I. Is Prayer an Act of the Appetitive Powers?
Cardinal Cajetan, On Prayer based on Friendship
II. Is it Fitting to Pray?
Cardinal Cajetan, On Prayer as a True Cause
S. Augustine, On the Sermon on the Mount
, II. iii.14 | On the Gift of Perseverance
III. Is Prayer an Act of the Virtue of Religion?
Cardinal Cajetan, On the Humility of Prayer
S. Augustine, On Psalm
| Of the Gift of Perseverance
IV. Ought We to Pray to God Alone?
S. Augustine, Sermon
V. Should We in our Prayers ask for anything Definite from God? S. Augustine, De Catechizandis Rudibus
, X. xxix.
, XI. ii.2
VI. Ought We in our Prayers to ask for Temporal Things from God? S. Augustine, On Psalm
, I. xx.2
, IX. iv.12
S. Thomas is miraculously relieved from Toothache
S. Augustine, Sermon
VII. Ought We to Pray for Others?
VIII. Ought We to Pray for our Enemies?
S. Augustine, Sermon
, xv., on Psalm
IX. On the Seven Petitions of the Lord's Prayer
Cardinal Cajetan, On the Grouping of these Petitions S. Augustine, Confessions
, VII. x.2
, lvii., on S. Matt.
, lvi.9, on S. Matt.
, lvi.8, on S. Matt.
| Of the City of God
S. Thomas's Rhythm, Adoro Te Devote
X. Is Prayer Peculiar to Rational Creatures?
XI. Do the Saints in Heaven Pray for Us?
Cardinal Cajetan, On the Saints in Limbo
XII. Should Prayer be Vocal?
Cardinal Cajetan, On the Conditions of Vocal Prayer S. Augustine, Confessions
, IX. iv.8
, X. xxxiii.50
| On Psalm
XIII. Must Prayer necessarily be Attentive?
Cardinal Cajetan, On the Varieties of Attention at Prayer S. Augustine, On Psalm
| On Psalm
S. Thomas, On Distractions, Com. on 1 Cor.
xiv.14 XIV. Should our Prayers be Long?
XV. Is Prayer Meritorious?
S. Augustine, On Psalm
cxxx. ad Probam.
XVI. Do Sinners gain Anything from God by their Prayers? XVII. Can We rightly term |Supplications,| |Prayers,| |Intercessions,| and |Thanksgivings,| parts of Prayer? Cardinal Cajetan, On the Prayer of the Consecration S. Augustine, Of Divers Questions
Is Prayer an Act of the Appetitive Powers?
S. Isidore says: |To pray is the same thing as to speak.| Speaking, however, belongs to the intellect. Hence prayer is not an act of the appetitive, but of the intellectual faculties.
According to Cassiodorus, on those words of the Psalmist: Hear my prayer, O Lord, and my supplication, give ear to my tears, prayer means |the lips' reasoning.| Now there is this difference between the speculative and the practical reason, that the speculative reason merely apprehends things, while the practical reason not only apprehends things, but actually causes them. But one thing is the cause of another in two ways: in one way, perfectly -- namely, as inducing a necessity -- as happens when the effect comes entirely under the power of a cause; in another way, imperfectly -- namely, by merely disposing to it -- as happens when an effect is not entirely under the power of a cause.
And so, too, reason is in two ways the cause of certain things: in one way as imposing a necessity; and in this way it belongs to the reason to command not merely the lower faculties and the bodily members, but even men who are subject to us, and this is done by giving commands. In another way as inducing, and in some sort disposing to, an effect; and in this way the reason asks for something to be done by those who are subject to it, whether they be equals or superiors.
But both of these -- namely, to command something, or to ask or beg for something to be done -- imply a certain arrangement -- as when a man arranges for something to be done by somebody else. And in this respect both of these acts come under the reason whose office it is to arrange. Hence the Philosopher says: |Reason asks for the best things.|
Here, then, we speak of prayer as implying a certain asking or petition, for, as S. Augustine says: |Prayer is a certain kind of petition|; so, too, S. John Damascene says: |Prayer is the asking of fitting things from God.|
Hence it is clear that the prayer of which we are here speaking is an act of the reason.
Some, however, think that prayer is an act of the appetitive powers, thus:
1. The whole object of prayer is to be heard, and the Psalmist says that it is our desires which are heard: The Lord hath heard the desire of the poor. Prayer, then, is desire; but desire is an act of the appetitive powers.
But the Lord is said to hear the desires of the poor either because their desire is the reason why they ask -- since our petitions are in a certain sense the outward expression of our desires; or this may be said in order to show the swiftness with which He hears them -- even while things are only existing in the poor man's desire; God hears them even before they are expressed in prayer. And this accords with the words of Isaias: And it shall come to pass that before they shall call I will hear, as they are yet speaking I will hear.
2. Again, Denis the Areopagite says: |But before all things it is good to begin with prayer, as thereby giving ourselves up to and uniting ourselves with God.| But union with God comes through love, and love belongs to the appetitive powers; therefore prayer, too, would seem to belong to the appetitive powers.
But the will moves the reason to its end or object. Hence there is nothing to prevent the reason, under the direction of the will, from tending to the goal of charity, which is union with God. Prayer, however, tends towards God -- moved, that is, by the will, which itself is motived by charity -- in two ways: in one way by reason of that which is asked for, since in prayer we have particularly to ask that we may be united with God, according to those words: One thing I have asked of the Lord, this will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. And in another way prayer tends towards God -- by reason, namely, of the petitioner himself; for such a one must approach him from whom he asks something, and this either bodily, as when he draws nigh to a man, or mentally, as when he draws nigh to God.
Hence the same Denis says: |When we invoke God in prayer we are before Him with our minds laid bare.| In the same sense S. John Damascene says: |Prayer is the ascent of the mind towards God.|
Cajetan: Prayer demands of the petitioner a twofold union with God: the one is general -- the union, that is, of friendship -- and is produced by charity, so that further on we shall find the friendship arising from charity enumerated among the conditions for infallibly efficacious prayer. The second kind of union may be termed substantial union; it is the effect of prayer itself. It is that union of application by which the mind offers itself and all it has to God in service -- viz., by devout affections, by meditations, and by external acts. By such union as this a man who prays is inseparable from God in his worship and service, just as when one man serves another he is inseparable from him in his service (on 126.96.36.199).
|And now, O Lord, Thou art our Father, and we are clay: and Thou art our Maker, and we are all the works of Thy hands. Be not very angry, O Lord, and remember no longer our iniquity: behold, see we are all Thy people.|
Is It Fitting To Pray?
In S. Luke's Gospel we read: We ought always to pray and not to faint.
A threefold error regarding prayer existed amongst the ancients; for some maintained that human affairs were not directed by Divine Providence; whence it followed that it was altogether vain to pray or to worship God; of such we read: You have said, he laboureth in vain that serveth God. A second opinion was that all things, even human affairs, happened of necessity -- whether from the immutability of Divine Providence, or from a necessity imposed by the stars, or from the connection of causes; and this opinion, of course, excluded all utility from prayer. A third opinion was that human affairs were indeed directed by Divine Providence, and that human affairs did not happen of necessity, but that Divine Providence was changeable, and that consequently its dispositions were changed by our prayers and by other acts of religious worship. These views, however, have elsewhere been shown to be wrong.
Consequently we have so to set forth the utility of prayer as neither to make things happen of necessity because subject to Divine Providence, nor to suggest that the arrangements of Divine Providence are subject to change.
To bring this out clearly we must consider that Divine Providence not merely arranges what effects shall take place, but also from what causes they shall proceed, and in what order.
But amongst other causes human acts are causes of certain effects. Hence men must do certain things, not so that their acts may change the Divine arrangement, but that by their acts they may bring about certain effects according to the order arranged by God; and it is the same with natural causes. It is the same, too, in the case of prayer. For we do not pray in order to change the Divine arrangements, but in order to win that which God arranged should be fulfilled by means of prayers; or, in S. Gregory's words: |Men by petitioning may merit to receive what Almighty God arranged before the ages to give them.|
Some, however, maintain that prayer is futile, thus:
1. Prayer seems to be necessary in order that we may bring our wants to the notice of Him to Whom we make the petition. But our Lord says: Your Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
But it is not necessary for us to set forth our petitions before God in order to make known to Him our needs or desires, but rather that we ourselves may realize that in these things it is needful to have recourse to the Divine assistance.
2. Again, by prayer the mind of him to whom it is made is prevailed upon to grant what is asked of him; but the mind of God is unchangeable and inflexible: The Triumpher in Israel will not spare, and will not be moved to repentance; for He is not a man that He should repent. Consequently it is unavailing to pray to God.
But our prayers do not aim at changing the Divine arrangements, but at obtaining by our prayers what God has arranged to give us.
3. Lastly, it is more generous to give to one who does not ask than to one who asks, for, as Seneca remarks: |Nothing is bought at a dearer price than what is bought with prayers.| Whereas God is most generous.
God, indeed, bestows on us many things out of His generosity, even things for which we do not ask; but He wishes to grant us some things on the supposition that we ask for them. And this is for our advantage, for it is intended to beget in us a certain confidence in having recourse to God, as well as to make us recognize that He is the Author of all good to us. Hence S. Chrysostom says: |Reflect what great happiness is bestowed upon you, what glory is given you, namely, to converse in your prayers with God, to join in colloquy with Christ, and to beg for what you wish or desire.|
Cajetan: Notice how foolish are some Christians who, when desirous of reaching certain ends attainable by nature or art, are most careful to apply such means, and would rightly regard their hopes as vain unless they applied them; and yet at the same time they have quite false notions of the fruits to be derived from prayer: as though prayer were no cause at all, or at least but a remote one! Whence it comes to pass that, having false ideas about the causes, they fail to reap any fruit (on 188.8.131.52).
S. Augustine: But some may say: It is not so much a question whether we are to pray by words or deeds as whether we are to pray at all if God already knows what is needful for us. Yet the very giving ourselves to prayer has the effect of soothing our minds and purifying them; it makes us more fit to receive the Divine gifts which are spiritually poured out upon us. For God does not hear us because of a display of prayer on our part; He is always ready, indeed, to give us His light, not, indeed, His visible light, but the light of the intellect and the spirit. It is we who are not always prepared to receive it, and this because we are preoccupied with other things and swallowed up in the darkness resulting from desire of the things of earth. When we pray, then, our hearts must turn to God, Who is ever ready to give if only we will take what He gives. And in so turning to Him we must purify the eye of our mind by shutting out all thought for the things of time, that so -- with single-minded gaze -- we may be able to bear that simple light that shines divinely, and neither sets nor changes. And not merely to bear it, but even to abide in it; and this not simply without strain, but with a certain unspeakable joy. In this joy the life of the Blessed is truly and really perfected (On the Sermon on the Mount, II. iii.14).
S. Augustine: He could have bestowed these things on us even without our prayers; but He wished that by our prayers we should be taught from Whom these benefits come. For from whom do we receive them if not from Him from Whom we are bidden to ask them? Assuredly in this matter the Church does not demand laborious disputations; but note Her daily prayers: She prays that unbelievers may believe: God then brings them to the Faith. She prays that the faithful may persevere: God gives them perseverance to the end. And God foreknew that He would do these things. For this is the predestination of the Saints whom He chose in Christ before the foundation of the world (Of the Gift of Perseverance, vii.15).
|Thou hast taught me, O God, from my youth; and till now I will declare Thy wonderful works. And unto old age and grey hairs, O God, forsake me not, until I shew forth Thy arm to all the generation that is to come.|
Is Prayer an Act of the Virtue of Religion?
In Ps. cxl.2 we read: Let my prayer be directed as incense in Thy sight, and on these words the Gloss remarks: |According to this figure, in the Old Law incense was said to be offered as an odour of sweetness to the Lord.| And this comes under the virtue of religion. Therefore prayer is an act of religion.
It properly belongs to the virtue of religion to give due reverence and honour to God, and hence all those things by which such reverence is shown to God come under religion. By prayer, however, a man shows reverence to God inasmuch as he submits himself to Him and, by praying, acknowledges that he needs God as the Author of all his good. Whence it is clear that prayer is properly an act of religion.
Some, however, maintain that prayer is not an act of the virtue of religion, thus:
1. Prayer is rather the exercise of the Gift of Understanding than of the virtue of religion. For the virtue of religion comes under Justice; it is therefore resident in the will. But prayer belongs to the intellectual faculties, as we have shown above.
