Early Church Fathers
Sermon VII. [LVII. Ben.]
Again, on Matt. VI. On the Lord's prayer. To the Competentes.
1. The order established for your edification requires that ye learn first what to believe, and afterwards what to ask. For so saith the Apostle, "Whosoever shall call upon the Name of the Lord, shall be saved."1 This testimony blessed Paul cited out of the Prophet; for by the Prophet were those times foretold, when all men should call upon God; "Whosoever shall call upon the Name of the Lord, shall be saved." And he added, "How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? Or how shall they hear without a preacher? Or how shall they preach except they be sent?"2 Therefore were preachers sent. They preached Christ. As they preached, the people heard, by hearing they believed, and by believing called upon Him. Because then it was most rightly and most truly said, "How shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed?" therefore have ye first learned what to believe: and to-day have learnt to call on Him in whom ye have believed.
2. The Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, hath taught us a Prayer; and though He be the Lord Himself, as ye have heard and repeated in the Creed, the Only Son of God, yet He would not be alone. He is the Only Son, and yet would not be alone; He hath vouchsafed to have brethren. For to whom doth He say, "Say, Our Father, which art in heaven?"3 Whom did He wish us to call our Father, save His own Father? Did He grudge us this? Parents sometimes when they have gotten one, or two, or three children, fear to give birth to any more, lest they reduce the rest to beggary. But because the inheritance which He promiseth us is such as many may possess, and no one be straitened; therefore hath He called into His brotherhood the numberless brethren; who say, "Our Father, which art in heaven." So said they who have been before us; and so shall say those who will come after us. See how many brethren the Only Son hath in His grace, sharing His inheritance with those for whom He suffered death. We had a father and mother on earth, that we might be born to labours and to death: but we have found other parents, God our Father, and the Church our Mother, by whom we are born unto life eternal. Let us then consider, beloved, whose children we have begun to be; and let us live so as becomes those who have such a Father. See, how that our Creator hath condescended to be our Father!
3. We have heard whom we ought to call upon, and with what hope of an eternal inheritance we have begun to have a Father in heaven; let us now hear what we must ask of Him. Of such a Father what shall we ask? Do we not ask rain of Him, to-day, and yesterday, and the day before? This is no great thing to have asked of such a Father, and yet ye see with what sighings, and with what great desire we ask for rain, when death is feared, when that is feared which none can escape. For sooner or later every man must die, and we groan, and pray, and travail in pain, and cry to God, that we may die a little later. How much more ought we to cry to Him, that we may come to that place where we shall never die!
4. Therefore is it said, "Hallowed be Thy Name." This we also ask of Him that his Name may be hallowed in us; for Holy is it always. And how is His Name hallowed in us, except while it makes us holy. For once we were not holy, and we are made holy by His Name; but He is always Holy, and His Name always Holy. It is for ourselves, not for God, that we pray. For we do not wish well to God, to whom no ill can ever happen. But we wish what is good for ourselves, that His Holy Name may be hallowed, that that which is always Holy, may be hallowed in us.
5. "Thy kingdom come."4 Come it surely will, whether we ask or no. Indeed, God hath an eternal kingdom. For when did He not reign? When did He begin to reign? For His kingdom hath no beginning, neither shall it have any end. But that we may know that in this prayer also we pray for ourselves, and not for God (for we do not say, "Thy kingdom come," as though we were asking that God may reign); we shall be ourselves His kingdom, if believing in Him we make progress in this filth. All the faithful, redeemed by the Blood of His Only Son, will be His kingdom. And this His kingdom will come, when the resurrection of the dead shall have taken place; for then He will come Himself. And when the dead are risen, He will divide them, as He Himself saith, "and He shall set some on the right hand, and some on the left."5 To those who shall be on the right hand He will say, "Come, ye blessed of My Father, receive the kingdom." This is what we wish and pray for when we say, "Thy kingdom come;" that it may come to us. For if we shall be reprobates, that kingdom will come to others, but not to us. But if we shall be of that number, who belong to the members of His Only-begotten Son, His kingdom will come to us, and will not tarry. For are there as many ages yet remaining, as have already passed away? The Apostle John hath said, "My little children, it is the last hour."6 But it is a long hour proportioned to this long day; and see how many years this last hour lasteth. But nevertheless, be ye as those who watch, and so sleep, and rise again, and reign. Let us watch now, let us sleep in death; at the end we shall rise again, and shall reign without end.
