JMC : Notes on the Lord's Prayer / by Raïssa Maritain

Chapter II

The First Three Petitions


Jesus Christ taught us to say Our Father, and not My Father.

This is because, as Saint Thomas Aquinas writes,{1} "God's love is not restricted to any individual, but embraces all in common; for God loves all things that are. Most of all he loves men. . . . At the same time we should remember that, although our hope rests chiefly on God's help, we can aid one another to obtain more easily what we ask for. . . . As Ambrose reminds us:{2} 'Many insignificant people, when they are gathered together and are of one mind, become powerful, and the prayers of many cannot but be heard.' This agrees with Matthew 18:19: 'If two of you shall consent on earth concerning anything whatsoever for which they shall ask, it shall be done to them by my Father who is in heaven.' Therefore we do not pour forth our prayers as individuals, but with unanimous accord we cry out 'Our Father,' even when one each of us prays clauso ostio.

"Let us also reflect that our hope reaches up to God through Christ, according to Romans 5:1-2. . . . Through him who is the only-begotten Son of God by nature, we are made adopted sons . . . as is said in Galatians 4:4-5. Hence, in acknowledging that God is our Father, we should do so in such a way as not to disparage the prerogative of the Only-begotten," who alone has the special right to say, My Father.


"Wherefore should the nations say: 'Where then is their God?'

"Nay, our God is in the heavens. He doth whatsoever pleaseth him."

Speaking of the Patriarchs, they acknowledged, says Saint Paul,{4} that they were " 'strangers and sojourners on earth.' For those who say such things make it plain that they search for a fatherland.

"As it is, they long for a better fatherland, that is, a heavenly one. Whence God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he hath prepared for them a city. . . ."

And again {5}: "For us, our country is in the heavens;

"whence we eagerly await as saviour the Lord Jesus Christ;

"who will transform the body of our lowliness [the body of the "earthly man" {6}]

"that it may be one with the body of his glory [the body of the "celestial man" {7}]

"by the force of that power whereby he is able to subject all things to himself."

What are, then, those heavens in which our Father lives, and where our city is found, and which is the fatherland to which we aspire, and where our "life is hidden with Christ in God"? This is a mystery that infinitely surpasses every idea the human mind can attempt to express in halting words. It is an astonishing thing that the Beyond which is more important for us than everything here below, on which our hope hangs, and which God "has prepared for those he loves," draws us all the more powerfully the thicker the veil that covers it -- "what eye hath not seen, what ear hath not heard, what hath not entered into heart of man . . ."{9}

Nevertheless faith, in its obscure manner, teaches us something of it. Heaven, or the heavens, is doubtless, as is sometimes said,{10} souls in the state of grace wherein the Trinity dwells, and in particular the souls of the saints.{11}

"There is an obstacle to prayer or confidence in God," Saint Thomas remarks,{12} "that would deter one from praying. This is the notion that human life is far removed from divine providence. The thought is given expression, in the person of the wicked, in Job 22:14: 'The clouds are his covert, and he doth not consider our things, and he walketh about the poles of heaven'; also in Ezechiel 8:12: 'The Lord seeth us not, the Lord hath forsaken the earth.'

"But the Apostle Paul taught the contrary in his sermon to the Athenians, when he said that God is 'not far from every one of us; for in him we live and move and are' (Acts 17:27-8). . . . We are told in Matthew 10:29-31: 'Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And not one of them shall fall to the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered' . . . thus indicating that everything belonging to man is to be recovered at the resurrection . As our Lord adds, in the same context: 'Fear not, therefore; better are you than many sparrows' (Matt. 10:31). This clarifies the passage: 'The children of men shall put their trust under the covert of thy wings' (Ps. 36 [35]:8).

"Although God is said to be near all men by reason of his special care over them, he is exceptionally close to the good who strive to draw near to him in faith and love. . . . Indeed, he not only draws nigh to them: he even dwells in them through grace. . . . Therefore, to increase the hope of the saints, we are bidden to say: 'who art in heaven,' that is, in the saints, as Augustine explains. For, as the same doctor adds, the spiritual distance between the just and sinners seems to be as great as the spatial distance between heaven and earth. . . . He who has made them heavens will not withhold heavenly goods from them."