But we must remember that the will moves the other faculties of the soul to their objects or ends, and that consequently the virtue of religion, which is in the will, directs the acts of the other faculties in the reverence they show towards God. Now amongst these other faculties of the soul the intellect is the noblest and the most nigh to the will; consequently, next to devotion, which belongs to the will itself, prayer, which belongs to the intellective part, is the chief act of religion, for by it religion moves a man's understanding towards God.
2. Again, acts of worship fall under precept, whereas prayer seems to fall under no precept, but to proceed simply from the mere wish to pray; for prayer is merely asking for what we want; consequently prayer is not an act of the virtue of religion.
Yet not only to ask for what we desire, but to desire rightly, falls under precept; to desire, indeed, falls under the precept of charity, but to ask falls under the precept of religion -- the precept which is laid down in the words: Ask and ye shall receive.
3. Lastly, the virtue of religion embraces due worship and ceremonial offered to the Divinity; prayer, however, offers God nothing, but only seeks to obtain things from Him.
In prayer a man offers to God his mind, which he subjects to Him in reverence, and which he, in some sort, lays bare before Him -- as we have just seen in S. Denis's words. Hence, since the human mind is superior to all the other exterior or bodily members, and also to all exterior things which have place in the Divine worship, it follows that prayer, too, is pre-eminent among the acts of the virtue of religion.
Cajetan: In prayer or petition there are three things to be considered: the thing petitioned for, the actual petition, and the petitioner. As far, then, as the thing petitioned for is concerned, we give nothing to God when we pray; rather we ask Him to give us something. But if we consider the actual petition, then we do offer something to God when we pray. For the very act of petitioning is an act of subjection; it is an acknowledgment of God's power. And the proof of this is that proud men would prefer to submit to want rather than humble themselves by asking anything of others. Further, the petitioner, by the very fact that he petitions, acknowledges that he whom he petitions has the power to assist him, and is merciful, or just, or provident; it is for this reason that he hopes to be heard. Hence petition or prayer is regarded as an act of the virtue of religion, the object of which is to give honour to God. For we honour God by asking things of Him, and this by so much the more as -- whether from our manner of asking or from the nature of what we ask for -- we acknowledge Him to be above all things, to be our Creator, our Provider, our Redeemer, etc. And this is what S. Thomas points out in the body of the Article. But if we consider the petitioner: then, since man petitions with his mind -- for petition is an act of the mind -- and since the mind is the noblest thing in man, it follows that by petitioning we submit to God that which is noblest in us, since we use it to ask things of Him, and thereby do Him honour. Thus by prayer we offer our minds in sacrifice to God; so, too, by bending the knee to Him we offer to Him and sacrifice to Him our knees, by using them to His honour (on 184.108.40.206).
S. Augustine: I stand as a beggar at the gate, He sleepeth not on Whom I call! Oh, may He give me those three loaves! For you remember the Gospel? Ah! see how good a thing it is to know God's word; those of you who have read it are stirred within yourselves! For you remember how a needy man came to his friend's house and asked for three loaves. And He says that he sleepily replied to him: |I am resting, and my children are with me asleep.| But he persevered in his request, and wrung from him by his importunity what his deserts could not get. But God wishes to give; yet only to those who ask -- lest He should give to those who understand not. He does not wish to be stirred up by your weariness! For when you pray you are not being troublesome to one who sleeps; He slumbereth not nor sleeps that keepeth Israel. ... He, then, sleeps not; see you that your faith sleeps not! (Enarr. in Ps. cii.10).
S. Augustine: Some there are who either do not pray at all, or pray but tepidly; and this because, forsooth, they have learnt from the Lord Himself that God knows, even before we ask Him, what is necessary for us. But because of such folk are we to say that these words are not true and therefore to be blotted out of the Gospel? Nay, rather, since it is clear that God gives some things even to those who do not ask -- as, for instance, the beginnings of faith -- and has prepared other things for those only who pray for them -- as, for instance, final perseverance -- it is evident that he who fancies he has this latter of himself does not pray to have it (Of the Gift of Perseverance, xvi.39).
|I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have my being. Let my speech be acceptable to Him; but I will take delight in the Lord.|
Ought We To Pray To God Alone?
In Job v.1 we read: Call, now, if there be any that will answer thee, and turn to some of the Saints.
Prayer is addressed to a person in two ways: in one way as a petition to be granted by him; in another way as a petition to be forwarded by him. In the former way we only pray to God, for all our prayers ought to be directed to the attaining of grace and glory, and these God alone gives: The Lord will give grace and glory. But in the latter way we set forth our prayers both to the holy Angels and to men; and this, not that through their intervention God may know our petitions, but rather that by their prayers and merits our petitions may gain their end. Hence it is said in the Apocalypse: And the smoke of the incense of the prayers of the Saints ascended up before God from the hand of the Angel. And this is clearly shown, too, from the style adopted by the Church in her prayers: for of the Holy Trinity we pray that mercy may be shown us; but of all the Saints, whomsoever they may be, we pray that they may intercede for us.
Some, however, maintain that we ought to pray to God alone, thus:
1. Prayer is an act of the virtue of religion. But only God is to be worshipped by the virtue of religion. Consequently it is to Him alone that we should pray.
But in our prayers we only show religious worship to Him from Whom we hope to obtain what we ask, for by so doing we confess Him to be the Author of all our goods; but we do not show religious worship to those whom we seek to have as intercessors with us before God.
2. Again, prayer to those who cannot know what we pray for is idle. But God alone can know our prayers, and this because prayer is frequently a purely interior act of which God alone is cognizant, as the Apostle says: I will pray with the spirit. I will pray also with the understanding; and also because, as S. Augustine says: The dead know not, not even the Saints, what the living -- not even excepting their own children -- are doing.
It is true that the dead, if we consider only their natural condition, do not know what is done on earth, and especially do they not know the interior movements of the heart. But to the Blessed, as S. Gregory says, manifestation is made in the Divine Word of those things which it is fitting that they should know as taking place in our regard, even the interior movements of the heart. And, indeed, it is most befitting their state of excellence that they should be cognizant of petitions addressed to them, whether vocally or mentally. Hence through God's revelation they are cognizant of the petitions which we address them.
3. Lastly, some say: if we do address prayers to any of the Saints, the sole reason for doing so lies in the fact that they are closely united to God. But we do not address prayers to people who, while still living in this world, are closely knit to God, nor to those who are in Purgatory and are united to Him. There seems, then, to be no reason why we should address prayers to the Saints in Paradise.
But they who are still in the world or in Purgatory do not as yet enjoy the vision of the Divine Word so as to be able to know what we think or say, hence we do not implore their help when we pray; though when talking with living people we do ask them to help us.
* * * * *
S. Augustine: It is no great thing to live long, nor even to live for ever; but it is indeed a great thing to live well. Oh, let us love eternal life! And we realize how earnestly we ought to strive for that eternal life when we note how men who love this present temporal life so work for it -- though it is to pass away -- that, when the fear of death comes, they strive all they can, not, indeed, to do away with death, but to put death off! How men labour when death approaches! They flee from it; they hide from it; they give all they have; they try to buy themselves off; they work and strive; they put up with tortures and inconveniences; they call in physicians; they do everything that lies within their power! Yet even if they spend all their toil and their substance, they can only secure that they may live a little longer, not that they may live for ever! If, then, men spend such toil, such endeavour, so much money, so much anxiety, watchfulness, and care, in order to live only a little longer, what ought we not to do that we may live for ever? And if we call them prudent who take every possible precaution to stave off death, to live but a few days more, to save just a few days, then how foolish are they who so pass their days as to lose the Day of Eternity! (Sermon, cxxvii.2).
|May God have mercy on us, and bless us: may He cause the light of His countenance to shine upon us, and may He have mercy on us. That we may know Thy way upon earth: Thy salvation in all nations. Let people confess to Thee, O God: let all people give praise to Thee. Let the nations be glad and rejoice: for Thou judgest the people with justice, and directest the nations upon earth. Let the people, O God, confess to Thee: let all the people give praise to Thee: the earth hath yielded her fruit. May God, our God bless us, may God bless us: and all the ends of the earth fear Him.|
Should We in our Prayers ask for Anything Definite from God?
Our Lord taught the disciples to ask definitely for the things which are contained in the petitions of the Lord's Prayer: Thus shalt thou pray.
Maximus Valerius tells of Socrates that he |maintained that nothing further should be asked of the immortal gods save that they should give us good things; and this on the ground that they knew well what was best for each individual, whereas we often ask in our prayers for things which it would be better not to have asked for.| And this opinion has some truth in it as regards those things which can turn out ill, or which a man can use well or ill, as, for example, riches which, as the same Socrates says, |have been to the destruction of many; or honours which have ruined many; or the possession of kingdoms, the issues of which are so often ill-fated; or splendid matrimonial alliances, which have sometimes proved the ruin of families.| But there are certain good things of which a man cannot make a bad use -- those, namely, which cannot have a bad issue. And these are the things by which we are rendered blessed and by which we merit beatitude; these are the things for which the Saints pray unconditionally: Show us Thy Face and we shall be saved; and again: Lead me along the path of Thy commandments.
Some, however, say that we ought not in our prayers to ask for definite things from God, thus:
1. S. John Damascene defines prayer as |asking from God things that are fitting|; consequently prayer for things which are not expedient is of no efficacy, as S. James says: You ask and receive not, because you ask amiss. Moreover, S. Paul says: We know not what we should pray for as we ought.
But it is also true that though a man cannot of himself know what he ought to pray for, yet, as the Apostle says in the same place: In this the Spirit helpeth our infirmity -- namely, in that, by inspiring us with holy desires, He makes us ask aright. Hence Our Lord says that the true adorers must adore in spirit and in truth.
2. Further, he who asks from another some definite thing strives to bend that other's will to do what the petitioner wants. But we ought not to direct our prayers towards making God will what we will, but rather we should will what He wills -- as the Gloss says on the words of Ps. xxxii.1: Rejoice in the Lord, O ye just! It would seem, therefore, that we ought not to ask for definite things from God when we pray.
Yet when in our prayers we ask for things which appertain to our salvation, we are conforming our will to the will of God, for of His will it is said: He will have all men to be saved.
3. Lastly, evil things cannot be asked from God; and He Himself invites us to receive good things. But it is idle for a person to ask for what he is invited to receive.
God, it is true, invites us to receive good things; but He wishes us to come to them -- not, indeed, by the footsteps of the body -- but by pious desires and devout prayers.
* * * * *
S. Augustine: Fly, then, by unwavering faith and holy habits, fly, brethren, from those torments where the torturers never desist, and where the tortured never die; whose death is unending, and where in their anguish they cannot die. But burn with love for and desire of the eternal life of the Saints where there is no longer the life of toil nor yet wearisome repose. For the praises of God will beget no disgust, neither will they ever cease. There will there be no weariness of the soul, no bodily fatigue; there will there be no wants: neither wants of your own which will call for succour, nor wants of your neighbour demanding your speedy help. God will be all your delight; there will ye find the abundance of that Holy City that from Him draws life and happily and wisely lives in Him. For there, according to that promise of His for which we hope and wait, we shall be made equal to the Angels of God; and equally with them shall we then enjoy that vision of the Holy Trinity in which we now but walk by faith. For we now believe what we do not see, that so by the merits of that same faith we then may merit to see what we believe, and may so hold fast to it that the Equality of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and the Unity of the Trinity, may no longer come to us under the garb of faith, nor be the subject of contentious talk, but may rather be what we may drink in in purest and deepest contemplation amid the silence of Eternity (De Catechizandis Rudibus, xxv.47).
S. Augustine: O Lord, my God, give me what Thou biddest and then bid what Thou wilt! Thou biddest us be continent. And I knew, as a certain one says, that I could not otherwise be continent save God gave it, and this also was a point of wisdom to know Whose gift it was. Now by continence we are knit together and brought back into union with that One from Whom we have wandered away after many things. For he loves Thee but little who loves other things with Thee, and loves them not for Thee! O Love that ever burnest and wilt never be extinguished! O Charity! O Lord, my God, set me on fire! Thou dost bid continence? Then give me what Thou biddest and bid what Thou wilt! (Confessions, X. xxix.).
