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


God is so lofty -- and so infinite is the fullness of his being -- that in order to know, in our human way, what in him is perfectly one and indivisible, we need to employ a plurality of concepts. It is thus that the theologians distinguish in the divine will several kinds of will, which they designate by words that do not denote a particularly happy effort of verbal imagination but which concern things very important to consider.

Let us turn first to what the theologians call voluntas signi: this is the divine will taken (in opposition to the voluntas beneplaciti, or will properly so called) in a metaphorical sense, according as one calls "the will of God" this or that mode of manifestation (for example, precept, prohibition, counsel{1}) which for us is the sign of an act of will. Those who accomplish the precepts of the Lord do his will. Therefore in saying, "Thy Will be done," we are asking that we ourselves and our brethren carry out all that the Father prescribes, avoid all that he forbids, and faithfully follow the inspiration of his counsels.

This is quite evident. "If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments."{2}


It is well for us to meditate more at length on another theological distinction which introduces us more deeply into the impenetrable mystery. In considering the will of God properly so called, the theologians distinguish the "antecedent will" -- let us say the primordial or 'uncircumstanced' will -- and the "consequent will," which we may call the definitive or 'circumstanced' will. It is the definitive or circumstanced will which is always accomplished,{3} and which nothing in the world can escape; it is the absolute will of God. But the primordial or uncircumstanced will, that by which "God wishes all men to be saved and to come to knowledge of truth," is nevertheless very real and fundamentally real, although conditional; it is not a simple velleity,{5} it is the first root of the whole divine economy. In calling it primordial or antecedent, one clearly does not mean to say that it precedes in time the definitive will (the two are in God the same unique and sublime eternal will; priority and posteriority are only of the logical order and concern only our human mode of thinking); in calling it primordial or antecedent we wish to say that as concerns the logical order of increasing determination under which the object willed is taken, it is that original impetus of infinite Goodness by which, taking only itself into account and leaving aside every other consideration, it wills that all that which proceeds from it be good and without any trace of evil. But such a will may be frustrated.{6}

And from the very fact that there are creatures, it may be said that the antecedent will is going to find itself inevitably frustrated in a certain measure. For God plays fair with beings and means neither to constrain their natures nor to render these natures useless by substituting for them a constantly miraculous regime: there is no material world without destruction, and more particularly, from the moment that animal life am pears, without suffering. There are no minds without freedom of option and (so long as they are not divinified by the vision of God) without the possibility of choosing evil instead of good. The possibility, inherent in our free will, of breaking by our "nihilatings" the divine motions which inclime us toward good, has as its consequence that acts morally evil will be permitted whose first initiative -- precisely insofar as they are evil -- belongs to us alone. In this way our evasions and our refusals are in eternal eyes circumstances according to which, in the great struggle thus being waged, the consequent or circumstanced will, will accept for the antecedent will defeats that cause the saints to weep and will determine for it requitals and supercompensations such as brought the awestruck Saint Paul to his knees -- both will still remains for one part (in what concerns the future) antecedent and uncircumstanced. It could happen that this person does not repair and even aggravates the injustice he has committed. the one and the other directed toward a final triumph of that divine generosity all the more resplendent the more it will have been wounded en route.


God's will is adorable in all ways and under all its aspects.

It is clear that by the third petition of the Lord's Prayer the Christian soul asks at one and the same time that there be accomplished the voluntas signi, the consequent or circumstanced will, and the antecedent or uncircumstanced will. We believe, however, that the desire formulated in this third petition refers principally to the antecedent will.

Nevertheless, it behooves us first to speak of the consequent will.

The consequent or circumstanced will is always and infallibly accomplished. Why then ask that it be done? That which has been decided upon will happen in any case. Yes, undoubtedly; but by this petition it is we who freely put ourselves in unison with this will and, whether in joy or sorrow, bless its inscrutable designs: dignum et justum est, aequum et salutare. . . . It is we who in homage and thanksgiving, and by an act of faith which can sometimes rend our hearts, proclaim that all which our Father in heaven wills, whatever he may will to decree and whatever he may permit, is good because it is he who has willed it. "In saying: 'Thy will be done,' we rejoice that there is nothing evil in the will of God even if he deals sternly with us. . . ."

To ask that the will of God be done -- that is, his consequent or circumstanced will -- is therefore sometimes a gift and abandonment of ourselves made in full agony. Perhaps it will be necessary to go so far even as to the sweating of blood. Jesus gave us the example.

After having first said: "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass away from me," he added: "Yet not as I will, but as thou wilt." Verumtamen non mea voluntas, sed tua fiat. This prayer of Jesus is at the heart of all human sorrow and of all human hope. He had to die because he had taken upon himself all the sins and all the sufferings of the world -- in consummation of his obedience and of the work he had come to do. It was before the absolute will, the consequent and definitive will of Him he loved more than his soul and his life, that he bowed his own human will and made abandon of it.

