Religious Knowledge Systems: Christianity: Thoughts on The Lord’s Prayer
It is appropriate for old men to try to reconcile their thoughts on the most important matters in the short time remaining to them. The following entry is a very inadequate attempt to do so on my part. It is left to the greater minds and souls to achieve greater clarity about these matters.
The Roman Catholic Church’s Pope Francis recently provoked some discussion by suggesting that the Lord’s Prayer should be re-translated and re-worded in order to reflect his belief that it is Satan and not God that leads to temptation, presumably in the belief that God, being all-Good, is not capable of leading to temptation and evil. In this writing I hope to discuss the implications of this thinking and their consequences by examining the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6: 12 ) in light of the three temptations of Christ that occur earlier in Matthew’s gospel of Christ’s ministry on Earth (Matthew 4: 1-11).
To understand the metaphysics of Christianity, its grounds, one needs to recognize that there are three realms: the realm of Necessity in which beings dwell (including human beings) and are given over to its laws (such as gravity), the realm of Being wherein lie those things that do not change (our principle of reason and the mathematics that result from it, for instance) and the realm of the Good which is beyond both Being and Necessity and is the realm of God. The existence of and dominion over these three realms corresponds to the existence of the Triune God or Trinity: the Father (God), the Son (the Father’s Creation, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the Earth, the Word made flesh), and the Holy Spirit (Grace, the Word). The Father is the Good, the Son is His creation and is the Word made flesh, and the Holy Spirit is the mediator between the two.
This is a Platonic interpretation of Christianity. Plato insists that there is a great gulf separating the Necessary from the Good and yet, paradoxically, they are related to each other.
In His creation of the world, God withdraws from His creation, the realm of Necessity, in order to allow it to be. He is, in a way, the great Artist who must also withdraw from his creation in order to allow it to be. The true act of creation is a denial of the Self; it is allowing something to be other than one’s self and is a recognition of “otherness” itself. God’s withdrawal is the example that He gives to us in our relation to ourselves and to the world: we must deny our Selves in order that we may be united with Him.
Because creation is from God, it must be Good for He is all Good and the good is one. Those artists who create from themselves and do not withdraw from their art do not create great art, and this is the foundation of one of our mistaken approaches to appreciating the works of art created where we focus on the biographical, historical and social contexts, and the techniques of artists, thus turning the art into an object over which we stand. Without this withdrawal of Self from that which is created, there can be no creation and certainly no great creation. There is only a “making”.
When God interacts within the web of Necessity and its physical laws, He Himself is subject to these laws and He submits to these laws. Without such submission on the part of God, a great injustice would occur since only human beings would suffer God’s creation and not God Himself. But God does suffer His creation and has chosen to do so. The most prominent and important example of this is the crucifixion of Christ where God Himself accepts the death of His Son without intervening to prevent it from happening even though Christ requests that God intervene on His behalf. God’s presence is His absence and silence in the crucifixion. The Lamb is slain from the foundation of the world (creation) (Rev 13: 8) and is the creation itself.
This preamble is to prepare us for an interpretation that will lead to an understanding of the three temptations of Christ; and from these to an understanding of the wording of the Lord’s Prayer and to see how they are interconnected. Fyodor Dostoevsky has written on the three temptations of Christ in his masterpiece “The Grand Inquisitor” from his great novel The Brothers Karamazov. One may find a link to this text here: http://www2.hawaii.edu/~freeman/courses/phil100/11.%20Dostoevsky.pdf
The three temptations or “tests” of Christ focus on “bread” or food for the body and its relation to grace or the “food for the soul”, “gravity” and the web of Necessity’s relation to the body and to the Self, and power, or the Self and its relation to the living of human beings in communities. They speak of our needs, or perceived needs, as human beings.
The Greek word that presents the difficulties for us (and for Pope Francis) is “πειρασθῆναι (peirasthēnai)” in the three temptations of Christ and “πειρασμόν (peirasmon)” in the Lord’s Prayer. It is translated as “to be tempted”, but it could also be understood as “to be tested” in the way that we test something to ensure its genuineness, its trueness. We might say that the three temptations of Christ are “tests” of Christ in order to ensure His genuineness prior to His Ministry on Earth.
The text from Matthew is as follows:
Matthew: 4:1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 After he fasted forty days and forty nights he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city, had him stand on the highest point of the temple, 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you’ and ‘with their hands they will lift you up, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” 7 Jesus said to him, “Once again it is written: ‘You are not to put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their grandeur. 9And he said to him, “I will give you all these things if you throw yourself to the ground and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Go away, Satan! For it is written: ‘You are to worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’”11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and began ministering to his needs.
