Matt. 6:9”13 (Part 4)

TERTULLIAN: How unworthy, also, is the way in which you interpret to the favor of your own lust the fact that the Lord “ate and drank” promiscuously! But I think that He must have likewise “fasted” inasmuch as He has pronounced, not “the full,” but “the hungry and thirsty, blessed:”  He who was accustomed to profess “food” to be, not that which His disciples had supposed, but “the thorough doing of the Father’s work;”  teaching “to labor for the food which is permanent unto life eternal;”  in our ordinary prayer likewise commanding us to request “bread,” not wealth. On Fasting, 4.112.

ORIGEN: “Give us today our needful bread,” or as Luke has it, “Give us daily our needful bread.”  Seeing that some suppose that it is meant that we should pray for material bread, their erroneous opinion deserves to be done away with and the truth about the needful bread set forth, in the following manner. We may put the question to them—how can it be that He, who says that heavenly and great things ought to be asked for as if, on their view, He has forgotten His teaching now enjoins the offering of intercession to the Father for an earthly and little thing, since neither is the bread which is assimilated into our flesh a heavenly thing nor is it asking a great thing to request it?

For my part I shall follow the Teacher's own teaching as to the bread and cite the passages in detail. To men who have come to Capernaum to seek Him He says, in the Gospel according to John, “Verily, verily, I tell you you seek me not because you saw signs but because you ate of the loaves of bread and were filled”  . . . for he that has eaten and been filled with the loaves of bread which have been blessed by Jesus seeks the more to grasp the Son of God more closely and hastens toward Him.

Wherefore He will enjoin: “Do not work for the food that perishes but for the food that abides unto life eternal which the Son of Man shall give you.”  And when, upon that, they who had heard inquired and said: “What are we to do that we may work the works of God?”  Jesus answered and said to them: “This is the work of God that you believe on him whom He has sent.”  As it is written in Psalms, God sent His Word and healed them, that is the diseased,  and believers in that Word work the works of God which are food that abides unto life eternal.

“And my Father,” He says, “gives you the true bread from heaven, for the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”  It is true bread that nourishes the true man who is made in God's image, and he that has been nourished by it also becomes in the Creator's likeness. What is more nourishing to the soul than the Word, or what more precious to the mind of him that is capable of receiving it than the Wisdom of God?

What is more congenial to the rational nature than Truth? Should it be urged in objection to this view that He would not in that case teach men to ask for needful bread as if something other than Himself, it is to be noted that He also discourses in the Gospel according to John sometimes as if it were other than Himself but at other times as if He is Himself the Bread. The former in the sense of the words: “Moses has given you the bread from heaven yet not the true bread, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.” 

In the latter sense, to those who had said to Him, “Ever give us this bread,” He says: “I am the bread of life: he that comes unto me shall not hunger, and he that believes on me shall not thirst;”  and shortly after: “I am the living bread that is come down from heaven: if anyone eat of this bread he shall live unto eternity: yes and the bread which I shall give is my flesh which I shall give for the sake of the life of the world.”
On Prayer.

CYPRIAN: As the prayer goes forward, we ask and say, “Give us this day our daily bread.” And this may be understood both spiritually and literally, because either way of understanding it is rich in divine usefulness to our salvation. For Christ is the bread of life; and this bread does not belong to all men, but it is ours. And according as we say, “Our Father,” because He is the Father of those who understand and believe; so also we call it “our bread,” because Christ is the bread of those who are in union with His body. And we ask that this bread should be given to us daily, that we who are in Christ, and daily receive the Eucharist for the food of salvation, may not, by the interposition of some heinous sin, by being prevented, as withheld and not communicating, from partaking of the heavenly bread, be separated from Christ’s body, as He Himself predicts, and warns, “I am the bread of life which came down from heaven. If any man eat of my bread, he will live forever: and the bread which I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world.”  When, therefore, He says, that whoever will eat of His bread will live forever; as it is manifest that those who partake of His body and receive the Eucharist by the right of communion are living, so, on the other hand, we must fear and pray lest anyone who, being withheld from communion, is separate from Christ’s body should remain at a distance from salvation; as He Himself threatens, and says, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, you will have no life in you.”  And therefore we ask that our bread—that is, Christ—may be given to us daily, that we who abide and live in Christ may not depart from His sanctification and body.

But it may also be thus understood, that we who have renounced the world, and have cast away its riches and pomps in the faith of spiritual grace, should only ask for ourselves food and support, since the Lord instructs us, and says, “Whosoever does not forsake all that he has, cannot be my disciple.”  But he who has begun to be Christ’s disciple, renouncing all things according to the word of his Master, ought to ask for his daily food, and not to extend the desires of his petition to a long period, as the Lord again prescribes, and says, “Take no thought for tomorrow, for tomorrow itself shall take thought for itself. Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.” The Treatises of Cyprian, 5.452.

