by Boris Mouravieff
In the modern languages, Jesus' prayer is given in the following terms:
9. Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
10. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
11. Give us this day our daily bread;
12. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors;
13. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.i
We do see that this prayer is in five verses, each having a distinct and well determined objective.
Let us put this text to a critical analysis. And, to do this, let us be reminded of the general rule applicable to every interpretation of the texts: That of the interpretation by the context.
Already Saint Augustine had demanded that the passages of the gospel be commented in light of the context and protested vehemently against the bad faith of some commentators who, says he, choose some passages detached from the Scriptures, by means of which they are able to deceive the ignorant, by not binding to one another the propositions which precede and those which follow, by which the will and thought of the author can be understood.ii
Also, are we held to place Jesus' prayer, in its entirety, within the framework of the ideas of its author. This framework is given in the five preceding verses, thus conceived:
5. And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners , that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward.
6. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
7. And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words.
8. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
9. Pray then like this: iii
Then follows the text of the prayer. The latter in turn is followed by twenty one verses of commentary which repeat the recommendations given in verses 5-9, and place the accent on some of them. Thus, for example, the eighth verse is to be re-explained and largely commented in the verses 31-34, in the following terms:
31. Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'
32. For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
33. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be yours as well.
34. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day's own trouble be sufficient for the dayiv.
It appears with evidence that the Christ was exerting himself to shift the eyes of humans from their "needs", which absorbed them, towards the superior plane, towards, the one thing needfulv.
This said, let us return to the very text of the prayer. Its examination demonstrates that four of the five verses of which it is composed are assigned to divine matters, including the request not to be led into temptation, but to be delivered from evil (v. 13). Such that the prayer, and the whole of chapter VI of the gospel according to Mathew, proves to be harmoniously consecrated to the principal of the primacy of noumenal life over phenomenal life, inciting man to concentrate his efforts towards attaining it, and promising that - if such be the case - the rest, that is to say that of the plane of life, will be given over and above.
Only one verse among the five of the prayer is in discord with the other four, as also with the thirty one verses constituting the rest of chapter VI. It is the eleventh verse, thus conceived:
11. Give us this day our daily breadvi.
But then, two times, does Jesus affirm that such a prayer is a prayer of pagans (verses 7, 32). We thus find ourselves in the presence of a flagrant internal contradiction.
The Russian text, which is derived from the Slavonic, does not contain the indicated contradiction. It does not speak of daily bread, but of super-substantial bread; in other words of "Heavenly bread", of the "living bread" of which Jesus speaks elsewhere. Thus the harmony of the prayer, as of the whole chapter VI, consecrated to the idea of regeneration, becomes reestablished, or better still re-found. The eleventh verse in the Russian redaction, fits so well with the ensemble of the prayer, as with the general meaning of the chapter, that it does not leave the least doubt as to its authenticity. On the other hand, the term daily bread, has a significance which is clearly opposed to the precise meaning of the context.
The Slavic text of the gospel was established in the IXth century by Constantin the Philosopher, better known by the name Saint Cyril, and by his brother Saint Method, Greek scholars, natives of Salonika, knowing the Slavic language to perfection. And it is undoubted that at that epoch, so rich in sacred exegeses, the primitive spirit of the texts in question was translated in accordance with the original meaning. The modern Slavic languages, notably the Russian, remain very close to the old Slavonic, which besides is still used in the orthodox religious functions. And, we have already seen, the Slavonic term which passed into the Russian without modification, corresponds exactly to super-substantial bread and not to daily bread.
If at present we go back to the Greek text, from which Saint Cyril and Saint Method established the Slavonic text, we find there the term ?πιουσιον that is to say super-substantial.
Accordingly, the Orient prays not for the substantial but for the essential. And we mustn't believe that this so important distinction be the prerogative of theologians or of enlightened philosophers. While repeating the words of the Pater noster, the common man, in the orthodox world, prays not for substantial nourishment, but for the bread descending from heavenvii.
Such is one of the striking examples of the divorce which exists between the Christian Occident and Orient. As we have seen, here it is not about questions of a dogmatic or disciplinary order; it is about the spirit of the faith and the object of the aspirations.
Remains to be known, how the notion of daily bread was able to substitute itself, in the Occident, to that of super-substantial bread? How such a metamorphosis could have taken place? -- This is, evidently, to be placed among the ranks of the greatest enigmas of modern and contemporary history; and it's one of the greatest spiritual falls known in the history of occidental civilization. The question is grave; its bearing is evident.
If we open the Vulgate, we find therein meanwhile the correct text: Panem nostrum supersubstantialem da nobis hodieviii. In the first translations of the gospel to modern languages, we still find the same primitive expression. For example, in an edition done in Lyon, by Nicolas Petit, in 1540, the same verse is found correctly translated: Donne-nous aujourdhuy nostre pain supersubstantielix. Let us now open another gospel, dating to the following century, exactly 1616, which appeared at La Rochelle. There we find already the modified formula, thus conceived: Donne-nous aujourd'huy nostre pain quotidienx.
Evidently this formula answered better to the positivist spirit that was in process of being born during that epoch in modern Europe. Having come out of the narrow frame of the Civita Maximas and having gained the open seas, the European was going then beyond the Oceans, in search certainly not, of super-substantial bread, but of daily bread, more tangible, and which seemed to him more real. From then on, this formula became so rooted in the spirits, that we don't even wish to believe that by repeating since one's childhood the sacred words of the Pater noster, we pray for something which at heart is diametrically opposed to what Jesus taught.
i Mathew, VI, 9-13. In the article Mr. Mouravieff uses the Louis Second translation. Instead of retranslating the Louis Second into English, I have used the Revised Standard Version.
ii Bene Augustinus contra Adimantum: Particulas quasdam de scripturis eligunt, quibus decipiant imperitos non connectentes quae supra et infra scripta sunt, ex quibus voluntas et intentio scriptoris possit intelligi... c4 (c. 14).
iii Mathew, ibid. It is us who highlight in italics. B.M.
iv Ibid. It is us who highlight in italics. B.M.
v Luke X, 42.
vi It is us who highlight in italics. B.M. Let us mention in passing that in the esoteric commentaries on this verse, the term this day relates to the whole life of he who prays.
vii John VI, 32, 33, 34, 35. And also: Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, Ibid., VI, 27. As well: I am the bread of life, Ibid., VI, 35, 48, 51, etc.
viiiNovum Testamentum, Vugatae Editionis. Ex Vaticanis Editionibus Earumque correctorio. P. Michael Hetzenauer O.C. Prov. Tirol. sept. Approbatus lector S, Theologiae et Guardianus. Cum Approbatione Ecclesiastica Omnipote. Libraria Academica Wagneriana, MDCCCIC. Secundum Matthaem, Caput VI, 11.
ix La Premiere Partie du Nouveau Testament:, en francay, nouvellement reveu & corrige, Nicolas Petit, Lyon, 1540, p. 7 traduit par Le Fevre.
x La Bible qui est Toute la Sainte Ecriture du Vieil et Nouveau Testament. La Rochelle, de l'Imprimerie de M. H. Hauttin, par Corneil Hertzmann, 1616.