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


Et ne nos inducas in tentationem. Kai eisenegkês hemas eis peirasmon. Two errors are to be avoided in meditating on the sixth petition. We must not imagine (as the literal translation, "And lead us not into temptation" might lead us to believe) that in order to test our resistance, God himself sometimes tempts us or incites us to evil. The interior troubles and dark invasions that the attraction of evil suddenly or insidiously produces in the soul arise from our weakness and our "own lust";{1} they proceed also from the fallen Angel, who excites that lust and who, tan quam leo rugiens, "goeth about, seeking to devour."{2} It is the devil who tempts us, it is not God. "Let no man, when he is tempted, say that he is tempted by God. For God is not a tempter of evils, and he tempteth no man."{3}

"Say not: It is God who has made me sin: for he doth not what he hateth. Say not: He has caused me to err: for he hath no need of wicked men."{4} "Heaven preserve us from believing that God could tempt us."{5}

But from another standpoint we must be on guard against lessening or softening the meaning of Jesus' words. We must not imagine that we are told to ask to be dispensed from all that would make us pass through the fire of trial, and which by that very fact would imply some risk of our failing or sinning, which is the case with the majority of the occasions that human life has us encounter, and especially with every option in which it costs us something to choose for the good, and with every serious affliction, tribulation, visitation of misfortune or persecution, and more especially still with every temptation properly so called, and with those supreme temptations to which a soul agonizing on the cross is exposed. "Blessed is the man that is patient under temptation; for when he hath been proved, he shall receive the crown of life, which God hath promised to them that love him."{6} "But even if ye suffer for justness' sake, blessed are ye."{7}

"As long as we are on earth, we are entangled in the flesh which struggles against the spirit, . . . we are therefore exposed to temptation. . . . Who could imagine men removed from temptations, when he knows how overwhelmed they are with them? Is there any moment when one is secure from having to struggle in order not to sin?"{8} "Does the Lord ask us to pray not to be tempted at all? Nevertheless it is said in the Scriptures: 'He that hath not been tried, what manner of things doth he know?'{9} And elsewhere:{10} 'Esteem it in all joy, my brethren, when you fall into various trials.' "{11}

Saint Thomas wrote the same: in the sixth petition "we do not ask not to be tempted, but not to be conquered by temptation."{12}

And what does the Apostle say? "All that will to live piously in Jesus Christ shall be persecuted." {13}

And what does the Lord Jesus say? "Blessed are ye when they shall reproach you, and persecute you, and speak all evil against you, lying, because of me; rejoice and exult, because your reward is great in heaven. For thus did they persecute the apostles who were before you."{14}


A first point should therefore be noted. It is that, as Father Lagrange reminds us,{15} the word peirasmos means test or trial (everything that calls on us to make proof of some virtue, especially of our fidelity and our love), and that "test" or "trial" has a much broader meaning than "temptation." Thus Jesus said to the apostles: Vos autem estis, qui permansistis mecum in tentationibus meis. Clearly the word tentatic (peirasmos) here signifies trial, and not temptation. "But ye are they who have remained with me throughout my trials."{16} These trials "are the difficulties of life, the ambushes of the Pharisees and of Herod's men, the visible disapproval of the religious leaders, despite their hypocritical maneuvers."{17}

Likewise it is said of the just: "God hath tried them, and found them worthy of himself. As gold in the furnace he hath proved them, and as a victim of a holocaust he hath received them.

. . . On the day of his visit the just shall shine, and shall rush to and fro like sparks among the reeds."{18} And again:{19} "For thou hast tried us, O God: Thou hast tested us as silver is tested. Thou broughtest us into the net" (not the net of evil nor of temptation but the net of trial and misfortune).

And the supreme trial, that of Abraham, was not a temptation (an incitement to evil), but an order received directly from the All Holy God. "Was not Abraham found faithful in trial?"{20}

Nevertheless the word "trial" does not for all this exclude temptation; far from it -- temptation is one of the most redoubtable forms of trial. It was not spared Joseph, son of Jacob; nor Job on his dung-heap; nor Jesus himself in the desert, nor any of His saints.

Another point to note is that of the kind of trial that is suffering, God is not the direct cause (per se), but is the indirect cause (per accidens); he allows it to exist because it is the reverse side of a good which he intends, or a condition or a means presupposed for that good. And of the kind of trial which is temptation he is in no way the cause, he simply permits it. Yet it is clear that without his permission temptation would not occur.{21}

"The adversary can do nothing against us without the prior permission of God."{22}

This is why Saint Gregory the Great wrote: "Men should know that the will of Satan is always unrighteous, but that his power is never unjust; of himself he exercises his will, but he holds his power from the Lord. The iniquities he proposes to permit, God allows in all justice."{23} As Charles Journet adds: "No one, after God, worked harder for Job's sanctity than the Devil, and no one could have wanted it less."{24}

And what would we become, and what would our misery be, if God did not have absolute control over all the trials and all the temptations that can assail us? Let Him slightly bow his head, the trial will go no further, and the angels of heaven will come to comfort and help the soul in agony. And when thou art at the bottom of the abyss, and he has rejected and abandoned thee,

This is why Semitic thought, concerned above all with the concrete event, paid little heed to the distinction between to permit and to will. Cf. Deut. 13:13, with regard to a trial which is a temptation: "The Lord your God trieth you, that it may appear whether you love him with all your heart, and with all your soul." and delivers thee to death and worse than death, he takes care of thy soul in secret, places flowers upon thy shroud and keeps the vultures away from thee.

