“Teach Us How to…Live”, An Early Church Fathers Take on “The Lord’s Prayer III

“Lord, teach us to pray…”

You would have reacted the same way, I suppose. The disciples had seen Jesus do incredible miracles. They also watched him pray a lot. They put two and two together and surmised that Jesus’ power was a result of his prayer. Now, every first century Jew knew how to pray. But nobody could do the miracles that Jesus was doing. The disciples wanted to know how to do that!

So they asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. That inquiry resulted in what we call “The Lord’s Prayer.” A short lesson on how to pray that the church has held dear ever since.

But is it a lesson on how one should pray?

“Yes, but”, is how I think I would answer that.

Yes, Jesus taught the disciples how to pray here. But if you look closer at what Jesus taught, I think He was actually teaching them, and us, how to live.

Rather than sharing my thoughts on this, I think if far more productive to read an early church Fathers take on the Lord’s prayer. How did the early church understand it? To do this, we turn to Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, who lived in the early 3rd century. This will be a three part post. In today’s post, Cyprian explains why The Lord’s Prayer is the best prayer. In the second post, he will discuss its meaning. May his words encourage you to follow ever faithfully after the Savior…Jim

Cyprian on The Lord’s Prayer

Chapter 18

As the prayer proceeds, we ask and say: ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’ This can be understood both spiritually and simply, because either understanding is of profit in divine usefulness for salvation. For Christ is the bread of life and the bread here is of all, but is ours. And as we say ‘Our Father,’ because He is the Father of those who understand and believe, so too we say ‘our Bread,’ because Christ is the bread of those of us who attain to His body. Moreover, we ask that this bread be given daily, lest we, who are in Christ and receive the Eucharist daily as food of salvation, with the intervention of some more grievous sin, while we are shut off and as non-communicants are kept from the heavenly bread, be separated from the body of Christ as He Himself declares, saying: ‘I am the bread of life which came down from heaven. If any man eat of my bread he shall live forever. Moreover, the bread that I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world.’ Since then He says that, if anyone eats of His bread, he lives forever, as it is manifest that they live who attain to His body and receive the Eucharist by right of communion, so on the other hand we must fear and pray lest anyone, while he is cut off and separated from the body of Christ, remain apart from salvation, as He Himself threatens, saying: ‘Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you shall not have life in you.’ And so we petition that our bread, that is Christ, be given us daily, so that we, who abide and live in Christ, may not withdraw from His sanctification and body.

Chapter 19

But it can also be understood that we who have renounced the world and have cast aside its riches and pomps in the faith of spiritual grace seek only food and sustenance for ourselves, as the Lord instructs us saying: ‘He who does not renounce all things which are his cannot be my disciple.’ Moreover, he who has begun to be a disciple of Christ according to the word of his Master renouncing all things should ask for daily bread, and not put off for long the desires of their petition, as the Lord Himself again prescribes in these words: ‘Be not anxious for tomorrow, for tomorrow will have anxieties of its own. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.’ Worthily then does the disciple of Christ ask for his sustenance unto the day, who is forbidden to think of the tomorrow, because it becomes contrary and repugnant to Him that we seek to live long in the world who seek that the kingdom of God come quickly. Thus also the blessed Apostle advises, establishing and sustaining the firmness of our hope and faith. He says: ‘For we brought nothing into this world, and certainly we can take nothing out. But having sustenance and clothing we are content with these. But those who seek to become rich fall into temptation and snares and into many harmful desires which plunge a man into destruction and damnation. For covetousness is the root of all evils and some in their eagerness to get rich have strayed from the faith and have involved themselves in many troubles.’

