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THE LORD’S PRAYER: THE PREFACE IN MATTHEW
What I have said, according to my capacity to receive the grace which has been given by God through His Christ, and as I trust in the Holy Spirit also—whether it be so you will judge when you read it—may suffice by way of examination of the general subject of prayer. I shall now proceed to the next task, to consider how full of meaning is the prayer outlined by the Lord. It is first of all to be observed that to most people Matthew and Luke might seem to have recorded the same prayer sketched as a pattern for right prayer. Matthew’s words run thus:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed 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 debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.
But Luke’s run as follows:
Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.
To those who suppose it to be the same prayer we may reply that the utterances, though they certainly resemble one another, also appear to differ, as I shall set forth in investigating them. In the second place it is not possible that the same prayer should be said on the mountain where “When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying”—for it is in the course of the recital of the Beatitudes and the subsequent injunctions that it is found recorded in Matthew. It also have been said, “He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”
It is surely impossible that the same words should be described as having been spoken in the course of continuous utterance without any question to precede them and as being announced in response to a disciple’s request. One might, however, say the prayers are equivalent and were spoken as one. On the one occasion in continuous discourse, on the other in response to the request of a different disciple who in all likelihood was not present when He spoke the form in Matthew or had not mastered what had earlier been spoken. But perhaps it is better that the prayers be regarded as different, with certain portions in common.
In Mark, though I have searched there also in case the record of an equivalent should escape me, I have not found so much as a vestige of a prayer contained. I have already said that before praying one must first be composed and disposed in a particular manner. Let us therefore glance at the words preceding the prayer contained in Matthew, which were uttered by our Savior. They are as follows: And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others.
Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Pray then in this way: Our Savior often appears as inveighing against the love of glory as a deadly passion, just as He has done in this place where He dissuades us from the practice of actors at the season of prayer, for it is a practice of actors rather to plume themselves in piety before men rather than to have communion with God.
Remembering then the words, “How can you believe when you accept glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one who alone is God?” we ought to despise all glory with men even though it be thought honorably gained and to seek the strict and true glory which is from Him alone who glorifies the deserving in a manner becoming to Himself and exceeding the desert of the person glorified. The very act which would in itself be thought honorable and is thought praiseworthy is polluted when we do it to be glorified by men or to appear to men, and on that account it is attended by no recompense from God. Unerring as the whole of Jesus’ language is, it becomes even more so when it is spoken with His accustomed oath.
Of those who for human glory seem to do good to their neighbor, or pray in synagogues and at broadway corners, he says. “Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.” For as the rich man according to Luke had good things in his human life, being no longer capable of obtaining them after the present life because he had had them, so he that has his reward, as having sown not “unto the spirit” but “unto the flesh” shall “reap corruption” but shall not “reap eternal life” in his giving or in his prayers.
It is sowing unto the flesh when one does alms, with trumpeting before him, in synagogues and thoroughfares to be glorified by men, or likes to pray standing in synagogues and at broadway corners to appear to men and thought a pious and a holy person among the onlookers. Indeed every wayfarer along the broad and spacious way leading to destruction without rightness or straightness but crooked and cornered throughout, (for the straight line is broken in it to the utmost), is standing no less than he who prays at broadway corners, not in one but through his love of pleasure in a number of streets in which beings who as men are perishing because they have fallen away from their divinity, are to be found glorifying and pronouncing blessed those whom they have thought to act piously.
There are always many who are rather pleasure-loving than God-loving in their seeming prayer who debauch prayer amid banqueting and carousing, standing in truth at the broadway corners and praying. For everyone who has made pleasure his rule of life has in his passion for the spacious fallen out of the narrow straitened way of Jesus Christ that is without a single bend and has no corner at all.
There is a certain difference between Church and Synagogue. The church in the strict sense is without “a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind,” is holy and blameless. Into it enters neither child of harlot, nor eunuch or emasenlate, nor yet Egyptian or Edomite unless sons born to them in the third generation enables them with difficulty to join the church, nor Moabite and Ammonite, unless the tenth generation is complete and the aeon passed.
The Synagogue on the other hand may be built by a centurion, as was the case in times preceding the sojourn of Jesus when as yet witness had not yet been borne that the man possessed faith such as the Son of God did not find even in Israel. Now he who likes to pray in synagogues is not far from broadway corners. But it is not so with the saint, for he loves, not likes to pray, in churches, not broadway corners, in the straightness of the narrow straitened way, not to appear to men, but to present himself before the Lord God, a male in the sense that he observes the acceptable year of the Lord and keeps the commandment which says, “Thrice in the year shall every male present himself before the Lord God.”
We are to attend to the word “appear” carefully, since no appearance is a good inasmuch as it only seems to exist and not in truth, and misleads the senses and expresses nothing exactly and truly. As actors of plays in theatres are not what they profess nor are really what the mask they wear makes them look like, so too all who appear to assume the outward sensible form of goodness and are not righteous but actors of righteousness, acting moreover in a theatre of their own—namely synagogues and broadway corners. But he that is no actor but has cast off all that is alien to him and sets himself to please in that theatre which is inconceivably greater than any which has been mentioned, enters into his own storeroom to the riches therein treasured up, and shuts up after him his treasury of wisdom and knowledge.
Never turning his glance outwards or doting on things outside, having shut up every door of the senses that he may not be drawn away by sensations or have their sensible presentation stealing into his mind, prays to the Father who does not shun or desert a place so secret but dwells in it, the Only Begotten also being present with Him. For He says “I and the Father will come unto him and make abode with him.” And plainly, if we do pray thus, we shall be interceding not only with a God but also with a Father who is righteous, who does not desert us as His children but is present in our secret place and watches it and increases the contents of the storeroom if we shut up its door.
When we pray let us not babble but use godly speech. We babble when, without scrutiny of ourselves or of the devotional words we are sending up, we speak of the corrupt in deed or word or thought, things which are mean and reprehensible and alien to the incorruptibleness of the Lord. He, then, that babbles in prayer is in a synagogic disposition worse than any yet described and in a harder way than those who are at broadway corners, preserving not as much as a vestige even of acting in goodness.
For according to the passage in the Gospel only heathen babble, being quite insensible of great or heavenly petitions and therefore sending up every prayer for the material and the external. To a babbling heathen, then, is he like who asks for things below from the Lord who dwells in heaven and above the heights of the heavens.
He who is wordy also seems to be a babbler and he who babbles to be wordy. There is no unity in matter and in bodily substances, but every such supposed unity is split up and divided and disintegrated into many units to the loss of its union. Good is one; many are the base. Truth is one; many are the false. True righteousness is one; many are the states that act it as a part. God’s wisdom is one; many are the wisdoms of this age and of the rulers of this age which come to nought. The word of God is one, but many are the words alien to God.
Therefore no one shall escape Sin as the result of wordiness, and no one who thinks to be heard as the result of wordiness can be heard. For this reason we ought not to make our prayers like heathen babbling or wordiness or other practice after the likeness of the serpent, for the God of saints, being a Father, knows of what things His children have need, since such things are worthy of Fatherly knowledge.
He who knows not God knows not the things of God also—knows not the things of which he has need, for the things of which he thinks he has need are mistaken. But he who has contemplated the better and diviner things of which he is in need shall obtain the objects of his contemplation which are known by God and which have been known by the Father even before asking. After these remarks upon the preface to the prayer in the Gospel according to Matthew, let us now proceed to consider what the prayer sets forth.
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