Nevertheless heaven, or the heavens, or the "things that are above,"{13} is also and first of all -- is essentially -- the other world where God is loved and obeyed in an absolutely perfect manner by the blessed and by the angels,{14} where the sons of God are revealed,{15} and where creation enters into the freedom of the glory of the sons of God;{16} "heaven is where sin has ceased, heaven is where the wound of death exists no more; {17} it is the "light inaccessible" where dwells the Blessed and only Sovereign";{18} it is the universe of the beatific vision, the Church triumphant and the Jerusalem on high, which has existed from the beginning with the holy Angels steadfast in their allegiance to God, and which will attain its fullness with the resurrected and thenceforth "spiritual" bodies of the just, formed to "the likeness of the heavenly man,"{19} when Christ will have "put . . . under his feet," "the last enemy," which is "death." Then "he will say: 'he hath subjected all things.' "{20}

This is the world where, because it is a divinifled world, the Father dwells -- as he dwells already in the souls of the saints here below, but there in a still higher manner -- altogether at home and content, finding there no obstacle at all to his love. It is a world of whose existence we know from revelation, but whose nature and laws are impenetrable to us. It is a heaven whose azure is a veil beyond which our gaze does not pass. At night it gleams with stars, but we have no telescopes to bring these stars of the night of faith closer to us.

Lord Jesus, have pity on us therefore and on our poor world. Grant that we may conquer through love the power over this world which You accorded to Lucifer from the moment of his creation, and which remains despite his sin, and to which our sins enslave us.

This love is the very life of Your grace, which we have to receive and to keep faithfully.

Our power lies in fidelity to Your grace.

Lucifer's power lies in his creaturely princedom over the things of the world.

Jesus' power lies in His supreme fidelity -- He, God incarnate in our miserable body -- the Incarnate Word Jesus who won for his Humanity "the power to subject all things to himself."


"He who would offer a worthy prayer to God," says Saint Thomas,{21} quoting Saint John Chrysostom, "should ask for nothing before the Father's glory, but should make everything come after the praise of him."

Hallowed be Thy name. "By whom would God be sanctified, since it is he who sanctifies?"{22} But He said: "Be holy because I am holy."{23} It is by sanctifying ourselves that we glorify our Father's Name.{24} Thus we can repair the injustice done to him by this misguided world: "My name is continually blasphemed all the day long."{25} Jesus himself rendered perfect glory to this Name.

"I have glorified thee upon earth.

"I have manifested thy name to the men whom thou hast given me out of the world.

"Just Father, indeed the world hath not known thee, but I have known thee, and these have known that thou sent me; and I have made known thy name to them, and will make it known, in order that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them and I in them."

And to us Jesus has given this precept: "Let your light shine before men, in order that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in the heavens."{27}

Thus we should ask that the Father's Name be hallowed in us; and not only in us, as Tertullian remarks,{28} but in all men, especially in those whom the grace of God still awaits, and in those whom we hold to be our enemies, since we are also required to pray for them.

Hallowed be Thy Name.

We know that in the Semitic languages the word name has so much force that in signifying the named it reveals in some way its essence. With the progress of time the word has lost little by little the magic power with which it was invested primitively, and in virtue of which the knowledge of the Name gave power over the Named.{29} The name which "both designates and veils the named,"{30} nevertheless retained for the Jews of the Hellenistic era a value so intensely and even so exaggeratedly realistic that to know and utter someone's name was to manifest this someone himself as it were by seizing him under a veil. Thy Name is Thyself, Thyself as designated in Thy hidden secret.

To speak truly, however, it is only in God that there is identity between Name and Named. Far rather than the Names we use to designate God, the Name of which it is a question in the first petition of the Lord's Prayer, is the ineffable Name itself, the subsisting Name which God alone can pronounce and which is identified with God himself. "When Jacob asked the Angel early in the morning: 'Tell me, what is your name?' he replied, 'Why do you ask my name?' It is impossible to utter this truly wondrous name, the name that is set above every name that is named either in the present world or in the world to come."{31} === Mystery of divine Revelation! This Name set above every other name can itself be designated -- but at a distance, the distance that separates the Infinite from the finite{32} -- by a name which our lips can utter. Thus it is that the ineff able Name was first revealed to Moses, and mysteriously symbolized by the tetragrammaton. At a certain moment in their history the Jews -- through a feeling of reverent fear and holy trembling in which the logic of their way of semi-identifying the name with the named was pushed to its extreme limit -- had to decide no longer to pronounce it at all.{33} The word Adonai (my Lord) henceforth replaced that of Yahweh.

