Deacon Nick Donnelly
A heretical spirit
enters the Church when man makes himself the measure of God’s word, rather than God’s word being the measure of man’s thoughts. This hubristic reversal is the
definition of modernism. Pope St Pius X identified what is at the heart of this
modernist mentality towards sacred Scripture, ‘a philosophy borrowed from the negation of
God, and a criterion which consists of themselves’. (Pascendi dominici gregis, 34.)
of Vatican II warned that the authenticity of interpreting the word of God
depends on strictly observing the threefold union of sacred Tradition, sacred
Scripture and the Magisterium, which ‘are so linked together that one cannot stand without
the others’. (Dei verbum,
10.) Any interpretation that ignores this threefold union, for example, by
stressing one strand to the point of excluding or even contradicting the two
others is immediately suspect of coming from a heretical spirit. With the above
understanding, I will examine Francis’s change to the Our Father.
Both the French and
Italian Bishops’ Conferences have
changed the sixth petition of the Our Father with the encouragement of this
pontificate. Francis gave an interview in 2017 explaining his support for
changes to ‘lead us not
to see how I fall. No, a father does not do this. A father helps us up
immediately.The one who leads us into temptation is Satan. That’s Satan’s job.The French have
modified the prayer as ‘don’t leave me to fall into temptation,’ because it is I who
fall; it isn’t
He who throws me into temptation.().
catechesis on the Our Father in May 2019 Francis expanded on his assertion ‘lead us not into temptation’ is ‘a bit shaky’ as a translation:
humanity in its journey as if God himself were on the prowl, setting snares and
traps for his children.Christians don’t have anything to do with a jealous God
who is competing with humanity or who enjoys testing them. These are images of
many pagan divinities…During the worst moments in life, the most insufferable, the most
distressing, God keeps watch with us, God fights with us, he is always near.
Why? Because he is a father. ().
Italian bishops followed the example of the French and changed the sixth
petition to ‘do not abandon
us to temptation’.
Francis does not provide an exegetical or linguistic basis for his contention
that ‘lead us not
into temptation’ is not a good translation; neither does he reference the Church
Fathers who wrote on the Lord’s Prayer nor the teaching of previous popes. Instead, Francis
appears to rely solely on his own idiosyncratic ‘misericordia’ understanding of God. Francis asserts that
God plays no part in Satan’s temptation of man and that God’s only role in temptation is to give
paternal assistance to help us recover when we have succumbed and sinned. He also appears to assume that Satan is an
independent and free agent as tempter. The question is, are Francis’s assumptions about God’s non-role in temptation and Satan’s free-rein as tempter in accord with
sacred Scripture, sacred Tradition and the Magisterium?
sacred Tradition on temptation
clear that God is not an agent of temptation because his divine attributes
absolutely exclude evil, in particular his absolute perfection (Mt 5:48)
absolute veracity (Hb 6:18) and absolute holiness (Is 6:3). As St. James
puts it, ‘Let no one say
when he is tempted, “I am tempted by
God”; for God cannot be tempted with evil and
he himself tempts no one.’ (Jas 1:13-14). We can take from this that it’s essential not to underestimate God’s total aversion to sin — it’s not primarily a father’s love that makes it impossible for God to
tempt us, but rather his total hatred of sin.
secular classists such as Dame Mary Beard insist that the most accurate
translation of the sixth petition of the Our Father remains that of sacred
Tradition, lead us not into temptation.(). The paradox of the absolutely perfect, truthful, holy God leading us
into temptation takes us into the mystery of his relationship with Satan and
the demons — creatures who
are totally evil — and creatures
with an inclination to evil acts — man.
clear that God does not give autonomy of action to Satan as tempter. Contrary
to gnosticism, Christianity understands that the devil is not an independent
dualistic principle in Creation, but remains a creature held in being by God
and contained within God’s salvific plan unfolding in world history and the history of each
Cyprian explains that lead us not into temptation means ‘that the adversary can do nothing against
us unless God allows it beforehand.’ (On the Lord’s Prayer, 25.) While Cyprian could have referenced the example of
Job to illustrate this point, he seeks to explain that ‘power is given to the evil one in
proportion to our sins’ by quoting God’s response to King Solomon’s grave sins, ‘And the Lord stirred up Satan against
Solomon’. (1Kg 11:14).
God’s justice, omnipotence and providence are
the conditions within which the devil acts, and therefore, it is quite wrong to
imply that ‘Satan’s job’ as tempter is autonomous from God.
also clear that God does not merely show a father’s solicitude towards sinful man who
succumbs to temptation. St. Cyprian observes that God allows temptation for two
purposes, ‘for punishment
when we sin and for glory when we are proved’.
as merely a solicitous father entirely excludes Scripture’s salutary wisdom about God’s punishment of unrepentant sinners. God
wills the salvation of every person, but exercises a medicinal and penal
punishment on those who reject his will.