The text of the three temptations suggests that it is the “Spirit” (the Holy Spirit) that leads Christ into the “wilderness” to be tested by the devil. The “wilderness” as the place of temptation or the test is present in many of our fairy tales, such as “Little Red Cap” (“Little Red Riding Hood”). It is sometimes metaphorically presented as “the dark woods” or “the belly of the Beast” and so on, and it is the place where the tests occur. Our stories and our cinema continue this tradition of the place of tests in multivarious forms and guises. Plato’s Cave in Republic is the “belly of the Great Beast” (the social) and the test is whether to recognize the light of truth coming from the Sun (the Good) and to begin one’s journey toward the Good, or to return to the world of the “shadows” and its pleasures and rewards (but this relates more to the third temptation).
“Every word that comes from the mouth of God” is the Holy Spirit and it is His grace that is given to us at every moment of our lives. This “spiritual bread” is as necessary as the bread that is the staple food required of our bodies if we are “to live”. If we are famished we could very well wish that the stones before us would become bread, but they will not do so (the miracles of manna from heaven, the loaves and the fishes, etc. aside) for our hunger, the stones and the lack of bread are of the realm of Necessity, the realm of time and space.
To insist that the stones before us become bread is to deny the will of God and to attribute evil to God: why does He feed others and not me? It is very easy for us to feel that we are favoured by God when we are well fed. But this, too, is a failure to pass the test: God’s justice is to visit rain upon the just and unjust, the fed and the unfed, in equal amounts. We fail the test in not being able to distinguish the realm of Necessity from the realm of the Good. The “spiritual bread” is omnipresent and available to anyone who asks. God is quite capable of turning stones to bread, but to turn stones to bread requires that God cross the vast distance that separates Himself from the Necessity of His creation and He must submit to Necessity’s laws when He does so.
This separation of the realm of Necessity from the realm of the Good and the crossing of the gap between the two realms is highlighted in the second temptation. It is the temptation or test of suicide, an act that we have within our capability but which is denied us because we are not our own.
The belief that we are our own, both body and soul (if we still believe in such a thing) is one that dominates our thinking and actions in the modern age. “To be or not to be” (and this speech of Hamlet’s encapsulates much that is trying to be said here and is Hamlet’s error, that which makes him a tragic hero) is a temptation or test of God to intervene on our behalf and to deny the law of gravity or the laws of Necessity that separate God from us. When the devil takes Christ to the top of the temple of Jerusalem and asks Him to throw Himself down, Christ’s response is that such an act is a “temptation” of God, and we are denied putting God to the test. To test God is a sin. Our submission to Necessity is our submission to the will of God, and this submission on our part is one of our greatest tests and the denial of the will of God for our own desires is one of our greatest temptations.
The third temptation is that temptation or test given to us regarding our living in communities. The kingdoms of the world and their grandeur belong to Satan, and they, too, are products of Necessity and subject to the same laws that rule over all material things (gravity, for instance). Satan’s temptation is to “test” us in our desire to serve him or to serve God. Satan can give to us the kingdoms of this world because they are his to give. He cannot give us the Good. He will give us these kingdoms if we are loyal to him. Money, fame, rewards, recognition, “social contacts”, are all in his realm. The sin here is our deceiving ourselves that we have the power to achieve the Good: “the good end justifies any means”, a sin that has resulted in the deaths of countless millions of human beings throughout history for it is a sin that comes about through the worship of false gods, the pledging of loyalty to Satan. It is the placing of “interests” before “values” (to use a common phrase nowadays) of those who choose to fall prey to this third temptation which is thinking that they have it in their power to bring about the Good themselves. It is the sin that results from the deception that one is in possession of the sole truth. It is to place oneself higher than Christ Himself who during His crucifixion utters the cry: “My God, my God why have you forgotten (forsaken) me?”
To recapitulate: the three temptations of Christ involve the three realms of Necessity, Being, and the Good which correspond to the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity. The temptations or tests occur because we are beings in bodies who must decide to serve God’s will or our own. To overcome the temptations or tests which the Spirit gives us, we are given the Lord’s Prayer, the Word.
This text on the three temptations of Christ can be compared with the text of the Lord’s Prayer. The text of the Lord’s Prayer follows. First the Greek, then the English:
Πάτερ ἡμῶν ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς ἁγιασθήτω τό ὄνομά σου, ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου, γενηθήτω τό θέλημά σου, ὡς ἐν οὐρανῷ καί ἐπί τῆς γῆς. Τόν ἄρτον ἡμῶν τόν ἐπιούσιον δός ἡμῖν σήμερον καί ἄφες ἡμῖν τά ὀφειλήματα ἡμῶν, ὡς καί ἡμεῖς ἀφίεμεν τοῖς ὀφειλέταις ἡμῶν καί μή εἰσενέγκης ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν, ἀλλά ῥῦσαι ἡμᾶς ἀπό τοῦ πoνηροῦ.
