The Lord’s Prayer, Part II

Give us this day our daily bread

Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us

Lead us not into temptation, but Deliver us from evil



“Give us this day our daily bread”


Tertullian, On Prayer 6

Spiritual and literal bread

How gracefully has divine wisdom drawn up the order of the [Lord’s] prayer, that after heavenly things—that is, after God’s name, will, and kingdom—it should make a place for petition for earthly necessities too: for the Lord had also stated the principle, Seek first the kingdom and then even these things will be added to you (Matt. 6:33). And yet we prefer the spiritual understanding of Give us today our daily bread. For Christ is our bread, because Christ is life and bread is life: I am, he says, the bread of life (John 6:35). And a little earlier, The bread is the word of the living God which
hath come down from heaven
(John 6:48). And again, because his body is
authoritatively ranked as bread—This is my body (Matt. 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19; 1 Cor. 11:24). And so by asking for daily bread we request continuance in Christ and inseparableness from his body.

But even if we give this a carnal interpretation, it can with all reverence be made to belong
also to spiritual discipline. For it is bread he enjoins us to ask for, which is the one thing the faithful need. The Gentiles seek after other things. He also enforces this sense by examples and rehearses it in parables when he says, Does the Father take away the bread from his sons and hand it to the dogs? (Matt. 15:26; Mark 7:27), and, When his son asks for bread, does he hand him a stone? (Matt. 7:9; Luke 11:11). In these teachings, he is showing what sons look for from their father.

Moreover, that midnight knocker was knocking for bread (Luke 11:5). Also with good reason he has added, Give us today, seeing he had already said, Take no thought for tomorrow, what you shall eat. (Matt. 6:34). And to that theme he also applied the parable of the man who, when the fruits were abundant, thought of extending his barns and of periods of long unconcern, though he was to die that very night (Luke 12:16–21).


Cyprian, On the Lord’s Prayer 18–20

Spiritual Interpretation: Daily Bread as Eucharistic Communion

18. Give us this day our daily bread. This may be understood both spiritually and literally, because either understanding is rich in divine usefulness to our salvation. For Christ is the bread of life, and this bread does not belong to all men but is ours. For just as we say, “Our Father” because he is the Father of those who understand and believe, so also we call it “our bread” because Christ is the bread of those in union with his body. We ask that this bread should be given to us daily, so that we who are in Christ and daily receive the Eucharist for the food of salvation may not be separated from the body of Christ by the interposition of some heinous sin that prevents us from partaking of the heavenly bread. He himself predicts, and warns, I am the bread of life which came down from heaven. If any man eat of my bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread which I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world (John 6:58). When, therefore, he says that whoever shall eat of his bread shall live for ever—for those who partake of his body and receive the Eucharist by the right of communion are living—so, on the other hand, we must fear and pray lest any one who is separate from Christ’s body should remain at a distance from salvation by being withheld from communion. This is the warning Christ himself gives in saying, Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, you shall have no life in you (John 6:53). And therefore we ask that our bread—that is, Christ—may be given to us daily, that we who abide and live in Christ may not depart from His sanctification and body.

Literal Interpretation: Simplicity for those who renounce the world

19. But [this petition] may also be understood in this way: that we who have renounced the world and have cast away its riches and pomps in the faith of spiritual grace should only ask for ourselves food and support. For the Lord instructs us, Whosoever forsakes not all that he has, cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:33). But he who has begun to be Christ’s disciple, renouncing all things according to the word of his Master, ought to ask for his daily foo. He also ought not extend the desires of his petition to a long period of time—as the Lord again prescribes, Take no thought for the morrow, for the morrow itself shall take thought for itself. Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof (Matt. 6:34). With reason, then, does Christ’s disciple ask food for himself for the day, since he is prohibited from thinking of the morrow. Because it is a contradiction and a repugnant thing for us to seek to live long in this world, since we ask that the kingdom of God should come quickly. . . .

20. [The Lord] teaches us that riches are not only to be disdained, but that they are also full of peril—that in them is the root of seducing evils, which deceive the blindness of the human mind by a hidden deception. For this reason also, God rebukes the rich fool . . . . The fool who was to die that very night was rejoicing in his stores, and he to whom life already was failing, was thinking of the abundance of his food (Luke 12:20). But, on the other hand, the Lord tells us that he becomes perfect and complete who sells all his goods, and distributes them for the use of the poor, and so lays up for himself treasure in heaven. He says that the person who is able to follow him and imitate the glory of the Lord’s passion is the one who is free from hindrance and, with girded loins, involved in no entanglements of worldly estate. Instead, he is at large and free; he only accompanies his possessions, which before have been sent to God. Let each one of us prepare that we can become like this. Let us learn to pray like this and to know, from the character of the prayer, what we ought to be.