S. Augustine: O Lord, my God, listen to my prayer and mercifully hear my desire! For my desire burns not for myself alone, but fraternal charity bids it be of use. And Thou seest in my heart that it is so; for I would offer to Thee in sacrifice the service of my thoughts and of my tongue. Grant me then what I may offer to Thee. For I am needy and poor, and Thou art rich towards all that call upon Thee; for in peace and tranquillity hast Thou care for us. Circumcise, then, my lips, within and without, from all rashness and all untruthfulness. May Thy Scriptures be my chaste delight; may I never be deceived in them nor deceive others out of them. Attend, O Lord, and have mercy upon me, O Lord, my God. Thou art the Light of the blind, the Strength of the weak, and so, too, art Thou the Light of them that see and the Strength of them that are strong. Look, then, on my soul, and hear me when I cry from out the depths! (Confessions, XI. ii.2).
|Look down from Heaven, and behold from Thy holy habitation and the place of Thy glory: where is Thy zeal, and Thy strength, the multitude of Thy bowels, and of Thy mercies? they have held back themselves from me. For Thou art our Father, and Abraham hath not known us, and Israel hath been ignorant of us: Thou, O Lord, art our Father, our Redeemer, from everlasting is Thy Name.|
Ought We in our Prayers to ask for Temporal Things from God?
We have the authority of the Book of Proverbs for answering in the affirmative, for there we read: Give me only the necessaries of life.
S. Augustine says to Proba: |It is lawful to pray for what it is lawful to desire.| But it is lawful to desire temporal things, not indeed as our principal aim or as something which we make our end, but rather as props and stays which may be of assistance to us in our striving for the possession of God; for by such things our bodily life is sustained, and such things, as the Philosopher says, co-operate organically to the production of virtuous acts. Consequently it is lawful to pray for temporal things. And this is what S. Augustine means when he says to Proba: |Not unfittingly does a person desire sufficiency for this life when he desires it and nothing more; for such sufficiency is not sought for its own sake but for the body's health, and for a mode of life suitable to a man's position so that he may not be a source of inconvenience to those with whom he lives. When, then, we have these things we must pray that we may retain them, and when we have not got them we must pray that we may have them.|
Some, however, argue that we ought not to pray for temporal things, thus:
1. What we pray for we seek. But we are forbidden to seek for temporal things, for it is said: Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and His justice, and all these things shall be added unto you, those temporal things, namely, which He says are not to be sought but which are to be added to the things which we seek.
But temporal things are to be sought secondarily not primarily. Hence S. Augustine: |When He says the former is to be sought first (namely the kingdom of God), He means that the latter (namely temporal good things) are to be sought afterwards; not afterwards in point of time, but afterwards in point of importance; the former as our good, the latter as our need.|
2. Again, we only ask for things about which we are solicitous. But we are not allowed to be solicitous about temporal concerns: Be not solicitous for your life, what ye shall eat....
But not all solicitude about temporal affairs is forbidden, only such as is superfluous and out of due order.
3. Further, we ought in prayer to uplift our minds to God. But by asking for temporal things in prayer our mind descends to things beneath it, and this is contrary to the teaching of the Apostle: While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporal: but the things which are not seen are eternal.
When our mind is occupied with temporal affairs so as to set up its rest in them then it remains in them, and is depressed by them; but when the mind turns to them as a means of attaining to eternal life it is not depressed by them, but rather uplifted by them.
4. Lastly, men ought not to pray except for things useful and good. But temporal possessions are at times hurtful, and this not merely spiritually but even temporally; hence a man ought not to ask them of God.
But it is clear that since we do not seek temporal things primarily or for their own sake, but with reference to something else, we consequently only ask them of God according as they may be expedient for our salvation.
* * * * *
S. Augustine: Lord, all my desire is before Thee, and my groaning is not hid from Thee! It is not before men who cannot see the heart, but before Thee is all my desire! And let your desires, too, be before Him, and your Father Who seeth in secret will repay thee. For your very desire is a prayer, and if your desire is continual your prayer, too, is continual. Not without reason did the Apostle say: Pray without ceasing. Yet can we genuflect without ceasing? Can we prostrate without ceasing? Can we lift up our hands without ceasing? How, then, does he say: Pray without ceasing? If by prayer he meant such things as these then I think we could not pray without ceasing. But there is another prayer, an interior prayer, which is without ceasing -- desire. Whatever else you do, if only you desire that rest you cease not to pray. If you wish to pray without ceasing then desire without ceasing. Your continual desire is your continual voice; but you will be silent if you cease to love (Enarr. in Ps. xxxvii.10).
S. Augustine: But all these things are the gifts of my God; I did not give them to myself; they are good, and all these things am I. He then is good Who made me; nay, He Himself is my Good, and in Him do I rejoice for all the good things which I had even as a boy! But in this did I sin that, not in Him but in His creatures did I seek myself and other pleasures, high thoughts and truths. Thus it was that I fell into sorrow, confusion, and error. Thanks be to Thee, my Sweetness, my Honour and my Trust, O my God! Thanks be to Thee for Thy gifts! But do Thou keep them for me! For so doing Thou wilt be keeping me, and those things which Thou hast given me will be increased and perfected, and I myself shall be with Thee, for even that I should be at all is Thy gift to me! (Confessions, I. xx.2).
S. Augustine: But I forget not, neither will I keep silence regarding the severity of Thy scourge and the wondrous swiftness of Thy mercy. Thou didst torture me with toothache; and when the pain had become so great that I could not even speak, it came into my mind to tell all my friends who were there to pray to Thee for me, to Thee the God of all manner of succour. And I wrote my request on a wax tablet and I gave it them to read. And hardly had we bent the knee in humble prayer than the pain fled! But what a pain it was! And how did it disappear? I was terrified, I confess it, O Lord my God! Never in all my life had I felt anything like it! (Confessions, IX. iv.12).
It is narrated of S. Thomas that when at Paris it happened that having to lecture at the University on a subject which he had commenced the day before, he rose at night to pray as was his wont, but discovered that a tooth had suddenly pushed its way through his gums in such a way that he could not speak. His companion suggested that since it was an inopportune time for procuring assistance a message should be sent to the University stating what had happened and pointing out that the lecture could not be given till the tooth had been removed by a surgeon. But S. Thomas, reflecting upon the difficulty in which the University would be placed, considering also the danger which might arise from the removal of the tooth in the way suggested, said to his companion: I see no remedy save to trust to God's Providence. He then betook himself to his accustomed place of prayer, and for a long space besought God with tears to grant him this favour, leaving himself entirely in His hands. And when he had thus prayed he took the tooth between his fingers, and it came out at once without the slightest pain or wrench, and he found himself freed from the impediment to his speech which it had caused. This tooth he carried about with him for a long time as a reminder of an act of Divine loving-kindness such as he was anxious not to forget, for forgetfulness is the mother of ingratitude; he wished it, too, to move him to still greater confidence in the power of prayer which had on that occasion been so quickly heard (see Vita S. Thomae, Bollandists, March 7, vol. i., 1865, pp.673, 704, 712).
S. Augustine: But temporal things are sometimes for our profit, sometimes for our hurt. For many poverty was good, wealth did them harm. For many a hidden life was best, high station did them harm. And on the other hand money was good for some, and dignities, too, were good for them -- good, that is, for those who used them well; but such things did harm when not taken away from those who used them ill. Consequently, brethren, let us ask for these temporal things with moderation, being sure that if we do receive them, He gives them Who knoweth what is best suited to us. You have asked for something, then, and what you asked for has not been given you? Believe in your Father Who would give it you if it were expedient for you (Sermon, lxxx.7).
S. Augustine: Sometimes God in His wrath grants what you ask; at other times in His mercy He refuses what you ask. When, then, you ask of Him things which He praises, which He commands, things which He has promised us in the next world, then ask in confidence and be instant in prayer as far as in you lies, that so you may receive what you ask. For such things as these are granted by the God of mercy; they flow not from His wrath but from His compassion. But when you ask for temporal things, then ask with moderation, ask with fear; leave all to Him so that if they be for your profit He may give them you, if they be to your hurt He may refuse them. For what is for our good and what is to our hurt the Physician knoweth, not the patient (Sermon, cccliv.8).
|Cast thy care upon the Lord, and He shall sustain thee; He shall not suffer the just to waver for ever.|
Ought We To Pray for Others?
S. James, in his Epistle, says: Pray for one another that ye may be saved.
As we said above, we ought in prayer to ask for those things which we ought to desire. But we ought to desire good things not for ourselves only but also for others, for this belongs to that charity which we ought to exercise towards our neighbour. Hence charity demands that we pray for others. In accordance with this S. Chrysostom says: |Necessity compels us to pray for ourselves, fraternal charity urges us to pray for others. But that prayer is more pleasing before God which arises not so much from our needs as from the demands of fraternal charity.|
Some, however, urge that we ought not to pray for others, thus:
1. We are bound in our prayer to follow the norm which our Lord delivered to us; but in the Lord's Prayer we pray for ourselves and not for others, for we say: Give us this day our daily bread, etc.
But S. Cyprian says: |We do not say my Father, but our Father, neither do we say Give me, but give us; and this because the Teacher of Unity did not wish prayer to be made privately, viz., that each should pray for himself alone; for He wished one to pray for all since He in His single Person had borne all.|
2. Again, we pray in order to be heard; but one of the conditions for our prayer to be heard is that a man should pray for himself. Thus on the words: If ye ask the Father anything in My Name He will give it you, S. Augustine says: |All are heard for themselves, but not for all in general, hence He does not say simply: He will give it, but He will give it you.|
But to pray for oneself is a condition attaching to prayer; not indeed a condition affecting its merit, but a condition which is necessary if we would ensure the attainment of what we ask. For it sometimes happens that prayer made for another does not avail even though it be devout and persevering and for things pertaining to a man's salvation; and this is because of the existence of some hindrance on the part of him for whom we pray, as we read in Jeremias: If Moses and Samuel shall stand before Me, My soul is not towards this people. None the less, such prayer will be meritorious on the part of him who prays, for he prays out of charity; thus on the words, And my prayer shall be turned into my bosom, the Interlinear Gloss has: |That is, and even though it avail not for them, yet shall I not be without my reward.|
3. Lastly, we are forbidden to pray for others if they are wicked, according to the words: Do not thou pray for this people ... and do not withstand Me, for I will not hear thee. And, on the other hand, we ought not to pray for them if they are good, for in that case they will be heard when they pray for themselves.
But we have to pray even for sinners, that they may be converted, and for the good, that they may persevere and make progress. Our prayers for sinners, however, are not heard for all, but for some. For they are heard for those who are predestined, not for those who are foreknown as reprobate; just in the same way as when we correct our brethren, such corrections avail among the predestinate but not among the reprobate, according to the words: No man can correct whom He hath despised. Wherefore also it is said: He that knoweth his brother to sin a sin that is not unto death, let him ask, and life shall be given to him who sinneth not to death. But just as we can refuse to no one, as long as he liveth on this earth, the benefit of correction -- for we cannot distinguish between the predestinate and the reprobate, as S. Augustine says -- so neither can we refuse to anyone the suffrage of our prayers.
And for good men we have to pray, and this for a threefold reason: firstly, because the prayers of many are more easily heard; thus on the words: I beseech ye therefore, help me in your prayers for me, the Ordinary Gloss of S. Ambrose says: |Well does the Apostle ask his inferiors to pray for him; for even the very least become great when many in number, and when gathered together with one mind; and it is impossible that the prayers of many should not avail| to obtain, that is, what is obtainable. And secondly, that thanks may be returned by many for the benefits conferred by God upon the just, for these same benefits tend to the profit of many -- as is evident from the Apostle's words to the Corinthians. And thirdly, that those who are greater may not therefore be proud, but may realize that they need the suffrages of their inferiors.
|Father, I will that where I am they also whom Thou hast given Me may be with Me; that they may see My glory, which Thou hast given Me: because Thou hast loved Me before the foundation of the world.|
Ought We To Pray for Our Enemies?
But I say to you ... pray for them that persecute and calumniate you.
To pray for others is a work of charity, as we have said above. Hence we are bound to pray for our enemies in the same way as we are bound to love them. We have already explained, in the Treatise on Charity, in what sense we are bound to love our enemies; namely, that we are bound to love their nature, not their fault; and that to love our enemies in general is of precept; to love them, however, individually, is not of precept save in the sense of being prepared to do so; a man, for instance, is bound to be ready to love an individual enemy and to help him in case of necessity, or if he comes to seek his pardon. But absolutely to love our individual enemies, and to assist them, belongs to perfection.
In the same way, then, it is necessary that in our general prayers for others we should not exclude our enemies. But to make special prayer for them belongs to perfection and is not necessary, save in some particular cases.
