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


Adveniat regnum tuum, Elthetô he Basileia sou. The Greek word basileia, the Latin word regnum, signify both reign and kingdom. These two meanings do not exclude each other; on the contrary, they evoke each other. Nevertheless we may ask which of the two, in the second petition of the Lord's Prayer, has the primary importance.

To this Father Lagrange replies{1} that there can be no question of saying, "Thy Kingdom come," because a kingdom does not come -- a manifestly feeble reason, because it is entirely normal to speak of the advent of a kingdom; and a kingdom comes when it is established and when it extends itself, and if a reign "comes," it is, be it more or less implicitly, together with a kingdom over which it rules and which itself conjointly ''comes" or ''arrives."

Indeed, if Reign is ordinarily used in French translations of the Lord's Prayer, Kingdom is ordinarily used in the English and German translations (Kingdom, Reich), and it is particularly noteworthy that in translations into Semitic languages a word meaning first of all Kingdom is used. This is the case in the current Hebrew translation (Malkout, a modern translation, it is true), and, in a still more significant way, in the Arabic translation offered by the Greek-Catholic rite; not only is it a question here of a translation consecrated by liturgical usage and by time, but in reciting the Lord's Prayer at Mass one says Malakout, which signifies Kingdom, whereas at the beginning of the Mass in speaking of God's reign one uses another word (Mamlakat) which explicitly signifies Reign and not Kingdom.

Without thereby excluding the meaning of "reign," we shall thus prefer to say: "Thy Kingdom come." And at the same time we shall understand that in the Lord's Prayer Jesus did not teach us to ask only in a general way for God to be obeyed by all, but also to ask in a more precise and explicit manner for the coming of that Kingdom of God or Kingdom of heaven2 which he came to proclaim,{3} and concerning which his thought and his preaching abounded in inexhaustible parables which the Gospels constantly present to us.

But what is this Kingdom if it is not the Church which is in this world but not of this world -- regnum meum non est de hoc mundo{4} -the Church considered not as it existed before Christ, under inchoate and masked forms, but as together with Christ, especially after Pentecost, it will appear among us with face uncovered and in the resplendent vigor of its Head, the Incarnate Word? And it is also the Church of the hereafter, not according as before Christ it gathered the elect together in the bosom of Abraham, but as it will rejoice in vision once Christ enters into his glory, and as it will finally attain to its complete fullness with the resurrection of the body.

"Until John, there were the Law and the prophets; thenceforth the Gospel of God's kingdom and everyone of those who have ears to hear is forcing his way into it"{5} -- "the violent those who do not hesitate to cut off their right hand if it gives them scandal and to love Jesus more than father or mother have been seizing it by force."{6} "Amen, I say to you, among those born of woman there has not risen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven [according as he has the grace of Christ already come and he is called no longer to wait in limbo but to see God face to face in heaven] is greater than he."{7}


Thy Kingdom come. This petition, or this desire, relates first and above all to the future world, the world of eternity where alone the first petition also, "Hallowed be Thy Name," will be accomplished in an absolutely perfect manner. "It is quite evident that the petition concerns the future."{8} "The Kingdom of God, for whose coming we ask, has its term in the consummation of the world."{9} "The kingdom of God within us, who are tireless marchers, will reach its perfection when the words of the Apostle{10} are accomplished: 'When He shall have put all his enemies under his feet, He shall deliver up the Kingdom to his Father, in order that God may be all in all.' "{11} "What then is this kingdom you desire to come? It is the one spoken of in the Gospel": 'Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.' "{13} This Kingdom is the Church triumphant. "Then shall the just shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of the Father."{14}

And what did the Old Testament say earlier? Wisdom "showed him the just the kingdom of God,"{15} when Jacob in his dream saw the ladder standing upon the earth and the top thereof reaching heaven, and the angels of God ascending and descending.{16} "The God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, . . . and itself shall stand for ever."{17} "His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom."{18} "Et regnum ejus in generationem et generationem."{19} "One like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven. . . . His power is an everlasting power . . . and his kingdom shall not be destroyed."{20} "The saints of the most high God shall take the kingdom: and they shall possess the kingdom for ever and ever."{21}

"Saviours shall come up into mount Sion to judge the mount of Esau: and the kingdom shall be for the Lord."{22}

But the second petition of the Lord's Prayer refers also to a kingdom already present, which has to expand and win more and more the depth of the human being and of human life. "The kingdom of God has come when you have received his grace. Indeed he himself said:{23} 'The kingdom of God is within you.' "{24}

