Christ says, whoso loves him, will keep his commandments; and they that keep them are his friends, as he says in another place. And he will hear his friends, and grant them all reasonable things that they ask of him, needful to health of soul and body. And all things needful to man, either for soul or body, are contained in the Lord’s prayer. It is the prayer full of wisdom and health which Christ taught his disciples.
This holy prayer contains seven askings. And in these short askings is contained more wisdom than any tongue of man can fully tell here on earth. When a child is first set to school, men teach him his paternoster, (the Lord’s prayer) therefore, let him that will learn, be meek as a child, and without malice. God cares not for long tarrying, nor for smooth words, either rhymed or in prayer. For St. Gregory says, True praying is not to speak fine words with the mouth, but to make great complaint and sorrow for sin, with sore sighing of heart, and great desire of forgiveness. What is it to patter with lips when the heart prays not by desire? What difference there is between the’ bran and the flour of the wheat, such there is between the sound of the lips and the devotion of heart. When the mouth prays God for one thing, and the heart is busy with another, such worship God with lips, but the heart of them is far from him, as he complained by the prophet.
On the Lord’s Prayer
The first asking is, Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. In that thou callest him Father, thou acknowledo-est that he is Maker and Lord of heaven, earth, and hell, and Governor of all creatures, of whom all goodness Comes, and thus thou acknowledges his might. And since he is Lord and Father, each man owes him dread and love. Therefore he asks each man by his prophet, saying, The son worships the father, and the sei-vant the lord. Therefore if I am a Father, where is my worship; and if I be Lord, where is my dread? This word. Father, shows to each good christian man, great worthiness, fairness, and riches. For there can be no greater worthiness than to be the son of so great a Lord as almighty God is. Therefore Bede says, No rev/ard may be greater than for the sons of earthly men to be made the sons of the highest Lord — greater riches may no man have, than to be heir of the realm of heaven; which riches each man shall have, that lives and ends in the lore and teaching of this noble Father, as St. Paul witnesses. Greater fairness can no man have, than to be like to this Father. The more man loves this Father, the more hke he is to him; and ever the less man loves him, the less he hath of his likeness. This likeness is likeness of soul, through a virtuous life.
If thou wilt be son of this blessed Father, thou must hate all sin and filth, as he doth; and love all goodness and virtue, as he doth. Now when thou callest him Father, bethink thee that thou be obedient to his commands, and yield to him love, worship, reverence, service, and dread. And if thou desirest to find him a mild Father, be thou to him an obedient son. No man shall say, Father mine, but only he that is son by nature, without beginning and ending, as Christ, God’s Son is. We are not his sons, save as we are made to his likeness. But we are his sons through grace, and by adoption or purchase; as a lord having no son of his own to be his heir, may make a poor man’s son his heir. Thus this Lord and Emperor, when we were poor, and children of wrath and hell, as St. Paul says, made us through grace, heirs of the realm of heaven, if we are obedient children to him.
We exclude pride when we say, Our Father, and not mine. This word ” our” says that we are all brethren, great and small, poor and rich, high and low, of one father, and one mother, that is, God and holy church; and that none scorn or despise another, but love as his brother, and one should help another, as the limbs of a man’s body, as St. Paul says.
Truth it is that God is everywhere, but most properly he is said to be in heaven, for there he is most known, loved, and worshipped. And next to that he is said to be in heaven in a spiritual sense; that is, in holy souls, which are the temple of God, as St. Paul says, and are reared on high from sin and earthly love, and are bright and clean as the heavens. For in such souls he is seen, known, dreaded, worshipped, and loved.
Hallowed be thy name. — That is, in us. We hallow God in us, as St. John Chrysostom says, when we, knowing him to be holy, dread him, and watch busily, lest we defile the holiness of his name in us, by our evil works. This, says he, this desire we should evermore have, that this name which is blessed, be confirmed in us, making us blessed and holy. Thy name, that is, thy faith, thy acknowledging, and thy love, be confirmed in our hearts, that as we bear thy name, so thy acknowledging and thy love may be hallowed in us, that we be made by thy help, righteous, and abstaining from all evil.