Some, however, argue that we ought not to pray for our enemies, thus:
1. It is said in the Epistle to the Romans: What things soever were written were written for our learning. But in Holy Scripture we find many imprecations against enemies; thus, for instance: Let all my enemies be ashamed, let them be turned back and be ashamed very speedily. From which it would rather seem that we ought to pray against our enemies than for them.
But the imprecations which find place in Holy Scripture can be understood in four different ways: first of all according as the Prophets are wont |to predict the future under the figure of imprecations,| as S. Augustine says; secondly, in that certain temporal evils are sometimes sent by God upon sinners for their amendment; thirdly, these denunciations may be understood, not as demanding the punishment of men themselves, but as directed against the kingdom of sin, in the sense that by men being corrected sin may be destroyed; fourthly, in that the Prophets conform their wills to the Divine Justice with regard to the damnation of sinners who persevere in their sin.
2. Further, to be revenged upon our enemies means evil for our enemies. But the Saints seek to be avenged upon their enemies: How long, O Lord, dost Thou not judge and revenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And in accordance with this we find them rejoicing in the vengeance taken upon sinners: The just shall rejoice when he shall see the revenge. It would seem, then, that we ought rather to pray against our enemies than for them.
But, on the contrary, as S. Augustine says: |The vengeance of the martyrs is the overthrow of the empire of sin under whose dominion they suffered so much|; or, as he says elsewhere: |They demand vengeance, not by word of mouth, but by very reason, just as the blood of Abel cried out from the earth.| Moreover, they rejoice in this vengeance, not for its own sake, but because of the Divine Justice.
3. Lastly, a man's deeds and his prayers cannot be in opposition. But men sometimes quite lawfully attack their enemies, else all wars would be illegal. Hence we ought not to pray for our enemies.
But it is lawful to assail our enemies that so they may be hindered from sin; and this is for their good and for that of others. In the same way, then, it is lawful to pray for temporal evils for our enemies to the end that they may be corrected. In this sense our deeds and our prayers are not in opposition.
* * * * *
S. Augustine: If there were no wicked folk, then for whom could we be supposed to pray when we are told: Pray for your enemies? Perhaps you would like to have good enemies. Yet how could that be? For unless you yourself are bad you will not have good people for enemies; and if, on the contrary, you are good, then no one will be your enemy save the wicked folk (Sermon, xv., on Ps. xxv.8).
|Have mercy upon us, O God of all, and behold us, and shew us the light of Thy mercies: And send Thy fear upon the nations, that have not sought after Thee: that they may know that there is no God beside Thee, and that they may shew forth Thy wonders. Lift up Thy hand over the strange nations, that they may see Thy power.|
On the Seven Petitions of the lord's Prayer.
The Lord's Prayer is the most perfect of all prayers, for, as S. Augustine says to Proba: |If we pray rightly and fittingly we can say nothing else but what is set down in the Lord's Prayer.| And since prayer is, in a sort, the interpreter of our desires before God, we can only rightly ask in prayer for those things which we can rightly desire. But in the Lord's Prayer not only do we have petitions for all those things which we can rightly desire, but they are set forth in the order in which they are to be desired. Hence this prayer not only teaches us how to pray, but serves as the norm of all our dispositions of mind.
For it is clear that we desire first the end and then the means to the attainment of that end. But our end is God, towards Whom our desires tend in two ways: first, in that we desire God's glory; secondly, in that we desire to enjoy that glory ourselves. The former of these pertains to that love wherewith we love God in Himself, the latter to that charity wherewith we love ourselves in God. Hence the first petition runs: Hallowed be Thy Name, wherein we pray for God's glory; and the second runs: Thy kingdom come, wherein we pray that we may come to the glory of His kingdom.
But to this said end things lead us in two ways: viz., either essentially or accidentally. Things which are useful for the attainment of that end essentially lead us to it. But a thing may be useful as regards that end which is the possession of God in two ways: namely, directly and principally, that is, according to the merits by which we merit the possession of God by obeying Him; and in accordance with this runs the petition: Thy Will be done on earth as it is in Heaven; also instrumentally as assisting us to merit, whence the petition: Give us this day our daily bread. And this is true whether we understand by this |bread| that Sacramental Bread, the daily use of Which profits man, and in Which are comprised all the other Sacraments; or whether we understand it of material bread so that |bread| here means all that is sufficient for the support of life -- as S. Augustine explains it to Proba. For both the Holy Eucharist is the chief of Sacraments, and bread is the chief of foods, whence in the Gospel of S. Matthew we have the term |super-substantial| or |special| applied to it, as S. Jerome explains it.
And we are lead, as it were, accidentally to the possession of God by the removal of impediments from our path. Now there are three things which impede us in our efforts after the possession of God. The first of these is sin, which directly excludes us from the kingdom: Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, ... etc., shall possess the kingdom of God; hence the petition: Forgive us our trespasses.... And the second impediment is temptation which hinders us from obeying the Divine Will; whence the petition: And lead us not into temptation; in which petition we do not pray that we may not be tempted, but that we may not be overcome by temptation, for this is the meaning of being led into temptation. And the third hindrance lies in our present penal state which prevents us from having |the sufficiency of life|; and for this reason we say: Deliver us from evil.
Some, however, argue that these seven petitions are not very appropriate, thus:
1. It seems idle to pray that that may be hallowed which is already hallowed or holy. But the Name of God is holy: And holy is His Name. Similarly, His kingdom is everlasting: Thy kingdom, O Lord, is a kingdom of all ages. God's Will, too, is always fulfilled: And all My Will shall be done. Hence it is idle to pray that God's Name may be hallowed, that His kingdom may come, and that His Will may be done.
But, as S. Augustine says, when we say, Hallowed be Thy Name, we do not make this petition as though God's Name were not holy, but that It may be held holy by men; in other words, that God's glory may be propagated amongst men. And when we say, Thy kingdom come, it is not as though we meant that God did not reign, but, as S. Augustine says to Proba: |We stir up our desires for that kingdom, that it may come upon us and that we may reign in it.| Lastly, when we say, Thy Will be done, this is rightly understood to mean: May Thy precepts be obeyed on earth as in Heaven -- that is, as by Angels, so by men. These three petitions, then, will receive their perfect fulfilment in the life to come; but the remaining four, as S. Augustine says, refer to the necessities of the present life.
2. But further, to depart from evil must precede the pursuit of what is good. Hence it hardly seems appropriate to place those petitions which are concerned with the pursuit of what is good before those which refer to the departing from evil.
Yet since prayer is the interpreter of our desires the order of these petitions does not correspond to the order of attainment but of desire or intention; in this order, however, the end precedes the means to the end, the pursuit of good comes before the departure from evil.
3. But once more, we ask for something in order that it may be given us. But the chief gift of God is the Holy Spirit and those things which are given us through Him. Hence these petitions do not seem to be very appropriate since they do not correspond to the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
S. Augustine, however, adapts these seven petitions to the Gifts of the Holy Spirit and to the Beatitudes; he says: |If we have the fear of God by which the poor in spirit are blessed, we pray that God's Name may be hallowed among men by chaste fear. If we have piety, by which the meek are blessed, we pray that His kingdom may come, that we may be meek, and that we may not withstand It. If we have knowledge, by which they that mourn are blessed, we pray that His will may be done, and that so we may not mourn. If we have fortitude, by which they that hunger are blessed, we pray that our daily bread may be given us. If we have counsel, by which they that are merciful are blessed, let us forgive our debtors that we ourselves may be forgiven. If we have understanding, by which the clean of heart are blessed, let us pray that we may not have a double heart that pursues after temporal things whence temptations come to us. If we have wisdom, whence the peace-makers are blessed -- for they shall be called the sons of God -- let us pray that we may be delivered from evil, for that very deliverance will make us the free sons of God.|
4. Again, according to S. Luke, there are only five petitions in the Lord's Prayer. Hence it would seem superfluous to have seven in S. Matthew.
But, as S. Augustine says: |S. Luke only includes five petitions and not seven in the Lord's Prayer, for he shows that the third petition is, in a sense, only a repetition of the two preceding ones; by omitting it he makes us see that God's will is more especially concerned with our knowledge of His sanctity and with our reigning with Him. But Luke has omitted Matthew's last petition, Deliver us from evil, in order to show us that we are delivered from evil just precisely as we are not led into temptation.|
5. And lastly, it seems idle to try to stir up the benevolence of one who is beforehand with his benevolence. But God does forestall us with His benevolence, for He hath first loved us. Consequently it seems superfluous to preface our petitions with the words Our Father Who art in Heaven, words which seem intended to stir up God's benevolence.
But we must remember that prayer is not directed to God in order to prevail upon Him, but in order to excite ourselves to confidence in our petitions. And this confidence is especially excited in us by consideration of His love towards us whereby He wishes us well, wherefore we say, Our Father; and of His pre-eminent power whereby He is able to assist us, whence we say, Who art in Heaven.
* * * * *
Cajetan: The first three petitions of the Lord's Prayer can also be referred to that which we principally desire, so that all three regard mainly that love wherewith we love God in Himself, and secondarily that love wherewith we love ourselves in God. And the proof of this is that in each of the first three we have the pronoun Thine, but in the last four the pronoun our. Thus the first petition asks for the effective and enduring praise of God's Name; the second, that He -- and not the devil, nor the world, nor the flesh, nor sin -- may reign effectively; the third, that His Will may be effectively fulfilled. For these things are not now absolutely so with God, and this by reason of the multitude of sins, and also because the mode of their present fulfilment is hidden. And the word effectively is introduced into each clause by reason of the subjoined qualification on earth as it is in Heaven, for this qualifies each of the foregoing clauses. Hence rightly do our desires first of all aim at, wish for, and pray that -- even as something good for God Himself -- He may be sanctified in His Name; that He may be permanently uplifted above all things -- on earth as in Heaven; that He -- not sin -- may reign -- on earth as in Heaven; that His Will -- none other -- may be done -- on earth as in Heaven (on 220.127.116.11).
S. Augustine: O Eternal Truth, True Love and lovable Eternity! Thou art my God; for Thee do I sigh night and day! And when I first knew Thee Thou didst snatch me up so that I saw that That really was Which I saw, and that I who saw was really not -- as yet. And Thou didst beat back my weak gaze, pouring out Thy light upon me in its intensity; and I trembled with love and with horror. For I found myself to be far away from Thee in a land that was unlike Thee; it was as though I heard Thy Voice from on high, saying: |I am the Food of grown men, grow, and thou shalt eat Me, but thou shalt not be changed into Me| (Confessions, VII. x.2).
S. Augustine: And the faithful are well aware of that Spiritual Food Which you, too, will soon know and Which you are to receive from God's altar. It will be your food, nay, your daily food, needful for this life. For are we not about to receive the Eucharist wherein we come to Christ Himself, and begin to reign with Him for ever? The Eucharist is our daily Bread. But let us so receive it as to be thereby refreshed, not in body merely but in mind. For the power which we know to be therein is the power of Unity whereby we are brought into union with His Body and become His members. Let us be What we receive; for then It will be truly our daily bread.
Again, what I set before you is your daily bread; and what you hear read day by day in the church is your daily bread; and the hymns you hear and which you sing -- they are your daily bread. For these things we need for our pilgrimage. But when we get There are we going to hear a book read? Nay, we are going to hear the Word Himself; we are going to see the Word Himself; we are going to eat Him, to drink Him, even as the Angels do already. Do the Angels need books, or disputations, or readers? Nay, not so. But by seeing they read, for they see the Truth Itself and are sated from that Fount whence we receive but the sprinkling of the dew (Sermon, lvii., on S. Matt. vi.7).
S. Augustine: When ye say Give us this day our daily bread, ye profess yourselves God's beggars. Yet blush not at it! The richest man on earth is God's beggar. The beggar stands at the rich man's door. But the rich man in his turn stands at the door of one richer than he. He is begged from, and he, too, has to beg. If he were not in need he would not beseech God in prayer. But what can the rich man need? I dare to say it: he needs even his daily bread! For how is it that he abounds with all things, save that God gave them to him? And what will they have if God but withdraw His hand? (Sermon, lvi.9, on S. Matt. vi.).
S. Augustine: Think not that you have no need to say Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us.... He who looks with pleasure at what he should not -- sins. Yet who can control the glance of the eye? Indeed, some say that the eye is so called from its swiftness (oculus a velocitate). Who can control his eyes or his ears? You can close your eyes when you like, but how quickly they open again! You can shut your ears with an effort; put up your hand, and you can touch them. But if someone holds your hands your ears remain open, and you cannot then shut out cursing words, impure words, flattering and deceitful words. When you hear something which you should not -- do you not sin with your ears? What when you hear some evil thing with pleasure? And the death-dealing tongue! How many sins it commits! (Sermon, lvi.8).