Chapter 20

He teaches that not only are riches to be contemned but are also dangerous, that in them is the root of enticing evils, that device the blindness of the human mind with hidden deception. So God rebukes the foolish rich man who ponders on his worldly wealth and boasts of the abundance of his overflowing harvests, saying: ‘Thou fool, this night do they demand thy soul of thee; and the things thou hast provided, whose will they be?’ The fool was rejoicing in his stores in the night when he was about to die and he whose life was now ebbing pondered on the abundance of his sustenance. However, on the other hand, the Lord teaches that he becomes perfect and complete who by selling all his possessions and distributing them for the use of the poor lays up for himself a treasure in heaven. He says that that man can follow Him and imitate the glory of the Lord’s passion, who unencumbered and with his loins girded is not involved in the entanglements of personal property, but unentangled and free he himself also accompanies his possessions sent on before to the Lord. That each one of us may be able to prepare himself for this, thus he learns to pray and from the principle of prayer to know what sort of man he ought to be.

Chapter 21

For daily bread cannot be lacking the just man, since it is written: ‘The Lord will not afflict the just soul with famine’; and again, ‘I have been young, and am old and I have not seen the just man forsaken, nor his seed begging bread’ ; likewise, since the Lord promises, saying: ‘What shall we eat or what shall we drink or what are we to put on? For after these things the gentiles seek; for your Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things shall be given you besides.’ To those who seek the kingdom and the justice of God, He promises that all things are added. For since all things are of God, nothing will be lacking to him who has God, if he himself be not lacking to God. Thus a meal is divinely prepared for Daniel who was inclosed in a lions’ den by order of the king and the man of God is fed in the midst of the wild beasts who are angry and spare him. Thus Elias is sustained in his flight and solitude by ministering ravens, and is nourished in persecution by birds bringing food to him. And oh detestable cruelty of human malice, the wild beasts spare, the birds feed, and men lay lots and go mad!

Chapter 22

After this also we pray for our sins, saying: ‘And forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.’ After the subsistence of food the pardon of sin is also asked so that he who is fed by God may live in God, and so that not only the present and temporal life may be provided for but also the eternal, to which we may come if our sins are forgiven, which the Lord calls debts, as He says in His Gospel: ‘I forgave thee all the debt because thou didst entreat me.’ Moreover, how necessarily, how providently and salutarily, are we admonished that we are sinners, who are compelled to plead for our sins, so that, while indulgence is sought from God, the soul is recalled to a consciousness of its guilt! Lest anyone be pleased with himself, as if innocent, and by exalting himself perish the more, he is instructed and taught that he sins daily, since he is ordered to pray daily for his sins. Thus finally John also in his epistle admonishes in these words: ‘If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we acknowledge our sins, the Lord is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.’ In his epistle he has combined both, that we should both entreat for our sins and that we should obtain indulgence when we entreat. Therefore, he said that the Lord was faithful to forgive sins, preserving the faith of His promise, because He who taught us to pray for our debts and our sins promised that mercy and forgiveness would follow.

Chapter 23

He clearly appended and added the law, binding us by a condition and engagement, that accordingly we ask that our debts be forgiven us according as we ourselves also forgive our debtors, knowing that what we seek for our sins cannot be obtained, unless we ourselves shall have acted likewise toward those sinning against us. Therefore, in another place he says: ‘With what measure you measure, it shall be measured to you.’ The servant who after all his debt was forgiven him by the Lord was himself unwilling to forgive his fellow servant is confined to prison. Because he was unwilling to forgive his fellow servant, he lost the forgiveness which had been granted him by the Lord. And these things Christ sets forth still more strongly in His precepts by the greater force of His censure. He says: ‘When you stand to pray, forgive whatever you have against anyone, that your Father who is in heaven, may forgive you your sins. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive you your sins.’ There remains no excuse for you on the day of judgment, when you are judged according to your sentence, and what you have done, this also you yourself suffer. For God has ordered us to be peace-makers and of one heart and of one mind in His house, and as He has made us, so reborn by a second birth He wishes to preserve us, that we who are the sons of God may remain in the peace of God, and ‘that we who have one spirit may have one heart and mind. Thus neither does God receive the sacrifice of the dissident, and He orders him to turn back from the altar and first be reconciled with his brother, so that by pacifying prayers God also can be pacified. The greater sacrifice to God is our peace and fraternal concord and a people united in the unity of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Chapter 24

