Saint Thomas Aquinas and the Lord’s Prayer
The Lord’s Prayer holds a special place in Christian practice and worship. According to Scripture, it is the prayer handed down from Jesus Christ himself. Christians have prayed it since the conception of the Church, and over the centuries theologians have analyzed its spiritual meaning. One of the greatest and most renowned theologians, Saint Thomas Aquinas, emphasized the Lord’s Prayer as the prayer which cultivates right worship of God and brings the believer closer to God through spiritual desire.
Prayer can guide the believer to maintain a right honoring of God. Prayer is an act of justice, according to Aquinas, for it maintains harmony through right relationships. Prayer maintains a right relationship between the believer and God, which the believer maintains through paying due honor to God and rightly revering His gifts to humanity. Prayer, particularly the Lord’s Prayer, contains the power to rightly order desires away from sin and towards their true end, God and eternal happiness with him. “Now in the Lord’s Prayer not only do we ask for all that we may rightly desire,” Aquinas writes, “but also in the order wherein we ought to desire them, so that this prayer not only teaches us to ask, but also directs all our affections.” Because of sin, human desires can all too often move the believer away from God, and thus deprive God of right honor and worship; consistent and devout prayer guides those desires away from sin and back towards God, so that one can not only become part of the Body of Christ, but earnestly desire participation in it.
Aquinas specifically delineates how the Lord’s Prayer orders and redirects desires, and this treatment of each petition of the Lord’s Prayer touches on not only the command to receive the Eucharist, but also the state in which one maintains a right relationship with God so that the reception is efficacious. Furthermore, the Lord’s Prayer clarifies the relationship between God and man as understood through the theological virtue of charity, which will be discussed in greater detail later in this post.
Above all else, the Lord’s Prayer properly directs desires and affections to the true end, that is, beatitude with God in Heaven. Aquinas distinguishes this end in two ways in relation to desire and affection, that is, between the longing of the heart for God, and the movement of the heart towards God, respectively. Aquinas describes affection as the movement of the heart. “Now our end is God towards whom our affections tend in two ways: first, by our willing the glory of God,” he writes. The affection for the glory of God, and the corresponding desire that wills the glory of God, seeks to rightly honor God in a just manner; faith alone wills the soul’s glorification of God. Thus it is rightly ordered affections in faith that pray, “Hallowed be Thy name.”
Affections and desires also move towards the true and final end of God “by willing to enjoy His glory.” Within a right relationship with God, which is simultaneously the friendship through charity and the paying of due honor through justice, the believer can move away from sin and develop great affection for God’s glory. This affection creates in the soul a sense of delight regarding the presence, will, and actions of God. Delight in his glory is a delight in his kingdom, and thus the instruction to pray, “Thy kingdom come,” that is, Thy glory come.
After discussing God’s glory in the first two petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, Aquinas proceeds to treat the next two petitions, “Thy will be done” and “Give us this day our daily bread.” He argues that these petitions pray for things useful to the end of beatitude. “Now a thing is useful in two ways to that end which is beatitude: in one way, directly and principally, according to the merit whereby we merit obeying God, and in this respect we ask: ‘Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,’” he states. The prayer for God’s will emerges from desire; not only desire for beatitude, but desire for the fulfillment of God’s holy and most perfect will. For Aquinas, desiring beatitude is part of desiring God’s will, for God wills the restoration of his children from sin into his Kingdom. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, IIae IIa, q 83, a 9, co.  Ibid, IIae II, q 83, a 9, co.  Ibid, IIae II, q 83, a 9, co.  Ibid, IIIa, q 79, a1, co.  Ibid, IIae IIa, q 83, a 9, co.
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