Origen, On Prayer

Not physical bread

Give us today our daily bread or, in Luke’s version, Give us day today our daily bread. Since there are some who suppose that we are told to pray for physical bread, we need to refute their false opinion and establish the truth concerning “daily bread.” So ask them: How can the one who says we must ask for heavenly and great things say we need to ask for bread to sustain our bodies? It would be as though he had forgotten his own teaching and ordered us to offer supplication to the Father for an earthly and small thing. For the bread given for our body is not heavenly, nor is it a great thing to pray for it.

Now I shall follow the teacher himself and shall bring forward what he certainly teaches about bread. [He follows with an explication of John 6:26–33, contrasting those who sought Christ only for their fill of bread and those who sought Christ.] The true bread is that which nourishes the true Man, made in the image of God. And the one who has been nourished by it will come to be in the likeness of him who created him (cf. Gen. 1:26–27; Col. 3:9–10). And what is more nourishing to the soul than the Word, or what is more precious to the mind of him who makes space for it than the Wisdom of God? What more fitting for our rational soul than truth? . . .

But not everyone can be nourished by the solid and vigorous food of divine teaching. That is why, when he wishes to offer food for an athlete, which is suitable for the more perfect, he says, The bread that I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh, etc. . . . (John 6:51–57). This is the true food, the flesh of Christ, who existed as the Word and became flesh according to the verse The Word became flesh (John 1:14). And when we eat and drink him, he also has dwelt in us (cf. John 1:14). And when he is distributed (cf. John 6:11), the verse is fulfilled: We have beheld his glory (John 1:14). This is the bread that came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; [he who eats this bread] will live forever (John 6:58).

Daily Bread as “Bread for Being”

In the preceding discussion, we saw that the bread that we should ask for is a spiritual bread. It is therefore necessary to understand “Being” in the same sense as the bread, since the physical bread distributed to the body of the person nourishes it and goes into his substance. So also the living bread that came down from heaven (John 6:51) and is distributed to the mind and the soul gives a share of its own power to the person who eats from it. And thus the bread we ask for will be daily in the sense that it will be “for our being.” Therefore, daily bread, that is, “bread for being” (cf. John 6:48), is what corresponds most closely with that rational nature in a person and is most similar to [God’s] Being. Since the Word of God is immortal, it shares its own immortality with the one who eats it.

Therefore, the one who partakes of “daily bread for our being” is strengthened in his heart and becomes a son of God (cf. Ps. 104:15; Jas. 5:8; 1 Thess. 3:13). If this is so and there is such a difference between foods, there is one that stands out above all the others mentioned. This is “the daily bread for our being,” about which we should pray that we will be made worthy of it. Nourished by God the Word, who was in the beginning with God (cf. John 1:1), we may be made divine.


Augustine, Sermon 57.7

Bodily and Spiritual Sustenance for Earthly Life — Eucharist and Scriptural Teaching

There are two ways of understanding this petition about daily bread—either with reference to our need for bodily food or our need for spiritual nourishment. We obviously need material food for our daily victuals, and without it we can’t life. Our needs include clothing, but we are to understand the whole from the part. When we ask for bread, we receive everything with it.

The faithful also know a spiritual sustenance, which you too are going to known, and to receive from the altar of God. That too will be a daily bread, necessary for this life. Are we going to go on receiving the eucharist when we have come to Christ himself, and when we have begun to reign forever? So the eucharist is our daily bread. But you should receive it in such a way that our minds and not just our bellies find refreshment. You see, the special property to be understood in it is unity, so that by being digested into his body and turned into his members we may be what we receive.

The fact that I am dealing with this subject for you, and that you hear readings in the Church every day, is daily bread; and that you hear and sing hymns is daily bread. These are the things we need on our pilgrimage. But when we finally get there, do you imagine we shall be listening to a book? We shall be seeing the Word itself, listening to the Word itself, eating it, drinking it, as the angels do now. Do the angels need books, or lectures, or readers? Of course not. They read by seeing, since they see Truth itself . . . . So much, then, for our daily bread, to show that this petition is necessary for us in this life. (trans. WSA III/3:112, alt.)