The name of God in itself cannot be more holy than it is, but ever the more it is known, loved, and worshipped of man, the more it is said to be holy. Therefore, sweet Father that art in the heavens, thy name be hallowed in the hearts of heathen men, that they may believe in thee; and in the hearts of Jews, that they may believe more perfectly, and also love thee. Hallowed be thy name in the hearts of false christian men, that as they believe in thee so they may have perfect love and good works, without which, belief may not save any man, as the apostle says. Also, O Father which art in heaven, thy name be hallowed in the hearts of thy chosen men, by more increase of charity, and knowledge of thee, and by more sweetness of heavenly love.
In the first asking of this holy prayer, we pray for the first and principal gift of the Holy Ghost, that is, the gift of wisdom, which binds and holds together the heart in God. This Spirit of wisdom hallows the heart, cleansing it from earthly love and fleshly affections, drawing it from many things, and setting it to one alone, that is, to God. Therefore, sweet Father, thy name be hallowed in us; that is, give thou to us the Spirit of wisdom, by whom we may be made clean from all filth; by whom we may be full filled with thy love, that all other loves, contrary to thine, may be bitter to us.
II. The second asking of this holy prayer, which in some measure pertains to the Son, is said in these words. Thy kingdom come to thee. Since Christ (who is that nobleman of whom the gospel speaks, Luke 19.) came down from high heaven into this wretched world, to take us for his kingdom who before were lost through Adam’s sin; and since he suffered bitter death upon a tree, and bought man again with his precious blood, and after that returned again to his Father, for the salvation of mankind — well may true christian people be called God’s kingdom. And therefore, as St. Jerome says, we here pray generally for the realm of all the world, that the devil may cease to reign therein, or that God reigns in each man by grace, and that sin reign not in the mortal body of man. St. John Chrysostom says, that holy men are called the kingdom of God, and wicked men are called the kingdom of the devil, for he reigns in them, and they do his will. Therefore, a faithful christian man prays to God his Father, that sin, which is the realm of the fiend, may be destroyed, and Christ reign in souls through mercy and grace. And that, as he reigns in souls of well living men, so also, by turning to good life, and putting away of sin, he would reign in them that still are evil.
Also Christ teaches us in this prayer to ask the dreadful time of doom, in which the kingdom of God shall fully come; that men may know it behoves them not to live idly or negligently, that this time may not make ready flames and vengeance for them, but to live justly and soberly, that this time bring a crown to them. Here we ask of God, the second gift of the Holy Ghost, that is, the Spirit of understanding in our hearts. For as the sun does away the darkness, and wastes away the clouds and the morning dew, so the Spirit of understanding wastes all the darkness of the heart, and shows him his sins and defaults. So that he who thought before that he had been all clean, then finds many faults, and defilements without number, as the sun-beam shows motes and dust to them that behold it.
This asking is said thus; Fair Father, if it be thy will, enlighten our hearts with the Holy Ghost, and cleanse them and make them fair, tJiat we may be made worthy to see God, and that he deigns to reign in us; so that all be his, and he King, and that we may evermore see him. For that it is for us to live without end, and to be the kingdom of God. And as we are taught in the first asking, to restrain the sin of pride by true meekness, when we say, ” Our Father,” and not ” mine,” even so we are taught in the second asking to restrain envy against our fellow christian by true charity,* when we say, Thy kingdom come to thee. Merciful Father, vouchsafe to reign in our souls, as a king in his realm, governing us all our lives, that we may reign with thee in bliss without end.