"Temptation hath not come upon you but such as man can bear; and God is faithful, and will not suffer you to be tempted beyond your strength, but will make with temptation an outlet, that ye may be able to bear it."{25}

Diligentibus Deum omnia cooperantur in bonum. "We know that for them that love God he worketh all things together unto good."{26}

The sixth petition is the prayer of our weakness, the prayer of a being who knows he is weak and prays not to be weak today, during the dangerous hours which will be the hours of this poor today.

It puts us on our guard against presumption. It is a prayer of humility (and humility does not know where to stop, though too there is no true humility which is not accompanied by magnanimity).

There is a kind of presumption which is only apparent, because it is merely a naive outburst of love and confidence. It is thus that the Psalmist asks to be tried: "Prove me, Lord, and test me: Try my reins and my heart."{27} what should one say of James and John? Not only do they charge their mother to ask Jesus that they may sit at his right hand and at his left hand in his kingdom,{28} or in his glory{29} (to which Jesus answers: "Ye know not for what ye ask"), but when he questions them, "Can ye drink of the cup whereof I am about to drink?" they do not fear to say to him, "We can." Nevertheless the Lord did not reprove them for this, but said: "Of my cup indeed ye shall drink. . . ."{30}

But true presumption costs dear. Poor Peter! "Even if all shall be scandalized because of thee, I will never be scandalized. . . . Though I should have to die with thee, I will not deny thee."{31}

At the hour of supreme combat, we must pray not to enter into temptation; temptation would run too great a risk of exceeding our feeble forces. On reaching the Garden of Olives, Jesus "said to them, 'Pray that ye enter not into temptation.' "{32} And again when he found them sleeping in their sadness: "Simon, sleepest thou? Couldst thou not watch one hour? Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation."{33}

A man who truly knows his weakness will not refuse trial; he does not forget that in the midst of the worst afflictions and the worst temptations God will always help him. But it is himself that he mistrusts; he knows that a mere trifle is enough to lead him astray, that he is capable of every cowardice and every folly, of every lapse in grace.{34} Is he better than David, is he better than Simon Peter? Where they have fallen, will he be able to hold firm? And shall he be able to weep and rise again as they did? Lord, if you put me to the trial -- with your help I will try to avoid every lapse, and if you will to go further, so be it, I will not try to escape. But will I cooperate with your grace? Will I not fall into the pit? Do you not realize my misery? Lord, do not put me to the test. .


Here, we believe, in all their converging diversity and mutability, are the complex feelings of the soul to which the sixth petition corresponds. What words exactly translate the Greek text from which this petition comes down to us? This is not an easy question. Taking everything into account (and at least following the opinion of those best qualified to judge) it seems it is undoubtedly proper to give preference to the formula of the Hebrew translation: "And lead us not into the hands of trial."

The meaning of the sixth petition is in any case quite clear. It is the meaning which, by modifying slightly and fusing together a formula of Saint Ambrose{35} and another of Father Lagrange,{36} one could express thus: Do not allow us to be submitted to a trial or to a temptation we cannot bear; may thy Providence, always so ready to hear our prayer, never leave us exposed to occasions of sin too dangerous for our weakness. -->

{1} James 1:14.

{2} 1 Peter 5:8.

{3} James 1:13.

{4} Ecclesiasticus 15:11 -- 12.

{5} Tertullian, De Oratione, cap. 8, P.L., 1, 1164.

{6} James 1:12.

{7} 1 Peter 4:15.

{8} Origen, De Oratione, 29 P.G., 11, 532-3. Ecciesiasticus 34:11. 10 James 1:2.

{11} Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, Catéchèses mystagogiques, XVII, P.G., 33, 1121.

{12} Sum. theol., II-II, 83, 9.

{13} Saint Paul, 2 Tim. 3:12.

{14} Matt. 5:11.

{15} M. J. Lagrange, Evang. selon saint Luc, p. 324, n. 4. -- Cf. Evang. selon saint Matthieu, pp. 130-1, n 13.

{16} Luke 22:28.

{17} Lagrange, Evang. selon saint Luc, p. 551, n. 28.

{18} wisdom 3:5-7.

{19} Ps. 66 (65):10-11.

{20} 1 Mac. 2:52. -- In the book of Tobias, the angel Raphael said to Tobit: "when thou wert burying the dead, leaving thy dinner untasted, so as to hide them all day in thy house, and at night give them funeral, I, all the while, was offering that prayer of thine to the Lord. Then, because thou hast won his favor, needs must that trials should come, and test thy worth." (Tob. 12:13 -- Knox translation.)

{22} Saint Cyprian, De Orat. Domin., n. 25, P.L., 4, 536.

{23} Saint Gregory the Great, Moralium, lib. II, in cap. 1 Job; P.L., 75, 564.

{24} Charles Journet, The Meaning of Evil, p. 256.

{25} 1 Cor. 10:13.

{26} Rom. 8:28.

{27} Ps.26 (25) :2.

{28} Matt. 20:21.

{29} Mark 10:37.

{30} Matt. 20:23.

{31} Matt. 26:33-35.

{32} Luke 22:40.

{33} Mark 14:38.

{34} "We know that God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb. we must ask him, in his infinite goodness, not to allow us this day to come up against any temptation greater than our powers of resistance; or if he does, to strengthen us with a further granting of his grace. And also that he may not put us so greatly to the test as to expect from us all that he has a right to claim . . . and that he may take our weakness into account." Charles Journet, The Meaning of Evil, p. 238.

{35} "And do not allow us to be led into a temptation we cannot bear." De Sacram., lib. VI, n. 29, P.L., 16,454.

{36} Thy Providence, always ready to hear our prayer, never forsake us in the snare of sinful occasions which threaten us in our weakness." The Gospel of Jesus Christ, vol. II, p. 16.

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