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HE teachers of Christian antiquity were
accustomed to liken prayer to a golden
chain which hung suspended from heaven to earth, to raise the minds of men from earthly to heavenly things. But with no prayer was this figure more just than when applied in particular to the Lord's Prayer.
From the height of heaven this prayer commences, “Our Father, who art in hea
ven,” and to the lowest depths it descends, Deliver us from evil.” But the seven petitions of this prayer, in their mutual relation with each other, may be compared to the
seven links of a chain, which depend one on another, and which are with each other closely interwoven.
The principal or highest of these links is the first petition, “Hallowed be Thy name." But how shall this sublime end be attained ? How shall this wish be effected before all things and above all things ? This we are taught by the second petition, “Thy kingdom come."
And how does this kingdom of God obtain dominion upon the earth ? By this means, that the will of God become the law of man, to which he willingly gives obedience. And this is made manifest in the third petition, “Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven." But what are the means, and what the auxiliaries, which enable us to obey the will of God during our life upon this earth? The dispensing of those natural and spiritual gifts which strengthen and support man in his present state of existence in his corporeal and spiritual
And in this sense succeeds the fourth petition, “Give us this day our daily bread.” But as this nourishment and support of the entire man cannot be effected without the cure of that infirmity which, as a stain, and as the forerunner of death upon the soul, prevents every increase and spiritual perfection, we pray, in the fifth petition, “Forgive us our trespasses.” And when this petition has been granted, there necessarily arises the desire that we should be defended and guarded by the Divine protection from every danger, that we may not lose what we have received, and fall into new sins ; and hence we repeat this petition, "Lead us not into temptation.” But what is the immediate cause and occasion of the many temptations which surround us, and in the midst of the confusion of which we are compelled to live? Principally the manifold evils, partly visible and partly invisible, in the world of nature and of spirit, which spring originally from temptations which have been but weakly resisted; and which evils, having once arisen, and being multiplied, become so many roots of temptation. For this reason we conclude with the petition, “Deliver us from evil.”
If we now return upon this chain in an ascending order (which can indeed be done only when the last three petitions have been considered and fully understood), we shall have that first most sublime and universal petition which is expressed in the words of the introduction of the profession of our faith in the divine Trinity, and upon which we have already meditated, “Our Father, who art in heaven.” Father in Thine own essence ; eternally considering Thyself, beholding Thyself, and loving Thyself, in Thy only-begotten Son, through the Holy Ghost; reposing in Thyself, and ever sufficient of Thyself; but our Father, whilst, in pure love to us, and in Thy omnipotence, Thou didst create us, in order to give us Thyself for our beatitude; grant that the sanctity of Thy essence and of Thy love may be known, loved, and adored by all Thy spiritual creatures; and above all by men, for Thou alone art worthy of love and of adoration! “Hallowed be Thy Name.” Extend Thy dominion over us! may the revelation of Thy love shine in all its splendour upon us, that Thy creatures may know and love Thee with all their powers, and arrive, by means of this knowledge and obedient love, to that end which has been proposed to them! “Thy kingdom come;" and may it extend its power upon earth, as through the spiritual heavens ; upon earthly men, as it does upon heavenly spirits ! For this must be evident to every man, whatever may be his faith, that God, as Creator and only Author of all things, possesses absolute dominion, and that every one is subject to His omnipotence, whether he know it and wish it or not. “ Lord, almighty King,” it is said in the Scripture, “ in Thy power all things are placed, and there is no one who can resist Thy strength !” The sacred Scripture speaks here in particular of the dominion of the Divine love over those creatures whom He has made capable of His revelations, that they may seek Him and find Him with a loving will. These creatures are the purely spiritual essences, but more especially men. Upon what, then, do we think, and whither do our thoughts arise, when we pray to our eternal Father that “ His kingdom may come?” We cannot speak of His kingdom, unless there were other kingdoms, in opposition to which our Saviour said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” How these kingdoms stand in regard to each other can be learned only from the internal and external relations of man to God, to nature, and to human society.
For as every one knows that the mountain or hill which is within the horizon of his home is always the same, whether it shine beneath the sun, or be veiled by clouds, whether it be covered with hail or snow, or whether blooming verdure adorn it; so we all know and experience that our essence is always one, simple and imperishable, whether we be in joy or in sorrow, in health or in sickness, in prosperity or adversity, in life or in death, in this place or in that, in happiness or in misery. We know also that our essence is so different from all external things, that, whereas they increase, come and go, and disappear, our consciousness ever remains the same. The younger we are, the more innocent we must be; in more advanced age, the more we are inclined to sense and to vanity, the deeper is our consciousness sunk in the life of nature, and darkened by its unclean and unfree elements : the older we become and the more mature, the more do tribulations, wounds, and bitter experience increase ; and, above all, the more the light of truth enlightens us in conscience, in faith, and in grace, the more clear will appear to us the severe contrast between our interior spiritual being, and the world of appearances ; it teaches us that, in this world of appearances, nothing can make us happy; that all passes away except conscience, and the merit or demerit which is marked therein. Thus is the human spirit subjected to different general laws and powers, which strive for the mastery or dominion over him; that is, over his will. For, as man belongs to two kingdoms, of which he represents the living unity, the higher elements hold the dominion over the lower, that the spirit may rule over nature. But as man, in that important moment when he decided upon his liberty, abandoned the eminence of his spiritual position,—when he turned away from the beatifying end of his being, and exiled himself from the kingdom of Divine love, then (as shall be shewn in its proper place?) nature, opposed to the spirit, began to assert its blind dominion; and man, instead of ruling the kingdom of nature, mourned under the weight of its laws, dependent on its elements and power, and was in continual strife with the hostility of external or collective nature, against the blind impulses of his own individual nature, and was thus subjected to corruption and death. Moreover, as man — as he is not only spiritual, but also a natural essence by his nature represents a whole or a race, from which individuals proceed from generation to generation; so each one belongs to the whole body, and more particularly to his contem.