III. The third asking of this holy prayer, which hath some respect to the Holy Ghost, the third person of the Holy Trinity, follows in these words. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Here we pray to God, that his will be done and fulfilled here on earth, among sinful men, by amending their life, as it is done in just men, who spiritually are said to be heaven. For God dwells in just souls, as it is written, The soul of a just and well living man, is the seat of wisdom, that is of Christ, for he is the wisdom of the Father of heaven. Here we pray also that our flesh withstand not our spirit, nor hinder it to do God’s will. For the spirit desires contrary to the flesh, and the flesh to the spirit, as St. Paul says.
Here we pray that God’s will be done, that is, as St. Augustine says, that men obey God’s commandments, as angels in heaven obey his commandments, so also that men on earth may obey the same; and as angels serve him in heaven without blame, so also may men serve him on earth. Here we pray God that he quicken our hearts with grace, that we may do his will on earth, as saints in heaven. Let every man that says this prayer, look that he does in his living; that as he says in word, that God’s will be done in him as it is in heaven, so that his works accord therewith. For God looks more to deeds than to words of mouth. For if the words of thy mouth pray God that his will be fulfilled in thee, and thy works say, Nay, through sin contained in them, or through grudgings against him in sickness or in other diseases, thou obtainest nothing of God in thy prayer. * Love.
Here we ask of our Father of heaven the third gift of the Holy Ghost, that is, the gift of counsel — that our wretched will, through counsel of the Holy Ghost, be set fully to do God’s will, so that in us, our own understanding or will be not master, but his only. As we are taught in the first and second requests to restrain pride and envy through meekness and charity, so we are taught in this third asking, to restrain wrath with true love of heart. And therefore Christ says, I give to you a new commandment, that ye love each other, as I have loved you.
IV. In the last four askings of this holy prayer, we pray our heavenly Father, to give us, forgive us, keep us, and deliver us. And unless we have these four, we are dead and ruined in this world. And therefore we say to our Father, Our each day’s bread, give thou us today. Christ says, Our each day’s bread; to restrain lustful meats; that a man eat so much as reason asks, not how much fleshly lust covers. Here we pray for no lordships or riches of this world, but only for needful sustenance, which is understood by bread. Thus prayed the vdse man, who was inspired with the Holy Ghost, saying. Beggary and riches, Lord, give thou not to me, but only sustenance; grant thou necessaries. In this asking, covetousness is put under. For here a christian man prays by largeness of heart, that God would give these necessaries which are understood by bread, to other men, as well as to him. And since each man, every day hath need of spiritual sustenance of soul, and also of body, therefore these necessaries may well be called our each day’s bread. And as man’s body is strengthened by bodily sustenance, that it fail not in travail, so man’s soul is strengthened by God’s word when it is rooted therein, that it fail not from the love of God, in tribulations, or in any anguish.
And therefore, we here ask of our heavenly Father the fourth gift of the Holy Spirit, that is, the gift of strength, which arms God’s knight, and makes his soul hardy and strong to suffer divers diseases for God’s love. And as the soul passes the body in worthiness, so this food of the soul passes bodily food. And if he were a cursed man that withheld bodily bread from his brother after the flesh, when he saw him about to perish, how much more are they accursed, who should feed souls that are on the point of perishing with God’s word, and do not. And since this, which is the true food for the soul, hath been withdrawn for many days, through pride, covetousness, ignorance, and lustful living of those who should be teachers, and through unwholesome lore, and leasings* of covetous flatterers, therefore let us pray heartily to Jesus Christ, the true bishop of our souls, that he ordain true teachers for his people, to break to them the bread of God’s word, and to warn them of their sins, telling them the very truth of God. And that He who inspired the holy prophets with knowledge and wisdom, and taught the apostles the way of all truth, may enlighten our hearts with understanding of his lore, and grant ns grace to work thereafter. And as we each day need this food of body and of soul, therefore let us meekly pray our heavenly Father that he give us our each day’s bread to day.