By the third petition of the Lord's Prayer we also pray for the accomplishment of the antecedent will of God, the will which emanates primordially from his goodness but which can admit of obstacles. And indeed, as we have said, it is for the accomplishment of this antecedent will that we pray first and before all else. Why is this? It is because Jesus has us say: "Thy Will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

Sicut in coelo -- it is precisely this which we do not see carried out on earth. The will of God falls short of being done on earth as it is in heaven.

Sicut in coelo, that is to say, as it is accomplished by the holy angels and the elect, in the other world which is that of the vision of God and which will be that also of the resurrection of the body -- there where free will, still in exercise as regards all that which is not God himself sovereignly loved, has become incapable of sinning -- there where the angels by "myriads of myriads" cry out in loud voice: "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing," and in which every creature in the entire universe renders glory "to Him who sitteth upon the throne and to the Lamb."{9} "As the angels of heaven carry out thy will, Lord, may the same be done on earth."{10}

By the third petition, writes Tertullian, "we ask that his will be done in all men." And Saint Cyprian: "Christ makes us pray for the salvation of all men." 12 And Saint Augustine: "It is for perfection that we beg by this prayer,"" And again: "Thy will be done by men, even as by the angels."{14} And again: "So that his will may be done by us as it is done in heaven by his angels."{15}

As by the angels -- in all men -- for the salvation of all men -- for the perfection of all men here below: it is clear that understood in the full force of sicut in coelo the third petition has as its first object, not the consequent or circumstanced will of God, which is always accomplished, but his primordial will. It refers first and principally to the antecedent will by which God wills that all men be saved, and that in creation there be found, in divers degrees, only good, without any sting of evil, neither evil in a relative sense or the evil of suffering, nor evil in an absolute sense, or the evil of sin. It is for the accomplishment of this will that Jesus taught us to pray first and above all, as it was for the accomplishment of this will that his own human will aspired of itself and above all.

This primordial and uncircumstanced will may be, if one may be permitted so to speak, outclassed, as when a certain good willed in things has as its reverse side suffering in them.{16}

It can also, as we have noted, be frustrated. It is in this sense that "God is wounded by our sin." {17} For "God does not do good in man if man does not will it," {18} and man is able not to will it; he can evade the divine activation which inclines him toward good, and at the same stroke place an obstacle before the antecedent will.{19}

Sin is offense against God. But what exactly does this expression mean? What is its true sense, if not to signify that sin deprives the divine will -the primordial or antecedent will -- of something it has really willed? "In his antecedent will, God wills that all men be saved, and he likewise wills that all my actions be good. If I sin, something that God has willed and loved will forever not be. This through my own first initiative. I am thus the cause -- the nihilating cause -- of a privation with regard to God, a privation as to the term or effect willed (but in no way as to the good of God himself). . . . Sin not only deprives the universe of a thing that is good, it deprives God himself of something he conditionally but truly willed. The moral fault affects the Uncreated in no way in Himself -- He is absolutely invulnerable -- but in the things and effects that He wills and loves. Here we could say that God is the most vulnerable of beings. No need of poisoned arrows, of cannons or machine-guns; an invisible movement in the heart of a free agent suffices to wound him, to deprive his antecedent will of something here below which he has wanted and loved from all eternity, and which will never be."{20}


How can we avoid touching at this point upon the question which the Heart of Jesus in glory afflicted by our desertions, and the tears of the Virgin who came down to our mountains to speak to two children do not permit us to evade?

Reason rebels at the idea of the conjunction of suffering and Beatitude. "The latter is absolute plenitude, and suffering is the cry of the wounded. But our God is a crucified God; the beatitude of which he cannot be deprived did not prevent him from fearing or mourning, or from sweating blood in the unimaginable Agony, or from passing through the throes of death on the Cross, or from feeling abandoned."{21} it is by a suffering God that we have been redeemed.

It may further be remarked that "for a created being to be capable of suffering is a real perfection; it is the lot of life and of the spirit; it is the greatness of man.

It remains that "because the very idea of suffering implies some imperfection, it cannot be ascribed to the 'impenetrable Essence.' But in some form which no human can name, is it not needful that there be found in that Essence the whole element of mysterious perfection which pertains to the suffering of the creature?"

These inexpressible recesses of Light, "this kind of glory of suffering, perhaps it is to this that correspond on earth the suffering of the innocent, the tears of children, certain excesses of humiliation and misery which it is almost impossible for the heart to accept without being scandalized, and which, when the face of the enigmatic world has passed away, will appear at the summit of the Beatitudes."{22}

The passages just cited are taken from We Have Been Friends Together. The author was careful there to excuse herself "for what is obscure in these reflections," and recalled with awe the famous words of Léon Bloy: "When one speaks lovingly of God, all human words are like blind lions searching for a spring in the desert."


It is in the last of the first three petitions of the Lord's Prayer that there appears most manifestly the mysterious character which it has in common with the two others of being a prayer to God for God, a wish which the filial love of Christ and of his brothers addresses to God for God himself, for his triumph, for his eternal and infinite joy which desires to receive into it the intelligent creatures he has made. There is in this third petition a tenderness so ardent that it does not hesitate to go beyond the possible: sicut in coelo et in terra, "by men, even as by the angels."