Interrogatus autem a Pharisaeis: quando venit regnum Dei? respondens eis dixit: Non venit regnum Dei cum observatione. Neque dicent: Ecce hic, aut ecce illic. Ecce enim regnum Dei intra vos est.{25} Let us try to disengage the meaning of these lines of Saint Luke, quoted by Saint Ambrose in the passage just mentioned: "On being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them and said: The kingdom of God cometh unawares -it cannot be awaited like a material event, as the coming of an army in clouds of dust and with arms glittering in the sun -- "as if one could say: 'Behold, it is here,' or, 'it is there.' For behold, the Kingdom of the grace of Christ come among men is within you," or, according to an equally authoritative translation, "among you."{26} "It is already among you: you have not seen it because it does not come as a finished thing of which it can be said that it is here or it is there, but by looking at it closely we can recognize it as a seed which is growing."{27}

It is among you, or within you, as the Kingdom of Christ's grace come among men -- it is the Church here below, the Kingdom of God "in the state of pilgrimage and crucifixion,"{28} and which while visible, and composed of the just who make its visibility more resplendent and of sinners who becloud it, has as its soul and life grace and charity, and, on these grounds, is without stain or blemish, but in the depths of hearts, at that secret point where each man chooses either to allow the life of the Mystical Body to operate in him, as in a holy and active member, or chooses to evade that life as a member in whom blood no longer circulates. This is the Kingdom of God making its way on earth, in which Jesus Christ "is in agony until the end of the world" and which, step by step, by the application of the merits of Christ to each member of time, "makes up" in the course of centuries, by virtue of its union with the love and passion of its Head, for "what is lacking to the sufferings of Christ."{29}

In saying, "Thy Reign come," or "Thy Kingdom come," it is for this progressive accomplishment of the work of coredemption that we are asking. We beseech God to make us advance toward the final term as "tireless marchers," and to have us cooperate in the expansion of his Kingdom, so that the Church, enlarging its boundaries without cease, may extend itself more and more among the peoples of the world and reintegrate into itself the people of Israel; that there may increase more and more the number of the saved (whether they form part of the Church's visible membership, or whether they belong to it invisibly); and that by successive stages a progress in depth may render those who in the supernatural order are "fellow citizens of the saints," more and more docile to the spirit and to the exigencies of the Gospel and more and more in accord with the charity of Jesus.


And we ask secondarily that in the temporal order itself and in all that which relates to its domain, the struggle which is pursued from age to age against the servitude, misery and suffering of men, the effort toward justice, civic friendship, respect for the dignity of the person, constantly win ground.

And doubtless to expect for this earth, as if it had to come about in history, the kingdom of God fully consummated, is an absurdity, because as long as history will endure a progress in the direction of evil will coexist with a progress in the direction of good, and will thwart it. But the fact remains that the kingdom of God fully consummated will come about beyond history, with the new earth and the new heavens, when the sorting out will be made between the mass of iniquity which draws the world in the direction of its prince, and which will detach itself so as to go toward its own place, and the energies of love and of truth which draw it in the direction of its Sayiour and which will detach themselves so as to go toward their own place, so that by such a rupture and blazing discontinuity the world transfigured will be absorbed into the Church triumphant, into the Kingdom of heaven which Christ will restore to his Father.

It remains that throughout the course of history, so long as there will be immortal souls bent beneath inhuman conditions of life, there cannot be on earth any rest for the Christian; it remains that, by a corollary of his supernatural vocation, the temporal mission of the Christian engages him to work in one manner or another for the common good of humanity on earth, and for the maintenance of man's temporal hope in the Gospel. It remains that for as much as the transformations of the world will take place in a manner truly beneficial to man and truly liberating, they will be, on the one hand, as it were a refraction, in the temporal world, of the virtues and graces of the Kingdom of God in pilgrimage here below, and, on the other, as a distant prefiguration, in the enigmas and nights of our carnal conditions, of the Kingdom of God in the glory of the world to come.

It is for this reason that these transformations indirectly concern the Kingdom of God; we ask for them indirectly in asking for the coming of this Kingdom. Why indirectly? Because they are sought first for men (although referred, of course, as is every good petition, to the glory of God as ultimate end).


But all that we ask directly in asking for the coming of the Kingdom of heaven, all the things which directly concern that Kingdom, and which we have previously considered -- it is clear that we ask for all of this first for God, our Father and our Friend by the grace of charity, before asking it for ourselves.