V. The fifth is said in these words, And forgive thou us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. By this wise instruction of Jesus Christ, malicious and revengeful wretches may know that they are in the way to hell as long as they dwell in their accursed malice. For by these debts are understood sins which we do against God. And as we sin each day, therefore each day we need to pray to God for forgiveness of our sins. Therefore, St. Cyprian says. He that is commanded to pray each day for sins, is taught that he sins each day. Our Father teaches us to ask forgiveness of our sins which we have done against him; upon this condition he forgives all that we have trespassed against him, that we forgive all others that have trespassed against us. And therefore he that beares wrath, or desires vengeance against his fellow christian, in this prayer prays God to take vengeance upon himself, as he doth, or as it in his will to do upon his fellow christian. St. John Chrysostom says, ” He that keeps enmity against any man, lies when he says this prayer; for he says, I forgive, and he forgives not; and so he asks forgiveness of God, and it shall not be forgiven to him.”
It is not needed for thee to forgive debts to each debtor of money, only to him that cannot pay. To him that will not pay, but chides and makes open debate, if thou doest
mildly and easily, that money due to thee may be yielded to thee, proposing not so much the winning of money as the amending him that hath whereof to pay; then not only thou shalt do no sin, but thou shalt profit that man. St. Augustine says, ” Each sinful man is in great debt to God, which debt he is not able to pay. For though a man should live ever so long, he might not do sufficient penance for one deadly sin, if God used him strait and not in mercifid judgment.”*
But take good heed how thou sayest this prayer, when thou sayest. Forgive us our misdeeds as we forgive them that have trespassed to us. If one member of thy body chance to hurt another, he that is hurt revenge not himself therefore. We are members of Jesus Christ, if we are true christian men, as the apostle says. Therefore we should love each other, and those who do not do so are manslayers, and condemn themselves, as holy writ says.
In this prayer we ask of God the gift of the Holy Ghost, that is called a gift of knowledge, and which makes a man to bethink himself well, and to be wise in soul. The Spirit shows to man what he is, and what peril he is in, and when so he came, and whither he goes, and what he hath done, and what he hath lost, and what he should have done. And when he sees that he hath not whereof to make good for his sins against God, then this Spirit makes him weep and lament, and cry mercy of God; and to cast away ire and wrath, and all other such; and to hold himself the foulest and worst of all others. For this Spirit teaches man what pain and sorrow Christ suffered for him, and in whom never was spot of sin; how he sweat blood and water, how he was bound to a pillar and wounded from the head to the feet; how he was crowned with thorns, how he was nailed hand and foot, and his heart opened with a spear. And yet in all these hideous pains, as a sheep under the hand of his shearer, he was still without murmuring, as the prophet said of him. And he meekly prayed to his Father for his enemies, saying, Father forgive them their guilt, for they know not what they do. This should move all christian men to forgive all trespasses, and to pray meekly, both for enemies and for friends, saying. Fair Father, forgive us our sins, as we forgive them that trespass against us.
VI. The sixth asking follows in these words, And lead US not into temptation. We pray not that we be not tempted, for no man can be proved without temptation; but we pray that God will lead us not into temptation, that is, that he suffer us not to fall into such temptations as we may not suffer. For God, by himself, leads no man into temptation, but he suffers him to be led whom he forsakes from his help, as St. Aui^ustine says.
Temptation profits much to man that withstands; for a man that is not tempted is not known, either to himself, or to others, whether he is good or evil. But when he is assayed and tempted, then it shall be known what he is. And therefore, St. Gregory says, that in time of ease, when man is not tempted, it is not known which is a good man, which is evil.
Also temptation that is withstood, increases man’s merit in bliss, and therefore says the Holy Ghost by St. James, That man is blessed that suffers temptation, for when he is proved true in withstanding sin, he shall receive a crown of life, which God hath promised to all those that love him. He is led into temptation, who, through his own unkindness and evil living, is left from the grace and the help of God; for such a one shall fall with each blast of his enemy. And therefore, in this prayer we beseech our heavenly Father, since he is true and suffers no man to be tempted more than he may withstand, as the apostle says, that he, through the help and grace of the Spirit of pity, keep our hearts in temptation, that we consent not to any sin. And as we prayed him, in that other asking, that he forgive our before-done sins, so we pray him here, that he keep us from consenting to sins that are to come hereafter, that we fall not again.