6. "Thy will be done as in heaven, so in earth."7 The third thing we pray for is, that His will may be done as in heaven so in earth. And in this too we wish well for ourselves. For the will of God must necessarily be done. It is the will of God that the good should reign, and the wicked be damned. Is it possible that this will should not be done? But what good do we wish for ourselves, when we say, "Thy will be done as in heaven, so in earth"? Give ear. For this petition may be understood in many ways, and many things are to be in our thoughts in this petition, when we pray God, "Thy will be done as in heaven, so in earth." As Thy Angels offend Thee not, so may we also not offend Thee. Again, how is "Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth," understood? All the holy Patriarchs, all the Prophets, all the Apostles, all the spiritual are as it were God's heaven; and we in comparison of them are earth. "Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth;" as in them, so in us also. Again, "Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth;" the Church of God is heaven, His enemies are earth. So we wish well for our enemies, that they too may believe and become Christians, and so the will of God be done, as in heaven, so also in earth. Again, "Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth." Our spirit is heaven, and the flesh earth. As our spirit is renewed by believing, so may our flesh be renewed by rising again; and "the will of God be done, as in heaven, so in earth." Again, our mind whereby we see truth, and delight in this truth, is heaven; as, "I delight in the law of God, after the inward man." What is the earth? "I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind?"8 When this strife shall have passed away, and a full concord brought about of the flesh and spirit, the will of God will be done as in heaven, so also in earth. When we repeat this petition, let us think of all these things, and ask them all of the Father. Now all these things which we have mentioned, these three petitions, beloved, have respect to the life eternal. For if the Name of our God is sanctified in us, it will be for eternity. If His kingdom come, where we shall live for ever, it will be for eternity. If His will be done as in heaven, so in earth, in all the ways which I have explained, it will be for eternity.
7. There remain now the petitions for this life of our pilgrimage; therefore follows, "Give us this day our daily bread."9 Give us eternal things, give us things temporal. Thou hast promised a kingdom, deny us not the means of subsistence. Thou wilt give everlasting glory with Thyself hereafter, give us in this earth temporal support. Therefore is it "day by day," and "to-day," that is, in this present time. For when this life shall have passed away, shall we ask for daily bread then? For then it will not be called, "day by day," but "to-day." Now it is called, "day by day," when one day passes away, and another day succeeds. Will it be called "day by day," when there will be one eternal day? This petition for daily bread is doubtless to be understood in two ways, both for the necessary supply of our bodily food, and for the necessities of our spiritual support. There is a necessary supply of bodily food, for the preservation of our daily life, without which we cannot live. This is food and clothing, but the whole is understood in a part. When we ask for bread, we thereby understand all things. There is a spiritual10 food also which the faithful know, which ye too will know, when ye shall receive it at the altar of God. This also is "daily Bread," necessary only for this life. For shall we receive the Eucharist when we shall have come to Christ Himself, and begun to reign with Him for ever? So then the Eucharist is our daily bread; but let us in such wise receive it, that we be not refreshed in our bodies only, but in our souls. For the virtue which is apprehended there, is unity, that gathered together into His body, and made His members, we may be what we receive. Then will it be indeed our daily bread. Again, what I am handling before you now is "daily bread;" and the daily lessons which ye hear in church, are daily bread, and the hymns ye hear and repeat are daily bread. For all these are necessary in our state of pilgrimage. But when we shall have got to heaven, shall we hear the word,11 we who shall see the Word Himself, and hear the Word Himself, and eat and drink Him as the angels do now? Do the angels need books, and interpreters, and readers? Surely not. They read in seeing, for the Truth Itself they see, and are abundantly satisfied from that fountain, from which we obtain some few12 drops. Therefore has it been said touching our daily bread, that this petition is necessary for us in this life.