“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”


Cyprian, On Prayer

We are compelled to pray for our sins so that, while pardon is sought from God, the soul reminds itself of its sin. No one should flatter himself by thinking he is innocent. For if one exalts himself in this way, he will be all the more ruined. So we are instructed and taught that we sin daily and are told to pray daily for our sins. John, also in his epistle, warns us saying, If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us; but if we confess our sins, the Lord is faithful and just to forgive us our sins (1 John 1:8–9). . . . John says the Lord is faithful to forgive sins, keeping faith with his promise. He who taught us to pray that our debts and sins may be forgiven has promised that the Father’s mercy and pardon will follow.


Origen, On Prayer

Now concerning debts, the Apostle says, Pay everyone their debts, taxes to whom taxes are due, fear to whom fear, revenue to whom revenue, honor to whom honor. Be indebted to no one in anything, except to love one another (Rom. 13:7–8). We are truly indebted, since we have certain responsibilities not only in giving, but also in gentle speech and in certain kinds of disposition toward others. Since we are indebted in these ways, either we pay what is ordered by the divine law, discharging it in full, or we do not pay up because we despise the wholesome Word and so remain in debt. . . .

If we are in debt to so many people, it is inevitable that there are people indebted to us. Some are in our debt as men, others because we are citizens, others because we are fathers or sons. In addition, wives are in debt to us if we are husbands, and friends if we are friends. It is only right, therefore, that whenever any of our many debtors are lax about paying what they owe us, we should act kindly toward them by not holding a grudge. For we remember our own debts and how often we have put them off, not only when they are owed to others, but even when they are owed to God himself. For if we remember the debts we have not paid, but have refused to pay when the time came to do one thing or another to our neighbor, we will be gentler toward those liable to us who have not paid their debt. This will be especially so if we do not forget our transgressions against God or highlight wicked practices in lofty terms (cf. Ps. 73:8), whether we do so through ignorance, or the truth, or because of our unhappiness with some set of circumstances.

Gregory of Nyssa, Homilies on the Lord’s Prayer

As our inquiry progresses, it comes to the very peak of virtue. For the words of the prayer outline what sort of person one should be if one would approach God. Such a person is just barely revealed in terms of human nature, but is likened to God himself through virtue. He seems to be divine because he does those things that God alone can do. The forgiving of debts is the special prerogative of God, since it is said, No man can forgive sins but God alone (Luke 5:21; Mark 2:7). If a person imitates the characteristics of the divine nature with his own life, he becomes like that which he visibly imitates.

This we are told plainly in the present passage. If we approach the Benefactor, we should ourselves be benefactors, if we go to him who is good and just, we should ourselves be the same. Because he is forbearing and kind, we should also be forbearing and kind, and so with all the other things. For he is benign and gentle, he communicates good things and dispenses mercy to everyone—to all these qualities, and whatever else we may see in the divine Being, we should be assimilated by our free will. Thus a man should obtain the confidence presupposed by the prayer.

Augustine, Sermon 56.12

I do not to explain that this petition is one that we make for ourselves. It’s our own debts for which we are requesting forgiveness. We are in debt, you see, not over many, but over sins. You may ask, “You too, holy bishops, are in debt?” “We too are in debt.” . . . If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8). Yes, we’ve been baptized, and yes, we’re in debt.

Not that anything wasn’t left over that wasn’t forgiven us in baptism; but that by going on living we have contracted debts that need to be forgiven every day. Those who are baptized and depart this life come up from the font without any debts and go off on their way without any debts. But those who are baptized and held in this life pick up something through the weakness of their mortal flesh, which even if it doesn’t lead to their being shipwrecked, still needs to be pumped out. . . . Praying this prayer is like pumping it out.

Augustine, Sermon 181

Here we are in the body of the Church, which you say has no stain nor wrinkle nor any such thing, and is without sin. Here’s the hour of prayer coming, the whole Church is going to pray, and you indeed are outside. Come to the Lord’s Prayer, come to the scale of virtue, come and say: Our Father, who are in heaven. Carry on: hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, as in heaven, also on earth. Give us today our daily bread. Carry on, and say, Forgive us our debts. . . .