6:12ff IRENAEUS: Now this being is the Creator, who is, in respect of His love, the Father; but in respect of His power, He is Lord; and in respect of His wisdom, our Maker and Fashioner; by transgressing whose commandment we became His enemies. And therefore in the last times the Lord has restored us into friendship through His incarnation, having become “the Mediator between God and men;”  propitiating indeed for us the Father against whom we had sinned, and canceling our disobedience by His own obedience; conferring also upon us the gift of communion with, and subjection to, our Maker. For this reason also He has taught us to say in prayer, “And forgive us our debts;” since indeed He is our Father, whose debtors we were, having transgressed His commandments. But who is this Being? Is He some unknown one, and a Father who gives no commandment to anyone? Or is He the God who is proclaimed in the Scriptures, to whom we were debtors, having transgressed His commandment? Now the commandment was given to man by the Word. For Adam, it is said, “heard the voice of the LORD God.”  Rightly then does His Word say to man, “Your sins are forgiven you;”  He, the same against whom we had sinned in the beginning, grants forgiveness of sins in the end. Against Heresies, 1.544-545.

CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA: A Christian never remembers those who have sinned against him, but forgives them. Therefore also he righteously prays, saying, “Forgive us; for we also forgive.” For this also is one of the things which God wishes, to covet nothing, to hate no one. For all men are the work of one will. The Stromata, 2.546

TERTULLIAN: The Lord knew Himself to be the only guiltless One, and so He teaches that we beg “to have our debts remitted us.” A petition for pardon is a full confession; because he who begs for pardon fully admits his guilt. Thus, too, penitence is demonstrated acceptable to God who desires it rather than the death of the sinner.  Moreover, debt is, in the Scriptures, a figure of guilt; because it is equally due to the sentence of judgment, and is exacted by it: nor does it evade the justice of exaction, unless the exaction be remitted, just as the lord remitted to that slave in the parable of his debt;  for here does the scope of the whole parable tend. For the fact in addition, that the same servant, after liberated by his lord, does not equally spare his own debtor; and, being on that account blamed before his lord, is made over to the tormentor to pay the uttermost farthing—that is, every guilt, however small: corresponds with our profession that “we also remit to our debtors;” indeed elsewhere, too, in conformity with this form of prayer, He says, “Remit, and it will be remitted you.”  And when Peter had put the question whether remission were to be granted to a brother seven times, “Rather,” He said, “seventy-seven times;”  in order to remold the law for the better; because in Genesis vengeance was assigned “seven times” in the case of Cain, but in that of Lamech “seventy-seven times.”  On Prayer, 3.684.

ORIGEN: “And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors,” or as Luke has it, “And forgive us our sins, for we also ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us.”  Concerning debts the Apostle also says: “Pay your debts to all —to whom you owe tribute, tribute, to whom fear, fear, to whom taxes, taxes, to whom honor, honor: owe no man anything except mutual love.” 

We owe therefore in having certain duties not only in giving but also in kind speech and corresponding actions, and indeed we owe a certain disposition towards one another. Owing these things, we either pay them through discharging the commands of the divine law, or failing to pay them, in contempt of the salutary word, we remain in debt. The like reflection applies to debts toward brothers, to those who in the religious sense have been born again with us in Christ, as well as to those who have a common mother or father with us. . . .

Remembering what as debtors we have not paid but withheld during the time which it was our duty to have done this or that for our neighbor had run by, we shall be gentler toward those who have fallen in debt to us in turn and have not paid their indebtedness, especially if we do not forget our transgressions against the Divine and the unrighteousness we have spoken against the Height either in ignorance of the truth or else in displeasure at the misfortunes that have befallen us.

But if we refuse to become gentler towards those who have fallen in debt to us, our experience will be that of him who did not remit the hundred shillings to his fellow servant and of whom, according to the parable set down in the gospel, though already pardoned, the master exacts in severity what had already been remitted, saying to him: “Wicked servant and slothful, was it not right for you to pity your fellow servant as I also pitied you? Cast him into prison until he pay all that is owed.” And the Lord continues: “So shall the heavenly Father do to you also if you do not forgive each his brother from your hearts.” 

It is however on profession of penitence that we are to forgive those who have sinned against us, even though our debtor often does so; for He says: “If your brother sin against you seven times a day and seven times turn and say, 'I repent,' you shall forgive him.”  It is not we who are harsh towards the impenitent, but they who are wicked to themselves, for he that spurns instruction hates himself.  Yet even in such cases we should seek in every way that healing arise within him who is so completely perverted as not even to be conscious of his own ills but to be drunken with a drunkenness more fatal than from wine, from the darkening of evil.

When Luke says, “Forgive us our sins,”  he means the same as Matthew, since sins are constituted when we owe and do not pay, though he does not appear to lend support to him who would forgive only penitent debtors when he says that it is enacted by the Savior that we ought in prayer to add: “for we ourselves also forgive everyone in debt to us.” And it would seem that we have all authority to forgive the sins that have been committed against us as is clear from both clauses: “as we also have forgiven our debtors;” and “for we ourselves also forgive everyone in debt to us.”  But it is when a man is inspired by Jesus as were the apostles, when he can be known from his fruits to have received the Spirit that is Holy and to have become spiritual through being led by the Spirit after the manner of a Son of God unto every reasonable duty, that he forgives whatsoever God has forgiven and holds those sins that are irremediable,  and as the prophets served God in speaking not their own message but that of the divine Will, so he too serves the God who alone has authority to forgive. On Prayer. 

© OTR 2023