8. "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors."13 Is this necessary except in this life? For in the other we shall have no debts. For what are debts, but sins? See, ye are on the point of being baptized, then all your sins will be blotted out, none whatever will remain. Whatever evil ye have ever done, in deed, or word, or desire, or thought, all will be blotted out. And yet if in the life which is after Baptism there were security from sin, we should not learn such a prayer as this, "Forgive us our debts." Only let us by all means do what comes next, "As we forgive our debtors." Do ye then who are about to enter in to receive a plenary and entire remission of your debts, do ye above all things see that ye have nothing in your hearts against any other, so as to come forth from Baptism secure, as it were free and discharged of all debts, and then begin to purpose to avenge yourselves on your enemies, who in time past have done you wrong. Forgive, as ye are forgiven. God can do no one wrong, and yet He forgiveth who oweth nothing. How then ought he to forgive, who is himself forgiven, when He forgiveth all, who oweth nothing that can be forgiven Him?
9. "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."14 Will this again be necessary in the life to come? "Lead us not into temptation," will not be said, except where there can be temptation. We read in the book of holy Job, "Is not the life of man upon earth a temptation?"15 What then do we pray for? Hear what. The Apostle James saith, "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God."16 He spoke of those evil temptations, whereby men are deceived, and brought under the yoke of the devil. This is the kind of temptation he spoke of. For there is another sort of temptation which is called a proving; of this kind of temptation it is written, "The Lord your God tempteth (proveth) you to know whether ye love Him."17 What means "to know"? "To make you know," for He knoweth already. With that kind of temptation, whereby we are deceived and seduced, God tempteth no man. But undoubtedly in His deep and hidden judgment He abandons some. And when He hath abandoned them, the tempter finds his opportunity. For he finds in him no resistance against his power, but forthwith presents himself to him as his possessor, if God abandon him. Therefore that He may not abandon us, do we say, "Lead us not into temptation." "For every one is tempted," says the same Apostle James, "when he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed. Then lust, when it hath conceived, bringeth forth sin; and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death."18 What then has he hereby taught us? To fight against our lusts. For ye are about to put away your sins in Holy Baptism; but lusts will still remain, wherewith ye must fight after that ye are regenerate. For a conflict with your own selves still remains. Let no enemy from without be feared: conquer thine own self, and the whole world is conquered. What can any tempter from without, whether the devil or the devil's minister, do against thee? Whosoever sets the hope of gain before thee to seduce thee, let him only find no covetousness in thee; and what can he who would tempt thee by gain effect? Whereas if covetousness be found in thee, thou takest fire at the sight of gain, and art taken by the bait of this corrupt food.19 But if he find no covetousness in thee, the trap remains spread in vain. Or should the tempter set before thee some woman of surpassing beauty; if chastity be within, iniquity from without is overcome. Therefore that he may not take thee with the bait of a strange woman's beauty, fight with thine own lust within; thou hast no sensible perception of thine enemy, but of thine own concupiscence thou hast. Thou dost not see the devil, but the object that engageth thee thou dost see. Get the mastery then over that of which thou art sensible within. Fight valiantly, for He who hath regenerated thee is thy Judge; He hath arranged the lists, He is making ready the crown. But because thou wilt without doubt be conquered, if thou have not Him to aid thee, if He abandon thee: therefore dost thou say in the prayer, "Lead us not into temptation." The Judge's wrath hath given over some to their own lusts; and the Apostle says, "God gave them over to the lusts of their hearts."20 How did He give them up? Not by forcing, but by forsaking them.
10. "Deliver us from evil," may belong to the same sentence. Therefore, that thou mayest understand it to be all one sentence, it runs thus, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." Therefore he added "but," to show that all this belongs to one sentence, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." How is this? I will propose them singly. "Lead By delivering us from evil, He leadeth us not into temptation; by not leading us into temptation, He delivereth us from evil.