I am not questioning you any further about [your debts] because the Lord himself is going to explain what the debts are from which we are asking to be released. So let us say what comes next: As we also forgive our debtors. Let the Lord explain this. For if you forgive people their sins—so your debts are sins—your Father too will forgive you your sins. So come back, O Heretic, to the prayer, if you have grown deaf to the true import of the faith. Forgive us our debts. Do you say it, or do you not? If not, then even though you should be present in the body, you are still outside the Church.

This is the Church’s prayer; it is the voice coming from the Lord’s own magisterial chair. It was he who said, Pray like this (Matt. 6:9). He said it to the disciples, to the apostles, and to us—whatever sort of little lambs we are—he said to the rams of the flock, Pray like this. Notice who said it, and to whom he said it—Truth [spoke] to the disciples, the Shepherd of shepherds to the rams. Pray like this: Forgive us our debts, as we too forgive our debtors. The King was speaking to his soldiers, the master to his slaves, Christ to his apostles. Truth was speaking to men, the Most High to the humble: “I know what’s going on in you; I am weighing you up, I am reading you off from my scales, I can undoubtedly say what is going on in you; I know this much better than you do. Say, Forgive us our debts, as we too forgive our debtors.


“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”

Origen, On Prayer 29

1. If the Savior orders us to pray for things that are not impossible, it seems worthwhile to ask how we are commanded to pray not to enter into temptation, when all our life on earth we are faced by temptation. We are in temptation because we dwell on earth, surrounded by flesh that rages against the Spirit since the mind of the flesh is hostile to God and can in no way submit to God’s law.

9. Let us pray, therefore, to be delivered from temptation not by avoiding temptation (for that is impossible for those on earth), but by not being defeated when we are tempted. Now I suppose that the person defeated in temptation enters into temptation, since he is caught fast in its meshes. The Savior entered those meshes because of those who had been caught in them before.

11. We must pray not that we be not tempted (for that is impossible), but that we not be overwhelmed with temptation, which is what happens to those who are enmeshed in it and conquered. It is also said apart from this prayer not to enter into temptation (Luke 22:40; Matt. 26:41; Mark 14:38). The verse can probably be clearly understood from the previous discussion. And in the prayer we must say to God the Father, Lead us not into temptation. So it is worth asking how God should be understood as bringing someone, who has not prayed or who has not been seduced, into temptation. Since someone who enters into temptation is conquered, it is absurd to suppose that God leads anyone into temptation as if he were giving him up to be conquered. And the same absurdity remains no matter how we interpret the verse, Pray that you may not enter into temptation (Luke 22:40). For if falling into temptation is an evil we pray not to suffer, is it not foolish to think that the good God, who cannot endure evil fruit (Matt. 7:18), relegates anyone to evil?

17. Now the use of temptation is something like this. What our soul has received escapes everyone’s knowledge but God’s—even our own. But a clearer knowledge of oneself becomes evident through temptations. In knowing ourselves, we are also conscious—if we are willing—of our own evils. We give thanks for the good things that have been made evident to us through temptations. The fact that the temptations that come to us are meant to show us who we are, or to acknowledge the secret things in our hearts, is established by a verse in Job spoken by the Lord and by one in Deuteronomy. They read, Do you think that I have answered you for any other reason than that you may be revealed as righteous? (Job 40:8 [LXX]). And in Deuteronomy, he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, and he led you so that you might know what was in your heart (Deut. 8:2–3, 16).

John Chrysostom, Homily 19.10

In this [petition,] he clearly instructs us that we are unworthy and represses our conceit, teaching us to decline contests and not rush into them so that our victory will be all the more glorious and the devil’s defeat more ridiculous. You see, if we are forced into it, we must stand firm. Whereas, if the call does not come, it is time to hold our peace and await the time of engagement so as to give evidence both of freedom from vainglory and of nobility. Now, by “the evil one” here, he refers to the devil, bidding us wage a war against him that allows of no truce. And he is bringing out that the devil is not like that by nature, evil being one of the things that comes not from nature, but from choice. In a particular way, the devil gets this name on account of the excess of his wickedness and because, though in no way wronged by us, he wages war against us with no allowance for a truce. Hence he does not say “Deliver us from the evil ones” but from the evil one. Likewise, he instructs us not to be at odds in any way with our neighbors because of the trouble they bring on us, but to redirect our enmity from them to the one who is the source of all our troubles.