Our Father, who is in heaven; holy be Your name, Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses (debts), as we forgive those who trespass against us (our debtors); and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
As pointed out in the beginning, Pope Francis has called for a re-translation of the Lord’s Prayer in order for it to read: “and do not let us fall into temptation”. From the three temptations above, we can see that we are already “fallen into temptation”. It is our human condition and temptation or the test is a constant presence or reality for us, just as the Holy Spirit Who is our guide in our moments of being tested is a constant presence for us if we choose to look in the right direction (“Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you.” Matthew 7: 7). The Holy Spirit is that Grace which can either lead or not lead us into the tests. God is not to be tempted, but we are to see whether or not we are genuine in our service to His Will.
The Lord’s Prayer is directed to God the Father and is our statement about our service to His Will, but it is the Third Person of the Holy Trinity that leads to temptation, that leads us to our “tests” as was shown in the three temptations passage. I am quite certain that Pope Francis isn’t asking us to deny the Trinity of God in order to remove the confusion present in the wording of the translation of the Lord’s Prayer. Since both the Lord’s Prayer and the Three Temptations come from Matthew, we can assume that the meanings or intentions of the words are to be taken as the same.
Our praying to God is to be done in secret; it is not a communal activity. But our prayer is a claim for all other human beings, the children of God, when it is spoken. Let us examine the Prayer phrase by phrase.
Our Father who is in heaven: He is our Father and He is in heaven. “Heaven” is not a place in time and space. It is not a place “above” the Earth where the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin could have possibly seen God (although, paradoxically, Gagarin might have been able to see God had he been looking in the right direction with the right eyes!) God is infinitely distant from us as His realm is beyond Being and Necessity. Through the Holy Spirit we, or rather that infinitesimally small part of us that is God and made in His image, are yoked to God and this yoke is the principle of true Life. Since He is the Good Shepherd, His task is to seek for us, not for us to seek for Him. He seeks that infinitely small part of ourselves that is Him and that belongs to Him and Him alone. The infinitely small part is subject to the vicissitudes of Chance because we are beings in bodies and our only choice is the choosing of to whom we shall dedicate this infinite part of ourselves.
Holy be Your name: It is through our naming that things come to presence for us. The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, once spoke about “the god that sometimes wishes, and sometimes does not wish to go by the name of Zeus”. It is only God who can choose to name Himself; it is beyond our human capacity to do so. The Name is the eternal Life that is always present in the beauty of the world and its order and in that infinitely small part of ourselves that is His. We petition His Presence for us and to us; and in our petitioning He is present to us.
Your Kingdom come: In this part of the Prayer, the Kingdom of the Father is in the future, not in the past or the present. His kingdom where His will reigns is in contrast to the kingdoms of this Earth which, as indicated in the passage from Matthew 4, belong to Satan and where his rule reigns. The third temptation of Christ is the devil offering power in the political realm, and this may be the strongest of the temptations or tests that are devised for us for we believe that we may be able to potentially effect outcomes in the course of events that we believe are in conformity with the Will of God. In the course of human history, this belief in false “goods” and “false gods” has resulted in terrible human suffering and it carries on even today.
Your will be done: Our most difficult test is our submission to the will of God. The temptation not to do so is the reality for us in every waking moment of our lives. We are unable to reconcile the love of God with the suffering of the innocent as being His Will for we do not see Justice in it. We do not have answers for Ivan Karamazov and his “Grand Inquisitor”. We know that what has happened in time, past events, are in accord with the will of God, but we cannot know what this Will is: God’s will is inscrutable to us, and we commit the sin of blasphemy in thinking that it is, in thinking that past events will show us what God’s will is for the future. For the saints and the great human beings, they are capable of an amor fati, a love of fate, which is simply beyond us. We must submit to the fact that what has happened is good because it is the will of God, but it is a Will that passes all understanding. Many have rejected God precisely here, as does Ivan Karamazov; but we notice that as Ivan leaves Alyosha, his novice brother, “He (Alyosha) suddenly noticed that Ivan swayed as he walked and that his right shoulder looked lower than his left. He had never noticed it before.” The image is of Ivan bearing his cross, and it is the cross that all of us, if we are thoughtful human beings, must bear while we are here upon this earth and subject to “Necessity’s sharp pinch” (King Lear).
