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


The seventh petition is "closely linked" to the sixth "in its form and in its meaning."{2} It answers it like an echo.

But at the same time it is "an ending that briefly sums up all the other petitions" {3}; in a single and final stroke it resumes them all, and with them the great prayer of the whole of creation. That is why it properly constitutes a distinct petition.


The Greek Fathers in general understood the word ponèros in the masculine (ho ponêros), and said: "But deliver us from the Evil One." According to Father Lagrange, it is better to follow the Western tradition and understand this word as neuter (to ponêron). In the Septuagint, where it appears often, it in fact signifies that which is bad or Evil, never the devil. In the same way Saint Paul writes: hrusetai me / ho kurios apo pantos er gou ponêrou, "the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work (of my enemies) ." It is true that in a passage of Matthew{6} the word is taken in the masculine and signifies the devil. But that is the only passage in Matthew where this is the case.

This single case, however, seems to us slightly to shake Father Lagrange's position. For our part we think that the true sense of the seventh petition is indeed "Deliver us from evil" and that it does not directly refer to the devil, but nevertheless refers to him indirectly; so that in saying, "Deliver us from evil" we also say, although implicitly, "Deliver us from the Evil One."

For the Prince of this world is the head of all the wicked,{7} and it was he who, when he tempted and overthrew Adam, brought down upon us Sin and Death and all the evils that afflict us, and he still claims to exert over us, in contest with Christ, what he holds to be his rights. When we ask to be delivered from evil, we ask in the same words and at the same time to be delivered from his yoke and tyranny.

The evil from which we ask to be delivered is obviously moral evil, "every kind of moral evil"{8} to which temptation incites us.

Plato noted in an unforgettable manner that it is better to be punished (even and especially unjustly) than to be guilty. Moral evil, or evil of sin" is, Saint Thomas taught, the preeminent evil or evil in the supreme sense.{9} Through it I escape from God to produce nothingness, I wound creative Love, and I crucify Christ. Through it, if I do not repent, I lose my soul. To say, "Deliver us from evil," is to say, "Deliver us from sin."

Nevertheless is there not another category of evil than the evil of sin? And must our prayer to be delivered from evil be limited to a given category of evil, even be it that of the preeminent evil? Our cry for deliverance has no more limits than Jesus' mercy. Ab omni malo, libera nos, Domine. Ab omni peccato, libera nos, Domine. A fulgure et tern pestate, a flagello terrae motus, a peste, fame et bello, a morte per petua libera nos Domine. Deliver us from all evil, Lord, from all sin first of all, but also from lightning and tempests, from earthquakes, from pestilence, from famine and war, from everlasting death.

Deliver us from that unparalleled sorrow of seeing those we love suffer without remedy. Deliver us from spiritual darkness. Deliver us from anguish, which is doubtless the state of suffering on which the Holy Spirit has particular pity (is it not in such a compassionate mannner that it is always spoken of in Scripture?). Deliver us from the terrestrial hell of destitution. Deliver us from the tortures inflicted by men or by the cruelest maladies.

In second rank, certainly -- because they are evil in a less radical and less formidable sense -the evil of suffering and the evil of pain are also included in the last petition of the Lord's Prayer.

This is what Saint Augustine thought when he wrote that it is the same thing to say libera nos a malo and to say with the Psalmist: "Deliver me from mine enemies, protect me from those who rise up against me."{10} No matter what tribulation the Christian may be suffering, Saint Augustine further explains, the last petition of the Lord's Prayer reminds him that he is made for that good in which one will no longer suffer any evil, and it likewise shows him the goal to which his groans and his tears should aspire.{11}

In the Middle Ages Saint Augustine's views were not allowed to fall into oblivion. "The Lord," we read apropos of the seventh petition in Saint Thomas' little work on the Lord's Prayer,{12} "teaches us to ask in general to be delivered from all evils, sins, infirmities, adversities, afflictions. . . . He delivers us from afflictions either by sparing us them, which is exceptional and concerns only those who are too weak -- or by consoling us (If God did not console, no one could hold fast. We are 'utterly weighed down, beyond our strength,'{13} 'but he that comforteth the humble, even God, he comforteth us'{14}) -- or by granting us higher goods-or by changing the tribulation itself into good through patience;{15} the other virtues indeed avail themselves of good things; but patience turns evil to account, and it is in evils, that is, to say in adversities, that it is necessary."{16}