We must therefore renounce following here, however great and respected they may be, those who think that the second petition of the Lord's Prayer is addressed to God for ourselves, not for God. Doubtless, as we have already remarked, and since obviously creatures are needed if God wishes that in causing them to enter freely into His joy He may consummate freely, by their means, the glory which He has necessarily and eternally by nature and to which nothing can be added, the first three petitions relate to the comportment and to the destiny of men. And this, we believe, is all that Tertullian wished to say ("We ask to reign more promptly, and to escape more quickly from bondage"{30}) or Saint Cyprian ("We pray for the coming of the promised Kingdom, purchased for us by the blood and passion of Christ. Then we who were formerly slaves in the world may reign under the sovereignty of Christ"{31}). But Saint Augustine, fearing lest one would imagine that God does not yet reign over the things he has made, and that he will owe to our own good solicitude his reigning over them some day, assures us that in asking that his Kingdom come we are but "exciting our desire towards that reign of God in order that it may come to us, and that we may reign in it."{32} And because he follows Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas, in that invaluable masterpiece that is the Compendium Theologiae, restricts his commentary on the second petition of the Lord's Prayer to a long explanation of what will be our beatitude or subjective ultimate end, and the vision by which we will enjoy God."

In truth, the second petition, like the first and the third, relates to the destiny and to the comportment of men. But like the other two, it is toward the good of God, not of men, that it first and above all excites our desire; it is for God that it has us pray. "An uplifting of the heart toward our Father," Father Lagrange very correctly writes, "three desires uttered by a soul united to that Father by the bonds of friendship and animated by a desire for His good: the soul's good being is the outpouring of the Father's good and returns to Him again in glory. . . ."{34}

The Lord has willed, because he loves us, that we enter into his joy "; the Father has willed that the Kingdom of heaven be given to his saints."

And we, we will, because we love Him, that his Kingdom should increase here below, in order that there may unfold in time the work for which he sent his Son and in which his love delights; we will, because we love him, that his Kingdom, the Kingdom which before being given to us is first of all and will ever remain essentially his, be consummated in heaven, in order that in accordance with his desire he may there be all and all, and that his own praise and his own joy, as necessary and immutable in him as his essence, may have -through the free gift which he has made of himself to his elect, and which has been freely received by them under the motion of grace -- their eternal plenitude.

{1} Evang. selon saint Luc, p. 322, n. 2.

{2} "From the first days of his public life, Jesus proclaims: 'the kingdom of the heavens is at hand' (Matt. 4:17). . . . All throughout his mission 'the kingdom of the heavens' came constantly to his lips. The expression is typically Palestinian (Mark and Luke translate it according to Greco-Roman usage: 'the kingdom of God.') ." Augustin George, S.M., Connaître Jésus-Christ (Paris: Equipes Enseignantes, 18 rue Ernest-Lacoste, 1960), p. 41.

{3} Oportet me evangelizare regnum Dei. Luke 4:43.

{4} John 18:36.

{5} Luke 16:16.

{6} Matt. 11:12.

{7} Ibid., 11:11.

{8} M. J. Lagrange, Evang. selon saint Luc, p. 322 n.

{9} Tertullian, De Oratione, cap. 5, P.L., 1, 1159.

{10} 1 Cor. 15:24-28 (condensed).

{11} Origen, De Oratione, 25, P.G., 11, 497.

{12} Matt. 25:34.

{13} Saint Augustine, Serm. 56, cap. 4, n. 6., P.L. 38, 379.

{14} Matt. 13:43.

{15} Wis. 10:10.

{16} Gen. 28: 12. -- "In thee and thy seed all the tribes of the earth shall be blessed."

{17} Daniel 2:44.

{18} Ibid., 3:100 (and 4:31).

{19} Ibid., 4:31.

{20} Ibid., 7:13-14.

{21} Ibid., 7:18 (Cf. 7:27).

{22} Abdias, 21.

{23} Luke 17:21.

{24} Saint Ambrose, De Sacram., lib. VI, n. 22, P.L., 16, 451.

{25} Luke 17:20 -- 21.

{26} We have used both Father Lagrange's translation [also corresponding to that of most English translations of the Bible] which says "within you," and that of the Jerusalem Bible which says "among you."

{27} M. J. Lagrange, Evang. selon saint Luc, p. 460 n.

{28} Charles Journet, L'Eglise du Verbe Incarné, t. II, p. 87.

{29} Saint Paul, Col. 1:24.

{30} Tertullian, De Oratione, cap. 5, P.L., I, 1159.

{31} Saint Cyprian, De Oratione Dominica, n. 13, P.L., 4, 527.

{32} Ad Probam, P.L., 33, 502 (n. 21).

{33} Comp. Theologiae, II, cap. 9, Marietti, n. 573 ff. (The work, interrupted by the death of the saint, stops with the second petition.)

{34} M. I. Lagrange, The Gospel of Jesus Christ, vol. 11, p. 16.

{35} Intra in gaudium Domini tui. Matt. 25:21 and 23. Ego dispono vobis, sicut disposuit mihi Pater meus, regnum, ut edatis et bibatis super mensam meam in regno meo. Luke 22:29-30.

{36} Nolite timere, pusillus grex, quia complacuit Patri vestro dare vobis regnum. Luke 12:32 (Cf. Daniel 7:18).

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