S. Augustine: Indeed, our whole righteousness -- true righteousness though it be, by reason of the True Good to Whom it is referred, consists rather, as long as we are in this life, in the remission of our sins than in the perfection of our virtues. And the proof of this is the Prayer of the whole City of God which is in pilgrimage on this earth. For by all Its members It cries to God: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them the trespass against us! And this Prayer is of no avail for those whose faith is without works -- dead; but only for those whose faith worketh through charity. For though our reason is indeed subject to God, yet in this our mortal condition, in this corruptible body which weigheth down the soul, our reason does not perfectly control our vices, and hence such prayer as this is needful for the righteous (Of the City of God, xix.27).
|Father, the hour is come; glorify Thy Son, that Thy Son may glorify Thee. As Thou hast given Him power over all flesh, that He may give life everlasting to all whom Thou hast given Him. And this is life everlasting, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, Whom Thou hast sent.|
Rhythm in Honour of the Blessed Sacrament, said to have been composed by S. Thomas on his Death-Bed.
Adoro Te devote, latens Deitas,
Quae sub his figuris vere latitas;
Tibi se cor meum totum subjicit,
Quia Te contemplans totum deficit.
Visus, tactus gustus, in Te fallitur,
Sed auditu solo tuto creditur;
Credo quidquid dixit Dei Filius,
Nil hoc verbo veritatis verius.
In cruce latebat sola Deitas,
At hic latet simul et humanitas;
Ambo tamen credens atque confitens,
Peto quod petivit latro poenitens.
Plagas, sicut Thomas, non intueor,
Deum tamen meum Te confiteor;
Fac me Tibi semper magis credere,
In Te spem habere, Te diligere.
O memoriale mortis Domini,
Panis vivus, vitam praestans homini,
Praesta meae menti de Te vivero,
Et Te illi semper dulce sapere.
Pie Pellicane Jesu Domine,
Me immundum munda Tuo Sanguine,
Cujus una stilla salvum facere
Totum mundum quit ab omni scelere.
Jesu Quem velatum nunc aspicio,
Oro fiat illud quod tam sitio,
Ut Te revelata cernens facie,
Visu sim beatus Tuae gloriae!
(An Indulgence of 100 days for the recitation of this rhythm. S. Congr. of Indulgences, December 20, 1884.)
Is Prayer Peculiar to Rational Creatures?
Prayer is an act of the reason, as we have shown above. And rational creatures are so termed because of the possession of reason. Consequently prayer is peculiar to them.
As we have said above, prayer is an act of the reason by which a person pleads with his superior, just in the same way as a command is an act of the reason by which an inferior is directed to do something. Prayer, then, properly pertains to one who has the use of reason and who also has a superior with whom he can plead. The Persons of the Trinity have no superior; the brute animals have no reason. Hence prayer belongs neither to the Divine Persons nor to the brute creation, but is peculiar to rational creatures.
Some, however, argue that prayer cannot be peculiar to rational creatures, thus:
1. To ask and to receive belong to the same person. But the Divine Persons receive: the Son, namely, and the Holy Spirit. Consequently They can also pray; indeed it is the Son Himself Who says, I will ask the Father, and the Apostle says of the Holy Spirit, The Spirit Himself asketh for us.
But it belongs to the Divine Persons to receive by Their nature, whereas to pray belongs to one who receives through grace. The Son is said to ask or pray according to the nature He took upon Himself -- that is according to His Human, and not according to His Divine, Nature; the Holy Spirit, too, is said to petition because He makes us petition.
2. But further, the Angels are superior to the rational creation since they are intellectual substances; but it belongs to the Angels to pray, for it is said in the Psalm: Adore Him, all ye His Angels.
But the intellect and the reason are not different faculties in us, though they do differ in the sense that one is more perfect than the other. Consequently the intellectual creation, such as are the Angels, is sometimes distinguished from the rational creation, but at other times both are embraced under the one term |rational.| And it is in this latter sense of the term |rational| that prayer is said to be peculiar to the rational creation.
3. Lastly, he prays who calls upon God; for it is chiefly by prayer that we call upon God. But the brute animals also call upon God, for the Psalmist says: Who giveth to beasts their food, and to the young ravens that call upon Him.
But the young ravens are said to call upon God by reason of those natural desires by which all things, each in their own fashion, desire to obtain the Divine goodness. In the same way brute animals are said to obey God by reason of the natural instinct by which they are moved by God.
|Reward them that patiently wait for Thee, that Thy Prophets may be found faithful: and hear the prayers of Thy servants. According to the blessing of Aaron over Thy people, and direct us into the way of justice, and let all know that dwell upon the earth, that Thou art God the beholder of all ages.|
Do the Saints in Heaven Pray for Us?
This is he who prayeth much for the people and for all the holy city, Jeremias the Prophet of God.
As S. Jerome says, Vigilantius's error lay in maintaining that |while we live we can mutually pray for one another; but after we are dead no one's prayer for another is heard, and this is especially clear in the case of the Martyrs who were unable to obtain by their prayers vengeance for their blood.|
But this is altogether false; for since prayer for others springs from charity, the more perfect the charity of those who are in Heaven the more they pray for those wayfarers on earth who can be helped by their prayers. And the more knit they are to God the more efficacious are their prayers; for the Divine harmony demands that the superabundance of those who are in the higher position should redound upon those who are lower, just as the brightness of the sun renders the atmosphere itself luminous. Whence Christ Himself is said to be Approaching of Himself to God to intercede for us. Whence, too, S. Jerome's reply to Vigilantius: |If the Apostles and Martyrs, when they were still in the body, and had still to be solicitous on their own account, prayed for others, how much more when they have won the crown, when they have gained the victory and the triumph?|
Yet some maintain that the Blessed in Heaven do not pray for us, thus:
1. A man's acts are more meritorious for himself than for another. But the Saints who are in Heaven neither merit for themselves nor pray for themselves, for they have already attained the goal of their desires. Hence neither do they pray for us.
But the Saints who are in our Fatherland lack no
Blessedness -- since they are Blessed -- save the glory of the body, and for this they pray. But they pray for us who still lack the ultimate perfection of Blessedness; and their prayers are efficacious by reason of their previous merits and of the Divine acceptation of their prayers.
2. But once more: the Saints are perfectly conformed to the Will of God, and consequently will nothing but what He wills. But what God wills is always fulfilled. Hence it is idle for the Saints to pray for us.
But the Saints obtain that which God wills should come about through the medium of their prayers; and they ask for what they think is, by God's Will, to be fulfilled through their prayers.
3. And yet again: just as the Saints in Heaven are superior to us so also are they who are in Purgatory -- for they cannot sin. Those, however, who are in Purgatory do not pray for us, but rather we for them. It follows, then, that neither can the Saints in Heaven pray for us.
But though those who are in Purgatory are superior to us in that they cannot sin, yet are they our inferiors as regards the penalties they suffer; hence they are not in a state to pray for us, but rather we for them.
4. Once more: if the Saints in Heaven could pray for us it would follow that the prayers of the holiest Saints would be the most efficacious, and that consequently we ought not to ask the inferior Saints to pray for us, but only the greatest ones.
But God desires inferior things to be helped by all that are superior, and consequently we have to implore the aid of not only the chief Saints but also of the lesser; else it would follow that we ought to implore mercy from God alone. And it may sometimes happen that the petition made to a lesser Saint is more efficacious, either because we ask him more devoutly, or because God wishes thus to show forth his sanctity.
5. Lastly, Peter's soul is not Peter. Consequently if the souls of the Saints could pray for us, we ought -- as long as their souls are separated from their bodies -- to appeal, not to Peter to help us, but to Peter's soul; whereas the Church does the contrary. From which it would seem that the Saints, at all events previous to the Resurrection, do not pray for us.
But since the Saints merited when alive that they should pray for us, we therefore call upon them by the names they bore when here below, and by which they are best known to us; and we do this, too, in order to show our faith in the Resurrection, in accordance with the words I am the God of Abraham.
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Cajetan: The question arises: how could Jeremias, who in the days of the Maccabees was not yet in our Fatherland but still in the Limbo of the Fathers, pray for Jerusalem?
But if we carefully consider what it is at root which makes the prayers of the Saints in the Fatherland avail for us, we shall find that the same reason holds for the Saints who were in Limbo as for those who enjoy the Beatific Vision. For it is their charity in their state of absolute superiority to us which is the reason for their praying for us. Hence, in the reply to the third difficulty, those who are in Purgatory are excluded from the number of those who pray for us because they are not altogether our superiors, but by reason of their sufferings are inferior to us, and need our prayers.
But the Fathers in Limbo were, it is clear, confirmed in charity and were incapable of sin, neither were they liable to any peculiar or fresh suffering. For while the pain of loss was common to them and to the sojourners on earth, the former were free from all pain of sense, hence they could pray for us. There is, however, this difference to be noted between them and the Saints in the Fatherland -- viz., that whereas the former had it in common with the latter to pray for those sojourning on earth, it is given only to the Saints in the Fatherland to see the prayers of us sojourners addressed to them. Hence Jeremias is here said to pray, he is not said to have heard their prayers or supplications (on 18.104.22.168).
Should Prayer be Vocal?
I cried to the Lord with my voice, with my voice I made supplication to the Lord.
Prayer is of two kinds: public and private. Public or common prayer is that which is offered to God by the Church's ministers in the person of the whole body of the faithful. And it is necessary that such prayer should be known to the body of the faithful for whom it is offered; this, however, could not be unless it were vocal; consequently it is reasonably enacted that the Church's ministers should pronounce such prayers in a loud voice so as to reach the ears of all.
Private prayer, on the contrary, is that which is offered by private individuals, whether for themselves or for others; and its nature does not demand that it should be vocal. At the same time, we can use our voices in this kind of prayer, and this for three reasons: Firstly, in order to excite interior devotion whereby our minds may, when we pray, be lifted up to God; for men's minds are moved by external signs -- whether words or acts -- to understand, and, by consequence, also to feel. Wherefore S. Augustine says to Proba: |By words and other signs we vehemently stir ourselves up so as to increase our holy desires.| Hence in private prayer we must make such use of words and other signs as shall avail to rouse our minds interiorly. But if, on the other hand, such things only serve to distract the mind, or prove in any way a hindrance, then we must cease from them; this is especially the case with those whose minds are sufficiently prepared for devotion without such incentives. Thus the Psalmist says: My heart hath said to Thee, My face hath sought Thee; and of Anna we are told that she spoke within her heart.
And secondly, we make use of vocal prayer in payment, as it were, of a just debt -- in order, that is, to serve God with the entirety of what we have received from Him; consequently not with our mind alone but with our body as well; and this, as the Prophet Osee says, is especially suitable to prayer considered as a satisfaction for our sins: Take away all iniquity and receive the good, and we will render the calves of our lips.
And thirdly, we sometimes make use of vocal prayer because the soul overflows, as it were, on to the body by reason of the vehemence of our feelings, as it is written: My heart hath been glad, and my tongue hath rejoiced.
But it seems to some that prayer should not be vocal, thus:
1. Prayer is, as we have said, principally directed to God, and God knows the heart's speech. Consequently to add vocal prayer is idle.
But vocal prayer is not employed in order to manifest to God something which He did not know, but to stir up the mind of him who prays, and of others, too, towards God.
2. Again, man's mind is meant to rise by prayer towards God; but words, and other things pertaining to the senses, keep back a man from the ascent of contemplation.
Words appertaining to other things than God do indeed distract the mind and hinder the devotion of him who prays; but devotional words stir up the mind, especially if it be less devout.
3. Lastly, prayer ought to be offered to God in secret, according to the words: But thou when thou shalt pray, enter into thy chamber, and having shut the door, pray to thy Father in secret; whereas to pray vocally means to publish it abroad.
But, as S. Chrysostom says: |The Lord forbade us to pray in public with a view to being seen by the public. Consequently, when we pray we should do nothing novel to attract men's attention, whether by uttering cries which may be heard by them, or by openly beating our breasts, or by spreading out our hands, for the crowd to see us.| While, on the other hand, as S. Augustine remarks: |To be seen by men is not wrong, but to do things to be seen by men.|
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Cajetan: Note carefully, ye who murmur at the Church's services, these three points: the different kinds of vocal prayer, its necessity, and the conditions attaching to it. For vocal prayer is divided into that which is in common and that which is private or individual.