But the ineffable Name was not only revealed to Moses from the midst of the burning bush and the fiery flame, and in a sign -- "I Am Who Am," or "I Am Who I Am (and Whom I alone know) " -- which was to become unpronounceable and undecipherable for the people of God.

It has also been revealed to all of us by Jesus, on the roadways and humble hills where he and his disciples did their preaching -- and in the word which is the most easily pronounced by the poorest children of men.

For by this time it is no longer a question of a name which one would wish, attempting the impossible, to render in our human signs as incommunicable as the very Name of God in God (as if the "I AM" of Horeb,{34} as well as all the other names by which God makes himself known to us, were not a sign among others which the mirror of creatures offers our minds).

This time it is a question of a very simple name in our language, which declares from the very first (as befits a revelation that is not reserved to any one people alone, but cast to all the ends of the earth) that the reflection of the beyond in the mirror of creatures" is the sole means by which God can be known and make himself known to us. He is the Father of us all, and the Father from whom proceeds the uncreated Word, incarnate in Jesus. "If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he shall give you another Advocate, that he may be with you forever."" . . ."If any one loveth me, he will keep my word, and my Father shall love him, and we will come to him."{37} . . . Whatsoever you ask the Father in my name, he will give it you."{38} "As thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they too may be in us."{39}

Thus in one breath we say: God One and Triune, who made heaven and earth, You our Father who are in heaven; Father of the only Son and of us who are his brethren by adoption, You our Father who are in heaven.

And by this very Name of Father we are taught that he is Love, Mercy, and Goodness.

Nevertheless, do not believe, my poor soul, that with this name of Father, or of Love and of Goodness, the distance between Him and thee

"Let us say, to employ the vocabulary of the philosophers. the analogy of anoetic rational knowledge or the superanalogy of faith. (Cf. J. Maritain, The Degrees of Knowledge, op. cit., pp. 222-6. 241-4.) "John 14:15-16. is any less great{40} than it is with the name we are forbidden to spell out. For He eludes every grasp and His transcendence makes Him all the more unknown the more thou knowest Him. He is -- in an infinitely better way than anything else is, but also and by that very fact in a way altogether different from the way which anything else is. He is Father -- in an infinitely better way than any of us is father, but also and by that very fact in a way altogether different from the way in which any of us is a father. He loves thee -- in an infinitely better way than any creature can love, but also and by that very fact He loves thee in an altogether different manner, a manner that thou art absolutely incapable of imagining.

And when the great trial comes to thee, this altogether different of His Fatherhood and of His love will nail thee to the Cross,

O divine Cross, bitter wood,
Bloody price of the Beatitudes,

the more cruelly still than the altogether different of his being.


In meditating on all these things, we see that if we were to try to express in other words the meaning of the first petition of the Lord's Prayer, we should have to say:

O God, One and Triune, who art our Father, O First Person of the Trinity who art the Father of the Only Son and of us who are your adopted sons,

May glory be rendered Thy ineffable holiness; may Thy name, which is Thyself, be manifested, praised and blessed in us and in every creature. Ita fac nos vivere, ut per nos te universi glorificent{42} -- grant us to live in such a way that through us all that there is in the world may glorify Thee.

{1} Saint Thomas Aquinas, Compendium Theologiae, II, cap. 5; in Opuscula Theologica (Turin: Marietti, 1954), t. I, n. 557 and 558. English trans. by Cyril Vollert, S.J., Compendium of Theology by Saint Thomas Aquinas (St. Louis and London: B. Herder Book Co., 1958), pp. 319-20.

{2} More precisely, as attributed to Saint Ambrose (Ambrosiaster, in Rom., cap. 15, P.L., 17, 186-7).

{3} Ps. 113:10 (Vulgate Ps. 113, pt. 2:2).

{4} Heb. 11:13-16.

{5} Philipp. 3:20-21.

{6} Cor. 15:47.

{7} Ibid., 15:48-49.

{8} Col. 3:3.

{9} Saint Paul, 1 Cor. 2:9. (Cf. Isaias 64:3, and Jeremias 3:16).

{10} M. J. Lagrange, The Gospel of Jesus Christ, op. cit., II, p.212.

{11} Cf. Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, Caéchèses mystag., IX, P.G., 33, 1177: 'The heavens also mean those who bear in them the image of the celestial man, in whom God dwells and walks"; and Saint Augustine, De Serm. Dom. in monte, lib. II, cap. 5: . In coelis, id est, in sanctis et justis." P.L., 34, 1276.

