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CHAPTER V

ANSWER TO OBJECTIONS: CONDITIONS NECESSARY TO PRAYER

With a view to impel men to pray and to turn them from neglect of prayer, we may not unreasonably further use an illustration such as this. Just as, apart from woman and apart from recourse to the function requisite for procreation, man cannot procreate, so one may not obtain certain things without prayer in a certain manner, with a certain disposition, with a certain faith, after a certain antecedent mode of life. Thus we are not to babble or ask for little things or pray for earthly things or enter upon prayer with anger and with thoughts disturbed.

Nor again is it possible to think of giving oneself to prayer apart from purification. Nor again is forgiveness of sins possible to the supplicant unless from the heart he forgives his brother who has done wrong and entreats him to obtain his pardon. That benefit accrues to him who prays rightly or according to his ability strives to do so, follows, I consider, in many ways: It is, first of all, surely in every sense a spiritual advantage to him who is intent upon prayer, in the very composure of prayer to present himself to God and in His presence to speak to Him with a vivid sense that he looks on and is present. For just as certain mental images and particular recollections connected with the objects recollected may sully the thoughts suggested by certain other images, in the same way we may believe that it is advantageous to remember God as the object of our faith—the One who discerns the movements within the inner sanctuary of the soul as it disposes itself to please the Examiner of Hearts and Inquisitor of Reins as One who is present and beholds and penetrates into every mind.

Even though further benefit than this be supposed to accrue to him who has composed his thoughts for prayer, no ordinary gain is to be conceived as gotten by one who has devoutly disposed himself in the season of prayer. When this is regularly practiced, how many sins it keeps us from, and how many achievements it brings us to, is known only to those who have given themselves up with some degree of constancy to prayer.

For if the recollection and recontemplation of a man who has found fame and benefit in wisdom incites us to evaluate him and sometimes restrains our lower impulses, how much more does the recollection of God the Father of All, along with prayer to Him, become advantageous to those who are persuaded that they stand before and speak to a present and hearing God!

What I have said may be established from the divine scriptures in the following way. He who prays must lift up holy hands, forgiving everyone who has wronged him, with the passion of anger banished from his soul and in wrath with none. And again, to prevent his mind from being made turbid by irrelevant thoughts, he must while at prayer forget for the time everything outside prayer—surely a state of supreme blessedness! As Paul teaches in the first Epistle to Timothy when he says: “I desire therefore that men pray in every place lifting up holy hands without anger and disputations. And further, a woman ought, most of all at prayer, to preserve simplicity and decency in soul and body, above all and especially while she prays reverencing God and expelling from her intellect every wanton womanish recollection, arrayed not in chaplets and gold or pearls or costly raiment, but in the things in which it becomes a woman of pious profession to be arrayed, (and I marvel that anyone should hesitate, were it on the strength of such a condition alone, to pronounce her blessed who has thus presented herself for prayer) as Paul has taught in the same Epistle when he says, “in like manner that women array themselves decently in simplicity with modesty and discretion, not in chaplets and gold or pearls or costly raiment, but, as becomes woman of pious profession, through good works.” (1Tim.2:9)

And besides, the prophet David speaks of much else that the saint possesses in prayer. We may, not irreverently, cite these passages as showing that, even if this alone be considered, the attitude and preparation for prayer of one who has offered himself to God is of the highest benefit. He says: “Unto you have I lifted mine eyes, who dwellest in heaven and unto you have I lifted my soul, O God.” For when the eyes of thought are lifted up from dwelling on earthly things and being filled with the imagination of material objects, and are elevated to such a height as to look beyond begotten things and to be engaged solely in contemplation of God and in solemn converse with Him becoming to the Hearer.

Surely those eyes themselves have already got the highest advantage in reflecting the glory of the Lord with face unveiled and being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, for they then partake of a certain divine perception shown by the words: “the light of your face, O Lord, hath been signalized upon us.” (Ps.4:6) And indeed the soul being lifted up, and parting from body to follow spirit, and not only following the spirit but also merging in it, as is shown by the words “Unto you have I lifted my soul,” is surely already putting off its existence as soul and becoming spiritual. And if forgiveness is a very high accomplishment, so high as according to the prophet Jeremiah to embrace a summary of the whole law, for he says, “I laid not those commands upon your fathers as they were gone forth from Egypt, but this command I laid:

Let each man not be unforgiving to his neighbor in his heart,” and if in entering upon prayer with unforgiveness left behind us we keep the Savior’s command, “If you’re standing at prayer forgive aught that you have against any man.” (Mk.11:25) It is plain that those who stand in that temper to pray have already received the best of possessions.

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