The Social Form Implied in the Lord’s Prayer

One of the first things to be noticed in contemplating the Lord’s Prayer is that it immediately extends beyond the personal needs of an individual supplicant. Rephrasing it into a personal supplication is actually unthinkable; the phrase “My father, who art in the heavens” is already repugnant, but “Give me this day my daily bread” is even more so. Anyone who knows the Lord’s Prayer will instinctively cringe away from these expressions of egotism set before the spiritual world.

The larger we make the circle included in the words “our” and “us” in the Lord’s prayer, the truer we are to its intent. Ultimately, it is meant to be prayed on behalf of all creation; but it especially includes all of humanity, those on earth but also those who are not at present on earth. And through its inclusion of humanity it brings to expression the picture of how the structure of human society is built.

When, at the end of the First World War, concerned people asked Rudolf Steiner for guidance on how to rebuild society, he responded by describing what we may know as the Threefold Commonwealth or the Threefold Social Order. It is tempting to classify his indications as yet another blueprint for a Utopian society, but those who have done so have failed to realize that Rudolf Steiner actually did nothing except describe things as they are. Human society is threefold, and the crises that arise from time to time spring largely from people’s failure to recognize the fact. Each realm of society, the spiritual-cultural life, the sphere of rights, and the economic life, has its own laws which operate like laws of nature; and when one sphere encroaches with its laws upon another sphere, then certain pathological conditions arise in society.

The seeds of the threefold social organism are already to be found in Genesis. At the beginning of human development, God gives to humanity three tasks. The first task was the naming of the animals. Then, with the creation of Eva, the second task was for Adam and Eva to take up mutual responsibilities towards each other. Finally, with the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, the third task was to toil at raising crops for food. Furthermore, Adam and Eva have three sons who are named in Genesis: Cain, who becomes a farmer; Abel, who becomes a shepherd; and Seth, who establishes the line of the patriarchs. Thus we recognize, not once but twice, the archetype of the threefold social organism. To give things names and then to know their names is a fundamental phenomenon of the spiritual-cultural life. The basis for the economic life is in the cultivation of the soil. In the relationship of Cain and Abel we have the archetype for the recurring problem in the relationship of the economic life to the spiritual-cultural life. And it is the task of Seth, the third son, to take responsibility for the whole.

It is then possible to recognize how the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer can help us to shape the threefold social organism. The first petition, “Hallowed be thy name”, gives us the underlying impulse of the spiritual-cultural life. The source for the spiritual-cultural life is the world of ideas, and all ideas are aspects of the name of God. For the ideas to enter into the spiritual-cultural life they must be taken up as ideals. To bring our ideals to expression we need freedom; and each expression of an ideal contributes to the hallowing of God’s name.

The next petition reads “Thy kingdom come.” The moment we speak the word “kingdom” we find ourselves in a political-legal context. Every kingdom has its laws. By calling for the approach of the kingdom of our Father in the Heavens we are resolving to accept the laws of that kingdom.

Next come the words “Thy will be done.” To begin with, we could imagine this as a rather passive acceptance bordering on fatalism—one speaks of “acts of God”; if something happens that I cannot control, I call it “God’s will.” The matter becomes more complicated when I add the effects my own actions into the whole of the world processes. Can other people consider my deeds as an aspect of God’s will? This can become an essential question for each of us, and the prime area of concern that it raises for us is in the economic life, where universal brotherhood is the ideal that we strive for.