On Earth as it is in Heaven: The will of God rules in all realms whether of the Good, Being or Becoming, Space, time and the contingency of future events are the limits, the boundaries of creation; and as beings in bodies we are subject to these limits. The existence of these limits are the will of God. Satan’s three temptations involve these limits and our attempts to overcome them in one form or another: the absence of our daily bread for our bodies, the constant presence of the universe and its physical laws, and the realm of human communities and their machinations. When, for example, Kent in King Lear tells Lear that his “good intentions” of dividing his kingdom to ‘prevent future strife’ is “evil”, he is not referring to a bad political decision on Lear’s part (though his decision is bad politically), but to Lear’s ignoring of the laws that are placed on human actions which are just as stringent as the laws placed upon the physical universe. At the beginning of the play, Lear mistakenly sees his will as the will of the gods. He is like most of us who think that our “good intentions” are choices that we can make in this realm because we, presumably, know the will of the gods. In the play Lear, through his great suffering which decreates his ego and his Self, is brought into the true relation of humility that should exist between human beings and God. When in this true relation, Lear shows us that we become “God’s spies” for God is able to see His creation through our eyes which have become His eyes because our selves, our most precious possession, no longer stand between God and His creation. But in this position we are nothing more than mere prisoners.
The first part of the Lord’s Prayer is our submission to God’s will. The second part is our petitioning of the Lord to minister to our needs.
Give us this day our daily bread: The first part of the Lord’s Prayer recognizes that the will of God prevails in the past, present and the future. As human beings we are only able to see the past and to be aware of the present. The good of the future is not within our capacity.
Bread is a need of our bodies. As human beings we are the “needing” beings for our energy comes to us from outside. In order for us to live some other living being/thing must be consumed in this realm of Necessity. As shown in the three temptations of Christ, only the “spiritual bread” which comes from the Holy Spirit in the form of Grace is that energy which is ever present for us and we have only to ask, seek and knock. By our asking, the “spiritual bread” is given to us and it is this spiritual bread that allows us to overcome the temptations that are ever-present and ubiquitous in our daily lives. We are led to evil by our being created bodies, and it is only through the pure energy of grace that we are able to overcome the evils that are ever-present for us. Our need for grace in overcoming the temptations is also ever-present. This is captured in the use of the obscure word epiousios which indicates that the bread is ousia or ever-present and yet it is epi which means “above” or “upon”. We could also translate this as the “supernatural bread”.
And forgive us our trespasses (debts) as we forgive those who trespass against us (those who are our debtors): A debt is an obligation that we have to others, promises we have made, something arising from our past. Our greatest debt to others is the recognition of their “otherness” and our taking care of their physical and spiritual needs through our attention to them. We are obligated to be attentive to the needs of others.
We are obligated to other human beings; when we do not meet these obligations, we “sin”. As we are obligated to others, so they are obligated to us (or at least we feel they are obligated to us from some action in the past). The saints tell us that they are the greatest sinners and we have trouble believing them. But the saints have a greater awareness of the “otherness” of human beings and of their obligation to this otherness. St. Francis’ ministrations to the lepers is an example of this. We are obligated to be charitable; and when we deny this obligation, we sin. How we judge the obligations of others to ourselves is how we will be judged. It is our reparation for our sins. King Lear is the most powerful play in the English language which illustrates this.
To “trespass” is to go beyond the limits or the boundaries that have been set for us as human beings. These limits or boundaries are those which are set by God in all three realms spoken of here and not those which we think we establish through imaginary lines drawn on maps. We are not our own. It is not our wills that we should wish to be recognized, and we should desire no recognition of our “ego” whatsoever. To do so is to “trespass”. We require Grace daily to help us meet our obligations to others and to prevent us from being led by the desires of others. In meeting these obligations, we fulfill the will of God. Our difficulty is that in living in communities with other human beings, we are constantly driven to “where we would not go” by their desires as they impinge on our wishes and we are constantly in danger of doing evil when we consider our actions as a “duty” to others whether it be god, country, or others in our communities.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: This is the phrase from the Prayer that has given rise to, provoked this writing. Pope Francis wishes it to be re-translated since it creates the confusion that it is God who leads us to temptation. From the Three Temptations passage it is clear that the Holy Spirit leads Christ, in a moment of deepest necessity, into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
In the Lord’s Prayer, we contemplate the name, the kingdom, and the will of God, and submit to this Will. From this submission we receive the supernatural bread of Grace which purifies us from evil. Having been purified from evil, the soul is ready for that true humility which crowns all virtues. Humility consists of knowing that in this world the whole soul, not only what we term the ego in its totality, but also the supernatural part of the soul, which is God present in us, is subject to time and to the vicissitudes of change (Weil) whether through Nature or through the actions of human beings. There must be absolute acceptance that these are in accord with the will of God.
But how difficult this is for us! For Lear, Cordelia is hung through the machinations of Edmund and this, finally, breaks his heart. His “Howl, howl, howl, howl” is the suffering the passes all words and thus our understanding of such suffering. One thing is certain: the redemption from temptation and sin and our submission to the will of God is not to be cheaply bought.
The doxology “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever” is a later addition to the original text and is redundant given the interpretation of the first part of the Lord’s Prayer given here. We we speak the words of the first part of the Prayer, our submission to the will of God is already given and does not need the repetition here, though its alignment with the third temptation of Christ illustrates how difficult it is for us to submit to His will.