The general necessity of vocal prayer arises from the fact that it is offered in the person of the Church. For since the Church is composed of created beings dependent on the senses, prayer made through the medium of the senses -- i.e., vocal prayer -- must needs be offered by its ministers; else we should not know whether the worship of prayer was being offered by God's ministers, nor should we be conscious of the gift to God which was being offered by them in prayer; for the Church only judges from the things that appear externally.
Our individual need of vocal prayer arises from the necessity of stirring up our own devotion, and preserving it.
The conditions of prayer in common are twofold: it must be vocal, and it must be out loud. Hence those who say private Masses in such a low tone -- and that consciously -- as to be unintelligible to their hearers, appear to act unreasonably and are inexcusable, unless it should happen by accident that no one is present; in this case it is sufficient if they can be heard by the server who is close at hand. This will also show us what use we are to make of chant, or of recitation without chant, in prayer in common: it must be governed by our common devotion. And in whatever fashion such prayer may be made this rule must always be observed: it must be said so intelligibly that the meaning of the words may be distinctly perceived both by the reciters and by others, that so the Church's devotion may be aroused.
And reason tells us what conditions attach to our private prayer: viz., our own private devotion. This shews, too, the error of those who, in order to complete the tale of a large number of private vocal prayers each day, lay aside meditation and mental prayer. They neglect the end for the means (on 22.214.171.124).
S. Augustine: Oh! How I lifted up my voice to Thee, O Lord, when I sang the Psalms of David, those songs full of faith, those strains full of piety which soothed my swelling spirit! And I was then but uninstructed in Thy true love; a catechumen spending my leisure with Alypius, another catechumen. And my mother stayed with us: clad indeed in woman's garb, but with a man's faith, with a matron's calm, with a mother's love, with a Christian's piety. Oh! How I lifted up my voice in those Psalms! How they inflamed my heart! How I yearned to recite them, if I could, to the whole world -- as an answer to the pride of the human race! Though, indeed, they are sung throughout the world, and none can hide himself from Thy heat! (Confess., IX. iv.8).
S. Augustine: Sometimes, indeed, through immoderate fear of this mistake I err by excessive severity; nay, sometimes, though it is but rarely, I could almost wish to shut out from my ears and even from the Church itself all those sweet-sounding melodies used in the accompaniment of David's Psalms. Sometimes it seems to me as though it would be safer to do as I have often heard that Athanasius, the Bishop of Alexandria, did, for he made the reader of the Psalms so modulate his voice that he came to be rather speaking than singing. Yet, on the other hand, when I remember the tears which I shed when I heard the Church's chant in the early days of my regaining the faith, and when I notice that even now I am stirred -- not so much by the chant as by the things that are chanted -- when, that is, they are chanted with clear intonation and suitable modulation, then once more I recognize the great value of this appointed fashion (Confess., X. xxxiii.50).
S. Augustine: I have cried with my whole heart, hear me, O Lord! Who can question but that when men pray their cry to the Lord is vain if it be nought but the sound of the corporeal voice and their heart be not intent upon God? But if their prayer come from the heart, then, even though the voice of the body be silent, it may be hidden from all men, yet not from God. Whether, then, we pray to God with our voice -- at times when such prayer is necessary -- or whether we pray in silence, it is our heart that must send forth the cry. But the heart's cry is the earnest application of our minds. And when this accompanies our prayer it expresses the deep affections of him who yearns and asks and so despairs not of his request. And further, a man cries with his whole heart when he has no other thought. Such prayers with many are rare; with few are they frequent; I know not whether anyone's prayers are always so (Enarr. in Ps. cxviii., Sermon, xxix.1).
|Incline Thy ear, O Lord, and hear me; for I am needy and poor. Preserve my soul, for I am holy: save Thy servant, O my God, that trusteth in Thee. Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I have cried to Thee all the day. Give joy to the soul of Thy servant, for to Thee, O Lord, I have lifted up my soul. For Thou, O Lord, art sweet and mild; and plenteous in mercy to all that call upon Thee.|
Must Prayer necessarily be Attentive?
That even holy men sometimes suffer distraction of mind when at prayer is clear from the words: My heart hath forsaken me!
This question particularly concerns vocal prayer. And for its solution we must know that a thing is said to be necessary in two senses: firstly, in the sense that by it a certain end is more readily attained, and in this sense attention is absolutely requisite in prayer. But a thing is said to be necessary also because without it a certain thing cannot attain its object at all. Now the effect or object of prayer is threefold. Its first effect -- an effect, indeed, which is common to all acts springing from charity -- is merit; but to secure this effect it is not necessarily required that attention should be kept up throughout the prayer, but the initial intention with which a man comes to prayer renders the whole prayer meritorious, as, indeed, is the case in all other meritorious acts.
The second effect of prayer is peculiar to it, and that is to obtain favours; and for this, too, the primary intention suffices, and to it God principally looks. But if the primary intention is wanting, prayer is not meritorious, neither can it win favours; for, as S. Gregory says, God hears not the prayer of a man who when he prays does not give heed to God.
The third effect of prayer is that which it immediately and actually brings about, namely, the spiritual refreshment of the soul; and to attain this end attention is necessarily required in prayer. Whence it is said, If I pray in a tongue my understanding is without fruit.
At the same time, we must remember that there is a threefold species of attention which may find place in our vocal prayer: one by which a man attends to the words he recites, and is careful to make no mistake in them; another by which he attends to the meaning of the words; and a third by which he attends to the end of all prayer -- namely, God Himself -- and to the object for which he is praying. And this species of attention is the most necessary of all, and one which even uninstructed folk can have; sometimes, indeed, the intensity with which the mind is borne towards God is, as says Hugh of S. Victor, so overwhelming that the mind is oblivious of all else.
Some, however, argue that prayer must of necessity be attentive, thus:
1. It is said in S. John's Gospel: God is a spirit, and they that adore Him must adore Him in spirit and truth. But inattentive prayer is not in spirit.
But he prays in spirit and in truth who comes to pray moved by the impulse of the Spirit, even though, owing to human infirmity, his mind afterwards wanders.
2. But again, prayer is |the ascent of the mind towards God.| But when prayer is inattentive the mind does not ascend towards God.
But the human mind cannot, owing to Nature's weakness, long remain on high, for the soul is dragged down to lower things by the weight of human infirmity; and hence it happens that when the mind of one who prays ascends towards God in contemplation it suddenly wanders away from Him owing to his infirmity.
3. Lastly, prayer must needs be without sin. But not without sin does a man suffer distraction of mind when he prays, for he seems to mock God, just as if one were to speak with his fellow-man and not attend to what he said. Consequently S. Basil says: |The Divine assistance is to be implored, not remissly, nor with a mind that wanders here and there; for such a one not only will not obtain what he asks, but will rather be mocking God.|
Of course, if a man purposely allowed his mind to wander in prayer, he would commit a sin and hinder the fruit of his prayer. Against such S. Augustine says in his Rule: |When you pray to God in Psalms and hymns, entertain your heart with what your lips are reciting.| But that distraction of mind which is unintentional does not destroy the fruit of prayer.
Hence S. Basil also says: |But if through the weakness of sinful nature you cannot pray with attention, restrain your imagination as far as you can, and God will pardon you, inasmuch as it is not from negligence but from weakness that you are unable to occupy yourself with Him as you should.|
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Cajetan: Does a man satisfy the precept of the Church if, being bound to the recitation of the Divine Office, he sets out with the intention of meditating upon the Divine Goodness or upon the Passion of Christ, and thus keeping his mind firmly fixed upon God? Clearly a man who strives to keep his mind occupied during the whole of the Divine Office with contemplation of and devout affections towards God and Divine things fully satisfies his obligation. So, too, a man who aims at meditation on the Passion of Christ and devout affections on it during the whole Office, undoubtedly satisfies his obligation, for he is making use of a better means for keeping in touch with the Divinity than if he merely dwelt upon the meaning of the words. At the same time, he must be ready to lay this aside if in the course of the Office he finds himself uplifted to Divine things, for at this he must primarily aim. One who so prays, then, must make the Passion of Christ a means and not an end; he must, that is, be prepared to ascend thereby, if God grants it, to Divine things. In short, we may make use of any one of the species of attention enumerated above provided we do not exclude the higher forms. Thus, for example, if a man feels that it is more suited to his small capacity to aim simply at making no mistakes, and habitually makes use of this form of attention, he must still use it as a means only; he must, that is, be at God's disposition, for God may have mercy upon him and grant him, by reason of his dispositions, some better form of attention.
Again, when a person prays for things needful for his support in life he must not be so occupied with the thought of these things as to appear to subordinate Divine things to human, as though prayer was but a means and his daily living the end. We must bear in mind the doctrine laid down above -- viz., that all our prayers should tend to the attainment of grace and glory. We must occupy ourselves with the thought of eternal glory, or of the glory of the adoption of sons during this life, or with the virtues as means to arriving at our eternal home, and as the adornment of the inhabitants of heaven, and the commencement here of heavenly |conversation|; such things as these must be counted as the highest forms of attention (on 126.96.36.199).
S. Augustine: Give joy to the soul of Thy servant, for to Thee, O Lord, I have lifted up my soul. For Thou, O Lord, art sweet and mild. It seems to me that he calls God |mild| because He endures all our vagaries, and only awaits our prayers that He may perfect us. And when we offer Him our prayers He accepts them gratefully and hears them. Neither does He reflect on the careless way in which we pour them out, He even accepts prayers of which we are hardly conscious! For, Brethren, what man is there who would put up with it if a friend of his began a conversation with him, and yet, just when he was ready to reply to what his friend said, should discover that he was paying no attention to him but was saying something to someone else? Or supposing you were to appeal to a judge and were to appoint a place for him to hear your appeal, and then suddenly, while you were talking with him, were to put him aside and begin to gossip with a friend! How long would he put up with you? And yet God puts up with the hearts of so many who pray to Him and who yet are thinking of other things, even evil things, even wicked things, things hateful to God; for even to think of unnecessary things is an insult to Him with Whom you have begun to talk. For your prayer is a conversation with God. When you read, God speaks to you; when you pray, you speak to God.... And you may picture God saying to you: |You forget how often you have stood before Me and have thought of such idle and superfluous things and have so rarely poured out to Me an attentive and definite prayer!| But Thou, O Lord, art sweet and mild! Thou art sweet, bearing with me! It is from weakness that I slip away! Heal me and I shall stand; strengthen me and I shall be firm! But until Thou dost so, bear with me, for Thou, O Lord, art sweet and mild (Enarr. in Ps. lxxxv.7).
S. Augustine: Praise the Lord, O my soul! What mean these words, Brethren? Do we not praise the Lord? Do we not sing hymns day by day? Do not our mouths, each according to their measure, sound forth day by day the praises of God? And what is it we praise? It is a great Thing that we praise, but that wherewith we praise is weak as yet. When does the singer fill up the praises of Him Whom he sings? A man stands and sings before God, often for a long space; but oftentimes, whilst his lips move to frame the words of his song, his thoughts fly away to I know not what desires! And so, too, our mind has sometimes been fixed on praising God in a definite manner, but our soul has flitted away, led hither and thither by divers desires and anxious cares. And then our mind, as though from up above, has looked down upon the soul as it flitted to and fro, and has seemed to turn to it and address its uneasy wanderings -- saying to it: Praise the Lord, O my soul! Why art thou anxious about other things than Him? Why busy thyself with the mortal things of earth? And then our soul, as though weighed down and unable to stand firm as it should, replies to our mind: I will praise the Lord in my life! Why does it say in my life? Why? Because now I am in my death!