For even in the sacrifices which Abel and Cain first offered God did not look upon their gifts but upon their hearts, so that he who pleased Him in his heart pleased Him in his gift. Abel, peaceable and just, while he was sacrificing to God innocently, taught others also, when they offer a gift at the altar, to come with fear of God, with simple heart, with the law of justice, with the peace of concord. Worthily did he, since he was such in God’s sacrifice, himself later become a sacrifice to God, so that being the first to manifest martyrdom he initiated the Lord’s passion by his blood, who had both the justice and peace of the Lord. Finally, such are crowned by the Lord; such on the day of judgment will be vindicated with the Lord. But the discordant and the dissident and he who has not peace with his brethren, according as the blessed Apostle and the Holy Scripture testify, not even if he be slain for His name, shall be able to escape the crime of fraternal dissension, because, as it is written: ‘Whoever hates his brother is a murderer,” and a murderer does not arrive at the kingdom of heaven nor does he live with God. He cannot be with Christ, who preferred to be an imitator of Judas rather than of Christ. What a sin that is which cannot be washed away by the baptism of blood; what a crime that is which cannot be expiated by martyrdom!

Chapter 25

Necessarily too the Lord give us this admonition, to say in our prayer: ‘And lead us not into temptation.’ In this part it is shown that the adversary has no power against us, unless God has previously permitted it, in order that all our fear and devotion and obedience may be turned to God, since in temptations nothing is permitted evil, unless the power is granted by Him. Scripture proves this when it says: ‘Nebuchodonosor, king of Babylon, came against Jerusalem and assaulted it, and the Lord gave it into his hand.’ Moreover, power is given to evil against us according to our sins; as it is written: ‘Who hath given Jacob for a spoil and Israel to those who despoiled him? Hath not God, against whom they have sinned and were unwilling to walk in His ways and to hear His law, even poured out upon them the indignation of His fury? And again when Solomon sinned and departed from the precepts and the ways of the Lord, it is set down: ‘And the Lord stirred up Satan against Solomon himself.’

Chapter 26

Power indeed is granted against us in two ways: either for punishment when we sin or for glory when we are approved, as we see was done with respect to Job when God made this clear with the following words: ‘Behold all that he hath is in thy hand; only put not forth thy hand upon his person.’ And the Lord in His Gospel says at the time of His passion: “Thou wouldst have no power at all over me, were it not given thee from above.’ When, moreover, we ask that we come not into temptation, we are reminded of our infirmity and weakness, lest someone extol himself insolently, lest someone proudly and arrogantly assume something to himself, lest someone think the glory of confession or passion to be his own, although the Lord himself, teaching humility, has said: ‘Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak,’ so that when humble and submissive confession precedes and all is ascribed to God, whatever is sought suppliantly with fear and honor of God, by reason of His loving kindness it may be granted.

Chapter 27

After all those things, in summation of the prayer there comes a little clause concluding all our petitions and prayer in compact brevity. For at the very last we state: ‘But deliver us from evil,’ comprehending all adversities which the enemy undertakes against us in this world, from which there can be strong and faithful protection, if God delivers us, if, as we pray and implore, He furnish us His aid. Moreover, when we say: ‘Deliver us from evil,’ nothing remains for which we should ask still further; when once we seek God’s protection against evil, having obtained this, we stand secure and safe against all the works of the devil and of the world. For what fear indeed is there with regard to the world for him who has God as his protector in the world?

Stay Tuned for Part 4

Check out part one in this series

Check out part two in this series

About Jim

Not For Itching Ears is a blog dedicated to discussing the American Evangelical church. It is a place for people to share their thoughts on a host of issues relating to this subject. Jim is available to speak at weekend services, and retreats at no cost to churches in Florida. Contact us for more information.

Posted on April 29, 2012, in Christianity, Early Church History and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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