Not only does God punish hardened, habitual sinners with suffering the
increasing depraved consequences of their sin (Rm 1:24-32), he also
punishes them by allowing them to sink into a moral and spiritual blindness to
the mortal danger of their unrepented sin (Ep 4:8.) Both punishments
involve succumbing to a downward spiral of degrading temptations from the devil
and themselves, which God permits out of respect for the free will of demonic
and human creatures. These punishments are not vindictive, but expressions of
God’s total aversion to sin and respect of the
free will he has given. Yes, God is a solicitous father to those willing to
repent, giving the merciful graces of knowledge of sin, contrition and
conversion; but to those defiant in their sin he is an implacable, relentless
judge as expressed by the fires of Hell.
glory when we are proved
associating the proximate danger of sin with glory. However, there is no
dimension of human existence unaffected by our Lord’s Incarnation and Paschal Mystery — Christ’s glorious victory over Satan on the Cross
transforms temptation for those who, through humility and obedience, are
sanctified on the narrow path of Christian perfection. Just as the Father and
Holy Spirit willed the Son’s glorification through his victory over the devil’s temptations, God wills our sanctification
through our overcoming, with his grace, the testing of our faith and moral
conformity to his commands. The lives of
the saints reveal the marvellous wonder that temptations are the occasion for
growth in holiness.
sought to convey something of the wonder of God’s turning sinful man’s experience of ‘utter wretchedness’ into glory:
later to demolish its work all the more gloriously, in order to celebrate all
the greater triumph over it, in order to snatch victory from its grasp and to
make its defeat all the more shameful at the very moment when it believes it
alone remains master of the field. Thus did God vanquish hell the first time,
when he allowed it to pierce even his Anointed with its sting; it lost the
sting, and sunk powerless at the feet of him whom it ventured to destroy. (The
Mysteries of Christianity, p.309-310).
temptation than the modern Catechism of the Catholic Church. Trent
explicitly examines why we pray, ‘lead us not into temptation’:
although he himself does not tempt us nor cooperate in tempting us, yet is said
to tempt because he does not prevent us from being tempted or from being
overcome by temptations when he is able to prevent these things… Sometimes, however, we fall, being left to
ourselves by the just and secret judgment of God, in punishment of our sins.
articulated St. Paul and St. Cyprian’s understanding of God allowing temptation as
punishment. Trent also highlighted the
other strand of Cyprian’s insight into God’s dual purpose for temptation, our sanctification and glory:
to humble ourselves under the powerful hand of God; and by fighting manfully,
we expect to receive a neverfading crown of glory.
Catholic Church, lacking the clarity of Trent,does not refer to God
allowing temptation for punishment or glory, but does refer to St. Paul on God
allowing a limit to temptation and an inherent means of escape. (I Cor 10:13).
So unlike Francis, the Catechism does acknowledge God’s role in temptation to some extent.
However, it shares his keenness to distance God from temptation, thereby
downplaying his justice, omnipotence and providence. In fact, the Catechism
prepares the exegetical ground, detached from Tradition and previous
magisterial teaching, for Francis’s innovation:
word: the Greek means both ‘do not allow us to enter into temptation’, and ‘do not let us yield to temptation’. ‘God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no
one’. (Jas 1:13). We ask him not to allow
us to take the way that leads to sin. (CCC 2846).
interpretation of the sixth petition — ‘don’t leave me to fall into temptation’ — and the new
Italian interpretation — ‘do not abandon us to temptation’ — are very similar
to the Catechism’s
interpretation in departing from the fullness of sacred Scripture and sacred
we pray, lead us not into temptation?
Tradition and the Magisterium’s insistence that God allows temptation for our punishment or
glorification, what is the perennial understanding of what we’re praying for through the sixth
petition? Referring to Job’s conclusion that ‘the whole of human life on earth is testing’ (Job 7:1), Origen says we’re not praying to be spared from
temptation, which would be impossible, ‘but so that we should not be overcome when
we are tested’. (On Prayer, 9).
As St. Paul explains, ‘God is faithful and he will not let you be tempted beyond your
strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you
may be able to endure it’. (I Cor 10:13). Our Lord’s sixth petition shows us that it is
imperative that we pray for God’s help to not be tempted beyond our strength, to discern the means of
escape he provides with each temptation that he allows and to bear the pain of
temptation when it comes as punishment or the means of glory when proved.
composed a paraphrase of the intent of the sixth petition that was true to
Scripture and Tradition:
can be purified. When you decide to send me these trials, when you give evil
some room to manoeuvre, as you did with Job, then please remember that my
strength goes only so far. Don’t overestimate my capacity. Don’t set too wide the boundaries within which
I may be tempted, and be close to me with your protecting hand when it becomes
too much for me”. (Jesus of
Nazareth. Vol. 1, p. 163.)
solicitous care of the Father — a care exemplified by the father in his favourite New Testament parable
of the prodigal son — Francis denies
the more complex revelation of God’s role in permitting temptation as set out in books of
the Old Testament, such as 1 Kings and Job. By ignoring the whole canon of
Scripture on this matter he is in danger of falling into the trap of Marcionism
in his attempts to justify changing the sixth petition.
New Testament, to the exclusion of the Old Testament, making a false
distinction between the absolutely just and holy God of the Old Testament and
the merciful and loving God of the New Testament. Furthermore, the Marcion
preference for Scripture that only portrayed a merciful God led to them
misrepresenting the New Testament as well.
his commentary on the Our Father, referring to Romans 1:22-27:
Father of our Lord to be distant from the God of the law. Does not the good God
lead anyone who fails in prayer into testing? Does not the Father of the Lord
hand those who have sinned in any way over to impurity in the desires of their
hearts, so that they might dishonour their bodies among themselves?
those troubled by Scripture that portrays the God of justice and holiness and
his involvement in temptation and punishment ‘fashioned another God apart from the one
who made the heaven and the earth’. (Ibid, 13.)
interpretation of the sixth petition illustrates the danger of ignoring the
wisdom preserved by sacred Tradition. To do so betrays a modernist mentality against
which Pope St Pius X warned:
have been able to discover so much that is defective, one would imagine that
before them nobody ever even glanced through the pages of Scripture, whereas
the truth is that a whole multitude of Doctors, infinitely superior to them in
genius, in erudition, in sanctity, have sifted the Sacred Books in every way,
and so far from finding imperfections in them, have thanked God more and more
the deeper they have gone into them, for His divine bounty in having vouchsafed
to speak thus to men. (Pascendi dominici gregis, 34.)