Rouse yourself, then, and say: Praise the Lord, O my soul! And your soul will reply to you: |I praise Him as much as I can, though it is but weakly, in small measure, and with little strength.| But why so? Because while we are in the body we are absent from the Lord. And why do you thus praise the Lord so imperfectly and with so little fixity of attention? Ask Holy Scripture: The corruptible body weigheth down the soul, and the earthly habitation presseth down the mind that museth upon many things. O take away, then, my body which weigheth down the soul, and then will I praise the Lord! Take away my earthly habitation which presseth down the mind that museth upon many things, so that, instead of many things I may be occupied with One Thing alone, and may praise the Lord! But as long as I am as I am, I cannot, for I am weighed down! What then? Wilt thou be silent? Wilt thou never perfectly praise the Lord? I will praise the Lord in my life! (Enarr in Ps. cxlv.1).
|My spirit is in anguish within me; my heart within me is troubled. I remembered the days of old, I meditated on all Thy works; I meditated upon the works of Thy hands. I stretched forth my hands to Thee; my soul is as earth without water unto Thee. Hear me speedily, O Lord: my spirit hath fainted away.|
S. Thomas: The fruits of prayer are twofold. For first there is the merit which thereby accrues to a man; and, secondly, there is the spiritual consolation and devotion which is begotten of prayer. And he who does not attend to, or does not understand his prayer, loses that fruit which is spiritual consolation; but we cannot say that he loses that fruit which is merit, for then we should have to say that very many prayers were without merit since a man can hardly say the Lord's Prayer without some distraction of mind. Hence we must rather say that when a person is praying and is sometimes distracted from what he is saying, or -- more generally -- when a person is occupied with some meritorious work and does not continuously and at every moment reflect that he is doing it for God, his work does not cease to be meritorious. And the reason is that in meritorious acts directed to a right end it is not requisite that our intention should be referred to that end at every moment, but the influence of the intention with which we begun persists throughout even though we now and again be distracted in some particular point; and the influence of this initial intention renders the whole body of what we do meritorious unless it be broken off by reason of some contrary affection intruding itself and diverting us from the end we had first in view to some other end contrary to it.
And it must be remembered that there are three kinds of attention. The first is attention to the words we are actually saying; and sometimes this is harmful, for it may hinder devotion. The second is attention to the meaning of the words, and this, too, may be harmful, though not gravely so. The third is attention to the goal of our prayer, and this better and almost necessary (Commentary on 1 Cor. xiv.14).
Should our Prayers be Long?
It would seem that we ought to pray continuously, for our Lord said: We ought always to pray and not to faint; so also S. Paul: Pray without ceasing.
But we must notice that when we speak of prayer we can mean either prayer considered in itself or the cause of prayer. Now the cause of prayer is the desire of the love of God; and all prayer ought to spring from this desire which is, indeed, continuous in us, whether actually or virtually, since this desire virtually remains in everything which we do from charity. But we ought to do all things for the glory of God: whether you eat or whether you drink, or whatsoever else you do, do all to the glory of God. In this sense, then, prayer ought to be continual. Hence S. Augustine says to Proba: |Therefore by our faith, by our hope, and by our charity, we are always praying, for our desire is continued.|
But prayer considered in itself cannot be so continuous; for we must needs be occupied with other things. Hence S. Augustine says in the same place: |At certain intervals, at divers hours and times, we pray to God in words so that by these outward signs of things we may admonish ourselves, and may learn what progress we have made in this same desire, and may stir ourselves up to increase it.|
But the quantity of a thing has to be determined by its purpose, just as a draught has to be proportioned to the health of the man who takes it. Consequently it is fitting that prayer should only last so long as it avails to stir up in us this fervour of interior desire. And when it exceeds this measure, and its prolongation only results in weariness, it must not be prolonged further. Hence S. Augustine also says to Proba: |The Brethren in Egypt are said to have had frequent prayers; but they were exceedingly brief, hardly more than eager ejaculations; and they adopted this method lest, if they prolonged their prayer, that vigilant attention which is requisite for prayer should lose its keen edge and become dulled. And thus they clearly show that this same attention, just as it is not to be forced if it fails to last, so neither is it to be quickly broken off if it does last.|
And just as we have to pay attention to this in our private prayers, and have to be guided by our powers of attention, so must we observe the same principles in public prayer where we have to be governed by the people's devotion.
Some, however, argue that our prayers ought not to be continual, thus:
1. Our Lord said: And when you are praying speak not much. But it is not easy to see how a man can pray long without |speaking much|; more especially if it is a question of vocal prayer.
But S. Augustine says to Proba: |To prolong our prayer does not involve 'much-speaking.' 'Much-speaking' is one thing; the unceasing desire of the heart is another. Indeed we are told of the Lord Himself that He passed the whole night in the prayer of God; and, again, that being in an agony He prayed the longer, and this that He might afford us an example.| And Augustine adds a little later: |Much speaking in prayer is to be avoided, but not much petition, if fervent attention lasts. For 'much-speaking' in prayer means the use of superfluous words when we pray for something necessary; but much petition means that with unceasing and devout stirrings of the heart we knock at His door to Whom we pray; and this is often a matter rather of groans than of words, of weeping than of speaking.|
2. Further, prayer is but the unfolding of our desires. But our desires are holy in proportion as they are confined to one thing, in accordance with those words of the Psalmist: One thing I have asked of the Lord, this will I seek after. Whence it would seem to follow that our prayers are acceptable to God just in proportion to their brevity.
But to prolong our prayer does not mean that we ask for many things, but that our hearts are continuously set upon one object for which we yearn.
3. Once more, it is unlawful for a man to transgress the limits which God Himself has fixed, especially in matters which touch the Divine worship, according to the words: Charge the people lest they should have a mind to pass the limits to see the Lord, and a very great multitude of them should perish. But God Himself has assigned limits to our prayer by instituting the Lord's Prayer, as is evident from the words: Thus shalt thou pray. Hence we ought not to extend our prayer beyond these limits.
But our Lord did not institute this prayer with a view to tying us down exclusively to these words when we pray, but to show us that the scope of our prayer should be limited to asking only for the things contained in it, whatever form of words we may use or whatever may be our thoughts.
4. And lastly, with regard to the words of our Lord that we ought always to pray and not to faint, and those of S. Paul, Pray without ceasing, we must remark that a man prays without ceasing, either because of the unceasing nature of his desire, as we have above explained; or because he does not fail to pray at the appointed times; or because of the effect which his prayer has, whether upon himself -- since even when he has finished praying he still remains devout -- or upon others, as, for instance, when a man by some kind action induces another to pray for him whereas he himself desists from his prayer.
|Our soul waiteth for the Lord; for He is our helper and protector. For in Him our hearts shall rejoice; and in His Holy Name we have trusted. Let Thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, as we have hoped in Thee.|
Is Prayer Meritorious?
On the words of the Psalmist, My prayer shall be turned into my bosom, the interlinear Gloss has: |And if it is of no profit to them (for whom it is offered), at least I myself shall not lose my reward.| A reward, however, can only be due to merit. Prayer, then, is meritorious.
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As we have said above, prayer has, besides the effect of spiritual consolation which it brings with it, a twofold power regarding the future: the power, namely, of meriting, and that of winning favours. But prayer, as indeed every other virtuous act, derives its power of meriting from that root which is charity, and the true and proper object of charity is that Eternal Good, the enjoyment of Which we merit. Now prayer proceeds from charity by means of the virtue of religion whose proper act is prayer; there accompany it, however, certain other virtues which are requisite for a good prayer -- namely, faith and humility. For it belongs to the virtue of religion to offer our prayers to God; while to charity belongs the desire of that the attainment of which we seek in prayer. And faith is necessary as regards God to Whom we pray; for we must, of course, believe that from Him we can obtain what we ask. Humility, too, is called for on the part of the petitioner, for he must acknowledge his own needs. And devotion also is necessary; though this comes under religion of which it is the first act, it conditions all subsequent effects.
And its power of obtaining favours prayer owes to the grace of God to Whom we pray, and Who, indeed, induces us to pray. Hence S. Augustine says: |He would not urge us to ask unless He were ready to give|; and S. Chrysostom says: |He never refuses His mercies to them who pray, since it is He Who in His loving-kindness stirs them up so that they weary not in prayer.|
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But some say that prayer cannot be meritorious, thus:
1. Merit proceeds from grace, but prayer precedes grace, since it is precisely by prayer that we win grace: Your Father from Heaven will give the Good Spirit to them that ask Him.
But prayer, like any other virtuous act, cannot be meritorious without that grace which makes us pleasing to God. Yet even that prayer which wins for us the grace which renders us pleasing to God must proceed from some grace -- that is, from some gratuitous gift; for, as S. Augustine says, to pray at all is a gift of God.
2. Again, prayer cannot be meritorious, for if it were so it would seem natural that prayer should especially merit that for which we actually pray. Yet this is not always the case, for even the prayers of the Saints are often not heard; S. Paul, for example, was not heard when he prayed that the sting of the flesh might be taken away from him.
But we must notice that the merit of our prayers sometimes lies in something quite different from what we beg for. For whereas merit is to be especially referred to the possession of God, our petitions in our prayers at times refer directly to other things, as we have pointed out above. Consequently, if what a man asks for will not tend to his ultimate attainment of God, he does not merit it by his prayer; sometimes, indeed, by asking and desiring such a thing he may lose all merit, as, for example, if a man were to ask of God something which was sinful and which he could not reverently ask for. Sometimes, however, what he asks for is not necessary for his salvation, nor yet is it clearly opposed to his salvation; and when a man so prays he may by his prayer merit eternal life, but he does not merit to obtain what he actually asks for. Hence S. Augustine says: |He who asks of God in faith things needful for this life is sometimes mercifully heard and sometimes mercifully not heard. For the physician knows better than the patient what will avail for the sick man.| It was for this reason that Paul was not heard when he asked that the sting of the flesh might be taken away -- it was not expedient. But if what a man asks for will help him to the attainment of God, as being something conducive to his salvation, he will merit it, and that not only by praying for it but also by doing other good works; hence, too, he undoubtedly will obtain what he asks for, but when it is fitting that he should obtain it: |for some things are not refused to us but are deferred, to be given at a fitting time,| as S. Augustine says. Yet even here hindrance may arise if a man does not persevere in asking; hence S. Basil says: |When then you ask and do not receive, this is either because you asked for what you ought not, or because you asked without lively faith, or carelessly, or for what would not profit you, or because you ceased to ask.| And since a man cannot, absolutely speaking, merit eternal life for another, nor, in consequence, those things which belong to eternal life, it follows that a man is not always heard when he prays for another. For a man, then, always to obtain what he asks, four conditions must concur: he must ask for himself, for things necessary for salvation; he must ask piously and perseveringly.
3. Lastly, prayer essentially reposes upon faith, as S. James says: But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. But faith is not sufficient for merit, as is evident in the case of those who have faith without charity. Therefore prayer is not meritorious.
But while it is true that prayer rests principally upon faith, this is not for its power of meriting -- for as regards this it rests principally on charity -- but for its power of winning favours; for through faith man knows of the Divine Omnipotence and Mercy whence prayer obtains what it asks.
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S. Augustine: Men, then, love different things, and when each one seemeth to have what he loves, he is called happy. But a man is truly happy, not if he has what he loves, but if he loves what ought to be loved. For many become more wretched through having what they love than they were when they lacked it. Miserable enough through loving harmful things, more miserable through having them. And our Merciful God, when we love amiss, denies us what we love; but sometimes in His anger He grants a man what he loves amiss!... But when we love what God wishes us to love, then, doubtless, He will give it us. This is That One Thing Which ought to be loved: that we may dwell in the House of the Lord all the days of our life! (Enarr. in Ps. xxvi.).
S. Augustine: In those tribulations, then, which can both profit us and harm us, we know not what we should pray for as we ought. Yet none the less since they are hard, since they are vexatious, since, too, they are opposed to our sense of our own weakness, mankind with one consent prays that they may be removed from us. But we owe this much devotion to the Lord our God that, if He refuses to remove them, we should not therefore fancy that we are neglected by Him, but, while bearing these woes with devout patience, we should hope for some greater good, for thus is power perfected in infirmity. Yet to some in their impatience the Lord God grants in anger what they ask, just as in His mercy He refused it to the Apostle (Ep. cxxx. ad Probam).
|Hear my prayer, O Lord, and my supplication; give ear to my tears. Be not silent: for I am a stranger with Thee, and a sojourner as all my fathers were. O forgive me, that I may be refreshed; before I go hence, and be no more.|
Do Sinners gain Anything From God by their Prayers?
S. Augustine says: |If God did not hear sinners, in vain would the publican have said, God be merciful to me a sinner|; and S. Chrysostom says: |Every one that asketh receiveth -- that is, whether he be just man or sinner.| Hence the prayers of sinners do win something from God.
In a sinner we have to consider two things: his nature, which God loves; his fault, which God hates. If, then, a sinner asks something of God formally as a sinner -- that is, according to his sinful desires -- God, out of His mercy, does not hear him, though sometimes He does hear him in His vengeance, as when He permits a sinner to fall still farther into sin. For God |in mercy refuses some things which in anger He concedes,| as S. Augustine says. But that prayer of a sinner which proceeds from the good desire of his nature God hears, not, indeed, as bound in justice to do so, for that the sinner cannot merit, but out of His pure mercy, and on condition, too, that the four above-mentioned conditions are observed -- namely, that he prays for himself, for things needful for his salvation, that he prays devoutly and perseveringly.