Temptation makes a good man more meek and fearful, and makes him to know himself and his frailness; and it makes him to know the strength of his enemies, and their sleights; and how true God is at need, to help his servants. Here we are taught to subdue sloth, and to be busy to purchase the help of God, by devout prayer; to withstand sin in time of temptation; and to keep from fleshly lusts that bring men to many great sins. For our fighting is as nought without his help. Each temptation that man hath, comes to him by some thought and enticing of one of his spiritual enemies, either of the flesh, of the world or of the fiend. Therefore let each man examine the thoughts and enticings that come into his heart, and espy whether they will draw him into any sin, or unlawful lust or liking’. And if they are thereabout, turn he his thought from them, and meditate upon the bitter pains, sufferings, and wounds, in hands, head, and body, feet and side, which Christ suffered to wash us from our sins. And cease he not to pray devoutly, having his heart and thought upon Christ, and upon his peculiar pains, till his temptation pass away. For temptation overcomes not the man that hath steadfast mind upon Christ and his pains. No man shall be crowned in bliss but he that overcomes, as St. Paul says, and no man can overcome unless he have something against which he shall fight. Therefore whoso is tempted, be he true in fighting, so shall he overcome, and win a seat in bliss with Christ, and have a crown of life that never shall fade, which is promised of God to all them that truly fight, withstanding sin and unlawful likings, as it is written in the book of Revelation.
When we feel no temptation, let us humble ourselves the more to God, for he knows our frailness, and defends us. And if we are proud, or have vainglory thereof, he withdraws his help, and therefore we perish. Also we should be afraid when we feel no temptation, lest the reason of our souls be dead through some secret deceit. For St. Gregory says, that a man is most tempted when he least feels temptation. Therefore pray we heartily to God, that he suffer us not to be overcome in temptation.
VII. But that he through his great mercy deliver us from all evil. For this is the last prayer of the paternoster. Here we pray God to deliver us from the evil of pain which we have deserved through sin before done, and from the evil of sin at the present time of our life, and from the evil of pain that shall come for sin after this life. Here also we seek deliverance of all evils of body, which either hinder, or will hinder the soul from serving God. St. John Chrysostom says, that Christ here calls ” evil” the fiend, for the abundance of his malice. This malice is not naturally, but of free choice, and because he hath enmity towards us which may not be appeased. Therefore Christ said, Deliver us from evil, that we be delivered from sin and from the fiend. No man is truly delivered from sin unless God deliver him.
But the worst sin of all, is sin against the Holy Ghost for as Christ says, that shall not be forg-iven. Therefore especially let us pray to God, to deliver us from this evil That man sins against the Holy Ghost, who to his life’: end, is a rebel against God, and so dies in despair and goes to pain for ever. And he is a rebel against God, who rebels against his commandments. And therefore Christ says. He that is not with him is against him And in another place he says, He that loves not me keeps not my words. And thus every man who is contrary to Christ’s teaching is a rebel against God, and loved him not. For he says himself, that whoso loves hin shall keep his word. And the wise man says, He that turns away his ear, that he hear not God’s word, hii prayer shall be accursed, and St. Paul says, He is cursed that loves not Jesus Christ. Therefore pray we to God that he deliver us from this evil will, and rebellion against his word, and from all other evils.
Amen, that is. So be it. This word knits together all the prayers that went before, as if it were said, Swee Father which art in heaven, all these things that we have asked, fulfilled in us and in all others. Here we ask for the Spirit of the holy fear of God, through which we ma; withstand all the evil of sin. And therefore says the Holy Ghost, The beginning of wisdom is the fear of God And in another place it is written, that through the fear of God each man turns from evil; that is, each man who truly fears God, flees from sin.