Rorate Caeli

Guest Op-Ed - Resisting the Temptation to Change the Our Father: "A heretical spirit enters the Church when man makes himself the measure of God’s Word"

Deacon Nick Donnelly

A heretical spirit enters the Church when man makes himself the measure of Gods word, rather than Gods word being the measure of mans 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.)

One of the better parts 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 Franciss change to the Our Father.

Franciss change to the Our Father

Both the French and Italian BishopsConferences 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 into temptation:

That is not a good translation.  Im the one who falls. But its not (God) who pushes me into temptation 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. Thats Satans job.The French have modified the prayer as dont leave me to fall into temptation, because it is I who fall; it isnt He who throws me into temptation.(Catholic Herald. 8 December 2017).

Furthermore, during his catechesis on the Our Father in May 2019 Francis expanded on his assertion lead us not into temptationis a bit shakyas a translation:

We must exclude God as the source of the temptations that impede 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 divinitiesDuring 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. (CNS. 1 May 2019).

One month later the Italian bishops followed the example of the French and changed the sixth petition to do not abandon us to temptation.

It should be noted that 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 Lords Prayer nor the teaching of previous popes. Instead, Francis appears to rely solely on his own idiosyncratic misericordiaunderstanding of God. Francis asserts that God plays no part in Satans temptation of man and that Gods 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 Franciss assumptions about Gods non-role in temptation and Satans free-rein as tempter in accord with sacred Scripture, sacred Tradition and the Magisterium?

Sacred Scripture and sacred Tradition on temptation

Sacred Scripture is 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 its essential not to underestimate Gods total aversion to sin its not primarily a fathers love that makes it impossible for God to tempt us, but rather his total hatred of sin.

Having said this, 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.(Lifesite News June 13, 2019). 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 demonscreatures who are totally evil and creatures with an inclination to evil acts man.

Sacred Scripture is 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 Gods salvific plan unfolding in world history and the history of each individual.

More than this, St. Cyprian explains that lead us not into temptation means that the adversary can do nothing against us unless God allows it beforehand.(On the Lords 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 sinsby quoting Gods response to King Solomons grave sins, And the Lord stirred up Satan against Solomon. (1Kg 11:14). Gods justice, omnipotence and providence are the conditions within which the devil acts, and therefore, it is quite wrong to imply that Satans jobas tempter is autonomous from God.

Sacred Scripture is also clear that God does not merely show a fathers 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.

Temptation as punishment

The caricature of God as merely a solicitous father entirely excludes Scriptures salutary wisdom about Gods 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 Gods 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.

Temptation as glory when we are proved

At first sight Cyprians claim that God allows temptation as glory when we are provedappears enigmatic and counter-intuitive by associating the proximate danger of sin with glory. However, there is no dimension of human existence unaffected by our Lords Incarnation and Paschal Mystery Christs 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 Sons glorification through his victory over the devils 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.

Fr. Matthias Scheeben sought to convey something of the wonder of Gods turning sinful mans experience of utter wretchednessinto glory:

God permits hell to rage, permits it to unfold its full might, in order 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).

The Magisterium on temptation

TheCatechism of the Council of Trent was much clearer about the permissive role of God in temptation than the modern Catechism of the Catholic Church. Trent explicitly examines why we pray, lead us not into temptation:

we are said to be led into temptation by him who, 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.

Thereby, Trent articulated St. Paul and St. Cyprians understanding of God allowing temptation as punishment.  Trent also highlighted the other strand of Cyprians insight into Gods dual purpose for temptation, our sanctification and glory: 

Temptation teaches us to know ourselves, that is, our own weakness, and to humble ourselves under the powerful hand of God; and by fighting manfully, we expect to receive a never­fading crown of glory.

The Catechism of the 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 Gods 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 Franciss innovation:

It is difficult to translate the Greek verb used by a single English 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).

The new French interpretation of the sixth petition — ‘dont leave me to fall into temptationand the new Italian interpretation — ‘do not abandon us to temptationare very similar to the Catechisms interpretation in departing from the fullness of sacred Scripture and sacred Tradition.

What do we mean when we pray, lead us not into temptation?

If we accept Scripture, Tradition and the Magisteriums insistence that God allows temptation for our punishment or glorification, what is the perennial understanding of what were praying for through the sixth petition?  Referring to Jobs conclusion that the whole of human life on earth is testing(Job 7:1), Origen says were 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 Lords sixth petition shows us that it is imperative that we pray for Gods 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.

Pope Benedict XVI composed a paraphrase of the intent of the sixth petition that was true to Scripture and Tradition:

When we pray it, we are saying to God: I know that I need trials so that my nature 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. Dont overestimate my capacity. Dont 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.) 

Are we confronting a neo-Marcionism?

By restricting Gods involvement in temptation to the 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 Gods 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.

The heretic Marcions conception of God solely focused on the 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.
As Origen explained in his commentary on the Our Father, referring to Romans 1:22-27:

We should confront those who divide the divinity, who consider the good 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?
                                                                                      (On Prayer, 12.)

Origen warned that 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.)

The current novel 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:

To hear them talk about their works on the Sacred Books, in which they 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.)