Some, however, maintain that sinners do not by their prayers win anything from God, thus:
1. It is said in the Gospel, Now we know that God doth not hear sinners; and this accords with those words of Proverbs; He that turneth away his ears from hearing the law, his prayer shall be an abomination. But a prayer which is |an abomination| cannot win anything from God.
But, as S. Augustine remarks, the words first quoted are due to the blind man as yet unanointed -- viz., not yet perfectly illumined -- and hence they are not valid; though they might be true if understood of a sinner precisely as such, and in this sense, too, his prayer is said to be |an abomination.|
2. Again, just men obtain from God what they merit, as we have said above. Sinners, however, can merit nothing, since they are without grace, and even without charity which, according to the Gloss on the words, Having an appearance of piety, but denying the power thereof, is |the power of piety.| And hence they cannot pray piously, which, as we have said above, is requisite if prayer is to gain what it asks for.
But though a sinner cannot pray piously in the sense that his prayer springs from the habit of virtue, yet his prayer can be pious in the sense that he asks for something conducive to piety, just as a man who has not got the habit of justice can yet wish for some just thing, as we have pointed out above. And though such a man's prayer is not meritorious, it may yet have the power of winning favours; for while merit reposes upon justice, the power of winning favours reposes upon grace.
3. Lastly, S. Chrysostom says: |The Father does not readily hear prayers not dictated by the Son.| But in the prayer which Christ dictated it is said: Forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors, which sinners do not. Hence sinners either lie when they say this prayer, and so do not deserve to be heard, or, if they do not say it, then they are not heard because they do not make use of the form of prayer instituted by Christ.
But, as we have explained above, the Lord's Prayer is spoken in the name of the whole Church. Consequently, if a man -- while unwilling to forgive his neighbour his debts -- yet says this prayer, he does not lie; for while what he says is not true as regards himself, it yet remains true as regards the Person of the Church outside of which he deservedly is, and he loses, in consequence, the fruit of his prayer. Sometimes, however, sinners are ready to forgive their debtors, and consequently their prayers are heard, in accordance with those words of Ecclesiasticus: Forgive thy neighbour if he hath hurt thee, and then shall thy sins be forgiven to thee when thou prayest.
|With the Lord shall the steps of a man be directed, and he shall like well his way. When he shall fall, he shall not be bruised, for the Lord putteth His hand under him. I have been young, and now am old; and I have not seen the just forsaken, nor his seed seeking bread.|
Can We rightly term Supplications,| |Prayers,| |Intercessions,| and |Thanksgivings,| parts of Prayer?
The Apostle says to Timothy: I desire therefore first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made by all men.
For prayer three things are required: first of all, that he who prays come nigh to God; and this is signified by the name prayer, for prayer is |the uplifting of the mind towards God.| Secondly, petition is required, and is signified by the word postulation; now a petition may be set forth in definite terms -- and this some term postulation, properly so called; or it may be set forth in no express terms, as when a man asks for God's help, and this some call supplication; or, again, the fact in question may be simply narrated, as in S. John: He whom Thou lovest is sick, and this some call insinuation. And thirdly, there is required a reason for asking for what we pray for, and this reason may be either on the part of God or on the part of the petitioner. The reason for asking on the part of God is His holiness, by reason of which we ask to be heard: Incline Thine ear and hear ... for Thine own sake, O my God; to this belongs obsecration -- namely, an appeal to sacred things, as when we say: By Thy Nativity, deliver us, O Lord! But the reason for asking on the part of the petitioner is thankfulness, for by giving thanks for benefits already received we merit to receive still greater ones, as is set forth in the Church's Collect. Hence the Gloss says that in the Mass |Obsecrations are the prayers which precede the Consecration,| for in them we commemorate certain sacred things; |in the Consecration itself we have prayers,| for then the mind is especially uplifted towards God; |but in the subsequent petitions we have postulations, and at the close thanksgivings.| These four parts of prayer may be noticed in many of the Church's Collects: thus in the Collect for Trinity Sunday, the words Almighty and Everlasting God signify the uplifting of the soul in prayer to God; the words: Who hast granted to Thy servants to acknowledge in their profession of the true faith the glory of the Eternal Trinity, and in the Power of Its Majesty to adore Its Unity, signify giving of thanks; the words: Grant, we beseech Thee, that by perseverance in this same faith we may be ever defended from all adversities, signify postulation; while the closing words: Through our Lord Jesus Christ, etc., signify obsecration.
In the Conferences of the Fathers, however, we read: |Obsecration is imploring pardon for sin; prayer is when we make vows to God; postulation is when we make petition for others; giving of thanks, those ineffable outpourings by which the mind renders thanks to God.| But the former explanation is preferable.
Some, however, object to these divisions of prayer, thus:
1. Obsecration is apparently to swear by someone, whereas Origen remarks: |A man who desires to live in accordance with the Gospel must not swear by anyone, for if it is not allowed to swear, neither is it allowed to swear by anyone.|
But it is sufficient to remark that obsecration is not a swearing by, or adjuring of God, as though to compel Him, for this is forbidden, but to implore His mercy.
2. Again, S. John Damascene says that prayer is |the asking God for things that are fitting.| Hence it is not exact to distinguish prayers from postulations.
But prayer, generally considered, embraces all the
above-mentioned parts; when, however, we distinguish one part against another, prayer, properly speaking, means the uplifting of the mind to God.
3. Lastly, giving of thanks refers to the past, whereas the other parts of prayer refer to the future. Hence giving of thanks should not be placed after the rest.
But whereas in things which are different from one another the past precedes the future, in one and the same thing the future precedes the past. Hence giving of thanks for benefits already received precedes petition; yet those same benefits were first asked for, and then, when they had been received, thanks were offered for them. Prayer, however, precedes petition, for by it we draw nigh to God to Whom we make petition. And obsecration precedes prayer, for it is from dwelling upon the Divine Goodness that we venture to approach to Him.
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Cajetan: We might be asked how the mind can be especially elevated to God at the moment of consecration. For in the consecration the priest has to express distinctly the words of consecration, and consequently cannot have his mind uplifted towards God at that moment. Indeed, the more his mind is uplifted to God, the less he thinks of inferior things, words, and so forth.
But in the consecration of the Holy Eucharist -- in which the priest in a sense brings God down upon earth -- the very greatness of our uplifting of mind towards the Divine Goodness Which has thus deigned to come amongst us is the very reason for our attention to the words in the act of consecration, and makes the priest pronounce them distinctly and reverently. Some scrupulous folk, however, concentrate their whole attention on being intent and attentive; but this is really a distraction, and not attention, for its object is precisely the being attentive. The uplifting, then, of our minds to God in the consecration has indeed to be the very greatest, not, indeed, intensively and by abstraction from the things of sense, but objectively and concentrated -- though always within the limits compatible with attention -- on the endeavour to say the words as they should be said (on 188.8.131.52.)
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S. Augustine: And David went in and sat before the Lord; and Elias, casting himself down upon the earth, put his face between his knees. By examples such as these we are taught that there is no prescribed position of the body in prayer provided the soul states its intention in the presence of God. For we pray standing, as it is written: The Publican standing afar off. We pray, too, on our knees, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles; and we pray sitting, as in the case of David and Elias. And unless it were lawful to pray lying down, it would not be said in the Psalms: Every night I will wash my bed, I will water my couch with my tears. When, then, a man desires to pray, he settles himself in any position that serves at the time for the stirring up of his soul. When, on the other hand, we have no definite intention of praying, but the wish to pray suddenly occurs to us -- when, that is, there comes of a sudden into our mind something which rouses the desire to pray |with unspeakable groanings| -- then, in whatsoever position such a feeling may find us, we are not to put off our prayer; we are not to look about for some place whither we can withdraw, for some place in which to stand or in which to make prostration. For the very intention of the mind begets a solitude, and we often forget to which quarter of the heavens we were looking, or in what bodily position the occasion found us (Of Divers Questions, iv.).
|Hear, O God, my prayer, and despise not my supplication; be attentive to me and hear me. I am grieved in my exercise; and am troubled at the voice of the enemy, and at the tribulation of the sinner. For they have cast iniquities upon me, and in wrath they were troublesome to me. My heart is troubled within me, and the fear of death is fallen upon me. Fear and trembling are come upon me, and darkness hath covered me. And I said: Who will give me wings like a dove, and I will fly and be at rest?|
Etymologies, x., sub litt. O.
Ethics, I. xiii.15.
Rabanus Maurus, De Universis, vi.14.
On the Orthodox Faith, iii.24.
Of the Divine Names, vi.1.
Isa. lxiv.8, 9.
S. Matt. vi.32.
1 Kings xv.29.
Of Good Deeds, ii.1.
Hom. II., On Prayer; also Hom. XXX., On Genesis.
Ps. lxx.17, 18.
S. Matt. vii.7.
S. Matt. vi.8.
Ps. ciii.33, 34.
1 Cor. xiv.15.
On Care for the Dead, chaps, xiii., xv., xvi.
Moralia in Job, xii.14.
S. Matt. vi.9-13; S. Luke xi.2-4.
Of Socrates the Philosopher, vii.21.
On the Orthodox Faith, iii.24.
S. John iv.24.
1 Tim. ii.4.
Isa. lxiii.15, 16.
Ep., CXXX., chap. xii.
Ethics, I. vii.15.
Ep., CXXX., chap. vi.
S. Matt. vi.33.
On the Sermon on the Mount, II. x.1.
S. Matt. vi.25.
2 Cor. iv.18.
1 Thess. v.17.
Opus Imperf. in Matthaeum, Hom. XIV.
On the Lord's Prayer.
S. John xvi.23.
Tractatus in Joannem, 102.
1 John v.16.
De Correptionibus et Gratia, cap. xv.
1 Cor. i.11.
S. John xxii.24.
S. Matt. v.44.
On the Sermon on the Mount, i.21.
On the Sermon on the Mount, i.22, and Questions on the Gospels, II., xlv.
Questions on the Old and New Testament, Qu. lxviii.
Comment. on S. Matthew, vi.
1 Cor. vi.9, 10.
S. Luke i.49.
On the Sermon on the Mount, ii.5.
On the Sermon on the Mount, ii.11.
1 John iv.19.
S. John xvii.1-3.
See Touron, O.P., Vie de S. Thomas d'Aquin, p.254; Paris, 1740.
S. John xiv.16.
Ecclus. xxxvi.18, 19.
2 Macc. xv.14.
Contra Vigilantium, vi.
Heb. vii.25. S. Thomas is quoting from memory.
1 Kings i.13.
S. Matt. vi.6.
Opus Imperf. Hom. XIII. in Matt.
On the Sermon on the Mount, ii.3.
Implicitly, Moralia in Job, xxii.13; but see Hugh of S. Victor, Exposition of the Rule of S. Augustine, iii.
1 Cor. xiv.14.
Of the Manner of Prayer, ii.
On the Monastic Constitutions, chap. i.
Ps. lxxv.4, 5.
2 Cor. v.6.
S. Luke xviii.1.
1 Thess. v.17.
1 Cor. x.31.
S. Matt. vi.7.
S. Luke vi.12.
S. Luke xxii.43.
S. Matt. vi.9.
S. Luke xviii.1.
1 Thess. v.17.
On the Sermon on the Mount, Sermon CV. i.
St. Luke vi.13.
On Perseverance, chap. xxiii.
2 Cor. xii.7-9.
S. Prosper, The Book of Sentences gleaned from S. Augustine, Sent.212.
Tractatus in Joannem, 102.
Monastic Constitutions, chap, i.
Ps. xxxviii.13, 14.
Tractatus in Joannem, 44.
Opus Imperf. in Matt., Hom. XVIII.
Tractatus in Joannem, 73; and De Verbis Domini, Sermon cccliv.7.
S. John ix.31.
Tractatus in Joannem, 44.
Implicitly in the old interlinear Gloss on 2 Tim. iii.5.
Opus Imperf. in Matt., Hom. XIV.
1 Tim. ii.1.
Dan. ix.18, 19.
Friday in the September Ember days.
The Ordinary Gloss on the words obsecrations, prayers, etc., in 1 Tim. ii.1.
Collat., IX., chaps. xi-xiii.
Tractatus xxxv. in Matt.
De Orthodoxa Fide, iii.24.
2 Kings vii.18.
3 Kings xviii.42.