The blood of Christ has delivered us from sin; but this deliverance will be fully accomplished, for each man, only at the end of his life -and this provided he has not refused grace. And at the same stroke we will be delivered from every evil of whatsoever kind. And on the day of the resurrection, when all will be consummated and Jesus will restore all things into the hands of his Father, the new heavens and the new earth will exult at being forever totally released from sin and from death, and from every tribulation and every affliction.


The last petition of the Lord's Prayer rejoins, so to speak, the first three. Like them it implies an ultimate eschatological meaning. Like them it will be fully accomplished only beyond this world and its history. It raises its protest against evil in all its amplitude and under all its forms, against the root of evil, as against the threat of evil hidden everywhere, and against the empire of evil that locks the world in struggle against evil in all senses of the word, the final defeat of which will mark the triumph of the Holiness of God, of the Kingdom of God and of the Will of God.

When we pronounce the seventh petition, what passes through our lips is the deepest aspiration of the very depth of the creature to be supernaturally delivered from those very deficiencies and failures whose possibility a universe of created natures inevitably entails. And we do not pray only for ourselves but for the whole of creation, which "doth groan and travail . while awaiting adoption, the redemption of our body."{17}

The last petition of the Lord's Prayer has not only a moral significance but also one that is metaphysical and cosmic. Its reverberations are infinite.

{1} Alla hrusai hêmas apo tou ponêrou.--Matt. 6:13.

{2} Lagrange, Evang. selon saint Matthieu, p. 131, n. 13.

{3} Saint Cyprian, De Oratione Domin. n. 27, P.L., 4, 537.

{4} This version is adopted by the Jerusalem Bible (Paris: Editions du Cerf, 1956), p. 1296.

{5} 2 Tim. 4:18.

{6} Matt. 13:19.

{7} Thomas Aquinas, Sum. theol., III, 8, 7.

{8} Lagrange, loc. supra cit.

{9} Cf. Saint Thomas, Sum. theol., I, 48, 6.

{10} Qui dicit, Erue me ab inimicis meis, Deus, et ab insurgentibus in me libera me (Ps. 58:2), quid aliud dicit quam, libera nos a malo? Saint Augustine, Ad Probam, P.L., 33, 503 (n. 22).

{11} "Cum dicimus, Libera nos a malo, nos admonemus cogitare, nondum nos esse in eo bono ubi nullum patiemur malum. Et hoc quidem ultimum quod in dominica oratione positum est, tam late patet, ut homo christianus in qualibet tribulatione eonstitutus in hoc gemitus edat, in hoc lacrymas fondat, hinc exordiatur, in hoc immoretur, ad hoc terminet orationem." Ibid., cap. 11, n. 21, col. 502. we have kept the sense of this passage in abbreviating it. -- Cf. ibid., cap. 14, n. 26, col. 504: In his ergo tribulationibus quae possunt et prodesse et nocere, quid oremus, sicut oportet, nescimus; et tamen quia dura, quia molesta, quia contra sensum nostrae infirmitatis sunt, universali humana voluntate, ut a nobis haec auferantur, oramus."

{12} "Saint Thomas invokes here the authority of Saint Augustine, but without giving a reference. It seems to us all the less doubtful that it is a question of the letter Ad Probam since one of the passages (cap. 11, n. 21) of this letter to which we refer above is cited in the Catena aurea in connection with the seventh petition of the Lord's Prayer.

{13} Paul, 2 Cor. 1:8.

{14} Ibid., 7:6.

{15} Cf. Saint Paul, Rom. 5:3.

{16} In Orat. Domin. Expositio (Marietti), n. 1102 (condensed).

{17} Rom. 8:22-23.

<< ======= >>