"When the disciples asked Christ to teach them to pray, he gave them the Lord's Prayer, and the first three paradoxical petitions that they had to address to God," for "divine things" which "therefore will come about partially in dependence on our human initiatives. It must be concluded that the fervor with which God's friends pray will decide, to a very great extent, the outpourings of God's helping graces, be they regular or miraculous, the advances made by the City of God, and any progress in the conversion of the world."{23}

One might say that in passing from one stage to the other the petition becomes more intimate and goes in a deeper way to God's own good. May honor and witness be rendered His holiness. May His reign come to all men, and that kingdom where His very divinity is participated in by created minds. May the superabounding Love which is one with His Being, may the desire of His heart, may His will find accomplishment without obstacle in the world of men as in the world of the blessed in heaven.

The third petition is a prayer of loving acceptance, which means most often a prayer of abandonment of self and of submission in the midst of crushing trials and ruin, a prayer of prostration in order to participate in the humiliation of the Saviour. But it is also, and even more, a prayer of exultation, of zeal and fiery desire, an insatiable prayer, inflamed by love, a prayer which makes us enter into the primeval desires of God and of his incarnate Son, and which claims for the glory of the Father that which will never be fully realized here below and cannot be,{24} but which must be asked for with all the more fervor and perseverance and which will be accomplished at the end of ends in so much more beautiful a manner that every created mind among the saved will be in raptures with it.

{1} There are five signs that manifest the divine will: prohibition, precept, counsel, operation, and permission. Cf. Sum. theol., I, 19, 12.

{2} John 14:21.

{3} Sum. theol., I, 19, 6.

{4} Saint Paul, 1 Tim. 2:4.

{5} That is to say, an inchoation which does not attain to being an act of will, in other words a feeble movement by which one does not will something but only would will it. When Saint Thomas uses the word velleitas (Sum. theol., I, 19, 6) it is in an altogether different sense and in order to signify a will which is formal and properly so called but which is not unconditional nor unfailingly carried out. Cf. John of Saint Thomas, Cursus theol., t. III, disp. 5, a. 7 and 8.

{6} Not, to be sure, in the sense in which a desire is frustrated in us (by some exterior agent which deprives us despite ourselves of what we will). The antecedent will is "frustrated," but by a freedom that God himself has created, and which he has authorized to evade him if it wishes, and which actually posits an evil act only with his permission.

{7} Tertullian, De Oratione, cap. 4, P.L. 1, 1158.

{8} Matt. 26:39; Luke 22:42.

{9} Cf. Apoc. 5:11-13. -- Cf. Ps. 103 (102): 21: Ministri ejus, qui faciunt voluntatem ejus.

{10} Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, Catéchèses mystagogiques, XIV, P.G., 33, 1120.

{11} De Oratione, cap. 4, see above, p. 37, n. 28.

{12} Oratione Dominica, n. 17, P.L., 4, 530.

{13} Serm. 56, cap. 5, n. 8, P.L., 34, 1278.

{14} . sicut ab angelis, ita ab hominibus." -- De Serm. Dom. in monte, lib. II, cap. 6, P.L., 34, 1278.

{15} "Ut sic a nobis fiat voluntas ejus, quemadmodum fit in coelestibus ab Angelis ejus." Ad Probam, P.L., 33, 502 (n. 21).

{16} The evil of suffering is doubtless not willed directly and per se; it is nevertheless willed per accidens, or "allowed" by the consequent will.

{17} Charles Journet, The Meaning of Evil (New York: P. J. Kenedy & Sons, 1963), p. 182.

{18} John Chrysostom, Opus imperfectum, Hom. 14, sup. Matth., cap. 6 (Paris: Gaume, 1836), t. VI, p. 811: "Nam sicut homo non potest facere bonum, nisi habuerit adjutorium Dei: sic nec Deus bonum operatur in homine, nisi homo voluerit." Cited in Catena aurea, in Matth. 6 (Turin: Marietti, 1953), t. I, p. 105.

{19} "Cf. Saint Thomas, I Sent., dist. 47, q. 1, a. 2, ad. 1. "Those who are not with God are, so far as in them lies, against God, from the fact that they go against God's antecedent will" (quoted by Monsignor Journet, op. cit., p. 183).

{20} Jacques Maritain, Neuf leçons sur les notions premières de la philosophie morale, pp. 175-6.

{21} Raïssa Maritain, We Have Been Friends Together (New York: Longmans, Green, 1942), p. 189.

{22} We Have Been Friends Together, p. 190.

{23} Charles Journet, The Meaning of Evil, pp. 172-3.

{24} Cf. the opusculum of Saint Thomas Aquinas, In Orationem Dominicam Expositio, in Opuscula Theologica (Turin: Marietti, 1954), t. II, n. 1068:

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