken in of joy and sorrow has left it again, actually has passed
through it. How different are these relatively ephemeral experiences from
such human elements as temperament, character and tendencies that are
persisting and continuing. You will find, for instance, that if you were
passionately inclined as a child, you are probably still so in later years.
Most people keep throughout their lives such basic elements in their
natures. It is to overcome this relatively stationary quality of the etheric
organism that spiritual training and development are instituted; for, as has
often been emphasized, such training is no matter of mere theoretical
knowledge. The student has accomplished a great deal, indeed, if he has
changed one quality of temperament to which he is predisposed, so
speeding up the hour-hand of the clock even a little.
Whatever evolves slowly in this way a human being's lasting
tendencies, enduring qualities of temperament, habits that persist is
rooted in the etheric body; whatever changes quickly by contrast, minute-
hand-wise, has its roots in the astral body.
Applying these facts practically to the human being in his environment,
to life in the external world, the observer notices a person's connections
with the epoch in which he lives, with a nation, with a family, all of
which are revealed in his habits, temperament and enduring inclinations.
These relatively fixed and abiding qualities tend to be observable, not
only in the person himself, but in all with whom he is in any way
connected his family, his nation, etc. A nation's separate individuals
are recognizable through their common habits and temperament. An
individual who is to achieve a higher spiritual development, to unfold his
higher nature, must change his disposition and basic habits. Such a man
is called homeless in the terminology of spiritual science,
because he is obliged to change his etheric body, through which he has
been, except for this higher development, connected with his nation.
Life in one's native community reveals, too, that the qualities linking one
to a family or nation, stirring one to feel relationships with individual
people of the nation, are similar also to qualities widely discernible in
one's era. If an ancient Greek should walk into your life, you would have
little in common with him. His etheric body would be so unlike yours.
Human beings understand one another through common qualities in their
In the astral body, however, is rooted a man's ability to lift himself more
readily out of certain qualities binding him to a common life with others,
and to establish himself as a separate individual in his family, in his folk,
so that he is not a mere Frenchman nor a mere German nor a member of a
family, but stands out as a special individuality within the folk, the
family, etc. Thus he can outgrow the totality of characteristics of his
nation. Those qualities that he transcends are rooted in the astral body.
The astral body is their bearer. The astral body is thus seen to bear more
of what is individual and personal in man.
So it is that faults committed through the etheric body render a man more
a sinner toward his fellow men through neglect of those obligations and
conditions making social life possible among them, between one man
and the next. On the other hand, faults of a more individual nature, a
man's wrong-doings as a separate personality, result from qualities in the
Spiritual science has always termed as guilt (German,
Schuld) those sins that are against the community,
and that originate in a faulty etheric body. The more common English
word debts (Schulden) has in German an origin
similar to the word guilt, with its more moral connotation
in English, signifying what one man owes another in a moral sense. Debt,
or guilt, derives from defective qualities in the etheric body, whereas
a defective element in the astral body leads to what spiritual science
associates with the word temptation. The man yielding to
temptation takes upon himself a personal fault, or failure.
The ego, or true personality, too, can commit faults. The Paradise story
indicates the kind of fault through which an ego may fall. The human
being's higher soul became an ego when it descended from the bosom of
the Godhead and entered an earthly body for the first time. It was taken
up by the earthly body like a drop of water by a sponge.
The higher soul, or individuality, can commit faults within the ego. These
ego-failures, which are different from those stemming from faulty
qualities of the etheric and astral bodies, occur through the very fact of a
man's attaining independence. To rise gradually, in full consciousness, to
freedom and independence, man had to pass through selfishness and
egotism. As a soul, he is descended from the Godhead, which is
incapable of egotism. A member of an organism never imagines itself
independent; if a finger were to imagine itself independent, it would fall
away from the rest of the hand and wither.
The self-dependence that is so necessary to human development, and that
will attain its full meaning when its fundamental nature is unselfishness,
could originate only from selfishness.
It was when this selfishness entered the human body that man became a
self-seeking, egotistic being. The ego naturally follows the body's
inclinations. Man devours his fellow man, follows selfish impulses and
desires, is completely entangled in his earthly receptacle as the drop of
water in the sponge.
The Paradise story shows the individual placed in a position to sin just by
having become an individual, a really independent being. Whereas
formerly he drew in what he needed from the universe, as a single drop in
a mass of water derives its force from the mass, his impulses as a fully
independent individuality derive wholly from himself. The eating of the
apple in Paradise signifies this kind of error stemming from independence.
It is significant, too, that the Latin malum means both
evil and apple. All real meanings of words, of
course, provided they have any spiritual scientific background, are deeply
connected in an inner sense. Spiritual science never uses the word
evil for any transgression that does not stem from the ego.
Evil is thus the fault proceeding from the ego. Trespass, or guilt, is the
fault proceeding from the etheric body of a man in social relationships
with his fellow men. Temptation may assail the astral body in any respect
in which it is individually and personally at fault.
The fault of the etheric body:
Debts, or Guilt.
The fault of the astral body:
The fault of the ego:
Consider the relation of the four lower principles of human nature to their
environment, that is, the planetary conditions surrounding them. The
physical body continually takes in physical substance as nourishment; so
it maintains its existence. The etheric body's life in a finite condition is
possible only by maintenance of fellowship with people into whose
community one has grown. The astral body is maintained by overcoming
temptation. The ego is maintained, and undergoes development in the
right way, by not succumbing when evil threatens.