11. And truly it is a great temptation, dearly beloved, it is a great temptation in this life, when that in us is the subject of temptation, whereby we attain21 pardon, if in any of our temptations we have fallen. It is a frightful temptation, when that is taken from us, whereby we may be healed from the wounds of other temptations. I know that ye have not yet understood me. Give me your attention, that ye may understand. Suppose avarice tempts a man, and he is conquered in any single temptation (for sometimes even a good wrestler and fighter may get roughly handled22 ): avarice then has got the better of a man, good wrestler though he be, and he has done some avaricious act. Or there has been a passing lust; it has not brought the man to fornication, nor reached unto adultery, for when this does take place, the man must at all events be kept back from the criminal act. But he "hath seen a woman to lust after her;"23 he has let his thoughts dwell on her with more pleasure than was right; he has admitted the attack; excellent combatant though he be, he has been wounded, but he has not consented to it; he has beaten back the motion of his lust, has chastised it with the bitterness of grief, he has beaten it back; and has prevailed. Still in the very fact that he had slipped, has he ground for saying, "Forgive us our debts." And so of all other temptations, it is a hard matter that in them all there should not be occasion for saying, "Forgive us our debts." What then is that frightful temptation which I have mentioned, that grievous, that tremendous temptation, which must be avoided with all our strength, with all our resolution; what is it? When we go about to avenge ourselves. Anger is kindled, and the man burns to be avenged. O frightful temptation! Thou art losing that, whereby thou hadst to attain pardon for other faults. If thou hadst committed any sin as to other senses, and other lusts, hence mightest thou have had thy cure, in that thou mightest say, "Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors." But whoso instigateth thee to take vengeance, will lose for thee the power thou hadst to say, "As we also forgive our debtors." When that power is lost, all sins will be retained; nothing at all is remitted.
12. Our Lord and Master, and Saviour, knowing this dangerous temptation in this life, when He taught us six or seven petitions in this Prayer, took none of them for Himself to treat of, and to commend to us with greater earnestness, than this one. Have we not said, "Our Father, which art in heaven;" and the rest which follows? Why after the conclusion of the Prayer, did He not enlarge upon it to us, either as to what He had laid down in the beginning, or concluded with at the end, or placed in the middle? For why said He not, if the Name of God be not hallowed in you, or if ye have no part in the kingdom of God, or if the will of God be not done in you, as in heaven, or if God guard you not, that ye enter not into temptation; why none of all these? but what saith He? "Verily I say unto you, that if ye forgive men their trespasses;"24 in reference to that petition, "Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors." Having passed over all the other petitions which He taught us, this He taught us with an especial force. There was no need of insisting25 so much upon those sins in which if a man offend, he may know the means whereby he may be cured: need of it there was, with regard to that sin in which if thou sin, there is no means whereby the rest can be cured. For this thou oughtest to be ever saying, "Forgive us our debts." What debts? There is no lack of them; for we are but men; I have talked somewhat more than I ought, have said something I ought not, have laughed more than I ought, have eaten more than I ought, have listened with pleasure to what I ought not, have drunk more than I ought, have seen with pleasure what I ought not, have thought with pleasure on what I ought not; "Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors." This if thou hast lost, thou art lost thyself.
13. Take heed, my brethren, my sons, sons of God, take heed, I beseech you, in that I am saying to you. Fight to the uttermost of your powers with your own hearts. And if ye shall see your anger making a stand against you, pray to God against it, that God may make thee conqueror of thyself, that God may make thee conqueror, I say, not of thine enemy without, but of thine own soul within. For He will give thee His present help, and will do it. He would rather that we ask this of Him, than rain. For ye see, beloved, how many petitions the Lord Christ hath taught us; and there is scarce found among them one which speaks of daily bread, that all our thoughts may be moulded after the life to come? For what can we fear that He will not give us, who hath promised and said, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you; for your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things before ye ask Him. Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you."26 For many have been tried even with hunger, and have been found gold, and have not been forsaken by God. They would have perished with hunger, if the daily inward bread were to leave their heart. After this let us chiefly hunger. For, "Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled."27 But He can in mercy look upon our infirmity, and see us, as it is said, "Remember that we are dust."28 He who from the dust made and quickened man, for that His work of clay's sake, gave His Only Son to death. Who can explain, who can worthily so much as conceive, how much He loveth us?