{12} Compendium Theologiae, H, cap. 6 (Marietti), t. 1, n. 562 to 564. English trans. by Vollert, op. cit, pp. 322-3.

{13} Saint Paul, Col. 3:1-2.

{14} Cf. Saint Augustine, Ep. ad Probam, P.L., 33, 502 (n. 21); and De Serm. Domini in monte, lib. II, cap. 6, P.L., 34, 1278.

{15} Saint Paul, Rom. 8:19. {16} Ibid., 8:21.

{17} Saint Ambrose, De Sacram., lib. VI, n. 20, P.L., 16, 451.

{18} Saint Paul, 1 Tim. 6, 1-16.

{19} "Saint Paul, 1 Cor. 15:44,49.

{20} Ibid., 15:26-27.

{21} Compendium Theologiae, II, cap. 8 (Marietti), t. I, n. 572; English trans. Vollert, op. cit., p. 329. -- Saint John Chrysostom, Hom. 19, in Matt. 6, n. 4, P.G., 57, 279.

{22} Saint Cyprian, De Orat. Domin., n. 12, P.L., 4, 527.

{23} Levit. 11:44.

{24} As Father Lagrange very rightly points out, God's inaccessible holiness demands to be communicated. To pray for the hallowing of his Name is to pray for the full accomplishment of the work of holiness which is his, and in which those who live in his grace will be associated throughout all time (Cf. Lagrange, Evang. selon saint Matthieu, p. 128, n. 9).

{25} Isaias 52:5.

{26} John 17:4, 6,25 -- 26.

{27} Matt. 5:16.

{28} Cf. De Oratione, cap. 4, P.L., I, 1157.

{29} "The uttering of the Name gives as it were a power over the Named, the 'seal of the name' being in a way an entrance into communication with the intimate nature of the Named." Louis Gardet, Mystique musulmane (Paris: Vrin, 1961), p. 199. This remark also applies to Jewish thought; and even, as the author indicates, to Buddhist thought, and in a certain measure to the thought of the Christian East ("The Prayer of Jesus").

{30} Louis Gardet, "Al-Asma" in L'Encyclopédie de l'lslam (2d ed.).

{31} Gen. 32:29; Judges 13:17-18. Cf. Saint Thomas Aquinas, in Librum B. Dionysii De divin. Nomin. Expositio, cap. 1, lect. 3, Marietti, 1950, n. 96 (free translation borrowed from The Degrees of Knowledge, New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1959, p. 1) . -- Cf. Contra Gent., I, cap. 31: "If we could know the divine essence as it is in itself, and give it a name befitting to it, we would express it by a single name. Such was the promise made by the prophet (zach. 14:9, to whose text Saint Thomas here gives its highest eschatological meaning) to those who will see him in his essence: 'In that day there shall be one Yahweh and his name shall be one.' "

{32} It is a question here of our knowledge of God. If, on the other hand, it is a question of God's knowledge of us and of the care with which his providence watches over us, we must say, as we have seen above (p. 33), that God is not far from us, that he is very close to men.

{33} "It was not in the first place," Father Lagrange writes, "because the Jews feared that the Gentiles were making magic use of the sacred name that they forbade its use among themselves: it was rather because the Jews regarded this name as a formidable mystery that the pagans liked to use it in their magic rites. In ancient times, it was the common patrimony of the Israelites; it was not forbidden them. On the contrary, they pronounced it with love in their pious outpourings. The reserve of Hellenistic times implies that many Israelites had become too worldly to use it" (M. J. Lagrange, Le Judaisme avant Jésus-Christ, Paris, 1931, p. 459). It could also be said, and more correctly in our opinion, that this reserve sprang from a more and more explicitly felt communication, to the Name revealed to us, of the sacred terror inspired by the transcendence of the Named.

{34} Exod. 3:14.

{37} Ibid. 14:23.

{38} Ibid. 15:16.

{39} Ibid. 17:21.

{40} Cf. above, p. 39, n. 32.

{41} Raïssa Maritain, "Croix," in Au Creux du Rocher (Paris: Alsatia, n.d.).

{42} Saint John Chrysostom, Hom. 19, in Matt., 6, n. 4, P.G., 57, 279, cited by Saint Thomas, Compendium Theologiae, II, cap. 8 (Marietti). n. 572; Eng. trans., op. cit., p. 325.

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