Now bring before your mind's eye the whole human being the lower
quaternary and the higher triad so that you can say: In individual man
there lives a drop of Divinity; he is evolving to the Divine through the
expression of his deepest, innermost nature. In once expressing
outwardly that deepest, innermost nature, he reveals that he has by
gradual development transmuted his own being into what Christianity
calls the Father. What lies hidden in the human soul and hovers
before humanity as its great goal is called the Father in Heaven.
One wishing to attain that degree of development must be capable of
bringing his higher triad and lower quaternary to the point at which they
can maintain the physical body adequately. The etheric body must live
socially so that an adjustment is effected with whatever exists of
trespass within it. The astral body must not perish in
temptation, nor the body of the ego fall in evil.
Man must strive upward to the Father in Heaven through the three higher
principles the Name, the Kingdom, the Will.
The Name must be felt in such a way that it becomes hallowed. Look
around you. All things in their diversity express the Godhead. In calling
each thing by its name, you make it a member of the divine order of the
world. By beholding in every single thing or being that you name in your
environment some element that reveals in it a principle of Divine Being,
you help make each part of your environment sacred. You hallow each
part. You grow into the Kingdom which is the outpouring of Divinity
and develop yourself up to the Will, which is spirit man but at the
same time a principle of the Godhead.
Think, now, of a meditant who concentrates wholly upon this meaning of
human development, and who wishes to gather this meaning the seven
principles of man's spiritual evolution into seven petitions in prayer.
How will he pray?
To express the aim of the prayer, he will have to begin, before he utters
the seven petitions:
Our Father which art in Heaven.
In this form of salutation, man concerns himself with the deepest
foundation of the human soul, the inmost element of the human being,
which Christian esoteric teaching characterizes as of the kingdom of
spirit. The link of the first three petitions, which follow this exalted
salutation, is with the three higher principles of human nature, with the
divine substance within man:
Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done.
Now the prayer moves from the spiritual to the earthly kingdom:
Thy will be done on earth, as it is in Heaven.
The four last petitions are linked with the four lower principles of human
What appeal is the supplicant to make with reference to the physical body
that it be sustained within the planetary life?
Give us this day our daily bread.
What is he to say with reference to sustaining the etheric body?
Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
The adjustment of what takes place through the transgressions of the
etheric body is what he asks for here.
What is he now to ask with regard to the astral body?
Lead us not into temptation.
And with regard to the ego?
Deliver us from evil.
The seven petitions of the Lord's Prayer are thus seen to express the fact
that the human soul, when it aspires rightly, implores the Divine Will for
a development of the seven elements in human nature that will enable a
man to find his right course of life in the universe, a development of all
these seven elements in the right way. Through the Lord's Prayer, the
petitioner, at the time when he uses it, may rise to understand the full
meaning of the development of his seven-principled human nature. It
follows that even when the users of these seven petitions are the simplest
people, who do not necessarily at all understand them, these petitions
express for them, too, the spiritual-scientific view of human nature.
All formulas for meditation in the world's great religious societies
throughout history have had their origins in spiritual science. Analyze
every true prayer that exists word for word and you will find
it to be no arbitrary stringing together of words. Never has a mere blind
impulse been followed to string together so many beautiful words.
Not at all; rather, the great wise men have adopted these prayer forms
from the wisdom teaching that is now called spiritual science. Every true
form of prayer was born of this great knowledge; and the great Initiate
Who founded Christianity Christ Jesus had in mind the seven
principles of human nature when he taught His prayer, expressing in it
the seven-principled nature of man.
So are all prayers arranged. If it were not so, their power could not have
continued to be exercised for thousands of years. Only this manner of
arrangement is effective, even among simple people who do not in the
least understand the deep meaning of the words.
A comparison of human life with occurrences in nature will make this
appeal of true prayer to the simplest of people more understandable.
Observe a plant. It delights you, though you may know nothing at all of
the great universal laws according to which it has come into existence. It
is there, and may have interest for you, but it would never have been
created if primal, eternal laws had not existed according to which the
necessary creative forces flowed into it. There is no need for simple
natures to know these laws at all, but if a plant is to be created it must be
produced in accordance with them. Similarly, no prayer that has not
issued from the fountainhead of wisdom has real meaning for either the
learned or the simple.
It is in this present age that those who have so long observed the plant
and received its blessing can be led to the wisdom in these great universal
laws. For two thousand years the Christian has been praying as the
unscientific man observes a plant. The time is coming when he will
discern the power that prayer possesses from the deep source of wisdom
out of which it has flowed into being. Every prayer, especially the prayer
that is central to Christian life, the Lord's Prayer, expresses this primeval
As light is manifested in the world in seven colors, and the Fundamental
sound in seven tones, so does the seven-membered human being, aspiring
upward to its God, attain expression in the seven different feelings of
aspiration that refer to the seven-principled human nature and are
expressed in the seven petitions of the Lord's Prayer.
Thus, in the soul of the anthroposophist, this prayer expresses
- Note 1:
- For a full discussion of these anthroposophical terms, see Steiner's
An Introduction to the Supersensible Knowledge of the
World and the Destination of Man.