18 May Saint Thomas Aquinas on The Lord’s Prayer
Saint Thomas Aquinas can certainly be considered among the Progressive Christians of his era, and is admired for the manner in which he attempted to synthesize the philosophy and ideas of Aristotle with the principles of Christianity.
Thomas Aquinas also wrote on a wide variety of subjects involving psychology and the human spirit, including the goal of the artist, stating that the test of the artist “does not lie in the will with which he goes to work, but in the excellence of the work he produces”.
The most important work of Aquinas is probably the Summa Theologica (written during the latter part of the 13th century) which had an enormous impact on the development of Christian theology. While the most well-known part of the Summa Theologica are the five arguments that Thomas Aquinas delivers for the existence of God, the Lord’s Prayer is another subject which draws Aquinas’ attention. He writes:
The Lord’s Prayer is most perfect, because, as Augustine says “if we pray rightly and fittingly, we can say nothing else but what is contained in this prayer of our Lord.” For since prayer interprets our desires, as it were, before God, then alone is it right to ask for something in our prayers when it is right that we should desire it.
Prayer is offered up to God, not that we may bend Him, but that we may excite in ourselves the confidence to ask: which confidence is excited in us chiefly by the consideration of His charity in our regard, whereby he wills our good—wherefore we say: “Our Father”; and of His excellence, whereby He is able to fulfill it—wherefore we say: “Who art in heaven.”
Now in the Lord’s Prayer not only do we ask for all that we may rightly desire, but also in the order wherein we ought to desire them, so that this prayer not only teaches us to ask, but also directs all our affections. Thus it is evident that the first thing to be the object of our desire is the end, and afterwards whatever is directed to the end.
Now our end is God towards Whom our affections tend in two ways: first, by our willing the glory of God, secondly, by willing to enjoy His glory. The first belongs to the love whereby we love God in Himself, while the second belongs to the love whereby we love ourselves in God. Wherefore the first petition is expressed thus: “Hallowed be Thy name,” and the second thus: “Thy kingdom come,” by which we ask to come to the glory of His kingdom.
To this same end a thing directs us in two ways: in one way, by its very nature, in another way, accidentally. Of its very nature the good which is useful for an end directs us to that end. Now a thing is useful in two ways to that end which is beatitude: in one way, directly and principally, according to the merit whereby we merit beatitude by obeying God, and in this respect we ask: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.
Iin another way instrumentally, and as it were helping us to merit, and in this respect we say: “Give us this day our daily bread,” whether we understand this of the sacramental Bread, the daily use of which is profitable to man, and in which all the other sacraments are contained, or of the bread of the body, so that it denotes all sufficiency of food, as Augustine says, since the Eucharist is the chief sacrament, and bread is the chief food: thus in the Gospel of Matthew we read, “supersubstantial,” i.e. “principal,” as Jerome expounds it.
We are directed to beatitude accidentally by the removal of obstacles. Now there are three obstacles to our attainment of beatitude. First, there is sin, which directly excludes a man from the kingdom, according to 1 Cor. 6:9,10, “Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, etc., shall possess the kingdom of God”; and to this refer the words, “Forgive us our trespasses.”
Secondly, there is temptation which hinders us from keeping God’s will, and to this we refer when we say: “And lead us not into temptation,” whereby we do not ask not to be tempted, but not to be conquered by temptation, which is to be led into temptation. Thirdly, there is the present penal state which is a kind of obstacle to a sufficiency of life, and to this we refer in the words, “Deliver us from evil.”
For more commentary on the Our Father Prayer, please see: The Lord’s Prayer Explained Line by Line, where we briefly share commentary from various theologians through history.